But Tuesday the nation’s largest retailer said it got a good customer response from those price cuts last quarter. Although Walmart continues to expect earnings will fall in the second half of the year, it now predicts a smaller drop in profit going forward than it had previously expected. Earnings per share for the year are expected to drop 8% to 10%, excluding divestitures, but that’s better than the 10% to 12% drop it forecast on July 25.
“We’re pleased to see more customers choosing Walmart during this inflationary period,” said CEO Doug McMillon.
Shifts in purchases
McMillon said the need to cut prices on items other than food had helped clear excess inventory, even if those price cuts and the shift in spending had put pressure on profit.
“We expect inflation to continue to influence the choices that families make, and we’re adjusting to that reality so we can help them more,” McMillon told analysts on a call with investors. “Regardless of the inflation level and as we work through the places we have too much inventory, we continue to make progress on our strategy.”
Walmart is partly positioned to benefit when prices increase, as consumers may be more likely to look for discounts from big box retailers. McMillon said Walmart had more business from middle and higher income shoppers as a result.
Walmart isn’t only cutting prices, it’s cutting the goods it is purchasing to put on shelves.
“We’ve also canceled billions of dollars in orders to help align inventory levels with expected demand,” said CFO John David Rainey.
Sales at its US stores open at least a year rose 3%, excluding the spending on fuel. Walmart said it expects to see that same rate of growth in the second half of the year. Overall revenue rose 9% when adjusted for changes in currency exchange rates.
Rapidly changing outlook
Even with the solid results, the ability to forecast where the company’s sales, and the US economy overall, is difficult.
“The swings that we’ve seen in consumer behavior have been difficult to predict and the pace at which they’ve happened has been sharp,” said Rainey.
“If you told us that fuel was going to continue to tick down and that food inflation was going to moderate, that influences how we think about general merchandise inventory,” said McMillion. “You don’t want to go into too much of a defensive mode.”
Consumers also adjusted their food purchases, Rainey said, with less spending on higher-priced deli meats and more spending on canned tuna, hot dogs and chicken. Purchases of the company’s private label food brands also grew, with those brands growing twice the rate Walmart saw in the first quarter.
Beating earnings forecast
The mega retailer managed to outperform Wall Street’s profit expectations, despite inflation and changes to consumer spending habits.
The company reported adjusted earnings per share of $1.77, down only 1 cent from what it earned on that basis a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Refinitiv had forecast earnings to fall to $1.62 a share.
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