updated 11/14/2005 2:18:58 PM ET 2005-11-14T19:18:58

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said Monday its earnings rose 3.8 percent in the third quarter as sales grew 10 percent.

Net income rose to $2.4 billion, or 57 cents per share, for the quarter ended Oct. 31 from $2.3 billion, or 54 cents per share, a year ago. Earnings in the latest quarter included three items, including hurricane related costs, which reduced results by $80 million, or 2 cents per share.

Net sales were $75.4 billion, an increase of 10.1 percent over $68.5 billion for the third quarter of fiscal 2005. Other income boosted overall revenue to $76.2 billion from $69.3 billion a year ago.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had forecast income of 57 cents per share on sales of $76.35 billion.

Wal-Mart chief executive Lee Scott noted that the strong numbers came in despite gasoline topping $3 per gallon, higher heating oil and natural gas prices and three hurricanes — Katrina, Rita and Wilma — that closed hundreds of stores, at least temporarily.

Scott called the quarter a “pretty good performance in a difficult environment.”

Scott said the hurricanes would in the longer term improve employment and the economy but said January and February could be difficult months when holiday bills come due and higher heating oil and natural gas prices have a greater impact.

Vice chairman John Menzer said the company is starting to see the effects of a restructuring of how stores are run. He said the focus is “close-to-the-customer decision making” and one result is stores that are less cluttered.

Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard’s Retail Forecasting in Nutley, N.J., said he expects the company to make greater inroads in fashion with its George and new Metro7 lines. Wal-Mart is also selling shoes made by Nike under the Starter brand.

Barnard also said Wal-Mart would continue carrying lower-priced items but would further expand its offerings of mid-priced merchandise that offer better quality for relatively little money.

“The low price, Wal-Mart’s hallmark of distinction, will continue to be prevalent. But you have to keep something in mind, which I think is very sneaky and very sensible — the customer is attracted by the low price in housewares, they go to the store and get snagged into displays of Metro7 or George and buy something they hadn’t planned on buying,” Barnard said.

Wal-Mart forecast earnings per share for the fourth quarter of 82 cents to 86 cents, yielding earnings for the year of $2.64 to $2.68. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast quarterly income of 84 cents per share and full-year income of $2.64 per share.

Comparable-store sales for the fourth quarter are forecast to rise between 3 percent and 5 percent, Chief financial officer Tom Schoewe said.

In sales at U.S. stores open at least a year, Wal-Mart posted an increase of 3.8 percent for the quarter. In the Wal-Mart division, which includes discount stores, Supercenters and Neighborhood Market grocery stores, same-store sales were up 2.9 percent. At Sam’s Club warehouse stores, comparable sales were up 8.1 percent.

For the first nine months of the year, Wal-Mart earned $7.6 billion, or $1.82 a share, versus $7.1 billion, or $1.66 a share, a year ago. Nine-month sales and other income rose to $225.5 billion from $205.2 billion a year ago.

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