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Wal-Mart profit, revenue beat expectations; US sales up more than expected

CNBC.com staff

Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) on Thursday reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue, as sales in the U.S. market rose and the retailing giant kept a lid on costs.

Shares of Wal-Mart closed up more than 9 percent Thursday.

The company posted first-quarter earnings per share of 98 cents, versus $1.03 a share in the year-earlier period. Revenue for the quarter came in at $115.9 billion, against the comparable year-earlier figure of $114.83 billion.

Analysts polled by Reuters expected the retail giant to report earnings per share of 88 cents on revenue of $113.22 billion.

U.S. same-store sales were up 1 percent in the quarter, topping estimates of only a 0.5 percent increase.

UBS retail analyst Michael Lasser said he was pleased with the results, but wasn't ready to upgrade the stock to buy, noting that Wal-Mart's operating margin fell in the quarter as U.S. sales rose.

"There's a mismatch there. What we need to see is that they can grow sales and earnings over time," he told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street." "Right now they're investing in the business — in labor, in prices — to drive the long term. I think it's going to take several quarters before we see any evidence that this is working."

The company issued second-quarter guidance for earnings per share of 95 cents to $1.08, versus estimates of 98 cents a share.

"Several things [are] working for the consumer: fuel prices, unemployment and interest rates still low. But there is an air of uncertainty that is likely keeping the consumer from being as bullish as they would like to be," Wal-Mart CFO Brett Biggs told CNBC.

Still, the strong first-quarter performance allowed the retailer to accelerate its next round of price cuts, he said.

Wal-Mart had been holding back on cutting prices due to costs associated with recent wage hikes and investments in e-commerce aimed at closing the gap with Amazon (AMZN), according to Chris Horvers, retail analyst at JPMorgan.

Those cuts will put pressure on Wal-Mart rivals, he told CNBC's " Squawk Box ."

"You're going to be worried about grocery stores. Wal-Mart is a quarter of all grocery dollars in the U.S. You're going to worry about dollar stores. You're going to worry about Target," he said

Other major retailers, excluding Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW), have been reporting dismal quarterly results.

Target (TGT) on Wednesday reported a lower-than-expected increase in sales at established stores as consumers continue to spend on big-ticket purchases like homes and cars rather than discretionary items like apparel.

Quarterly revenue at Target was short of estimates, though earnings did beat expectations.

Wal-Mart's strength at its bricks-and-mortar U.S. locations this quarter was to be expected, said Daniel Binder, Jefferies & Co. senior equity research analyst. Recent store visits conducted by Jefferies show chronically bad locations were cleaner and better stocked, he said.

However, deceleration in Wal-Mart's e-commerce business is cause for some concern, Binder told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

Wal-Mart's Biggs said the company's 7 percent constant-currency growth in e-commerce is not as strong as he would like, but added that the retailer is making "foundational progress."

"They have about 10 million SKUs online. But that hasn't grown fastest enough for them," Budd Bugatch, retail analyst at Raymond James & Associates, told "Squawk Box."

Shares of Wal-Mart are up about 13 percent year to date, but it has struggled in the past 12 months, falling about 9 percent.

WMT in past yearSource: FactSet

On Monday, Wal-Mart announced it had signed an expanded sourcing deal with McKesson (MCK), which will help lower costs as the retailing giant and U.S. drug distributor expand an alliance for jointly procuring generic medicines.

The deal is aimed at "using our combined size and scale to drive efficiencies," George Riedl, senior vice president and president of the health and wellness division at Wal-Mart in the U.S., said in a statement.

Wal-Mart also made headlines earlier this month when it said it was suing Visa (NYSE:V) for allegedly forcing the retailer to let customers use signatures when paying with their chip-based debit cards.

"PIN is the only truly secure form of cardholder verification in the marketplace today, and it offers superior security to our customers," Wal-Mart said in a Tuesday statement.

— CNBC's Christine Wang, Matthew J. Belvedere, Tom DiChristopher and Courtney Reagan, as well as Reuters contributed to this report.

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