Wal-Mart said Friday it will pull the plug on its smallest store format, Walmart Express, and close 269 locations as it contends with higher costs in its home market of the United States and disappointing results overseas.
The move includes Wal-Mart’s largest-ever single culling in the United States, where the company is closing 154 stores. The other 115 stores are in Latin America, including 60 in Brazil.
The world’s largest retailer said it hoped to transfer many of the 10,000 U.S. and 6,000 Latin American workers in the closed stores to other locations.
Wal-Mart’s earnings have been under pressure due to last year’s decision to raise entry-level wages as well as higher investments aimed at closing the gap online with Amazon.com Inc . At the same time, Wal-Mart is struggling overseas, where a strong U.S. dollar reduces the value of local sales.
The closings come three months after Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon disclosed plans to review global operations and shut underperforming stores. Friday’s announcement marks the first step in that restructuring effort.
Wal-Mart said the closures represented less than 1 percent of its global revenue. The biggest cuts are in the United States, including all 102 Walmart Express stores.
At 12,000 to 15,000 square feet, Express stores are less than one-tenth the size of a typical Walmart Supercenter. The format had been in pilot since 2011 but did not deliver the desired results.
Moody’s retail analyst Charlie O’Shea described the closures as a long-overdue “pruning.”
“I’ve always wondered why it’s taken so long to cull the U.S. store base because they really haven’t done much of it over the past several years,” O’Shea said.
Wal-Mart said the move would reduce earnings by 20 cents to 22 cents a diluted share, with nearly all of that to be booked in the fourth quarter ending this month. In November, it forecast a full-year profit of $4.50 to $4.65.
The company’s shares fell 2.6 percent to $61.39.
The other 52 U.S. stores to be closed are a mixture of Supercenters, Wal-Mart’s largest format; discount stores; Neighborhood Market groceries; and outlets in the company’s Sam’s Club bulk-selling wholesale chain.
The closings highlight the challenges Wal-Mart faces in finding growth opportunities in both its home market, which it has blanketed with some 4,500 stores, and overseas, where it has grown to more than 6,000 locations but has struggled to generate consistent returns.
In an internal memo to staff, McMillon said a regular review of the company’s assets was vital for growth. “Doing this ensures we focus and align our resources in ways that build a strong company positioned to win in the future,” said the memo, which was seen by Reuters.
The Arkansas-based retailer said it would still open 142 to 165 stores in the United States in the year ending in January 2017. For the first time, it also disclosed plans to open 200 to 240 stores overseas in the coming year.
The company said about 95 percent of the closed U.S. stores were within 10 miles of another that it owns, making it possible to move some workers to other locations. It said it would provide 60 days of pay and severance for eligible workers not placed.
The cuts drew criticism from a group backed by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, which for years has been behind a campaign pushing for better wages and benefits for Wal-Mart employees.
“Sadly, these latest store closings could very well be just the beginning,” Jess Levin, communications director at Making Change at Walmart, said in an emailed statement. “This sends a chilling message to the company’s hard-working employees that they could be next.”
Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) has released a huge list of Black Friday specials. It has to have a good holiday season to silence skeptics who think America’s largest retailer can no longer grow, at least in America. Like most retailers, it kicks off its sales over the Thanksgiving weekend as a means to draw early shoppers.
As another way to reach a larger customer base than it has in previous years, all holiday sales will be offered online, according to Walmart’s press release:
“For the first time ever, the majority of Walmart’s Black Friday deals will be available on Walmart.com – including many of the top items such as televisions, video game consoles and small home appliances – beginning at 12:01 a.m. PT on Thanksgiving morning. Then, Black Friday will begin in stores at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. New this year, Walmart’s mobile users can get a first look at the retailer’s Black Friday circular, available today through the Walmart app.”
The retailer is pushing its app, probably because the app encourages customers not to wander to other sites.
Wal-Mart’s promotions for the Thanksgiving weekend, which include Black Friday, are focused on consumer electronics and related products, particularly televisions and movies.
Among the products Wal-Mart is pushing the hardest:
• 10 Televisions, including a Roku 32” Class Smart HDTV for $125 (special buy), 40” Class HDTV for $149 (special buy) and Samsung 55” Class Curved Smart 4K UHD TV for $998 ($200 savings)
• Fitness Wearables like the Fitbit Flex Wristband for $59 ($40 savings) and the Fitbit Charge HR Heart Rate + Activity Wristband for $119 ($30 savings)
• More than 100 video games many starting at $8 as well as NBA2K16, Madden ’16 and FIFA ’16 for Xbox One for $27 each ($32.88 savings)
• Video Game Console bundles including a PlayStation 4 Uncharted Bundle for $299 ($50 savings)
• More than 800 DVDs and Blu-ray movies many starting at $1.96
• Home appliances for $9.72 each including an Oster 8-Speed Blender, Crock-Pot Stainless 5-Qt. Slow Cooker and 12-cup Programmable Black & Decker Coffee Maker
• Hot toys including a Star Wars Lightsaber for $5 ($3.94 savings), the Sky Viper X-Quad Stunt R/C Drone for $25 (special buy) and the LEGO or Duplo Large Creative Box for $30 (special buy)
• Hotel Style Cotton-Rich 850-Thread Count Sheet Set for $25 (special buy)
• Children’s licensed sleepwear starting at $4.75 (special buy)
Management will have to wait until the end of the year to find out if these discounts worked or, on the other hand, if they brought in too little inventory of the items to fulfill all the demand.
Ever since Wal-Mart heir John T. Walton died 10 years ago in a plane crash, it’s been widely assumed that he passed the bulk of his vast estate to his widow, Christy.
Turns out that was very wrong.
In what’s been a closely guarded family secret, Walton gave half of his then-$17 billion estimated fortune to charitable trusts and a third to their only child, Lukas Walton, now 29, an analysis of court documents reveals. Christy got the rest.
The filings, unsealed by a Wyoming court at Bloomberg News’s request, mean that Christy’s fortune as previously calculated has taken a big hit — from $32 billion before the court records were unsealed to about $5 billion now. She’s unlikely to ever again reach her former designation as America’s richest woman, which she held until last month.
But her loss is Lukas’s gain. Though little-known outside of a few scattered social media posts, he becomes the 103rd-richest person in the world, with about $11 billion — and as much as $25 billion if certain trusts are included, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
That makes the grandson of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton $5.5 billion richer than his 66-year-old mother, and the fourth-wealthiest member of the Walton family. His net worth is higher than the likes of Google executive Eric Schmidt and money manager John Paulson.
The Waltons declined to comment for this article. “Lukas Walton is an entrepreneur involved in a variety of investment and philanthropic activities,” Kiki McLean, a spokeswoman for the Walton family, said in an e-mail.
John Walton, the second of four children of Sam and Helen Walton, left an estate that included gold bars, a catamaran and $100 million in cash, according to the documents. Most valuable was his 20 percent interest in Walton Enterprises LLC, the family’s main investment entity.
As a result of that holding, Lukas may wield a key vote in the closely held entity, which together with another family trust controls a 50.2 percent stake in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. At more than $100 billion, the Waltons — siblings Jim, Rob and Alice, as well as Lukas and Christy — can claim one of the world’s largest family fortunes, according to the index.
“There’s no other public company of this size that I am aware of where a family has such a big stake,” said Brian Yarbrough, a consumer research analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis.
Lukas has proved adept at keeping a low profile. He grew up in National City in San Diego County and Jackson, Wyoming.
“They were just one of the neighbors, just one of the very rich neighbors,” said Ron Morrison, mayor of National City, who was a regular visitor to the area where the family lived from 1986 to 2005.
As a young child, Lukas was diagnosed with cancer. His mother attributes his survival to an organic food diet, according to an interview she gave to the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2008.
Lukas graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmentally sustainable business from Colorado College, according to a letter from his high school. His college directory lists his graduation year as 2010 and his work history as an unspecified position at the Walton Family Foundation. He has worked for True North Venture Partners, a firm that traces its roots to his father’s venture capital activities, according to local press coverage of the commencement speech he gave at his high school in 2011.
The fate of his father John’s stake was unknown ever since a judge in Teton County, Wyoming, sealed the estate in September 2005 at the request of the family. Walton had died three months before, at age 58, when the ultra-light aircraft he was piloting crashed shortly after taking off from Jackson Hole Airport.
The documents reveal the painstaking seven-year-long legal undertaking to distribute the estate and underline the family’s extensive use of trust structures to minimize the amount of tax they pay.
His father’s will directed that Lukas be given the right to vote the estate’s general and limited partner units in Walton Enterprises. That could make him one of the first of the family’s third generation to be a voting shareholder in the controlling entity, if he decides to exercise his voting power.
That structure is in keeping with Sam Walton’s vision to minimize estate taxes while keeping the family’s control of the company unified. In 1953, he put his stock in a trust that gave each of his children a 20 percent stake in the business, leaving the remainder for himself and his wife.
“The principle behind this is simple: the best way to reduce paying estate taxes is to give your assets away before they appreciate,” Sam Walton explained in his autobiography.
When John married Christy Tallant, he had a net worth of about $195 million, according to a 1982 premarital agreement that was unsealed this month by the Wyoming court.
John Walton’s own bequest appeared to take advantage of several tools to reduce taxes on the estate. The estate was appraised at $6.6 billion, according to the documents.
Yet, the Wal-Mart shares controlled by John Walton’s estate would have had a market value of $17 billion at the time of his death if he hadn’t given any of his holdings away during his lifetime, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That discount in part reflects the holding structure the family has established for their shares, according to John Anzivino, head of the estates and trust division at Miami-based accountants Kaufman Rossin.
“The LLC may have all kinds of restrictions, such as profit allocations and lack of control, which reduce its value from the market value of the stock itself,” he said. In Bloomberg’s analysis, the net worth of Christy and Lukas is calculated using the retailer’s stock price.
This structure saw the estate estimate its tax liability to be about $1.4 billion, only 21 percent of the appraised value. The top federal estate tax rate was 47 percent in 2005, according to Anzivino. This is the rate on the portion passing to the child subject to estate tax in excess of the exemption of $1.5 million. Christy, as the surviving spouse, gets her share estate tax-free and the gift to the charitable trusts are estate tax-free.
John Walton’s will split the estate into two parts.
Half of the estate was placed into tax-friendly vehicles known as charitable lead annuity trusts, or CLATs, of which Lukas is the only beneficiary.
For the other half, Walton directed that two-thirds was to be held in trust for Lukas. The remainder went to his widow.
The charitable trusts make annual non-taxable payments under IRS guidelines to the Walton Family Foundation charitable arm until 2036. If its investments outperform certain benchmarks, whatever is left at the end goes to Lukas without any tax bill.
In Bloomberg’s calculation, Lukas isn’t credited with the portion of the estate held by the charitable trusts. If he were, his net worth would be as high as $25 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Depending on future performance, Lukas may not receive anything from these CLATs, according to an adviser for the family who asked not to be named as the details are private. It was John Walton’s intent to leave half his estate to charity, the adviser said.
Currently the trusts are accumulating assets faster than they’re giving them away, according to an analysis by Bloomberg based on the fair market value of these trusts as reported in annual IRS filings. That suggests the underlying assets could ultimately pass to Lukas in 21 years.
Christy’s share of her husband’s estate — about 17 percent, according to the unsealed will — includes 500,000 Wal-Mart shares, personal effects, interest in various ranches and other sundries. A philanthropist, she donated the Victorian house in National City, California, where she had lived with John and Lukas, to charity in 2006.
“The Waltons were always very good at being very philanthropic to youth programs, but they always did it anonymously,” National City’s Morrison said.
The documents unsealed by the court reinforce how close the family remains in business, more than two decades after Sam Walton’s death. They show loans to the estate from Sam’s three surviving children that enabled it to meet its obligations and prevent any loss of control at the family retailer.
It’s a setup not likely to be lost upon the youngest Wal-Mart billionaire. If Lukas is ever tempted to break the tradition of family rule, his grandfather left some stern advice for his offspring.
“If you start any of that foolishness, I’ll come back and haunt you,” Sam Walton warned in his book. “So don’t even think about it.”
Written by David De Jong and Tom Metcalf of Bloomberg
In past years, “Christmas creep” led to Santa Claus displays appearing in store aisles right after Labor Day, and the occasional “early Black Friday sale” popping up for a brief day or two here and there before Thanksgiving.
Increasingly, though, major retailers are ushering in Black Friday-type sales in early November, and they’re trying to maintain the intense, promotion-heavy atmosphere steady all the way to Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and beyond.
Starting Friday, November 6, Walmart is promising “ten brand new online specials every single day for the rest of the holiday shopping season” in its Daily Savings Center. The “Cyber Monday-like prices” introduced on Friday include a 24-inch RCA HDTV for $99 (normally $180), a Star Wars lightsaber clock for $19 (normally $32), and a ride-on battery-powered Mercedes kids car for $94 (normally $200).
Walmart is hardly alone in deciding to more or less expand Black Friday and Cyber Monday to all of November. Amazon launched Countdown to Black Friday Week deals starting on November 1, featuring a new series of discounts and promotions daily, and Best Buy in hosting a “pre-Black Friday” sale this weekend in stores and online, with special deals on iPads, iPhones, TVs, game consoles, and more.
Are these deals as good as what shoppers will see on the actual Black Friday or Cyber Monday—or Thanksgiving, since many stores will be open? It’s hard to say for sure. Many of the extra-early season promotions appear to be pretty outstanding, and may prove to be the best prices of the season.
Understandably, retailers want to get a larger piece of consumers’ holiday shopping budgets every year, and they want to grab those holiday shopping dollars earlier and earlier every year—if for no other reason than they are trying to beat the competition to the punch. But this push comes at a price. As the Consumerist noted, as Black Friday evolves into “Black November,” the sales on any given day—most obviously, Black Friday itself—become less important, and easier for shoppers to ignore.
Black Friday sales have been underwhelming lately, and surely part of the reason that the day is seen as less meaningful to retailers is that shoppers are being pulled in so many different directions—with big sales online, on Thanksgiving, and weeks before Black Friday.
To paraphrase the famous Syndrome quote from “The Incredibles,” when every day is special, then none is.
It’s been nearly two weeks since Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) plunged 10% on an announcement from the company that fiscal year 2017 profits would decline by as much as 12%. And although the pace of the drop has slowed, the giant retailer posted another 52-week low on Friday. Can the coming holiday season stop the bleeding?
This year’s holiday shopping season does not appear to be much better than last year’s. The National Retail Federation (NRF) has said that a survey of consumers indicated average spending per person this year will be $805.65, up just $3.20 compared with 2014. Almost half (46%) of holiday browsing and spending will take place online, up 2 percentage points over last year.
Some retail analysts are blaming the year-over-year flatness to a lack of exciting new (and expensive) products. That means the holiday shopping season will be all about promotions and there’s scant profit there.
At website BestBlackFriday.com, Walmart gets the nod as the winner of the Black Friday shopping sweepstakes:
They are going to run three different doorbuster events, the first starting on Thanksgiving night. They will also bring back their hugely popular ad match and 1-hour guarantee. The ad match means they will literally match the price that any competitor is offering for the same product, in retail stores only. The 1-hour guarantee means that if any of the top doorbusters available during Event 1 are sold out in the first hour before you have a chance to purchase them, Walmart offers you a limited window to buy them after Black Friday at the same price. While other stores will be opening at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving or earlier, Walmart is likely to stick to their 6 p.m. opening time for Event 1.
The overall Black Friday discount is forecast at 39.55%, according to BestBlackFriday, and the shopping site expects a Walmart discount range 30% to 35%. By comparison, the expected discount at J.C. Penney stores is projected at 60% to 65%, with discounts at Macy’s and Sears averaging 50% to 55%.
Total Black Friday spending totaled $9.1 billion a year ago and is expected to reach just $8.8 billion this year. Thanksgiving Day spending is expected to rise from $3.19 billion a year ago to $3.79 billion this year. Retailers appear to be pulling Black Friday sales forward rather than actually raising them: the two-day total for last year is $12.29 billion and the two-day estimate for this year totals $12.59 billion.
The short answer to our earlier questions is that the 2015 holiday shopping season is not likely to provide much solace to Walmart executives or investors. The stock closed down about 1% Friday at $58.30 after posting a new 52-week low of $58.22. The 52-week high is $90.97
“Now, when it comes to Wal-Mart, there’s no two ways about it: I’m cheap,” wrote Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in his 1992 memoir “Sam Walton: Made in America.”
If the notoriously cheap Walton were alive today, he would probably be surprised that his pioneering profit formula — keep costs low so that prices are as low as possible and customers buy more — is now virtually impossible to maintain. Full blame for that can be pinned on employees demanding higher wages and the rise of e-commerce giants such as Amazon , which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Perhaps the retail legend saw some of this on display from up above on what was a dark day in Wal-Mart’s history on Wednesday. Wal-Mart’s usually stable stock price tumbled 11% as the company said at its annual investor day that higher wages for associates will dent profits by about $1.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, following a $1.2 billion hit this fiscal year.
For years, Wal-Mart has had the upper hand with its employees, paying them state minimum wages, offering basic healthcare plans, and using computerized systems to control their hours. But with the rise of social media and the internetgiving employees a free platform to express views, and the rising cost of living causing state governments to push through higher minimum wages, Wal-Mart has had to change with the times.
As a result, it has lost a key element of its business model put in place by Walton that has supported the company’s profits since its founding. Further, rising employee costs are arriving as online shopping is also limiting the ability of Wal-Mart to raise prices at all to help deliver sustainable profit growth.
Wal-Mart added on Wednesday that it expects earnings per share to decline between 6% and 12% next year. Wrote Sterne Agee analyst Charles Grom in a note to clients on Wednesday : “What’s surprising to us is that the new outlook is incorporating roughly $20 billion in share buybacks in the next two years, which implies significant margin contraction along with modest sales growth,”
Employee costs aren’t the only line item on the income statement Wal-Mart is battling to control.
Wal-Mart’s investments in e-commerce and digital initiatives are expected to total about $1.1 billion in the 2017 fiscal year. This year, Wal-Mart is projected to shell out $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion on e-commerce and digital.
These investments are a necessary evil to stay competitive with Amazon, as well as with Best Buy and Target , which are continuing down their own paths to reduce prices, improve checkout speeds and offer a range of delivery options.
When Walton opened the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers, Arkansas in 1962, though, it’s unlikely he foresaw a day when a sweater could be purchased off a handheld device. Today it can be, however, and to make it happen seamlessly and at the lowest cost is proving to be a major profit headwind for the once mighty Wal-Mart.
Even with such enormous investments in digital, however, Wal-Mart still sees sales as being under pressure. Wal-Mart said it now expects net sales growth for the current fiscal year to be relatively flat, down from a forecast of between 1% and 2% in February. Excluding the impact of currency exchange fluctuations — mostly the stronger dollar — net sales growth is estimated to be about 3%.
“New guidance reflects that Wal-Mart’s competitive edge — historically largely assortment and price — has faded relative to purveyors of extreme value (warehouse clubs, hard discounters) or extreme convenience (dollar stores, hard discounters), as e-commerce has neutralized the impact of selection,” pointed out Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Fassler in a note on Wednesday.
The deterioration of Walton’s pioneering business model has been playing out for some time in Wal-Mart’s numbers.
According to Bloomberg data, Wal-Mart’s operating profit margins, which takes into account its costs to run stores and pay for wages and healthcare, has fallen from 7.1% in 1987 to 5.6% in 2015. From 1988, Wal-Mart’s return on assets — an indicator of how profitable a company is relative to its total assets — has gone from 13.7% to 8.0% in 2015.
The alarming downtrends in these measures, partly fueled by investments to compete online and compensate workers better, have been overlooked for years by Wal-Mart’s investors who have focused on the retailer’s healthy dividend and relative stability.
But the stock’s nosedive on Wednesday, and an 11% drop for the year prior to that point, suggests Walmart’s investor base is growing concerned that the retail giant’s business is broken. Wrote Stifel analyst David Schick in a note, “the market is reacting to meaningful evidence that Wal-Mart has substantially over-earned.” In other words, Wal-Mart is now being forced to play catch up on investments it neglected to make in the past to keep the profits flowing.
And if Wal-Mart’s business model is broken, profits are likely to stay under pressure for some time, and future dividend hikes may not be as robust as in years past.
Now, Wal-Mart has to find a way to channel Walton and become cheap once more. Indications have emerged that it may be willing to take drastic actions to return to some sense of frugality.
“We are more than open to re-shaping our portfolio,” said Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon at the investor event. McMillon added the company continues to “evaluate its portfolio” of assets, and pointed to Wal-Mart’s history of exiting non-strategic assets and closing underperforming stores.
For example, the retailer exited Germany in 2006 and took a $1 billion hit to profits as a result. By shedding assets such as Sam’s Club or lagging international operations, Wal-Mart would also be shedding costs related to employees and maintaining physical stores. In turn, those savings could be used to offset the investments being made in core assets such as the online business and Wal-Mart U.S., or simply be brought to the bottom line to appease investors.
“You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation — or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient,” wrote Walton. Words of wisdom from beyond the grave for McMillon and the execs tasked with turning around the largest ship in retail.
Wal-Mart did not respond to request for comment for this story.
Wal-Mart has earned its reputation as a money-saving store by offering low prices on just about everything from car accessories to canned goods. And while no one will doubt Wal-Mart is a great place to save money, that doesn’t mean some items can’t be found elsewhere for less.
To help you maximize your savings, GOBankingRates.com asked a variety of experts to list items you should snatch up at Wal-Mart — and items you should steer clear of. Find out if you’re shopping smart at Wal-Mart.
Merchants participating in Amazon.com’s much-advertised “Prime Day” sale saw an 80 percent rise in U.S. sales from a year earlier, according to preliminary data from e-commerce researcher ChannelAdvisor, although the event also drew ire from some shoppers.
The one-day sale on Wednesday for members of Amazon’s $99 per year Prime subscription service is similar to an annual sale by China e-commerce merchant Alibaba.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc also launched an online sale on Wednesday, a sign that the nation’s largest retailer was concerned that Amazon was gaining market share, Gilford Securities analyst Bernard Sosnick said.
Discounts on products ranging from storage sets to robotic vacuum cleaners sent orders per minute at the peak higher than on “Black Friday, the term for the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally has been the top retail sales day in the United States, Amazon said. It did not give detailed sales numbers but said it sold 35,000 Lord of the Rings Blu-Ray sets in 15 minutes and that a Kate Spade handbag was sold out in a minute.
Some Amazon shoppers vented on Twitter that Prime Day deals were selling out too quickly and complained that deals were not attractive enough.
Other shoppers used the #PrimeDayFail hashtag on Twitter. One user tweeted: “Hey @Amazon, #PrimeDay is not Black Friday in July. It’s April Fools’ in July. #primedayfail”.
Adobe Digital Index said that 50 percent of overall sentiment related to Prime Day on social media was about disappointment.
“Much of the disappointed chatter focused on the lack of blockbuster deals,” it said, adding that users cited sales of less desirable items like socks and towels.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the retailer was listening to its customers and planned to add more deals like TVs.
ChannelAdvisor calculated the 80 percent rise in U.S. sales as of 12 p.m. ET (1600 GMT) based on sales by partner retailers that sell on Amazon.com.
Sales rose 40 percent in Amazon Europe, ChannelAdvisor said.
Amazon declined to comment on the data.
Wal-Mart launched a three-month online sale of some 2,000 items on Wednesday. The company said customers “shouldn’t have to pay a fee” to get low prices, a dig at Amazon, which it did not name. Deals should be around for more than a single day, a spokesman said.
Target Corp has been running its own summer “Black Friday” sale since 2010 and is offering it for 10 days through Saturday.