It’s a short week with the President’s Day holiday on Monday, but earnings continue on Tuesday, with some of the biggest U.S. retailers on parade. Among the biggest of them all, Walmart Inc. (WMT), is expected to open its books Tuesday, before the session starts.
Like many blue-chip firms, WMT is expected by some analysts to benefit from the tax cut enacted late last year. Goldman Sachs recently upgraded WMT stock to buy from neutral.
According to some analysts, strong sales across business segments and channels are expected to boost Walmart’s bottom line. The company said that store traffic has improved, and favorable currency trends also could help juice the bottom line.
However, many analysts also said that Walmart’s earnings per share growth rates might be strained by its value pricing initiatives to drive store traffic, an adverse mix of products, and continued investments in growth initiatives, including its investments into e-commerce.
WMT stock has appreciated over the last year, up more than 62% when it hit a record-high of $109.98 before the stock market pullback. Last week, WMT stock appeared to be in recovery mode, rising to $103.23 at Thursday’s close. See figure 1 below.
The E-Commerce Shift
The bricks-and-mortar side of the retail industry overall is still shaking itself out as consumer shopping habits change and many shoppers purchase a growing number of retail goods online. WMT has made a number of moves in recent years to ramp up its e-commerce operations, the biggest of which was its $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com in late 2016 which it's still integrating into its entire online operations.
Just last week, WMT's Sam’s Club division announced that it would offer free shipping to its “Plus” members as it faces increasing competition from Amazon Prime (AMZN) and Costco (COST). That followed January’s decision to shutter 63 Sam’s stores in 24 states, transforming some of them into distribution centers, according to the company.
Also, last week WMT continued its labor cost-cutting moves of the last couple years by eliminating two department manager positions in some of its 4,700 U.S. stores. Since 2015, the retailer has upped wages for employees while shifting and eliminating other positions, including corporate-level jobs, to shore up labor costs, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Retail is changing rapidly and over the past two years, we’ve been transforming too,” a Walmart spokesman told the Journal. “That means creating new roles while consolidating and redesigning others.”
The company has also said that it wants to free up capital for further investment into e-commerce strategies. In Q3, WMT said its U.S. e-commerce sales grew 50%. WMT U.S. same-store sales, a key industry metric of stores open longer than a year, rose by 2.7% while Sam’s Club’s comparable-store sales climbed 2.8%.
The retailer also said on the Q3 conference call that Q4 comp sales were expected to increase from 1.5% to 2% “on more difficult compares.” It raised its full-year adjusted earnings per-share projection to a range of $4.38 to $4.46 from $4.30 to $4.40.
The Q4 consensus earnings estimate from third-party Wall Street analysts is $1.36 a share, according to the Earnings Analysis tab on the thinkorswim® platform from TD Ameritrade. WMT has outpaced analysts’ expectations for nine straight quarters. Revenue is projected to rise slightly more than 3% to $135.03 billion from $130.93 billion a year ago.
The options market has priced in an expected share price move of 2.6% in either direction around the earnings release, according to options data on the thinkorswim® platform.
Call activity has been higher at the 110-strike while put activity is concentrated at the 101-strike. The implied volatility sits at the 66th percentile. (Please remember past performance is no guarantee of future results.)
Note: Call options represent the right, but not the obligation, to buy the underlying security at a predetermined price over a set period of time. Put options represent the right, but not the obligation, to sell the underlying security at a predetermined price over a set period of time.
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