Wal-Mart U.S. sales weak; outlook below analysts' forecast

Thu May 16, 2013 2:48pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote) posted weaker-than-expected quarterly earnings on Thursday due to poor U.S. sales and said its profit for this quarter might also miss Wall Street's forecast.

Everything from pressure on shoppers to a cool start to spring led to an unexpected 1.4 percent drop in sales at Walmart U.S. stores open at least a year. (Graphic on Wal-Mart earnings link.reuters.com/qan28t)

Consumers with lower incomes have been especially squeezed by higher payroll taxes, consistently elevated gas prices and a shaky employment recovery.

Shares of the world's largest retailer were down 2.1 percent, or $1.72, at $78.14 after falling as much as 3.2 percent earlier in the session. The stock had hit a new high of $79.96 on Wednesday.

"We hadn't seen the business turn around particularly in April," said ITG analyst John Tomlinson. "That was a concern because at that point you would think tax refunds and lower gas prices would have started to help the business."

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart said that delays in tax refund checks from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service would crimp shoppers' spending on discretionary items. But the effects went beyond that, and the drop in refunds pressured shoppers and, in turn, sales at the company's U.S. stores.

"We do know that the lack of IRS refund checks did hurt our consumers," Wal-Mart Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley told reporters. "In fact, the IRS, I think, has said that they've estimated that there were about $9 billion less in refund checks, and we certainly cashed less of those checks."

The company forecast earnings of $1.22 to $1.27 per share for its second quarter, which began on May 1. Analysts had been expecting $1.29, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The year-earlier profit was $1.18 per share.   Continued...

A man stands on a skateboard outside a Wal-Mart store in Williston, North Dakota March 13, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton