Walmart shares cautious outlook for future sales

Walmart continues to envision flat same store sales at its U.S. stores after reporting weaker than expected profits on weak U.S. sales results that were negatively affected by a winter that wouldn’t end.

Net income declined 5% to $3.6 billion and earnings per share of $1.10 were five cents below analysts’ expectations and below the company’s prior year first quarter profit of $1.14. Even excluding the effects of the severe winter, estimated by Walmart to be three cents a share, the company’s profit figure would have been below the prior year amount, although with the guidance range of $1.10 to $1.20.

Sales at Walmart’s U.S. stores increased 2% to $67.9 billion although same store sales declined 0.1% after declining 1.4% during the first quarter the prior year. Sales at Sam’s Club including fuel were essentially flat at $13.9 billion, but increased 0.5% if fuel sales are excluded. Same store sales declined 0.5%, excluding fuel, after a prior year drop of 0.2%.

“Like other retailers in the United States, the unseasonably cold and disruptive weather negatively impacted U.S. sales and drove operating expenses higher than expected," said Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. president and CEO. "Walmart's underlying business is solid, and I'm confident in our long-term strategies. We'll continue to invest in price and enhance our service to improve sales. We remain focused on growth across the enterprise, especially in small formats like Neighborhood Market in the U.S."

The company highlighted what it called significant investments in e-commerce initiatives, including its global technology platform, and said sales worldwide rose approximately 27% and noted that e-commerce had a 0.3% favorable impact on same store sales at U.S. stores.

"We have the opportunity to create transformative growth through stronger e-commerce capabilities," McMillon said. "Our investments are focused on improving customer experience and fulfillment capacity. We're working to deliver a relevant, personalized and seamless customer experience across all channels to further grow sales."

Total company sales for the quarter ended April 30 increased 0.8% to $114.2 billion, but would have grown 2.1% if a $1.6 billion negative impact of currency exchange rates were excluding from the calculation.

Walmart had set a low bar for itself heading into the quarter which began in early February as severe winter weather was hitting the nation at the time the company provided guidance calling for flat same store sales at U.S. stores and clubs. Although weather conditions have improved nationwide, the retailer continues to forecast relatively flat comps while touting strong fundamentals of its business.

"A number of severe winter storms negatively impacted us during the quarter. A solid start to spring and a strong Easter drove positive comps in the back half of the quarter,” said Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and CEO. "Neighborhood Markets continued to deliver strong results. Comp sales increased approximately 5% for the quarter, and net sales have nearly doubled versus two years ago. We saw strength across food and health and wellness, and we're particularly pleased with our overall traffic trend. April marked the 46th consecutive month of positive comps for Neighborhood Market.”

Like McMillon, Simon touted Walmart’s solid fundamentals and said, “our recently launched initiatives, including the Walmart 2 Walmart money transfer service and the video game trade-in program, along with continued price investment, will resonate with the customer."

As for Sam’s Club, president and CEO Rosalind Brewer, highlighted several noteworthy developments such as 10.9% growth in membership income driven by a fee increase.

"We expect that the combination of the national rollout of Sam's Club Cash Rewards and the launch of our new industry leading cash back credit card will enhance member value to drive stronger membership growth,” Brewer said. “These programs, along with our improvements in merchandise, are expected to drive better comp sales in the future.”


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