Earnings Preview: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 4:26 PM

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, reports its third-quarter earnings on Thursday before the market opens. The following is a summary of key developments and analyst opinion related to the period.

OVERVIEW: Wal-Mart has been one of few bright spots in retailing this year, benefiting from shoppers focusing on necessities during the recession. Wal-Mart has performed better than competitors like Target Corp.

The company, which has ridden low prices to dominate the U.S. retail scene, is stepping up its game further in price cutting _ both in the stores and online _ as the official start of the holiday shopping season approaches.

It's also conducting an ambitious store remodeling plan to help retain its newest customers after the economy recovers. The renovated and new stores have shorter shelving that makes it easier to see across the store, better lighting and wider aisles. The chain also is expanding its offerings of electronics and branded products.

During this year's holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart is cutting prices weekly on top-selling items from bananas to board games and holding each cut through the end of the season. It is also offering more than 100 toys at $10 each during the holidays.

Wal-Mart also is ruffling feathers online, where it has started price wars on the most-anticipated new book titles for the holiday season and on movie DVDs. Its cuts triggered rivals Amazon.com and Target.com to match prices, which went even lower as the fight escalated last week.

Wal-Mart also hopes to drive people to its Web site with a massive boost to its offerings there. In late August the company said it would allow outside retailers to sell nearly 1 million items _ from baby products to sports memorabilia _ on Walmart.com. And in October, Wal-Mart said it would start selling health and beauty products online.

Company executives have said that aggressive price-cutting will not hurt its earnings and that they're cutting costs and reinvesting those savings to lower prices for shoppers, which in turn drives sales. That increased revenue will in turn increase efficiencies and lower the chain's costs, company officials have maintained.

But Wal-Mart shares, which soared 20 percent last year, have slipped this year, as investors turned to the beaten-down shares of more upscale companies like Williams-Sonoma Inc., which Wall Street believed were ready to rise as stores benefit when shoppers start spending again.

BY THE NUMBERS: Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters on average expect Wal-Mart to record third-quarter profit of 81 cents per share on revenue of $99.82 billion. Wal-Mart said in August that it expects to earn 78 cents to 82 cents per share, including a 3-cent hit from the impact of the strong dollar. During the third quarter a year earlier, the chain earned 80 cents per share on revenue of $98.6 billion.

ANALYST TAKE: Joseph Agnese, retail analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research, wrote in a note published Monday that he expects Wal-Mart to emphasize its focus on price leadership for the holidays as the company reinvests savings from improved inventory management and lower costs.

WHAT'S AHEAD: After announcing its sales at stores opened at least a year for April this year, Wal-Mart stopped reporting its performance on this key industry metric each month.

So analysts will want to know specifics how sales were during the quarter and whether shoppers are starting to buy more nonessentials like clothing and housewares. They also will want to know how Wal-Mart's early holiday sales are faring and any more details about its discounting plans for later in the season.

STOCK PERFORMANCE: Wal-Mart's shares remained virtually unchanged in the third quarter, which ended Oct. 31. But they have fallen almost 6 percent since the beginning of the year and from a year ago. They closed at $52 Monday, near the high end of their 52-week range of $46.25 to $59.23