03/01/2012 09:34 EST | Updated 05/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Wal-Mart increases annual dividend by 9 per cent to $1.59 per share

BENTONVILLE, Ark. - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is raising its dividend by 9 per cent, continuing an annual tradition of increasing its shareholder payout.

The world's biggest retailer will pay a quarterly dividend of 39.75 cents on April 4 to shareholders of record on March 12. That works out to $1.59 per share for the year.

The Bentonville, Ark., company has increased its dividend every year since its first declared dividend in March 1974.

Wal-Mart President and CEO Mike Duke also said Thursday that the company's U.S. business is back on track, while international results remain strong.

Retailers across the board reported strong sales on Thursday, as Americans stepped up their spending and offered the latest sign of confidence in the economy. Overall, merchants reported a 6.7 per cent increase for February compared with a year earlier, according to the International Council of Shopping Center's tally of 20 retailers, the biggest gain since June 2011.

Wal-Mart Stores does not release monthly sales, but last month the company reported its fourth-quarter results, which showed its business is rebounding in the U.S. The company posted its second consecutive quarterly gain in revenue at stores opened at least a year at its namesake Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. This figure is a key gauge of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.

Wal-Mart draws nearly 10 per cent of all nonautomotive spending in the U.S. Its U.S. business makes up 62 per cent of the company's revenue.

Wal-Mart has 10,130 stores in 27 countries. It had fiscal 2012 sales of about $444 billion.

Its stock fell 25 cents to $58.83 in afternoon trading while the broader markets edged higher. Shares of Wal-Mart have traded between $48.31 and $62.63 over the past year.