Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) managed to eke out some growth from its U.S. stores during the holiday quarter, but just barely.
The world’s biggest retailer said on Thursday that comparable sales at its Walmart U.S. stores rose 0.6%, increasing for the sixth straight quarter. But Wall Street was unimpressed, and shares, which had risen 10% in 2016, fell as much as 5% in premarket trading this morning.
Walmart has given its U.S. store workers billions of dollars in higher wages to improve customer satisfaction and motivate them as they do more complicated work as e-commerce integrates more is with stores. The company has also overhauled its supply chain to make sure shelves are full and avoid out-of-stocks, particularly during the key holiday season.
Despite those efforts, comparable sales growth was below the 1.5% clip in the preceding quarter and in the same quarter a year earlier. To be sure, many other retailers such as Kohl’s (KSS) and Macy’s (M) reported dismal holiday seasons as well. But given how much Walmart has invested to turn around its U.S. business, the results were underwhelming.
“Still, we know we have a lot more work to do, and there are areas of the business that are not where they need to be,” Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon said on a pre-recorded call.
Walmart’s investments in its U.S. staff and stores dented profit: Operating income fell 5.3%. And in another worrisome sign for the retailer, e-commerce sales rose a mere 8% in the quarter for growth that keeps slowing. By some estimates, Amazon (AMEN) accounted for half of all e-commerce growth in the U.S. during the Christmas period.
As a whole, Wal-Mart Stores, which includes Sam’s Club and Walmart International, reported an adjusted profit of $1.49 per share, above Wall Street estimates, while total revenue was $129.7 billion. Had the U.S. dollar remained at the same level as a year earlier, that would have been $134.4 billion for an increase of 2.2%.