March 28, 2012 / 5:30 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-Walmart U.S. sales stay strong despite gas prices

By Jessica Wohl

March 28 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s U.S. sales in the last two months have withstood rising gas prices and a tough economy that worried many of its shoppers, a top executive said on Wednesday.

“I’m happy to tell you that strong momentum that we closed the year (with) continues in our new fiscal year, throughout February and our current month of March,” Walmart U.S. Chief Merchandising Officer Duncan Mac Naughton said during a CIBC conference in Toronto.

Sales at U.S. Walmart stores open at least a year increased 1.3 percent in the third quarter ended on Oct. 31 and 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter ended on Jan. 31, reversing a string of nine quarterly declines.

Mac Naughton, whose comments were also broadcast over the Internet, said the company’s core U.S. customers remained stressed by unemployment, rising gas prices, tepid economic growth and a sluggish recovery.

“We don’t see any real rigor in the economy,” he said.

Wal-Mart shares were up 3 cents at $61.20 in afternoon trading, outpacing a 0.8 percent decline in the Dow Jones industrial average, which includes the company’s stock.

To win over shoppers, Walmart U.S. brought back 10,000 products it had eliminated from stores last year. It has also been advertising its price-matching program and trying to make sure items are in stock.

Walmart U.S. accounted for 59.5 percent of the company’s sales in the last fiscal year. During the year, total sales rose 5.9 percent to $443.85 billion. Walmart U.S. sales rose 1.5 percent to $264.19 billion, with same-store sales up 0.3 percent.

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