The largest retailer in the world, US-based Wal-Mart Stores has posted a 4.5% increase in profit during the forth quarter. The gradual slowing of the US economy during the holiday period did cool results, but the company is confident that consumer spending will not slide further. In fact, total sales in the period rose 10% year on year to US$56.556bn.

During the forth quarter, which ended 31 January, net income rose by 45 cents a share to just over US$2bn and operating profit for the Wal-Mart stores segment increased by 1.5% to US$2.765bn. Looking at the international segment, the operating profit rose by a dramatic 8.9% to US$490m.

For the whole year, net sales rose 15.9% to US$191.329bn and net income increased 17.1% to US$6.295bn.

Lee Scott, president and CEO of the group, revealed in a pre-recorded conference call that while “the current slower retail environment is largely a result of declining consumer confidence,” this would soon pick up, with falling utility bills as the weather warms, a possible tax cut and lower prices for gasoline. As a result, the company has predicted earnings growth to be single digit in the first half of 2001, and double digit in the second half.