Wal-Mart cuts profit forecast as higher taxes hurt traffic

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, cut its annual profit forecast after higher payroll taxes reduced customer traffic in the second quarter.

Profit per share in the year ending January 2014 will be $5.10 to $5.30, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said today in a statement. That’s less than its earlier projection of $5.20 to $5.40. The average of 28 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was $5.29 a share.

Chief Executive Officer Mike Duke has been advertising Wal-Mart’s low prices and improving its grocery offerings to draw U.S. shoppers coping with elevated unemployment and higher taxes. Sales at Wal-Mart U.S. stores open at least 12 months excluding fuel fell 0.3% in the quarter ended July 26. Analysts estimated a 0.9% gain.

“The low-income consumer is struggling -- that’s dragging them down,” Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis, said today in an interview. He recommends buying the shares. “It’s a very tough environment out there.”

Wal-Mart fell 2.7% to $74.36 at 9:40 a.m. in New York and earlier dropped as much as 2.9% for the biggest intraday decline since May 16. The shares had gained 12% this year through yesterday, compared with an 18% increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Second-quarter net income rose 1.3% to $4.07 billion, or $1.24 a share, from $4.02 billion, or $1.18, a year earlier, the company said. The most recent quarter’s results included a charge of 1 cent a share for a tax matter. The average of 27 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was $1.25.

Sales Miss

Revenue rose 2.3% to $116.9 billion, trailing analysts’ $118.5 billion average estimate. That marks the fifth straight quarter the company’s sales have missed analysts’ projections.

Wal-Mart’s sales have been hampered this year by a 2 percentage point increase in Social Security taxes that has reduced spending among its shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck. For a person making $40,000 a year, the extra tax bite is about $15 a week.

Jerry Murray, a former vice president of finance and logistics at the retailer, said in a February e-mail obtained by Bloomberg News that the sales that month had been a “total disaster.”

“The 2% payroll tax increase continues to impact our customer,” Bill Simon, Wal-Mart’s U.S. president and CEO, said in today’s statement. The company also expected sales to be helped by rising grocery prices, which didn’t occur in a “meaningful way,” he said.

Third-quarter earnings per share will be $1.11 to $1.16, Wal-Mart said. Analysts projected $1.17.

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