Wal-Mart's healthy first half figures were overclouded by a warning that second half performance would be at the lower end of expectations as US shoppers felt the pinch of a slowing economy. In a conference call, chief executive Lee Scott said: "It is a difficult retail environment. Customers are searching for value. They are increasingly choosing products at the opening price points that carry lower gross margin." However, analysts said it was unrealistic to expect Wal-Mart could somehow buck the trend and defy the market with continual double digit growth. "They were, not surprisingly, a little more conservative about the second half of the year," said Morgan Stanley Dean Witter analyst Bruce Misset. "But when you think about how they are basically a microcosm of a macro environment because they're so big, to expect them not to be a little bit affected by the economy would be silly." Lee Scott told investors: "Our goal for the second half of the year remains double-digit earnings growth. "However, given the current economic environment, this will be difficult to achieve. We expect earnings growth in the second half will show improvements over the first half of this year. "But the growth may not meet our original goals." Earnings growth would most likely be between 7% and 9%, predicted Scott. The bottom line was under pressure as the costs of labour, utilities and health care were "increasing at a rate faster than sales", added Scott, while margins were squeezed as the group continued to roll back prices to drive market share. For the six months to July 31, Wal-Mart posted a 2.6% rise in pre-tax profit to $4.83bn on sales up 13.2% to $100.85bn. Like-for-like sales were up 4.7%. {{NEWS }}