(Reuters) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc, long criticized for its low hourly pay and employee benefits, said it would increase wages for half a million U.S. employees this year.
Wal-Mart's hourly full-time and part-time workers will earn at least $1.75 above the current federal minimum wage, or $9 per hour, starting in April, the largest private sector employer in the United States said on Thursday.
Current employees will earn at least $10.00 per hour by Feb. 1, 2016, the company said.
Wal-Mart, which has about 1.3 million U.S. workers, has been a target for activists in the contentious national debate over proposals to raise the minimum wage.
The world's largest retailer also reported a better-than- expected fourth-quarter profit as shoppers spent more of their savings from lower U.S. gas prices at the company's stores.
However, the company cut its sales forecast for the year ending January 2016, citing a strong dollar.
Wal-Mart, whose shares were down almost two per cent in premarket trading, said it now expected sales to increase one to two per cent, below its previous forecast of two to four per cent.
It also forecast earnings of $4.70-$5.05 per share, below the average analyst estimate of $5.19.
Wal-Mart reported a 1.5 per cent increase in same-store sales in the United States, its second straight quarter of growth after six quarters of flat or declining sales.
Analysts on average had forecast a rise of 0.7 per cent, according to research firm Consensus Metrix.
Net profit attributable to Wal-Mart rose to $4.97 billion, or $1.53 per share, for the quarter ended Jan. 31, from $4.43 billion, or $1.36 per share, in the same period a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company earned $1.58 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.
Total revenue rose 1.4 per cent to $131.57 billion.
Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.53 per share on revenue of $132.35 billion.
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