Why Walmart Earnings Were Good Enough

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Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) reported first-quarter fiscal 2019 results before markets opened Thursday. The retailing giant posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.14 on net sales of $121.63 billion, excluding membership fees in Sam’s Club. In the same period a year ago, Walmart reported EPS of $1.00 on sales of $116.53 billion. First-quarter results also compare to consensus estimates for EPS of $1.13 and $120.51 billion in sales.

U.S. first-quarter same-store sales rose 2.1% at the company’s supercenter and discount stores, and comparable-store traffic rose 0.8%. Same-store sales in the company’s Sam’s Club stores were up 3.8% excluding fuel and up 5.3% including fuel sales. Sam’s Club total net sales, including fuel, dipped 2.7% for the quarter. FactSet had forecast U.S. same-store sales growth of 2.2%.

Sam’s Club membership fees and other income for the quarter totaled $1.06 billion, an increase of 4.3% year over year.

Consolidated operating income fell by 1.6% year over year in the first quarter. U.S. operating income dipped by 3.1% for the quarter, while the company’s international segment saw a quarterly increase of 11.0%. Operating income at Sam’s Club stores tumbled by 18.5% in the quarter.

Walmart reported U.S. e-commerce growth of approximately 100 basis points (up from about 80 in the same quarter last year).

In Walmart’s international division, sales rose 11.7% and operating income rose by 0.2% in constant currency.

Walmart reiterated its guidance for a drop of $0.25 to $0.30 in full-year earnings per share due to the recent investment of some $16 billion in Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart, if the transaction closes in the second fiscal quarter. In February the company had guided full-year 2019 adjusted EPS in a range of $4.75 to $5.00. U.S. same-store sales, excluding fuel sales, were forecast to rise “at least 2.0%” and Sam’s Club sales were forecast to rise 3% to 4%, excluding tobacco and fuel. Online sales were forecast to rise about 40% in the year and capital spending was pegged at approximately $11 billion. Walmart will update this outlook when it reports second-quarter results.

Consensus estimates call for full-year EPS of $4.97 and sales of $510.87 billion. For the second fiscal quarter, Walmart is expected to post EPS of $1.23 on sales of $125.81 billion.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said:

We delivered a solid first quarter, and we’re encouraged by the continued momentum across the business. We’re transforming to better serve customers. We are changing from within to be faster and more digital, while shaping our portfolio of businesses for the future. Our strong cash flow and balance sheet provide flexibility to do so.

Free cash flow dipped slightly to $3.3 billion in the first quarter as operating cash flow fell by $200 million. Share buybacks totaled $500 million and dividend payments dipped 1% to $1.5 billion.

While not a stunning quarter, the same-store sales number was good enough and the increase in store traffic made the difference between shares moving higher or lower.

Walmart’s shares traded up 1.2% in premarket trading Thursday, at $87.11, in a 52-week range of $73.13 to $109.98. Shares closed at $86.13 on Wednesday. The consensus 12-month price target was $105.40 before the results were announced and the high target is $126.00.