We felt government shutdown, says Wal-Mart US boss
The 16-day government shutdown earlier this month was a drag on Wal-Mart sales, particularly around military bases and areas with high concentrations of federal workers, said Bill Simon, president and CEO of the retail giant's U.S. operations.
"That sort of level of conversation and combativeness in Washington creates uncertainty in the economy," Simon told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday. But the certainty of at least the temporary solution to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling until early next year is "important and will free up their thinking for the holiday season," he added.
Wal-Mart is scheduled to report earnings in mid-November. Earlier this month, at its annual meeting with investors and analysts, the retailer revealed that it expects overall sales to rise to $475 billion to $480 billion this fiscal year. But that was a bit less than what Wall Street had been expecting at the time.
Simon also told CNBC on Tuesday that lower gas prices—which typically help sales at Wal-Mart—are being canceled out by other forces. "The tailwind of gas prices [is] offset by the headwinds of the payroll tax change at the beginning of the year [and] the upcoming SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefit changes on the first of November."
The temporary increase in SNAP benefits, widely known as food stamps, for 47 million Americans a month is set to expire Oct. 31. Recipients first received the bump in their benefits under a provision in the 2009 federal stimulus package.
As for the upcoming holiday shopping season at Wal-Mart, Simon said, "It's sort of the Super Bowl, and our teams around the country are geared up for it."
He said Wal-Mart "bought deep" for the rush, and it's planning the "best pricing of the season" on Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving that's viewed as the official start of the holiday shopping crunch.
Wal-Mart plans to hire 55,000 seasonal workers nationwide for the holiday season.
Meanwhile, the retailer announced Tuesday that Simon and other top executives will be traveling around to nation to promote more than 160,000 associates to jobs with higher pay and more responsibility.