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Walmart’s CFO on how inflation is affecting pay and costs

March 10, 2022, 11:34 AM UTC

Good morning,

Walmart is the largest retailer in the world, and its hiring for the holiday season was massive.

“We hired a couple of 100,000 people before the holidays, which is pretty amazing on any scale,” Walmart Inc. EVP and CFO Brett Biggs said during a fireside chat at the Bank of America Securities 2022 Consumer & Retail Technology Conference on Wednesday.

The company has been ahead of the curve when it comes to hiring and wages, Biggs said. “If you go back to a couple years ago, we were pretty proactive in raising wages in our stores and in our supply chain as well,” he said. “And I think we got ahead of some of what was coming. If you look at our average wage rates in stores, now we’re over $16.40 per hour. Sam’s Club is a little higher than that. Our supply chain will be over $20 an hour. So, I think we’re in pretty good shape from that standpoint.”

Biggs also shared what he monitors. “A number I watch quite a bit is the labor participation rate that seems to be ticking up a little bit,” he says. “So, maybe more people are coming back into the labor force that left during COVID. But our ability to hire has been good.”

When you also enhance factors including 401k benefits, bonus structure, and educational opportunities, you tend to see more of the benefit of wage raises for employees, Biggs said. “That’s why I’m glad we did, what we did over the last couple of years,” he said. “Because I think it is a signal to your team that you’re wanting to invest in them [and their careers].

During Walmart’s Q4 2022 earnings call in February, Biggs said wage costs were partially offset by strong sales and lower COVID costs, compared to last year. However, “we have significantly higher associate leave costs in the U.S. than anticipated,” he said. COVID leave costs were about $600 million in the first three quarters combined, but “increased over $450 million just in Q4, presenting an unexpected headwind of over $300 million,” he said. 

Walmart operates about 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and eCommerce websites. The retail giant has 4,742 stores in the U.S. alone. Walmart U.S. net sales exceed $105 billion in Q4; comp sales grew 5.6%

“We know from our own surveys, inflation is on people’s minds,” Biggs said during the conference. 

“The increase in fuel prices is going to get people’s attention,” he said. “Historically [when fuel prices increase], you tend to see a little bit of consolidation,” Biggs explained. “You’ll tend to see fewer [shopping] trips. You’ll tend to see bigger baskets.”

In regard to inflation, “we still haven’t seen what I’d call a meaningful change in how customers are shopping,” Biggs explained. “And there’s a lot of things I’m sure that influenced that—unemployment is low, wage rates are high, savings rates are still in pretty good shape. So, a lot of those things will help.”

However, inflation is certainly driving higher food prices in the U.S. “We’ve had to take some prices up on some things,” Biggs said.

In the CFO role since 2015, and with the company for over two decades, Biggs announced in November he is leaving Walmart on Jan. 31, 2023. He will remain in the role until a successor is named, and he’ll stick around to support the transition.

“I’m leaving the company after 22 years, but I’ve never ever felt as good as I feel right now about Walmart,” he said at the conference. “It’s in a great position financially [and] from a competitive standpoint. I feel wonderful about the team.”


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment, gauged U.S. consumer spending momentum in February. Overall retail sales, excluding auto, increased 8.7% year-over-year and were up 17.3% compared to spending in 2019, according to the report. This is slightly above January growth levels, Mastercard noted. And as consumers prepare to return to physical offices, they're updating their wardrobes. In February, apparel sales increased 37.6% year-over-year, the report found. 

Courtesy of Mastercard

Going deeper

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Leaderboard

Jose Zuniga was named CFO at Madison Reed, a beauty brand of hair care and hair color products. Zuniga brings with him retail and technology experience from his leadership position at Dollar Shave Club, where he most recently served as CFO. He also served in leadership roles at Google, Yahoo!, and Overture. During his seven-year tenure at Dollar Shave Club, Zuniga led the company through its $1 billion acquisition by Unilever and its omnichannel expansion. Zuniga will lead Madison Reed's financial functions, data and analytics and scale growth operations. He will report into Madison Reed CEO and Founder Amy Errett.

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Overheard

“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done. But we’re committed to support the community going forward.”

—Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek reversed an earlier decision and said the company is now publicly opposed to Florida legislation that would ban discussion of sexual orientation with younger children in schools, as reported by Fortune.

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