Today, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) made headlines—and not in a good way—when word got out that a technical error threw some product’s prices out of whack on the company’s website. Lightening-fingered shoppers were able to score treadmills for $33 and Hewlett Packard LCD monitors for less than nine bucks (though the jury is out on whether the company will honor those transactions). These were super low prices, even by the discount retailer’s standards.
Today’s PR debacle from Wal-Mart got me thinking about the stock. After all, Black Friday is fast approaching, and Wal-Mart is a perennial favorite of pre-dawn bargain hunters. The Friday after November marks what should be the happiest time of year for Wall Street—and Main Street—so WMT is sure to get a piece of the action, right?
Well yes, but not enough of the action, in my opinion. For the fourth quarter, Wall Street expects the big box retailer to see sales climb 2.5% and earnings rise just 1.2% over Q4 2012. Despite the fact the company plans to promote 25,000 employees next quarter (and move 70,000 part-time employees to full-time status by year-end), the company is plagued with worker strikes and protests surrounding its labor practices.
In the meantime, Wal-Mart reports third-quarter results next Thursday, November 14. And I wouldn’t expect this announcement to turn heads either. The consensus is calling for just 2.5% annual sales growth and 4.6% earnings growth. This is while the Discount and Variety Stores industry as a whole is expected to see an average 23% jump in profits. To add insult to injury, the analyst community has lowered the consensus EPS estimate by $0.04 over the past three months to $1.13. These downward revisions suggest that Wal-Mart will yet again miss analyst earnings estimates—just as it has for the past two quarters.
In fact, I could go on and on about what WMT needs to change before it becomes a buy in my book, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let this snapshot from Portfolio Grader speak for itself:
So while a lucky few shoppers may have been able to pick up Wal-Mart merchandise on the cheap today, WMT shares couldn’t be cheap enough, in my opinion. WMT is a D-rated sell.