Wal-Mart goes back to basics, gets back in the game
The retailer's strong earnings underscore the case for an economic recovery, and analysts expect the good times to continue.
Shares of Wal-Mart (WMT) rose more than 5% in early trading Thursday after the world's largest retailer reported better-than-expected quarterly results as efforts to jump-start growth at its North American operations paid off.
Net income rose 9.2% to $3.74 billion, or $1.09 a share, versus $3.43 billion, or 97 cents, a year earlier. Revenue rose 8.5% to $113 million, fueled by a 3% gain in U.S. same-store sales. Wall Street analysts expected profit of $1.04 a share on revenue of $110.54 million.
"We believe that the momentum throughout our business positions us very well for the rest of the year," CEO Mike Duke said in a press release.
Second-quarter earnings are expected to be between $1.13 and $1.18 per share. Analysts were expecting $1.16 a share. The guidance, given the current economic environment, may prove to be conservative.
The company's growth shows it is capturing a larger share of consumer spending as overall retail spending barely budged in April, jumping just 0.1%. That's weaker than the 0.7% increase in March and a 1% gain in February. Though the growth rate of the U.S. economy slowed to 0.4% in the first quarter, many experts expect the recovery to gain momentum as the year progresses.
Wal-Mart stands to benefit if the economy falters, because more people will flock to its stores for bargains. If the recovery strengthens, shoppers will go to Wal-Mart to buy big-screen TVs and other big-ticket items.
Worries about the bribery scandal in Mexico are legitimate, though it doesn't appear that the issue will have a material impact on the retailer's earnings. In 2008, Siemens was fined $800 million for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the largest penalty of its kind. That case dwarfs the Wal-Mart Mexico allegations involving $1.4 billion in payments over six years to officials in numerous countries.
Wal-Mart's strategy, unlike J.C. Penney's (JCP), is crystal clear: to sell products at really low prices. Retail is not theoretical physics. Unfortunately, the company seemed to have forgotten the strategy that made it billions. The company had little choice but to go back to basics, given the surging popularity of dollar stores.
The strength of the company's shift has been remarkable. Sales at Wal-Mart's U.S. business rose 5.9% to $66.3 billion, while operating income rose 8.1% to $5.03 billion as the retailer grew sales and held the line on expenses.
International revenue soared 15% to $32.1 billion, helped by gains in the U.K., Brazil and Mexico, while operating income surged 21.2% to $1.31 billion. Sam's Club sales excluding fuel rose 7.1% to $12.1 billion as operating income jumped 7.7% to $490 million.
Wall Street analysts expect the good times at Wal-Mart to continue. Their average one-year price target on the stock is $63.50, about 3% above where it trades now. Given the strength of its earnings, expectations for Wal-Mart will move higher, as will estimates for its stock price.
Jonathan Berr is long Wal-Mart. Follow him on Twitter@jdberr
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