Walmart outlook gives glimpse of bruised economy

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Walmart experienced a soft end to an otherwise solid year of profit and sales growth as customers started to hold back because of payroll tax increases, higher gasoline prices and delays in income tax refunds.

The company reported fourth-quarter profit gains of 8.6 percent Thursday. Same-store sales — sales at stores open at least a year — grew 1 percent in the fourth quarter. That's below the 1.5 percent growth analysts were expecting.

"We didn't finish quite as strong as we would have liked, primarily due to a slower holiday season," Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said in a conference call Thursday. He said the company had a sales lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas because of an extra week between the two holidays.

The end of January also didn't fare well, as customers started to experience the impact of a 2-percentage-point payroll tax increase and a three-week delay in tax refunds.