Wal-Mart Defies Logic

A company this large shouldn't be able to grow this quickly.

Nate Parmelee
Nate Parmelee
Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00AM
Other

Large companies are not supposed to show double-digit revenue growth. They are supposed to succumb to the law of large numbers and grow much more slowly.

As the Fool by Numbers from yesterday shows, Inside Value selection Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) continues to defy this convention with brisk growth. Its revenues were up 11.7% for the year, and operating cash flow was up 14.3%. That growth came on a base of $349 billion in revenues. Wal-Mart's balance sheet remained squeaky clean, too, meaning it didn't sacrifice financial strength to juice sales and earnings.

By comparison, fellow retailer Target (NYSE:TGT) has grown revenues by 11.5% over the trailing 12 months and by 12.3% in its previous fiscal year. That's about on par with Wal-Mart, but Target's $55.2 billion in revenue makes the growth easier to achieve -- as long as you ignore the fact that Target has to compete with Wal-Mart.

On the same-store sales front, Wal-Mart had a good -- but not a great -- year, with an increase of 2.1% for all stores in the United States. That's a pedestrian performance by most measures, but when you consider Wal-Mart's scale in the U.S., and eventually in other markets such as Mexico, such low levels of same-store sales growth come with very small changes in operating expenses, meaning more of that money drops to the bottom line.

Going forward, the growth will need to start coming from Japan, South America, China, and India. I'd include Mexico as well, but Walmex (Pink Sheets: WMMVY.PK) is already a force to be reckoned with in its home market. Of that group, India is so new that it will be tough to measure next year, but China and South America should contribute. The wild card in the group is Japan, where retailing and customer behavior is very different and Wal-Mart's new distribution strategy may need a bit more time to bear fruit.

Costco (NASDAQ:COST) still tops Sam's Club, Target does give Wal-Mart a run for its money, and it's hard to argue with how Eddie Lampert made Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) relevant for investors again, but Wal-Mart is still the king of the retail jungle. Given all the negative press the company has sustained and the struggles it has had with becoming a better corporate citizen, that's no small feat.

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At the time of publication, Nathan Parmelee owned shares in Costco and had a beneficial interest in shares of Wal-Mart. Costco is a Stock Advisor recommendation. He had no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned -- but that's nothing personal. He was ranked 73rd out of 22,692 CAPS investors. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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