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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 19, 2010

BUSINESS BRIEFS
Wal-Mart's U.S. sales decline as its competitors gain ground


Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tom Schoewe

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NEW YORK After nearly 50 years of hammering competitors with discounts, Wal-Mart is getting a taste of its own medicine.

The world's largest retailer has seen sales at its U.S. Walmart stores fall for the first time, as price-cutting competitors lure away bargain-hunters. Department stores and dollar stores are muscling in on the company's discount turf.

And executives do not expect much improvement, forecasting sales at stores open at least a year will range from down 1 percent to up 1 percent.

Wal-Mart officials said that deflation in such areas as electronics and groceries was the biggest factor in dampening sales, but the company's chief financial officer, Tom Schoewe, acknowledged "tough" competition last holiday season from rivals.

The 0.5 percent sales decline reported yesterday covered the three months ending Jan. 31 at the company's namesake stores. It was the first year-over-year quarterly decline since Wal-Mart Stores Inc. went public in 1969.

ECONOMIC RECOVERY MAY BE SLOWING, DATA SUGGEST

WASHINGTON Layoffs aren't slowing as fast as some analysts had expected.

That was the message yesterday in a government report that the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week. Jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000.

Further evidence that the pace of the economic recovery is slowing was a private research group's forecast of economic activity. The Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators rose for a 10th straight month in January, but the rate of increase is easing. The index is designed to forecast activity in the next three to six months.

TOYOTA PRESIDENT TO TESTIFY IN U.S. CONGRESS

WASHINGTON Toyota president Akio Toyoda said yesterday he will testify at a congressional hearing next week about the automaker's massive recalls in the United States, meeting face to face with lawmakers after enduring criticism that he responded too slowly to the company's safety crisis.

Toyoda, the grandson of the Japanese automaker's founder, said in a statement he looks "forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people."

The auto executive accepted the invitation from the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as the government opened a new investigation into Corolla compacts over potential steering problems. Toyota has faced a crisis in the past four months with the recall of roughly 8.5 million cars over questions involving gas pedals, accelerators getting jammed in floor mats and brake problems.