Again, the adjustments provided a crucial lift. According to the company's annual financial filing, its actual operating income fell by 3.1 percent. But after making its adjustments — presto chango — the growth rate became a positive 1 percent.
Six of Walmart's top executives received a total of $8.42 million in cash incentive payments for 2014, the proxy said. Mr. Tovar declined to specify how much of that was generated by the adjustments.
This year's adjustments also differed from earlier years in an interesting way. Previously, the company said the changes were made "to ensure that our incentive plans reward underlying operational performance, disregarding factors that are beyond the control of our executives." This year, that language has disappeared from the proxy.
I asked the Walmart spokesman if this change meant that the company was now making adjustments to factors that are within the control of its executives. He said no, but that the company wanted "to make our disclosures more transparent."
Mary Pat Tifft, who lives in Kenosha, Wis., is a longtime Walmart shareholder as well as an employee — an associate, in Walmart parlance — of more than 20 years. She thinks these adjustments are the equivalent of an athlete moving the goal posts. "Walmart associates are having their hours cut because of declining sales but executives are still getting their bonuses," she said. "It's ridiculous that they can keep receiving their compensation because they keep moving the numbers around."
The average full-time hourly Walmart employee makes about $27,000 a year.