Were Walmart Earnings Really as Bad as They Looked?

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When retail behemoth Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) reported its first-quarter earnings, the headlines and the reaction were atrocious. Now that the dust has settled, the question to ask if these results were really that bad — and if they were really that unexpected.

Walmart’s adjusted earnings of $1.10 per share on revenues of $114.96 billion, compared to Thomson Reuters consensus estimates of $1.15 in earnings per share and $116.27 billion in revenue. The figures a year earlier were $1.14 per share and $114.19 billion.

U.S. first-quarter same-store sales were down 0.1%, while same-store sales in the company’s Sam’s Club stores slipped 0.5% in the quarter. Same-store sales at the Neighborhood Market stores rose approximately 5% in the quarter, and total U.S. net sales rose 2.1%.

The question is just how much this damage was caused by weather. Walmart said that severe weather in the United States cost the company about $0.03 per share in earnings. The company also said that its first-quarter tax rate was higher than expected. Excluding the impact of currency exchange rates, Walmart said revenues would have been 2.1% higher.

So, what about how guidance is affecting shares? For the second quarter, Walmart forecast EPS in a range of $1.15 to $1.25, versus $1.24 a year earlier and a consensus of $1.28 per share. For the current quarter, Walmart expects same-store sales to be flat.

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Walmart’s new president and CEO, Doug McMillon, tried to maintain that weather negatively impacted U.S. sales and drove operating expenses higher, but he also said:

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 one takeaway that investors are going to have deal with is the conundrum of the smaller format stores. This is growing fast inside of Walmart, but this effort is going to take time to scale up. The other issue to consider is that it will take a lot of the small format stores to equal a handful of the larger stores.

The price reaction in the stock is not a normal trading one. Shares were down 2.4% at $76.81 right at the mid-day mark on Thursday. The 6.3 million shares traded are almost the same as a full day’s normal trading volume of 6.6 million shares. We also saw that Walmart shares have only exceeded 10 million shares in a day twice in the past 90 days, and only on five trading days since the start of 2014.

Walmart shares were indicated down about 3.1% in premarket trading at $76.30 shortly after earnings. They opened at $76.33, but had risen almost 50 cents by mid-day. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $81.25 before the results were announced.

Maybe the results weren’t quite as bad as investors originally worried about.

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