McMillon poised to make his mark at Walmart

All eyes will be on Walmart’s new CEO Doug McMillon next week when the company reports worse-than-expected fourth quarter results on Thursday, and McMillon makes his first public comments since becoming CEO.

McMillon is no stranger to providing financial updates during the company’s pre-recorded earnings calls, investor conferences and analysts’ meetings. He performed those duties on numerous occasions during the past decade while serving as president and CEO of Walmart International and president and CEO of Sam’s Club before that.

However, next Thursday’s earnings announcement is a different story as it is McMillon’s first opportunity since being named as successor to former president and CEO Mike Duke to share his vision of where Walmart is headed and how it will get there.

Investors already know the sales and profit situation during the fourth quarter was not as good as they had been led to believe last fall. Walmart got that bad news out of the way two weeks ago when it uncharacteristically preannounced that same-store sales would be slightly negative at Walmart’s U.S. stores and Sam’s Club and that profits would be at or below a prior forecast range. During the call next Thursday morning top executives will offer more details on the sources of the weakness, beyond the already mentioned bad weather and worse than expected impact from the reduction of food stamp benefits, leaving McMillon to focus on the future.

As for what the future may hold, look for McMillon to borrow a page from the playbook of new Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen. She sought to reassure markets during testimony before lawmakers this week that under her leadership there would be no immediate deviation from the monetary policy pursued by her predecessor.

What that means in the context of Walmart is that it would be shocking if during his first conference call as CEO McMillon offered a point of view sharply different from Duke’s. If anything, McMillon may ratchet up the rhetoric about helping people save money to live better and fulfilling that mission by controlling expenses to offer everyday low prices. Walmart shoppers remain under pressure with limited disposable incomes and McMillon is a staunch believer in EDLP. He has spoken forcefully about EDLP in the past and during his international tenure made the case that EDLP would be the driving force for success in each of the markets where Walmart operates.

He’s also likely to reaffirm the company’s commitment to shareholders regarding growth, leverage and returns. Walmart has come up short in the key area of leverage during the past year because limited top line growth made it challenging to leverage expenses. If Walmart is going to deliver on its shareholder commitments, it will fall to McMillon to make hard choices about where and how to cut costs against the backdrop of still challenging economic climate.



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