Two weeks ago, Wal-Mart stunned the world when a leaked memo discloses that February sales had been a "total disaster" and the company was facing the worst February start since 2006. Today, Bloomberg's deep throat in Bentonville strikes again, as a new leak emerges. "Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT), already struggling to woo shoppers constrained by higher taxes, is “"getting worse" at keeping shelves stocked, the retailer’s U.S. chief told executives, according to minutes of an officers’ meeting obtained by Bloomberg News. "We run out quickly and the new stuff doesn’t come in," U.S. Chief Executive Officer Bill Simon said, according to the minutes of the Feb. 1 meeting. Simon called “self-inflicted wounds” Wal-Mart’s “biggest risk” and said an executive vice president had been appointed to fix the restocking problem, according to the minutes."
So even as the market completely ignored the Wal-Mart revenue issue, which is "getting worse", the bigger problem is that now it appears to be affecting the company's supply-chain, which likely means that all of WMT's upstream vendors are suffering from the same malaise that has gripped all those entities that still rely on such historical trivia as profitability and cash flow:
Wal-Mart’s inability to keep its shelves stocked coincides with slowing sales growth. Same-store sales in the U.S. for the 13 weeks ending April 26 will be little changed, Simon said in the company’s Feb. 21 earnings call. Comparable sales increased 1 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with an average of 1.4 percent from analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. This year the shares gained 4.2 percent through yesterday, compared with a 5 percent advance for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Evelin Cruz, a department manager at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, said Simon’s comments from the officers’ meeting were “dead on.”
“There are gaps where merchandise is missing,” Cruz said in a telephone interview. “We are not talking about a couple of empty shelves. This is throughout the store in every store. Some places look like they’re going out of business.”
Cruz, 41, who has worked at Wal-Mart for nine years and oversees the photo and wireless sections at her store, said it can take weeks or months for merchandise to be replaced after it sells out.
“My camera bar hasn’t had cameras since early January,” she said. “They let the merchandise phase out but nothing new comes in to replace them. We’re supposed to have 72 cameras but we maybe have 12. What are customers supposed to buy?”
Sure enough, WMT again has pre-canned (pardon the pun) excuses for what this second leak is supposed to mean:
“There’s a number of misinterpretations and half- thoughts” in the documents, which were not official company minutes, David Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman said in a telephone interview.
When Simon said things were “getting worse” he was referring to “modular changes,” the process of replenishing merchandise to keep up with customer demand and changing seasons, Tovar said. Wal-Mart is working to “manage this in the most efficient way possible,” he said.
“We’re very pleased with our in-stock position,” he said, adding that products audited by the company and its consultants match or exceed historical levels. He declined to disclose what those levels are.
Tovar declined to make Simon available for comment
Naturally, following WMT's earnings, which showed that in the fourth quarter all was well, the market promptly forgot the recent "totally disastrous", completely oblivious that February is in the current quarter, and the management is obviously stonewalling the reality facing the retailer.
Yet if indeed there is a major issue affecting the world's most efficient logistical chain, what can other retailers say? And what are the implications for all other global trade routes, both macro and micro? Because if trade, which has been a casualty of central planning for years, is buckling, then is the scenario so vividly described in ""Trade-Off": A Study In Global Systemic Collapse" finally starting to come true?