Walmart Stores (WMT) reported Tuesday a 9% increase in income from continuing operations in the last quarter on lower expenses. And to reflect improved operations and tax benefits, the retailer increased full-year guidance.

Walmart said in the third quarter of fiscal year 2011, it earned $3.4 billion from continuing operations, or 95 cents per share, compared to $3.2 billion, or 82 cents per share in the same period last year. Walmart reported adjusted earnings of 90 cents per share, in-line with analyst estimates.

The retail giant said net sales for the quarter increased 2.6% from $98.7 billion to $101.2 billion. But this was below analyst expectations of $102.4 billion.

"Impressive" International Sales

"Walmart performed well in the third quarter, and we delivered solid earnings per share growth for our shareholders," said President and CEO Mike Duke.

The company added almost 10 million square feet of retail space this quarter, with 37% of it in Walmart International, where net sales grew more than 9% this quarter compared to last year's third quarter. On a constant currency basis, international sales grew 7.9%.

"Our International business continues to deliver impressive results," Duke said. "We also were pleased with the ongoing sales momentum at Sam's Club and expect that momentum to continue in the fourth quarter." At Walmart U.S., the retailer's largest segment by far, sales declined 0.1%, and comparable-store sales (sales at stores open for at least one year) fell 1.3% -- the sixth straight quarter of decline. Sam's Club sales grew 2.7%, while comp sales grew 2.4% without fuel.

Raised Guidance

"I'm pleased that we increased our full-year earnings per share guidance to reflect the tax benefit from the third quarter and our expectations for our business performance in the fourth quarter," Duke added.

The company increased fourth-quarter earnings guidance to a range of $1.29 to $1.33 per share, "based on our expectations for the U.S. sales environment in the fourth quarter," as CFO Tom Schoewe put it. Analysts expect earnings of $1.28 per share.

For the full year, Walmart increased guidance to $4.08 to $4.12 per share, up from the previous range of $3.95 to $4.05 per share.

Walmart U.S. expects comparable sales to range between -1% and 2% for the fourth quarter after a 2% decline in comp-store sales last year. Such growth projections for a quarter that includes holiday sales implies Walmart is still cautious about the return of consumers to its stores, which is perhaps not surprising with the persistently high unemployment.

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