Wal-Mart Profits Up 9.2 Percent

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a 9.2 percent rise in fiscal fourth-quarter net earnings Tuesday as cash-strapped consumers seeking discounted goods helped the world's largest company increase its market share.

The retailer also raised its full-year earnings forecast, encouraged by better-than-expected sales in the first weeks of the new fiscal year that started this month.

Wal-Mart, which dominates the market for low-priced goods, has fared better than other retailers in the U.S. recession by attracting customers from department stores, grocery stores and other retailers that sell full-priced products. Wal-Mart is also gaining market share from rival Kmart Corp., which filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Jan. 22.

"It was a very strong performance for the year just completed, and it will be outdone next year with at least 17.5 percent earnings growth," Bill Dreher, a retail analyst at Robertson Stephens, said. "The competitive environment is vastly easier with the bankruptcy of Kmart and their likely closing of 500 to 700 Kmart stores."

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart said it now expects earnings for the fiscal year ending in January 2003 of $1.74 to $1.76 a share, up from its previous forecast for earnings of $1.71 a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call on average expected earnings of $1.74 a share.

"While the slow economy caused many companies to report negative or flat sales growth, we gained share in the difficult consumer market and grew our revenues," Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's chief executive officer, said on a recorded conference call for investors.

Wal-Mart's net income for the full fiscal year increased 6 percent, to $6.671 billion, or $1.49 a share, from $6.295 billion, or $1.40 a share, in the prior fiscal year.

Full-year net sales climbed 13.8 percent to $217.8 billion. Wal-Mart's annual revenues exceeded those of Exxon Mobil Corp. , and the retailer now formally occupies the spot of world's largest company in terms of sales. In 2001, Exxon reported revenues of $213 billion.

Wal-Mart's net earnings in the quarter, ended Jan. 31, rose to $2.189 billion, or 49 cents a diluted share, from $2.004 billion, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call on average had expected the discount giant to report a profit of 49 cents a share. Their estimates ranged from 48 cents to 50 cents a share.

Sales in the quarter rose to $64.21 billion, up 13.5 percent from $56.56 billion a year earlier.

Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, rose 6.9 percent in the quarter. Same-store sales rose 7.2 percent at Wal-Mart stores and 5.7 percent at Sam's Club stores, the company said.

Its Wal-Mart Stores unit, with some 2,700 discount stores, reported operating profits rose 12.8 percent in the quarter, to $3.119 billion from $2.765 billion a year earlier. Operating profits at Sam's Club inched up 1 percent to $297 million, while its international segment's operating profit jumped 19.2 percent to $584 million from $490 million.

Looking ahead, Wal-Mart said it expects a first-quarter profit of 35 cents to 36 cents a share. Analysts on average expected a profit of 35 cents a share. Same-store sales are seen rising 5 percent to 7 percent.

Shares of Wal-Mart, which have risen 3.4 percent since January, were off 18 cents, or 0.3 percent, at $59.85 in early New York Stock Exchange trading Tuesday. That compares with a 0.5 percent decrease in the Dow Jones industrial average ). Wal-Mart is a Dow component.