Wal-Mart blamed its smallest increase in first quarter earnings for five years on rising energy costs and the economic slowdown in the US. Posting a 4.1% rise in net profit to $1.38bn for the 13 weeks to April 30, chief executive Lee Scott said: "Hopes for future improvement need to be tempered because of continued lay offs, high gasoline prices and increased utility costs." Group sales were up 11.7% to $48.1bn. Improvements at Sam's Club warehouse club division drove like for like sales up 3.7%. - Marketing information companies are appealing to Wal-Mart to reconsider its decision to keep its sales data to itself. Suppliers, competitors, analysts and market researchers alike have been able to keep tabs on Wal-Mart's sales via a steady stream of data gathered at the checkouts by firms including AC Nielsen, Information Resources and the NPD Group in recent years. A spokesman said it was no longer worthwhile."Despite payment, we didn't get as much out of it as our competitors." {{NEWS }}