July 22, 2024

Wal-Mart to Buy Back Billions More in Shares

The initiative, which was announced at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting here, comes after a previous $15 billion repurchasing plan that was announced last year. The company bought back 244 million shares, worth about $13 billion, under that program.

Charles Holley, the chief financial officer, said the buyback demonstrated the company’s strength and was “indicative of our strong free cash flow position.”

Wal-Mart’s shares have lagged the broader market over the last year, despite the repurchase plan and a 21 percent increase in its dividend, to $1.46 a share, in the 2011 fiscal year. On Friday, its shares rose 11 cents, to $53.66.

Investors have focused instead on the company’s slumping same-store sales — a problem that company executives promised to fix.

“We know we are up against some strong economic headwinds through the recession and slow-paced recovery of the last three years,” Mr. Holley said.

Overall sales increased 4.2 percent in the most recent quarter, but most of that increase came from food purchases. In contrast, Wal-Mart has struggled with apparel sales.

“In the future, you will see less fashion apparel and more basic items, like underwear and T-shirts,” said William S. Simon, president and chief executive of Wal-Mart’s United States operations. “When it comes to fashion,” he said, “customers don’t want to see 10,000 others wearing the same clothes.”

To stem the sales declines, Wal-Mart removed some merchandise from store shelves, including plus-size clothes and fabrics. On Friday, Mr. Simon said that 8,500 items would return to the shelves.

In addition, Wal-Mart plans to roll out over the next year 140 to 160 stores in three formats — the 100,000- or more square-foot superstores, 40,000-square-foot neighborhood markets and new 15,000-square-foot express stores.

The first express stores will open next week in small towns in Arkansas. The first urban express stores will open later this summer in Chicago. The stores are a part of Wal-Mart’s effort to serve rural and urban areas.

Higher food and fuel prices are hurting Wal-Mart’s mainstay shoppers, and Mr. Simon and other executives emphasized that the company would remain a low-cost operator and provide low prices.

The company is also seeking to bolster sales overseas. Just last week, Wal-Mart received approval to acquire Massmart Holdings of South Africa for $2.4 billion.

Shareholder proposals at the meeting related to climate change, gender discrimination policy, political donations and its suppliers’ compliance with international human and workers’ rights were all defeated.

Michael T. Duke, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, said the company was recruiting more women and minorities. It is still facing a federal class-action lawsuit that accuses Wal-Mart of sex discrimination.

As in years past, the shareholders’ meeting, which is held near the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, was equal parts pop concert and pep rally. The host this year was the actor Will Smith, and performers included the winner of the 10th season of American Idol, Scotty McCreery, in addition to Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas and the Canadian Tenors.

Wal-Mart workers traveled from around the world for the meeting. They did the Wal-Mart cheer with the squiggly dance move several times. Each time an executive referred to the success of Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club unit, Sam’s Club employees erupted with cheering and noisemakers.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d5f3def632e985771fa55456f0f9a1c3

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