The stock buyback binge Walmart has been on for the past few years is positioned as a way for the company to return cash to shareholders, and it is. However, the $25.6 billion (that’s not a typo) spent by Walmart on share repurchases during the past three years has had another effect. It has driven the Walton family’s ownership stake in the company to a record level of 48.18%.
As of March 31, Walton Enterprises LLC, which includes as managing members Alice, Jim and Rob Walton, owned 1,680,506,739 of the company’s 3,487,721,113 outstanding shares, as disclosed in the company’s proxy statement. Just five years ago, Walton Enterprises LLC’s, ownership stake was 40.32% because it held the same number of shares but the number of outstanding shares was much higher at 4,167,369,745 as of March 31, 2006.
It is conceivable the Walton family’s ownership stake will hit the 50% mark at some point in the coming years assuming Walmart remains an active purchaser of its own shares. The company ended its fiscal year on Jan. 31 with $4.8 billion remaining from a $15 billion authorization approved last year. However, a large percentage of that remaining authorization was likely consumed during the first quarter and financial analysts anticipate the company will reauthorize the share repurchase program at a level comparable to or higher than last year. And with no immediate catalyst on the horizon to send Walmart sharply higher this year the company can continue gobbling up its own shares at levels it deems attractive.