Walmart wants to rule the world and it’s willing to take a hit in earnings in order to achieve global dominance.
Its huge move into India this year left Walmart (NYSE: WMT) smarting and caused it to lower its earnings predictions for the fiscal year 2019.
The lower guidance is the direct result of the impact from its biggest-ever acquisition: a majority interest in Flipkart, an Indian online retailer that Walmart bought for $16 billion in May.
The move was seen as yet another expansion in Walmart’s rivalry with Amazon. Most importantly, however, the transaction was structured so that Flipkart itself can still go public.
Just a Little Hit Now
Walmart lowered its forecast for adjusted earnings per share to $4.65 to $4.80. It had previously estimated $4.90 to $5.05.
Despite the lowered guidance, the company implied it the pain would be short-term and the 2020 outlook was optimistic. Investors got the message. The stock moved upward immediately.
While its battle for e-commerce dominance is expensive, it could be paying off.
In August 2016, Walmart bought e-commerce company Jet.com for $3.3 billion. Analysts were skeptical then, but Walmart is looking astute now. The company saw its website audience grow 34% in the past year, double the 17% growth rate at Amazon, according to data from ComScore.
Still, Amazon’s online audience of 183 million visitors a month dwarfs Walmart’s 101-million monthly visitors.
Even as it escalates its costly war with Amazon, Walmart predicts that in 2020 its U.S. sales will grow 3% or more and U.S. same-store sales growth will rise between 2.5% and 3%. That’s why Walmart is looking overseas and online for bigger numbers.
The company estimates a 35% growth rate for its online business in the next fiscal, almost as good as the 40% growth it expects for the current one.
And it is counting on international sales growth to keep moving it forward, The company has plans to open more than 300 new stores abroad next year, focusing on China, Mexico and Central America.
Walmart Wants to Innovate Again
News of the lowered forecast occurred the same day Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, addressed the company’s annual meeting with an unexpected message. He urged investors to revise their view of the company’s business, touting the tech investments the company has made to increase online sales and compete with Amazon for market share.
“I want to challenge your thinking about Walmart,” McMillon said. “There is a change within the company that is related to mindset, culture behavior, and we are inventing again.”
McMillon highlighted Walmart’s patents in last-mile delivery, biometrics and augmented reality, as well as investments in machine learning in areas like merchandising, and blockchain to improve food safety, and traceability.
He also cited pickup towers in stores to boost online sales and various e-commerce delivery options.
Grocery sales make up 56% of Walmart’s revenue, and McMillon emphasized that Walmart has a huge advantage over Amazon, which is trying to crack that market, particularly following its acquisition of Whole Foods last year.
Walmart, McMillon points out, is so prevalent across the country that it can offer fresh food within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.
By the end of the year, 800 U.S. stores will offer grocery delivery and more than 2,000 will offer a pickup service.