Wal-Mart lowers earnings on winter weather, lower food stamp payments

by The City Wire staff (info@thecitywire.com) 21 views 

The earnings report to be issued on Doug McMillon’s 20th day on the job as the new Wal-Mart CEO may not be pretty.

Wal-Mart Stores Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley announced Friday that bad weather, a worse than expected hit from reduced food stamp payments and one-time charges related to international operations will reduce the earnings per share number by 26 cents – that’s almost triple the 10 cents per share negative impact announced Nov. 14.

A 26 cent per share hit is about $842.4 million. The company is set to release full year and fourth quarter earnings on Feb. 20. Doug McMillon, now the CEO of Walmart International, is set to succeed Mike Duke as Wal-Mart Stores CEO on Feb. 1.

The Bentonville-based global retailer said full year earnings per share is likely to hit at or below the previous guidance of $5.11 cents and $5.21. For the fiscal fourth quarter, the earnings per share will hit at or below the range of $1.60 to $1.70.

Also, the company said its comp store sales – a closely watched metric in the retail industry – for Walmart and Sam’s Club will be less than previously expected. Prior to Friday, the comp sales were expected to be flat for Walmart U.S. and between flat and 2% for Sam’s Club.

“Despite a holiday season that delivered positive comps, two factors contributed to lower comp sales performance for the 14-week period for Walmart U.S.,” Holley said in the statement. “First, the sales impact from the reduction in SNAP (the U.S. government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits that went into effect Nov. 1 is greater than we expected. And, second, eight named winter storms resulted in store closures that impacted traffic throughout the quarter.”

SNAP is roughly 10% of the total U.S. grocery business, but benefits go to one in seven Americans, or some 48 million consumers. All of them will see their monthly benefits reduced on Nov. 1. For example, a family of four has been getting $588 per month in SNAP benefits since 2009, but that will be reduced by $36, or 5% after Oct. 31. Arkansas will lose about $52 million in SNAP support from Nov. 1, through September 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Washington D.C., a nonpartisan research and policy institute.

Grocery is a $151 billion annual business at Wal-Mart driving 55% of the company’s total U.S. revenue last year. Wal-Mart controls about 25% of nation’s grocery marketshare, according to Michele Simon’s June 2012 report from Eat, Drink, Politics.

Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery for Walmart U.S., said in October that Walmart has an 18% share of the SNAP payments, or about $13.2 billion a year.

The SNAP cuts are essentially a return to the payment formula prior to 2009. Congress approved in 2009 a $45.2 billion stimulus into the program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which bumped up SNAP benefits through October 2013. 

SNAP recipients have seen a 4% dip in their spending, according to shopper metrics, greater than 1% predicted impact.

"Wal-Mart caters to lower-income consumers which have been hit disproportionately hard relative to higher-income consumers," Morningstar analyst Ken Perkins told Reuters.

About 20% of the company's shoppers are food stamp users, analysts have estimated.

CNBC analyst Jim Cramer said Wal-Mart is also not default bell weather it once was, as more and more consumers are chasing lower prices anywhere they can find them — online with Amazon, dollar stores, etc.

Lowered earnings guidance from Wal-Mart coincided with a federal report showing declines in personal income and disposable income in 2013 compared to 2012.

According to Friday’s report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income was up by $2.3 billion in December, up less than 0.1%, and disposable personal income for the month was down less than 0.1%,

For the full year, the BEA reported that personal income was up 2.8% compared to a 4.2% gain in 2012. Disposable personal income fell 1.9% compared to a gain of 3.9% in 2012.

Wal-Mart shares (NYSE: WMT) were trading down slightly at $74.41 in the morning session.. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from an $81.37 high to a $68.13 low.