Walmart’s Feeling Very Merry; Walmart’s Also Getting Grinchy; Campbell’s: Carrot’s Not Good Food!

Drones, scooters, lip gloss trucks…oh my!

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Those are just some of the goodies that are on Walmart’s top 25 toys for the holiday season. Wait! WWWWhhhhaaat? We didn’t even feast at our Labor Day barbecues yet and already the largest U.S. retailer is already gearing up for Christmas? Well, who can blame Walmart, after all? It has to compete against Toys R Us, Target, but most importantly, Amazon. In all fairness, there are only 114 days left until Christmas.  The toy industry sees 70% of annual sales occurring in the last two months of the year. No reason why that percentage can’t be increased. So it makes sense that Walmart is pulling out all the stops to upset the competition. Starting tomorrow you can even begin putting your holiday shopping on layaway. Just as long as the item(s) are a minimum of $50. Since toys that are inspired by movies outperform other toys by A LOT, Walmart is betting big on Star Wars, Disney and those ever-industrious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Input for the top 25 toys came from kids between the ages of 1.5 years old to twelve years old, whose faves included a Star Wars Electronic R2D2 and a Num Noms Lip Gloss Truck. Personally I could go for both. Six of the top 25 toys will be exclusive to Walmart, with another 400 more exclusives that didn’t break the top 25. Nothing like a little exclusivity to gain that retail edge, right?

In other Walmart news…

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

On the heels of expanding its layaway program, the country’s largest private employer will be laying off 7,000 of its employees. Those employees will hail from the ranks of accounting and invoicing. But don’t be so quick to judge. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. By cutting those 7,000 jobs, Walmart can hire more employees to work in its stores in customer-facing positions. Hey, don’t knock it. It’s the one-thing Amazon can’t do as well given its online domination. And no doubt, if those 7,000 employees want customer-facing roles, its likely Walmart will find a place for them. I think. The irony just warms the heart, doesn’t it? This latest initiative began in the summer, when 500 stores eliminated three administrative positions. The test was to determine if the functions of those positions could be redistributed to other employees, with some even being replaced by machines. Unfortunately for those whose jobs were eliminated, the test worked. Walmart made a huge push shifting spending to employees who work in the stores stocking shelves and dealing with customers. Walmart already plunked down $2.7 billion for wage increases to boost the wages of those employees. There must be something to be said for that approach as the retailer reported 79 weeks of rising customer satisfaction, eight straight quarters of increased sales and improved traffic.

That darn carrot!

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Image courtesy of KEKO64/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The world’s largest soup maker, Campbell’s Soup, reported smaller than expected adjusted profit for its fourth quarter. But the real story is the culprit behind that disappointing profit…carrots. Yes. Carrots. After all, how can you trust a vegetable that looks prettier than it tastes? Four years ago Campbell’s Soup bought Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion in order to expand its fresh and organic offerings. But this year a drought in California put quite the damper on the season’s carrot crop that led to lower sales of carrots – because of their higher-than-normal prices – and carrot-based products. Then there was that pesky recall of its protein drinks that also took those earnings on a very unpleasant dive. Campbell’s reported an $81 million net loss. However, that was tied to a $141 million pre-tax impairment charge from writing down the value of Bolthouse Farms. But still. The loss was painful. If that weren’t bad enough, the company also forecast earnings that were not what analysts were hoping to see. Instead of raking an estimated $3.15 for the year, Campbell’s only expects to take in between $3.00 and $3.09. Wall Street is so not into earnings forecast reductions. But Campbell’s still felt confident enough to raise its quarterly dividend from 31.2 cents to 35 cents. So maybe soup is good food after all.

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Facebook Fright; Hershey’s Not So Sweet Earnings; Lowe’s Looking to R2D2 for Inspiration?

Not liking this…

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Facebook just can’t be beat. Or can it? Hmmm. For its sixth straight quarter it toppled Wall Street expectations. It’s third quarter pulled in $3.2 billion which was a 59% whopper of an increase over last year’s equally impressive $2 billion. Wall Street analysts predicted only $3.1 billion. Ha! What do they know. Even its daily active users are up 19% to 864 million. I bet Twitter wouldn’t mind seeing some digits like that. Apparently 30% of us get caught up on our current events via Facebook. Then Facebook earned a hefty $0.43 per share, $0.03 more than what was expected. So how, you ask (and I know you are), is it even remotely possible that the stock took an 11% dive today? For that we can thank Facebook CFO David Wehner, who said some rather fiscally upsetting things during the company’s earnings call. For instance, Facebook costs will increase by a not so modest 55%-75%. Wall Street doesn’t care for stuff like cost increases. It tends to put a damper on things. If the cost increases weren’t upsetting enough, Mr. Wehner also had the audacity to spook Wall Street by mentioning that revenue will slow down. Yikes.

Not sweet on this…

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The second largest, publicly traded confectioner just reported its earnings and you can bet they weren’t nearly as sweet as Facebook’s (but then again, what is?). I am talking about Hershey’s of course, maker of everybody’s favorite something or other. For me it’s the classic bar with almonds. Just saying. As for Hershey’s earnings, sales were up 6%. I am sure I assisted in that. Its market share stands at an impressive 31%, having grown .2% this quarter, yet again. But the company sadly missed analysts’ estimates. First of all, the company had revenues of $1.96 billion, which many would find to be a very respectable number. But not for Wall Street who strongly felt that revenue for Hershey’s should have been $1.97 billion. Yes missing that $10 million was kind of a drag. Then there was the earnings per share issue. The candy company gained $1.05 per share. Yet that wasn’t enough to satisfy Wall Street’s craving for $1.08 per share.

How’s that for customer service?

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digital art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Attention humans: Your employment days might be numbered, thanks to Lowe’s. The home-improvement/hardware chain is testing out the use of robots to help customers in its stores. If you happen to be in San Jose, California, you might want to check out four of the new R2D2 wannabes, dubbed OSHbots at the Orchard Supply Hardware. No word on how much this little endeavor is costing and its cost effectiveness over real people. Lowe’s stock, however, is up 11% for the year, so far. Equipped with 3D cameras, screens and other doodads and knick-knacks, the OSHbots can help you find whatever it is you are looking for in the store. Just not an actual human being.