International Sales Help Wal-Mart Beat First-Quarter Earnings' Estimate

By Mike Caggeso
Associate Editor

A 22% increase in international sales helped Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world's largest retailer and bellwether of the U.S. economy, beat first-quarter earnings' estimates.

Net sales for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company were $94.1 billion, a 10.2% increase from last year's $85.4 billion. Net income rose 6.9%, or $2.8 billion, and diluted earnings per share clocked in at 76 cents.

"Our business is even more relevant to our customers today, given the current economic pressures," Chief Executive Officer H. Lee Scott said in a company statement.

In a prerecorded call, Scott also acknowledged that the retail giant faces "uncertainties about the rest of the year." 

Stateside, U.S. sales rose 6.6% and Sam's Club sales rose 7.6%, as each franchise reduced prices to draw traffic in the face of consumer spending strains. Higher food and gasoline costs drove customers to find the cheapest prices for those and other items such as clothing and prescription drugs. [Please click here for a related story on retail sales in today's issue of Money Morning.]

"The consumer is getting squeezed right now," Jim Wright, chief investment officer of Harvest Financial Partners, which owns Wal-Mart shares, told MarketWatch. "More and more consumers are going to look for good deals. Wal-Mart does a pretty good job at that. This is an environment where they should outperform."

However, revenue from its international stores, which now makes up a larger piece of Wal-Mart's pie, accounted for more than one quarter of the company's sales.

Every penny of that will be leaned on for the second quarter. Wal-Mart is forecasting comparable store sales increases in the United States to be between flat and 2% and earnings per share between 78 cents and 81 cents for the second quarter. However, Thomson Reuters analysts estimated that Wal-Mart would post 81 cents earnings per share in the second quarter.

"In this environment, I don't think you'd want to go" higher with the forecast, Joseph Feldman, managing director at Telsey Advisory Group, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "It makes sense you'd be cautious."

Wal-Mart's shares were down slightly in midmorning trading following its earnings release, and one analyst sees it as an opportunity.

"Wal-Mart had a nice quarter," Michael Binger, a portfolio manager for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, told Bloomberg Television. "In reality, in this environment, it was a great quarter. I would be a buyer on this dip."

Wal-Mart shares dropped $1.37, a 2.36% decline, to close at $56.65 yesterday (Tuesday).

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