Is Walmart (WMT) Stock Split a Catalyst for Growth?

Consumers have long relied on Walmart Inc. (WMT) for affordable goods, a key feature of the retail chain's offerings. Now, the company’s investors will also be offered 'value deals' as WMT initiates steps to make its equity more accessible.

On January 30, the retail giant declared its intention to effectuate its shares' affordability in line with increasing store managers' salaries and providing annual grants of up to $20,000.

The corporation announced a share-splitting strategy that awards shareholders in possession of WMT stock as of February 22 with three shares for each one owned. This move marks the first of its kind since 1999.

Stock splits often garner significant media attention, particularly when happening at corporations like WMT. The common stock volume would be increased from approximately 2.7 billion to roughly 8.1 billion. As a result, each share will hold a smaller percentage of the company, decreasing its nominal value.

Although this may give an impression of cheaper stock, it's important to note that the size of the overall business, whether calculated by earnings, cash flow, or revenue, remains constant. The stock splitting will not affect any valuation but will divide the company's metaphorical share pie into additional pieces. Hence, investors will maintain the same business percentage ownership as prior to the split.

This does not necessarily imply irrelevant implications for investors concerning WMT's 3-for-1 stock split; rather, it piques interest in the company's motivations for such a move.

WMT proposed that the stock split aims to incentivize employees to invest in their corporation's shares. The company highlighted that over 400,000 employees participate in its established Associate Stock Purchase Plan, enabling them to buy stocks through payroll deductions and benefit from a 15% match on the first $1,800 contributed annually. Regardless, how this split will impact the company's future trajectory and investor sentiment remains to be seen.

CEO Doug McMillon said of the decision: "Sam Walton believed it was important to keep our share price in a range where purchasing whole shares, rather than fractions, was accessible to all of our associates. Given our growth and our plans for the future, we felt it was a good time to split the stock and encourage our associates to participate in the years to come."

The stock market’s stellar performance in 2023, coupled with better-than-expected January job figures, has triggered a surge in retail investor activity. GenZ investors, having limited trading funds, could be attracted by WMT's strategic decision to split its shares.

There seems to be a correlation between stock splits and an outperforming stock. This trend may be attributable to the momentum leading up to the split, as such occurrences often follow substantial price gains or heightened investor interest. WMT anticipates that this move will spur increased purchasing among its employees, potentially driving the stock price upwards.

However, certain additional factors could also contribute to the surge in WMT's stock price:

WMT’s retail segment epitomizes stability, boasting over 10,000 stores and achieving a same-store sales growth (U.S. segment) of 4.9% in 2023's third quarter, resulting in a new record for its trailing-12-month revenue of $638.79 billion.

On top of this, WMT is pursuing overlooked growth opportunities, notably in the realm of advertising. In partnership with The Trade Desk, a leading advertising technology firm, WMT has seen swift progression in its advertising endeavors, a promising venture given e-commerce competitors' significant advertising revenue over the past year.

Over the past year, WMT’s stock climbed approximately 20% as the company enhanced its online shopping services and offered higher employee remuneration. E-commerce continues to thrive for WMT, demonstrated by a 24% year-on-year increase in U.S. online sales for the quarter that ended October 31, 2023. This boom can be seen throughout the year with similar growth across preceding quarters. WMT’s U.S. e-commerce sales grew 27.2% year-over-year in the first quarter and 24% year-over-year in the second quarter.

Moreover, WMT has announced plans to launch 12 additional stores and upgrade a smaller location to a Supercenter – an indicator of imminent growth.

Furthermore, WMT is set to publish its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings on February 20. Analysts anticipate its EPS to come at $1.63 and revenue at $169.24 billion. The fiscal fourth quarter that ended January of 2023 saw the company report quarterly earnings of $1.71 per share, and net sales reached $162.74 billion. If WMT reports another resilient quarter, it is likely to provoke a further increase in its stock price.

WMT shares sit slightly below $170 and trades above the 50-, 100-, and 200-day moving averages of $159.06, $160.27, and $157.91, respectively, indicating an uptrend.

Jefferies raised WMT’s stock price target to $195 from $190, thereby affirming a buy rating on the shares ahead of the earnings report. It anticipates a modest sales beat for WMT, with cautious guidance for fiscal 2025, factoring in the continued slowdown in inflation.

Bottom Line

WMT is a notable player on Wall Street, and its distinctive position is fueled by not only its status as one of the world's most extensive retail chains but also its resilience during diverse market situations. WMT has been considered a recession-proof stock due to the consistency of its revenues and sales, even amid various economic upheavals. People put away their discretionary purchases during tough times but continue filling their grocery baskets, often seeking cost-effective options, a specialty of WMT.

WMT's history also boasts of 11 two-for-one stock splits, which have created attractive entry points for investors previously unable to access the stocks due to high prices, potentially driving up stock costs with their participation. Employees, too, may find the affordability appealing for their Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) benefits, prompting additional stock procurement.

Investing in WMT the day after its last stock split in 1999 would have yielded a price return of approximately 268%, comparable with S&P's 274% return. With the inclusion of the dividend, this could have surpassed S&P over an equivalent duration.

Particularly for long-term investors seeking both growth and income, WMT can be a favorable bet, considering its global brand recognition and historically robust financial positioning. This is crucial as the company continually expands its operations.

Moreover, WMT has reliably paid dividends over 50 consecutive years, pointing toward dependable shareholder value creation. The annual dividend stands at $2.28 per share, which translates to a dividend yield of 1.35%, given the existing share prices. Its four-year average dividend yield is 1.57%. WMT's dividend payments have grown at a CAGR of 1.8% and 1.9% over the past three and five years, respectively.

WMT's anticipated stock split will not affect these dividends. Considering a 3-for-1 split, this would adjust the quarterly dividend to $0.19 per share (current $0.57 per share), equating to an annual return of $0.76 per share. With approximately 8.1 billion shares outstanding, WMT would need an annual free cash flow of nearly $6.16 billion for the yearly return. Based on free cash flow of $4.34 billion and net cash provided by operating activities of $19.01 billion for the nine months that ended October 31, 2023, it appears plausible that the dividends will remain adequately covered after the split.

Usually, a business opts for a stock split when the cost of its shares becomes high, creating a psychological barrier for retail investors who may find it impossible to purchase a single share. Nevertheless, almost every brokerage, including WMT's Associate Stock Purchase Plan, now offers the opportunity to buy fractional shares, rendering the nominal value of a single share less significant than before. However, post-split, the attraction lies in owning a larger number of shares at an equivalent total investment rather than a fractional portion.

Moreover, when WMT employees purchase company stock, they essentially become part owners. As such, their personal financial standing becomes interwoven with the company's long-term success, potentially sparking a profound investment in the company's future.

WMT's impending stock split could potentially foster an ‘ownership mentality’ among its workforce. Investors are advised to bear in mind insider ownership when researching stocks. While insider ownership does not guarantee successful investments, it can imply an alignment of interests between insiders and common shareholders. However, investors should always remember to prioritize the business's underlying health.

Nonetheless, WMT's recent stock split – the first in 25 years – may raise eyebrows. Considering that the last split in 1999 coincided with the dot-com burst, could it be possible that WMT is employing the split as a defensive strategy, ideally ensuring sufficient operational capital to weather potential storms? Hence, a certain level of unease may accompany the news of the split taking place at the current low price.

 

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