(Adds earnings details, shares)
CHICAGO, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, reported better-than-expected quarterly sales at established U.S. stores on Thursday, boosted by hurricane-related purchases and soaring online sales, sending its shares up 3.5 percent.
The retailer has recorded more than three straight years of comparable sales growth, despite slow demand and a tough retail environment that has hurt brick-and-mortar rivals.
Excluding special items, earnings per share came to $1 in the third quarter ended Oct. 31, exceeding the average analyst estimate of 97 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose 2.7 percent, excluding fuel price fluctuations. That is stronger than market expectations for a rise of 1.7 percent, according to Consensus Metrix.
Online sales soared 50 percent during the quarter, exceeding growth rates in the industry, but slower than the previous quarter's 60 percent rise. It added 80 basis points to the third quarter comparable sales gain.
Wal-Mart also raised its full-year profit forecast. It now expects earnings per share of $4.38 to $4.46 for the fiscal year versus its previous outlook of $4.30 to $4.40.
On Wednesday, rival Target Corp's holiday quarter profit forecast fell short of analysts' expectations, sending its shares down 10 percent.
Wal-Mart's operating income fell 6.9 percent to $4.76 billion. Operating margins fell to 3.9 percent from 4.4 percent in the same period a year earlier due to continued investments in making its prices more competitive compared to rivals.
Earlier this year, devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma spurred demand at retailers for prevention and recovery materials along with food and grocery items.
Shares of Wal-Mart traded at $93 before the market opened, up from Wednesday's close of $89.83. It has risen over 30 percent so far this year. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Chicago; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)