Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, on Tuesday reported an 8 percent increase in fiscal third-quarter profits as sales were helped by purchases of groceries and other essential items.

Net income in the quarter ended Oct. 31 rose to $1.48 billion, or 33 cents a diluted share, from $1.37 billion, or 31 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter.

Third-quarter sales and earnings results were records for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer.

Wall Street analysts' estimates ranged from 32 cents to 34 cents a share, with the consensus estimate at 33 cents, according to research firm Thomson Financial/First Call.

President and Chief Executive Lee Scott said earnings met the retailer's expectations despite a depressed economy and the uncertainty of the last several months.

``Despite the difficult economy, we are gaining market share and growing sales. Historically, this is a good environment for Wal-Mart,'' he said in a news release.

For the third quarter, the Wal-Mart Stores segment, including Supercenters, reported that operating profit rose 4.8 percent from the same period last year to $2.35 billion.

The Sam's Club segment had an operating profit for the quarter of $246 million, an increase of 12.3 percent compared with $219 million for the similar period in the previous year.

Wal-Mart's international operations saw its operating profit of $344 million jump 42.7 percent from $241 million in the year-ago quarter.

Total sales for the quarter rose to $52.74 billion from $45.68 billion a year ago. Same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, rose 6.7 percent from a year ago.

The share price of Wal-Mart is up 18 percent since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The stock is outperforming the Standard & Poor's Index of Mass Merchandisers, which is up 16 percent in that same time.

Wal-Mart shares gained 48 cents on Monday to close at $55.58 on the New York Stock Exchange.

At the end of October, the company had 1,637 Wal-Mart stores, 1,059 Supercenters, 492 Sam's Clubs and 26 Neighborhood Markets in the United States. Internationally, it operated units in Argentina (11), Brazil (22), Canada (186), China (15), Germany (93), Korea (9), Mexico (533), Puerto Rico (17), and the United Kingdom (247).