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Wal-Mart buybacks suggest growth options becoming limited: Former Wal-Mart US CEO

  • Wal-Mart is doing a lot of things right, but it should spend its money on other things rather than buying back more stock, former Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said.
  • "I'd like to see them spend that cash, that capital on growth opportunities and move it forward," he said.

Wal-Mart is doing a lot of things right, but it should spend its money on other things rather than buying back more stock, former Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon told CNBC on Tuesday.

The big-box retailer unveiled a $20 billion share repurchase program on Tuesday morning. The new authorization will be used over a two-year period, the company said.

"It sort of suggests to me that their growth options are becoming more limited. Most companies look for the opportunity to grow with their excess cash before they return it," Simon said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

He said Wal-Mart's top line and operating income both peaked in 2015.

"I'd like to see them spend that cash, that capital on growth opportunities and move it forward," he said.

Another issue is ownership of the company, with the Walton family now owning more than 50 percent, he pointed out.

"The more they buy back the bigger that gets. They're great people, but it sort of puts the minority shareholders in a difficult place," Simon said.

Shares of Wal-Mart soared after news of the buyback and the retailer's decision to redesign its website. The stock closed more than 4 percent higher on Tuesday.

David Trainer, CEO of New Constructs, said Wal-Mart's stock is "easily" worth 30 percent more than where it is trading right now.

He agreed that investing in growing the business is always good if the company has the opportunity and that Wal-Mart's move to buy back shares potentially signals it doesn't have that opportunity.

However, "at least they're being smart with their capital," he said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

"It's a very profitable business, and they're poised to do really well," he said. "When your stock is cheap it's OK to buy back stock."

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Simon's remarks.

— CNBC's Lauren Thomas contributed to this report.