As in previous quarters, Wal-Mart singled out its grocery business as a bright spot. Groceries posted a “low single-digit” comparable-store sales increase, in percentage terms, during the quarter, Simon said.
“Our food business is delivering positive sales growth that’s on par with the top competitors,” Simon said during the call.
Sam’s Club continued to fare better than Wal-Mart’s namesake U.S. stores. Comparable store sales rose 4.2 percent excluding fuel during the quarter amid strength in fresh food and apparel, said Brian Cornell, chief executive of Sam’s Club.
“We continue to see inflation in key categories such as produce, meat and dairy,” Cornell said during the conference call. “However, we managed through inflation, with little impact on our margin and have seen continued growth in units sold year-over-year.”
Wal-Mart’s sales slump may end during the current quarter, Simon indicated, though the company remains cautious on the economy. Wal-Mart said it expects comparable store sales for the quarter that ends in July to range between a decline of 1 percent and a rise of 1 percent.
A widely-followed gauge of retailer performance, comparable store sales typically reflect locations open at least a year.
“We’re monitoring the economic environment carefully, as significant changes in gas prices and inflation during the quarter will influence our actual performance,” Simon said.
Gasoline prices soared this year as turmoil in Libya and other top petroleum countries of North Africa and the Middle East sent crude oil above $110 a barrel. Earlier this week, regular-grade gasoline averaged $3.94 a gallon nationwide, up 37 percent from $2.87 a year ago, according to AAA, the auto trade association.
Wal-Mart’s quarterly results still topped analyst expectations, with the retailer’s net income rising 3.9 percent amid stronger international sales.
During the three months ended April 29, Wal-Mart’s fiscal 2012 first quarter, net income rose to $3.43 billion from $3.3 billion a year earlier. Per-share earnings of 97 cents surpassed the average analyst estimate by about 2 cents, according to Yahoo! Finance.
Wal-Mart’s total revenue rose 4.3 percent to $103.4 billion.