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Blame it on the snow: Wal-Mart misses, faults brutal winter

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Wal-Mart Stores forecast second-quarter profit below analysts' estimates after reporting its smallest growth in quarterly sales in nearly five years, as a severe winter kept shoppers from its stores.

Shares of the world's largest retailer fell as much as 3.4 percent before the bell on Thursday. (Click here to track Wal-Mart shares following the report.)

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Wal-Mart is the latest retailer to flag a colder-than-usual winter for weak sales. Department store operator Macy's on Wednesday cited the harsh winter for a 1.7 percent decline in quarterly sales.

Shoppers found it difficult to visit Wal-Mart's gargantuan stores, mainly located on the outskirts of towns and cities, as winter storms snowed out access routes.

The company has also been struggling with a sharp cut in benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest U.S. anti-hunger program. At least one in five of Wal-Mart's customers relies on food stamps.

"Like other retailers in the United States, the unseasonably cold and disruptive weather negatively impacted U.S. sales and drove operating expenses higher than expected, " Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in a statement.

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The company said its second-quarter forecast reflected increased investments in its membership only Sam's Club stores and higher costs related to the cuts in the food stamp program.

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Retail sales on display

Wal-Mart, which gets more than half of its sales from groceries, said sales at U.S. stores open for at least a year were relatively flat in the first quarter.

Bad weather hurt same-store sales by about 20 basis points, while customer visits fell 1.4 percent, the company said. Cuts in the food stamp program had a 50-basis-point impact.

The net income attributable to Wal-Mart fell to $3.59 billion, or $1.11 per share, in the first quarter ended April 30, from $3.78 billion, or $1.14 per share, a year earlier.

Adverse winter weather reduced earnings by 3 cents per share.

The company earned $1.10 per share from continuing operations, missing the average analyst estimate of $1.15 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue rose 0.8 percent to $114.96 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $116.27 billion.

Wal-Mart's revenue growth has not dropped below 1 percent since the second quarter of fiscal 2010, when the company posted a 1.4 percent decline.

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The company said it expected second-quarter earnings of $1.15-$1.25 per share from continuing operations, missing the average analyst estimate of $1.28 per share.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company's shares were down 3.2 percent at $76.20 in premarket trading on Thursday.

The stock has fallen 1.4 percent in the past 12 months, compared with an 8.8 percent rise in the Dow Jones Industrials index and a 6.4 percent rise in the Dow Jones global retailers index.

By Reuters