Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s stock took another lashing in the markets Tuesday, falling 3 percent as the company’s damage control machine went into full whirl, warding off accusations that its Mexican expansion was fed by bribes that top executives later shrugged off.
This story first appeared in the April 25, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The stock slipped $1.77 to $57.77 — making for a two-day decline of 7.5 percent that has cut the company’s market capitalization by $15.93 billion.
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Wal-Mart has been in contact with government regulators and is performing its own investigation into whether the company violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for a U.S. company to pay bribes anywhere in the world.
A spokesman said the retailer initiated “a series of new escalation and review protocols” that would ensure bribery investigations are managed independently and that their findings are addressed.
“We have created a new global FCPA compliance officer position,” the spokesman said. “This position will have responsibility for compliance with the FCPA in every market around the world and will oversee five FCPA compliance directors based in the international markets.”
The anti-Wal-Mart crowd is making the most of the moment.
“The corporation’s tactics of bribery, scheming and corruption are the latest in a litany of despicable business practices including discrimination, worker mistreatment and predatory pricing,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “This is precisely the type of business we do not want in our communities and I remain committed to fighting against Wal-Mart’s corporate poison from entering the five boroughs.”
At the Barclays Retail and Restaurants Conference in New York, Carol Schumacher, the retailer’s vice president of investor relations, reminded investors that the allegations “are simply that at this point. They’re allegations.”
Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer of the namesake U.S. division, bypassed the controversy and declared, “the U.S. business model is working, period.” The company added more than 10,000 items to its stores last year and is also focusing now on a solidly basic strategy in apparel.
The consumer is strained, though.
“It’s really about jobs, the sluggish recovery pace and then gas prices,” Mac Naughton said. “There are about 23 million Americans that are call it unemployed, underemployed or working part-time just to bring food to the table, so we don’t see real tailwinds here for the customer.”
That view was underscored by a fresh reading from the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index, which fell to 69.2 last month from 69.5 in March. “Americans are feeling more uneasy on the future state of their personal finances and the direction of the economy,” said IHS Global Insights senior economist Chris G. Christopher Jr.
Not all consumer-minded companies were feeling the squeeze. After the market closed, Apple Inc. said second-quarter profits nearly doubled to $11.62 billion on a 59 percent sales gain.
Still, retail stocks, which have generally outperformed the market this year, lagged behind on Tuesday. The S&P Retail Index, which does not include Wal-Mart, fell 0.5 percent, or 3.05 points, to 610.36. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which does include Wal-Mart, seemed to shrug off the decline in the retailer’s shares, rising 0.6 percent overall, or 74.39 points, to 13,001.56.
Among the decliners were three of fashion’s strongest stocks: Under Armour Inc. fell 5.1 percent to $95.34, as Lululemon Athletica Inc. dropped 4.9 percent to $70.18 and Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. declined 4.8 percent to $41.32.