The largest retailers in the world have managed to increase their sales through the recession, but profitability has suffered, research from Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has revealed.

Its 2010 Global Powers of Retailing report - which launched at the National Retail Federation conference in New York on Sunday - showed Walmart has retained its top spot ahead of Carrefour as the world’s largest retailer. However, Tesco has slipped from third to fourth place, being overtaken by Metro. Despite Tesco’s better sales growth rate, relative currency strengths against the dollar allowed Metro to move up a place.

The report found the top 250 retailers sales have increased by 5.5% in a year through the recession, while profitability fell from 3.7% to 2.4%. 30 of the 250 were operating at a loss.

The figures are based on the financial results of retailers encompassing their financial years ending before July 2009.

Deloitte Research director of consumer business Dr Ira Kalish said: “Many retailers ‘bought’ sales with heavy promotions which hit the bottom line hard. However, we are already seeing evidence that as economic recovery takes hold around the world retailers should be able to return to a path of improving profitability.”