Walmart’s Business ‘Strong and Getting Stronger’: CEO

At Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s 19th Annual Meeting for the Investment Community today, president and CEO Mike Duke said the mega-retailer’s business is growing its operations around the world. “Walmart is strong, and we are getting stronger,” he asserted, even as workers in six U.S. cities took part in unprecedented walkouts to protest what they characterize as low wages and chronic short-staffing.

“We have momentum in our business that’s producing top-line and bottom-line results,” noted Duke in his opening remarks at the meeting. “We’re delivering on the productivity loop and being even more disciplined about operating expenses and capital spending. We’re making investments that are creating a better business. I believe that the combination of momentum, investment and discipline will continue to deliver growth, leverage and returns for our shareholders.”

Duke also sees momentum in the “leadership Walmart is providing on issues like sustainability, the economic empowerment of women, nutrition and hunger, and agriculture.” He promised that the company would “bring the same increased discipline to our capital expenditures that we have been bringing to operating expenses … [through] driving efficiencies in new stores and remodels by reducing construction costs while keeping our square footage growth where we want it to be.” And in the area of investment, he spotlighted the company’s Global eCommerce division and Walmart’s stake in Chinese Web retailer Yihaodian, noting, “[W]e are playing to win in a very real way now -- driving innovation, working together across the entire business and investing in our vision.”

As far as its ongoing financial goals of growth, leverage and returns are concerned, Walmart “will generate growth through comp sales from existing business, new stores and e-commerce,” said Duke. “Our international business will continue to be a growth engine. And at Sam’s, we’re pushing hard to accelerate growth in membership and top-line sales. Down the road, he continued, the retailer’s “op ex and cap ex discipline, combined with our initiatives in areas such as shared services and global processes and sourcing, will help us to continue delivering on our leverage goals. We will also continue to deliver returns to our shareholders through dividends and share repurchases."

In concluding his remarks, Duke said, “Our strategies are creating an anytime, anywhere relationship with our customers that will allow us to serve them better than any other retailer.”

But while Duke described Walmart U.S. business as being “in a very good place” and making progress in growing strong, comparable-store sales, workers in the Dallas area; Miami; the metro Washington, D.C., area; Sacramento, Calif.; Southern California; and the Bay Area of northern California have staged walkouts, claiming that the company had attempted to retaliate against associates who wanted to improve job conditions.

Along with community supporters, the striking associates, who are members of a nationwide organization called OUR Walmart, said that they would bring their concerns to the retailer’s global corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., at the same time that the company is holding its investment meeting. Additionally, associate shareholders have proposed a resolution to limit executive pay, which they say has received “unprecedented support.”

Walmart operates 10,300 stores under 69 banners in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 10 countries.

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