Walmart stock jumps as sales surge at fastest rate in more than a decade

A Walmart store in Chicago in January.
(Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Walmart Inc. bounced back from a lackluster start to the year with the strongest sales gain in more than a decade, fueled by its grocery business, brightening the outlook for the overall retail sector. Walmart’s stock jumped as much as 11%, the biggest intraday gain since October 2008.

Comparable sales at U.S. Walmart stores — that is, sales at stores open at least one year — rose 4.5% in the three months ended in July, the company said Thursday, more than double analysts’ estimates.

Grocery sales rose the most in nine years thanks to improved fresh-food offerings, and web revenue growth accelerated from the previous period. The world’s biggest retailer also boosted its full-year forecasts for comparable sales and adjusted profit.

It was “a banner quarter on multiple fronts,” Charlie O’Shea, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service Inc., said in a note. “The food business continues as a bright spot.”

Walmart has benefited from improved consumer sentiment and tax cuts that have put more money in Americans’ pockets this year. U.S. retail sales rose by more than forecast in July as shoppers snatched up apparel and school supplies.


But investors are still somewhat skeptical that brick-and-mortar retailers can keep pace with online rivals like Inc., evidenced by Macy’s shares plunging Wednesday even after the chain boosted its earnings and sales guidance.

“We’re pleased with how customers are responding to the way we’re leveraging stores and e-commerce to make shopping faster and more convenient,” Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in a statement. “We’re continuing to aggressively roll out grocery pickup and delivery in the U.S., and we recently announced expanded omni-channel initiatives in China and Mexico.”

The company now offers curbside pickup of online grocery orders in 1,800 U.S. stores, and Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said in an interview that the service is bringing in new customers.

Another bright spot in the second quarter was the Sam’s Club warehouse chain, whose comparable-store sales increased 5%, more than double analysts’ estimates, marking the strongest quarter in six years.

Biggs said the retailer benefited from improved weather in May, the first month of the quarter, which led to the biggest quarterly gain in customer traffic in more than six years. Some customers made fewer shopping trips during the cold, wet April.

“Customers tell us that they feel better about the current health of the U.S. economy as well as their personal finances,” Biggs said. “With warmer weather, sales of seasonal items like pools, air conditioners, swimwear and gardening supplies really popped in May compared to April. No doubt we were aided by tailwinds during the second quarter.”

Walmart’s second-quarter revenue, adjusted for currency fluctuations, rose 3.6% from a year earlier to $127.8 billion. The retailer’s earnings per share, adjusted for divestitures and other one-time items, jumped 19.4% to $1.29 a share.

For the full fiscal year, Walmart expects comparable sales, excluding fuel, to rise about 3% at both its name-brand stores and at Sam’s Club. It had earlier been expecting growth off at least 2% at Walmart stores and slightly negative to flat performance at the bulk chain.

The retailer now expects full-year adjusted earnings per share of $4.90 to $5.05, excluding the sale of its majority stake in Walmart Brazil, losses related to its investment in China and tax adjustments. That’s up from the $4.75 to $5.00 it had been expecting previously.

It had earlier said it would have to trim its full-year profit forecast to account for its acquisition of a majority stake in Indian e-commerce merchant Flipkart, which hasn’t yet been incorporated into the forecast.

“If you are a Walmart bull, there are many reasons to be bullish today,” Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones, said in an interview. “They did benefit from pent-up demand, but let’s give ’em credit, it was a very solid quarter.”