The two biggest retailers in the US played down concerns about the economy at Goldman Sachs’ 11th Annual Global Re-tailing Conference last week.

Wal-Mart chief executive Lee Scott said unemployment was only 5.4 per cent and the housing market was ‘still strong’. ‘We think our Christmas is as we planned earlier this year and we are very optimistic about it,’ he said.

He admitted fuel price increases were the ‘main challenge’ and that the general consumer environment was ‘challenging’, but insisted: ‘If you listen to the media you would think the economy is in bad shape. The economy is still strong.’

Home Depot chief executive Bob Nardelli echoed Scott. ‘We are the thumb on the pulse of the consumer,’ he said. ‘We are continuing to see consumers that are becoming much more challenging, but the average ticket is going up.’

He detected a consumer reaction to fuel prices in June this year, ‘but it has since recovered’.

Last week, Home Depot opened its first urban store in Manhattan aimed at a convenience-oriented customer.

- Wal-Mart executives will meet in Bentonville later this month to discuss the retailer’s five-year expansion plan. ‘We are going to open 230 to 240 (Supercenters) this year. Next year we will open more, and our plan is to open more every year for the next five years,’ said Scott.

Wal-Mart is pleased with the development of its neighbourhood store format, but only plans to open them in areas where there is a Supercentre.