Leaked Wal-Mart Emails Reveal Poor Sales, Send Stocks Plummeting; Could A Disaster Be On The Way?

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By Charles Poladian | February 19, 2013 12:14 PM EST

Several leaked emails from top Wal-Mart executives have sent the stock price down and could signal more trouble ahead for the retail giant.

In some of the leaked Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) emails obtained by Bloomberg News, the executives describe February sales as the “worst sales start to a month in seven years.” The leaked emails came from Wal-Mart’s vice president of finance and logistics, Jerry Murray. In the email he says, “February MTD [month-to-date] sales are a total disaster.”

The leaked emails caused Wal-Mart’s stock to slide 2 percent Friday, closing at $69.30. (Markets were closed Monday.) One reason some customers may have stayed away from the retailer could be the higher payroll taxes that kicked in at the beginning of 2013. Delayed income tax refunds, which would mean billions of dollars going to consumers, were another reason for the poor sales start to February. A still-weak economy and persistent unemployment caused Wal-Mart to adjust expectations, but executives believed they would see a spike in sales to begin February due to Super Bowl ads as well as payroll cycles working in their favor.

The disastrous start to February followed a poor sales month in January. The senior vice president of Wal-Mart U.S. replenishment, Cameron Geiger, bemoaned in a Feb. 1 emailed obtained by Bloomberg, “Well, we just had one of those weeks here at Walmart U.S. Where are all the customers? And where’s their money?”

Wal-Mart’s fourth-quarter earnings will be reported Thursday, which may alter opinions about the leaked emails or at least put them into some context, reports Bloomberg. But analysts at Tiburon Group are not so optimistic, believing that the leaked emails are just part of a much larger problem at the retail giant.    

Wal-Mart’s plan to invest in pricing, such as using ads that compare their prices to a competitor, has failed to improve store traffic. According to the analysts, in response to the leaked emails on Retail Geeks, “Coinciding with the anniversary of an increased level of traffic at the core chain, the company planned for a much larger marketing spend in Q4 2012 (radio/TV). Therefore, it will be interesting to see if the core chain’s traffic improved in Q4 2012 versus LY. If not, FY 2013 is setting up to be an ugly year for WMT.”

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