Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported quarterly sales below analysts' expectations on Thursday, while sales at established U.S. discount stores trailed Wall Street estimates and traffic fell in China.
The company also saw sales in Japan sag as the economy weakened.
"Across all of our markets, we are seeing the same price consciousness as we do in the United States," Chief Executive Mike Duke said in a statement.
Still, the world's largest retailer said sales so far this month were better than expected in the United States as its low– price strategy has resonated in an economy where unemployment continued to be high.
Sales rose 3.4 per cent to $113.20-billion (U.S.) for the third quarter ended Oct. 31. Analysts, on average, looked fort $114.96-billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Excluding the impact of currency fluctuations, sales would have been $114.9-billion, the company said.
Wal-Mart's U.S. arm, by far its largest business, has rebounded from a prolonged slump, posting five consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth after nine straight quarterly declines.
Sales at Walmart U.S. stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, rose 1.5 per cent. The company had forecast an increase of 1 per cent to 3 per cent, and analysts, on average, looked for a 1.8 per cent gain as management expressed optimism during a recent meeting with analysts.
Lower prices for some food and electronics pressured sales. At the same time, while shoppers put millions of dollars of merchandise on layaway, the sales are not registered until the items are paid in full. That typically occurs in the fourth quarter, closer to the end of the holiday season.
"The slight deceleration in growth reflects the underlying pressures facing U.S. consumers," said Natalie Berg, director of global research at Planet Retail. "Having made significant improvements to price perception, Walmart today is actually well placed to cater to budget-conscious shoppers. But at the end of the day, consumers are still very wary about parting with their hard-earned cash."
Traffic at the U.S. stores rose only 0.1 per cent as shoppers consolidated trips due to higher gasoline prices.
The Walmart U.S. unit forecast a 1 per cent to 3 per cent increase in same-store sales for the fourth quarter, when it will be helped by customers' final payments and pick-ups of third-quarter layaway items.
"Current macroeconomic conditions continue to pressure our customers," Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said. "The holiday season is predicted to be very competitive, but we are very well prepared to deliver on the value and low prices our customers expect."
Overall, the world's largest retailer said it earned $3.64-billion, or $1.08 per share, in the third quarter ended Oct. 31, up from $3.34-billion, or 97 cents per share, a year earlier.
Analysts, on average, targeted $1.07 a share.
International sales rose 2.4 per cent to $33.16-billion, and would have risen 7.6 per cent without currency fluctuations, the company said. Operating profit rose 4.8 per cent.
Traffic declined 7.6 per cent at its stores in China, and it is facing challenges in Japan due to the economy. Sales there fell 1.8 per cent and traffic declined 1.7 per cent.
Wal-Mart's international operations remained under scrutiny following a New York Times article in April about alleged bribery at its Mexican unit.
The company has spent tens of millions of dollars on advisers reviewing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) matters and said it spend $48-million in the third quarter on the review.
The company said on Thursday it is looking into allegations of potential FCPA violations in a number of countries, including but not limited to Brazil, China and India.