Wal-Mart Continues to Stumble Under CEO Doug McMillon

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) is worse off now than it was a year ago, and it has continued to struggle under Doug McMillon, who became chief executive in February 2014. Investors hoped he would dig the world’s largest retailer out from under problems created by his predecessor, Mike Duke. Nothing has happened so far except Wal-Mart’s troubles have worsened.

McMillon has done several things, but they have primarily helped employees or are cosmetic. Employees received a raise to at least $9, which barely is a livable wage. The figure will rise to at least $10 an hour in February next year. At the time, he wrote:

As important as a starting wage is, what’s even more important is opportunity, and we’ll continue to provide that ladder that any of you can climb. If you work hard, develop new skills and care for others, there should be no limit to what you can do here. That’s what makes this place special. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. And I want nothing more than for every Walmart associate today to feel that same connection to the company that I feel and to have the same opportunities I’ve had. Let’s work together to serve our customers, grow our company, and take care of one another.

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What he neglected to mention is that the pyramid workers have to climb narrows quickly, severely limiting opportunities. And there are limits to what employees can do at Wal-Mart, even if they work diligently and raise their skills. McMillon had a head start because, among other things, he has an MBA.

McMillon also has returned greeters to its stores. These workers should put a “friendly face” at the entrance to Wal-Mart stores. They are also there to discourage shoplifting.

If share price is a reasonable reflection of management success, McMillon gets low marks. Wal-Mart shares trade very near their 52-week low, at $72.74, against a high of $90.97 and a low of $71.70 in the past year. The price has careened down particularly fast in the past month. Wall Street analysts are particularly pessimistic. Of the past four analyst calls, according to Yahoo! Finance, three were downgrades and one was an initiation of coverage with a rating of Neutral.

The most damning case against McMillon’s tenure is the most important — earnings. In the most recently reported quarter, for the period that ended April 30, revenue fell 0.1% to $144 billion. The bottom line was worse. Net earnings dropped 6.7% to $3.34 billion. Operating income across all three Wal-Mart divisions (Walmart U.S., Walmart International and Sam’s Club) fell. McMillon conceded Wal-Mart needs to do better:

We had a solid first quarter. We took some important strategic steps to strengthen the foundation of our business for the future. We need to continue to get better at consistently running great stores, clubs and e-commerce everywhere we operate … and we are.

For investors, the “get better” part cannot come soon enough.

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