Walmart delivered a weak profit forecast for the year, in a Feb. 18, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A rare miss for Walmart to end the year

NEW YORK — Walmart reported disappointing fourth-quarter profits and sales after a sluggish and shortened holiday shopping season.

Violent social protests in Chile cut into international sales.

Walmart also delivered a weak profit forecast for the year, sending shares down about 1% before the opening bell Tuesday.

It’s a rare miss for Walmart, which has distanced itself from rivals through strong online grocery sales while holding its own against Amazon.com.

Walmart is the first major retailer to report fiscal fourth-quarter results, and the numbers underscore a multitude of challenges that retailers faced this holiday season. It was the shortest holiday shopping season since 2013, leaving retailers the figure out how to get people thinking about the holidays sooner.

Walmart and Target have stood out among retailers, having ramped up deliveries and other conveniences for customers, but Target also struggled during the holiday due to weak sales of toys and electronics.

Walmart continued to produce strong results from its grocery aisles, helped by expanded online delivery. It now has thousands of locations for grocery pickup and more than 1,400 locations that offer grocery delivery. Last fall, it launched “Delivery Unlimited,” which costs $98 annually and $12.95 monthly for unlimited grocery delivery. It also launched a delivery service in three cities, giving customers the option to let its own delivery person put purchases directly into the refrigerator when they’re not home.

Yet Walmart posted same store sales of 1.9% in the quarter, were well below the 3.2% increase in the previous period. It was, however, the 22nd consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains.

Online sales rose 35%, weaker than the 41% increase booked in the previous quarter.

Quarterly net income was $4.14 billion, or $1.45 per share, in the quarter ended Jan. 31. That compares with $3.69 billion, or $1.27 per share, in the same period a year ago. Adjusted earnings per share was $1.38. Analysts were expecting $1.44 per share, according to FactSet.

Revenue rose 2.1% to $140.6 billion, shy of the $141.5 billion Wall Street was looking for.

Separately, Walmart approved an annual cash dividend for fiscal year 2021 of $2.16 per share, an increase from the $2.12 per share paid for the last fiscal year. The fiscal year 2021 annual dividend of $2.16 per share will be paid in four quarterly installments of $0.54 per share,

Walmart expects annual per-share earnings of between $5 and $5.15, short of the $5.21 that industry analysts had projected, and Walmart said Tuesday that its outlook does not include potential damage from the viral outbreak in China, where the company has significant operations.

By The Associated Press

Business

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