Wal-Mart reports better-than-expected earnings

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal retail sector. Heck, the world's largest retailer is one of a few rays of light in the entire economy, and given the current state of the economy, Wal-Mart may continue to shine.

Net income fell 7.4 percent to $3.79 billion, or 96 cents per share, compared with $4.01 billion, or $1.02 per share, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said in a statement. Net sales rose 1.7 percent to $107.99 billion as cash-strapped consumers continued to flock to Wal-Mart for its rock-bottom prices. Excluding a legal settlement, profit was $1.03, beating the 99-cent consensus of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. Shares of the retailer rose in pre-market trading.

Wal-Mart showed surprising strength. U.S. sales rose 6 percent in the quarter while international revenue fell 8.4 percent, and Sam's Club sales were flat. U.S. stores even showed a gain in operating income, a rarity in retail these days. Even more telling were the gains in comparable same-store sales at both Wal-Mart and Sam's Club -- more than 2 percent. Again, positive news from any company is as rare as a nugget of gold.