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Wal-Mart Reports $3.24B 3Q Profit

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a 3.2 percent increase in third-quarter profit, helped by inventory controls and other cost-cutting measures.

But a key sales indicator slipped, and the discount-store chain expects sales weakness through the critical fourth quarter, fueling more worries about a broad weakness in consumer spending.

The discounter, based in Bentonville, Ark., on Thursday reported a profit of $3.24 billion, or 84 cents per share, for the period ended Oct. 31. That compares with $3.14 billion, or 80 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Revenue rose to $99.4 billion from $98.3 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 81 cents per share on revenue of $99.9 billion.

But the company said that sales at stores open at least a year fell 0.4 percent in the period, marking the second consecutive quarter that it saw this important measure fall. Sales at stores open at least a year are considered a key measure of a retailer's health because they exclude the effects of expansion.

Excluding fuel sales, the company's namesake discount stores saw sales at stores open at least a year fall 0.5 percent, while Sam's Club saw sales rise 0.1 percent.

The slippage is happening even as the discounter takes market share away from its rivals with its aggressive discounting.

"The sales environment continues to be difficult this quarter, but customer traffic is up throughout the company," President and CEO Mike Duke said in a statement. "We gained market share, especially in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Mexico."

Wal-Mart said it expects that earnings per share in the fourth quarter to be in the range of $1.08 and $1.12 per share. Analysts expect $1.12 per share for the period.

As a result, the company is raising its guidance for the full fiscal year to $3.57 to $3.61 per share, from $3.50 to $3.60 per share. Analysts expect $3.58 per share.

The company said that it expects sales at stores open at least a year for the fourth quarter to be in a range of a decline of 1 percent to up 1 percent.