Walmart cuts earnings outlook for 2019

  • Walmart trims its 2019 earnings forecast, as it previously warned it would do this.
  • The retailer cites the impact of its acquisition of Indian e-commerce company Flipkart, its biggest deal ever.
  • Walmart expects e-commerce sales in the U.S. to rise 35 percent next fiscal year, down from 40 percent this year.
  • The company will only open a handful of stores in the U.S. next year and will continue to focus on digital.

Walmart on Tuesday cut its earnings outlook, as it previously warned it would do this, citing the impact of its acquisition of Indian e-commerce company Flipkart. The company also said e-commerce growth will be less robust next fiscal year, as it's still fighting to win more shoppers online.

Ahead of its annual investors meeting, Walmart lowered its fiscal 2019 forecast for adjusted earnings per share to a range of $4.65 to $4.80, down from $4.90 to $5.05. Refinitiv had estimated adjusted earnings per share would be $4.79.

Walmart meanwhile reaffirmed its prior targets for sales growth in 2019. Its shares were up a little more than 2 percent in trading on the news.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company bought a 77 percent stake in Flipkart for $16 billion in May as part of its longer-term strategy to bulk up its online business, outbidding e-commerce giant Amazon. It was Walmart's largest deal ever. Walmart saw the acquisition as critical to gaining a foothold in India's rapidly growing retail market, where the median consumer is 28 years old, and there are more than 300 million smartphone users.

Helped by the investments Walmart has been making in its e-commerce business, the retailer said U.S. online sales are on track to climb about 40 percent during the current fiscal year. Next year, the retailer sees its e-commerce division posting net sales growth of about 35 percent — not quite as robust. It continues to roll out online grocery pickup locations at stores and add more items to its website, including dresses from Lord & Taylor. The initiatives have all been spearheaded by Jet.com founder Marc Lore.

For fiscal year 2020, the company said it expects its U.S. same-store sales growth to be 2.5 to 3 percent. Fiscal year 2020 operating income is expected to decline slightly. Excluding the Flipkart deal, Walmart said it expects to see increases in 2019 and 2010.

CFO Brett Biggs told CNBC's Courtney Reagan on Tuesday morning that he "feels good about the things we can control." The company plans to be "innovating more, and more quickly, than in the past year or two," he said.

Walmart's said net sales growth for 2020 is predicted to be at least 3 percent, hurt by deconsolidation of its Brazil operations and reduced tobacco sales at its wholesale division, Sam's Club. It expects net sales to climb about 5 percent internationally.

"We're adapting and transforming with speed to better serve our existing customers and reach new ones," CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement. "We're operating with discipline, balancing our short and long-term opportunities. While we're excited about what we've done so far, we aren't satisfied. As we execute today and build for tomorrow, our associates and unique omni-channel assets position us for success."

As for the impact of an ongoing trade war with China on its operations, Biggs said during the investors meeting: "We will minimize the impacts on our customers as much as possible while balancing the interests of investors. ... We will actively manage prices and margins through this period."

The fear has been that tariffs put in place by the Trump administration may force Walmart to hike prices. Biggs said the company "is giving as much guidance as we think is practical," for now.

Walmart has been investing heavily in recent months to compete with other retailers including Amazon and Target. It announced a new partnership on Tuesday with Advance Auto Parts to sell its products and offer delivery and services. It recently bought the lingerie company Bare Necessities. Earlier this month, it acquired Eloquii — a retailer that sells plus-sized clothes — for $100 million. Walmart also announced a partnership with U.S. movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer to create content with its video-on-demand service Vudu.

Lore told investors that deals with specialty retailers like Bare Necessities are allowing Walmart to gain new vendors and improve basic categories — like underwear, shoes or outerwear — where the company is already selling its own goods. He said Walmart also expects to acquire more digital brands (like it did with Bonobos and ModCloth) to have "proprietary content" on its website that shoppers can't find elsewhere.

"Just four brands aren't going to do it, but imagine 40," Lore said during Tuesday's meeting with investors. "The idea is to buy and build." Men's clothing retailer Bonobos will start selling on Jet.com in the next few days, he said, following Moosejaw launching on Walmart.com earlier this year.

But these hefty online investments have also been eating into Walmart's gross margins, stoking fear among analysts and investors that they will continue to weigh on the bottom line.

"While the top line outlook for 2019 looks healthy and was generally in-line with expectations, the margin view for next year did come in softer than expected," Gordon Haskett analyst Chuck Grom said.

Walmart said within the next fiscal year it plans to open fewer than 10 stores in the U.S. and more than 300 internationally, mainly in Mexico and China. It said it will focus on same-store sales growth, rather than new-store sales growth, as it has in the past.

Ahead of the all-important holiday season, Walmart is also one company expected to benefit from Sears Holdings filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this week. The department store chain is planning to shut nearly 150 stores before the year is over.

Walmart shares have fallen about 5 percent so far this year. The retailer has a market cap of about $280 billion, compared with Amazon, which has a market cap of roughly $871 billion.