November 15, 2013

Sluggish recovery cuts into Walmart’s annual outlook

The updated forecast shows how vulnerable the retailer is to ups and downs in the economy.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Walmart shoppers – much like many Americans – still feel like they’re in a recession.

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Walmart’s U.S. stores, which account for 58 percent of the company’s total sales, had a third straight quarter of declines in the July-to-September period.

2013 Associated Press File

In the uneven economic recovery, their bills are going up, but their wages are not. While the well-heeled crowd benefits from gains in the stock market, Walmart shoppers are still struggling with a higher payroll tax. And shopping for bargains isn’t a hobby, but a necessity.

For these reasons, the world’s largest retailer on Thursday cut its annual outlook for the second time in three months and gave fourth-quarter guidance that’s below Wall Street’s expectations.

The forecast, which comes as rivals Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Macy’s reported mixed results, shows how vulnerable Walmart – and its customers – are to economic ups and downs. Walmart shoppers, who on average make $45,000 a year, were squeezed by the recession that began at the end of 2007 and have struggled to recover since it ended in 2009.

“The retail environment, both in stores and online, remains competitive,” said Mike Duke, president and CEO of Walmart Stores Inc. “At the same time, some customers feel uncertainty about the economy, government, jobs stability and their need to take care of their families through the holidays.”

Walmart earned $3.74 billion, or $1.14 per share, in the three months that ended Oct. 31. That compares with $3.64 billion, or $1.08 per share, a year earlier. Net sales rose 1.6 percent to $114.88 billion. On a constant currency basis, net sales would have been $116.2 billion.

Analysts were expecting earnings of $1.13 per share on net sales of $116.9 billion.

Overall, total sales increased 2.4 percent for Walmart’s U.S. business, 1.1 percent at Sam’s Clubs and 0.2 percent at Walmart’s international business.

Walmart said it expects adjusted earnings per share to be $1.60 to $1.70 for the fourth quarter. For the year, it expects $5.11 to $5.21, compared with its forecast of $5.10 and $5.30 per share in August. That was downgraded from May’s forecast.

Analysts expected adjusted earnings of $1.69 per share for the fourth quarter and $5.19 per share for the full year, according to research firm FactSet.

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