Profit at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, declined 2.9 percent in the third quarter, but after nine consecutive quarters of revenue declines the company on Tuesday said its namesake division recorded a quarterly increase.

This story first appeared in the November 16, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Wal-Mart earned $3.33 billion, or 97 cents a share, in the three-month period ended Oct. 28. That compares with $3.43 billion, or 95 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Earnings per share for last year’s third quarter included a $191 million tax benefit, which was about 5 cents a share.

The retailer said it expects fourth-quarter EPS of $1.42 to $1.48 and full-year EPS of $4.45 to $4.51.

Net sales increased 2.7 percent to $63.8 billion, driven by a higher ticket, but shoppers made fewer trips compared with last year’s third quarter.

Consolidated net sales rose 8.2 percent to $109.5 billion in the third quarter, from $101.2 billion in 2010. The increase included $2.1 billion in sales from acquisitions in the U.K. and South Africa and a currency exchange translation benefit. Without the acquisitions and currency benefit, consolidated net sales increased 4.8 percent in the third quarter.

International net sales rose 20 percent over last year’s third quarter to $32 billion.

Total comp-store sales in the U.S., excluding fuel, were 1.9 percent for the 13-week period. Without inflation, same-store sales would have increased 0.6 percent. Comp-store sales at Wal-Mart U.S. rose 1.3 percent, and at Sam’s Club, 5.7 percent, excluding fuel. Wal-Mart is forecasting comp sales for the fourth quarter to be flat to up 2 percent.

“Every business sector is stronger,” said Mike Duke, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores.“Our overall performance reflects that we are driving productivity, leveraging expenses and investing in price leadership.”

Duke attributed the improved results to expanded assortments — the program to restock stockkeeping units that were previously slashed is almost completed. Also, integration of technology with associate productivity programs has improved. Health and wellness, electronics and hardlines improved, but apparel had a low-single-digit negative comp. Men’s and ladies apparel, with a focus on core basics, had the strongest sales. Expanded shoe departments and assortments recorded the first positive quarterly comp in more than two years.

Wal-Mart’s consumer continues to be financially challenged, trading down to lower price points or trading out of certain categories, Duke said. In a Wal-Mart survey, only one out of 10 moms viewed the state of the economy as good, he added.

The retailer is gearing up for the holidays, shouting its “Everyday Low Price” mantra in a variety of media, from print to digital. Layaway volume is exceeding plan and there’s a zero percent financing offer on the Wal-Mart credit card.

Wal-Mart, which has opened on Thanksgiving Day for several years, will begin at 10 p.m. this year with price rollbacks.

The retailer is integrating its stores and Web site and mobile apps and reaching out to customers via social media. Citing the 3,800 Wal-Mart U.S. units and 120 distribution centers, Duke said, “Wal-Mart can offer multichannel access in a way that no other retailer can.”

Gross profit dollars were up 1.9 percent over last year’s third quarter to $17.9 billion, while the gross margin rate fell about 22 basis points. Operating expenses dropped 41 basis points as a percentage of sales and SG&A rose 70 basis points compared to last year’s same period.

Wal-Mart International’s net sales for the third quarter rose 20.3 percent to $32.4 billion. Changes in currency translation increased net sales by $1.3 billion. Sam’s Club’s third-quarter net sales rose 9.5 percent over last year to $13.3 billion, helped by strong fuel sales.

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