Wal-Mart Sees Potential Profit Miss

The retailer tops March sales expectations but sees a tough April.
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Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

posted better-than-expected March sales but warned that meeting its first-quarter earnings targets will be a "challenge" amid a tough April selling environment.

The world's largest retailer said Thursday that same-store sales climbed 4% for March, surpassing its forecast for a 1% to 2% rise. Wall Street expected same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, to rise 1.6%.

Wal-Mart's total sales for the period ended April 6 rose 11.7% to $34.26 billion.

The results were boosted by a shift in the Easter holiday to the March selling period. For April, Wal-Mart expects same-store sales to be flat to down 2%, reflecting the Easter shift and tough comparisons to the year-ago period.

Previously, Wal-Mart had forecast earnings from continuing operations of 68 cents to 71 cents a share for the first quarter, but the company signaled that it may not be able to meet that forecast.

"While the earnings guidance is still attainable, given the tough sales environment for the April period, it will be a challenge," said Chief Financial Offier Tom Schoewe in a statement Thursday.

Wal-Mart has been dealing with a sales slowdown of the past year amid competition, merchandise that has failed to attract more upscale customers and a store remodeling plan that has hurt traffic. In contrast to Wal-Mart's 4% rise in March same-store sales, the company's chief rival,

Target

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posted a 12% surge in comps for the month.

Wal-Mart's March results were boosted by a 7.4% jump in same-store sales at its Sam's Club division. According to Thomson Financial, analysts expected a 3.4% rise at the warehouse club chain.

The company's larger Wal-Mart Stores division recorded a 3.4% rise in same-store sales. Analysts expected same-store sales growth of 1.4%.