Wal-Mart to Buy Back $15 Billion of Its Stock

Wal-Mart Stores said Friday its board has approved a new share buyback program worth $15 billion to replace its existing program.

Walmart Home Office
Source: Walmart
Walmart Home Office

Speaking at its annual shareholders meeting, Wal-Mart said the share buyback program as well as the $1.3 billion in dividends in the first quarter shows the company's commitment to its shareholders.

Wal-Mart has spent $12.9 billion on repurchasing 244 million shares of its own stock in the past 12 months.

The buyback program is just one step Wal-Mart is taking to reassure employees and investors on Friday as the company works to improve its business.

According to Reuters, even executives have acknowledged that fixing the business is taking too long.

Walmart U.S. Chief Executive Bill Simon told reporters yesterday about his "impatience with the pace of change" at his stores, which have lost bargain-seeking customers to dollar stores.

While business at the smaller international and Sam's Club units has largely hummed along, all eyes are on what Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke and his team are doing to stem the tide at the U.S. discount chain started nearly 50 years ago.

"We recognize we still have work to do, and comp sales growth remains the greatest priority for me and the entire Walmart U.S. team," Duke said in a recorded call when the company reported first-quarter earnings.

Wal-Mart's annual meeting is attended by investors and Wall Street analysts but is largely a staged showcase to energize the company's employees, known as associates.

Wal-Mart shares are up 6.3 percent since the 2010 annual meeting, well below the 23.3 percent increase in the Standard & Poor's 500 index over the same period.

Associates come from across the United States, Canada, China and several other countries to attend the meeting. They pack hotels and even stay in dormitories at the University of Arkansas.

Chinese associates lined up at the company's home office nearby Bentonville this week just to take a picture with a wall mural that shows "Mr. Sam," the company's founder, Sam Walton.

Also joining the fray this year are some Massmart Holdings employees, now that Wal-Mart's purchase of a majority stake in the South African chain has been approved.

Still, the big question on most minds is whether U.S. strategies, including bringing back more merchandise and opening smaller Walmart Express stores, will work.

While Walmart Express has gotten a lot of attention, that format — modeled after several smaller stores operated outside the United States — is not expected to be the major growth engine for Wal-Mart.

Supercenters are still crucial. More than 100 are set to open this year, while just 15 to 20 Walmart Express stores will make their debut in northwest Arkansas, North Carolina and Chicago.

The first Walmart Express, opening in Gentry, Arkansas, this weekend, stocks everything from milk to pillows in a 15,000-square-foot space.

-Reuters contributed to this report.