Walmart (WMT), which held its position at #1 on this year’s Fortune 500, is cheap.
That’s the message a team of Jefferies analysts led by Daniel Binder wrote in a Monday note regarding the mega retailer. They noted that while the chain may have been slow to embrace the future of retail—e-commerce, Walmart’s first quarter results and the investment bank’s own surveys have convinced the analysts of a turnaround.
“Based on our store checks and survey work, we believe Walmart’s store investments are yielding broadly improved store conditions and first quarter sales results seem to confirm this,” the analysts wrote, while upgrading the stock to buy. “We think this improvement will be longer lasting and should lead to upside in sales and an upward earnings per share revision cycle.”
Effectively, Jefferies analysts argue that Walmart’s multi-billion investments in higher wages for U.S. workers, tech, e-commerce, faster checkout, better syncing of inventories and the shift to organic, and fresher groceries, is beginning to, or will in the future result in a higher quality Walmart. Higher minimum wages especially should translate to more foot traffic, since a significant portion of its customer base come from lower income households. And improving U.S. stores sales momentum is the most important sector for Walmart. Even more than e-commerce.
But many investors are still generally reticent about buying into the stock. After all, while Walmart’s e-commerce, is growing, it still lags behind its peers. Even Jefferies acknowledges that the turnaround is still in its early stages. But that also means the stock is selling at a discount.
“We are now in the early innings of the North American store turnaround as execution improves and translates to better traffic and sales against a challenging retail backdrop,” the analysts wrote. “As we go through in this report, we believe US retail comp store sales could see further improvement as price investments are made, grocery online is rolled out and e-commerce growth rates accelerate.”
Jefferies also added that one potentially major price driver was still laying in wait: Walmart’s institutional ownership, which generally represents the largest chunks of ownership in stock. Jefferies noted that institutional ownership hit a 10 year low in December, to just 30.2%, while it was previously in the mid to upper 30% previously. That suggests that there could be potentially be enough demand for the stock to significantly push up its price. Recently, institutional investors have begun to start buying up the stock, taking ownership up to 30.6%.
Though Walmart still needs to do some work on marketing, Jefferies noted. While a basket of goods from Walmart.com costs roughly 6.2% less than those at Amazon (AMZN), more consumers, 32.2%, believed that Amazon has better prices than Walmart.com. Just 15.5% thought the opposite.
Jefferies updated its target price for the retailer from $60 to $82.