Wal-Mart predicts sales will grow faster next year

Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:25pm EDT
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By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N expects slightly stronger sales growth next year as it makes changes such as opening more smaller U.S. stores and shutting 50 poorly performing stores in Brazil and China, executives said on Tuesday.

The world's largest retailer sees a "tough" and "unpredictable" economy around the world, Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke said, a week after the International Monetary Fund trimmed its outlook for global growth.

Wal-Mart expects its overall sales to rise to $475 billion to $480 billion this fiscal year, a gain of about 1.9 percent to 3 percent over last year's $466.11 billion. For fiscal 2015, which begins in February, it is targeting 3 percent to 5 percent growth, Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said at the company's meeting with investors and analysts in Arkansas. The meeting was also webcast.

Positive economic signs such as a declining unemployment rate, along with Wal-Mart's efforts such as better merchandising plans, new stores and ecommerce plans, makes the company confident it can grow sales faster next year, Holley said.

Still, U.S. customers remain under pressures from higher income taxes, gas and food prices, plus the government shutdown, and they are trying to stick to budgets.

Wal-Mart is not waiting for the holiday season to get aggressive on pricing. Walmart U.S., its largest business by far, is promoting low prices on everything from Kraft's KRFT.O Velveeta cheese and PepsiCo Inc's PEP.N Doritos chips to Procter & Gamble Co's PG.N Pampers diapers and Bounty paper towels this month, while Sam's Club will have another discount booklet for members starting on October 30, as both chains try to boost sales early in the fourth quarter.

More than 1 million people have already signed up for holiday layaway, which allows Walmart U.S. shoppers to put items on hold and pay for them over time. Four of the top five items on layaway are devices including Google Inc GOOG.O Nexus tablets, HP's HPQ.N HP 2000 laptop, the Hisense Sero 7 tablet and Fuhu Inc's nabi 2 Kids' tablets, Holley told reporters.

FURLOUGH IMPACT   Continued...