There were two Walmarts on display at the companys shareholder meeting on Friday: the one Walmart presented,and the one some investors and activists were complaining about.
Walmart centered the meeting on extolling the value of its employees. That message was interspersed with the usual parade of celebrity and spectacle: Hugh Jackman,Tom Cruise,Kelly Clarkson,Jennifer Hudson,dancers and a giant puppet of a white elephant.
While Walmarts stock price remains close to an all-time high,its results in the most recent quarter missed analyst expectations. Sales at stores open at least a year,a key measure,declined in the US for the first time since summer 2011,while costs in the international unit were higher than expected.
Its stock price got some help Friday from news that the company authorised a $15 billion stock buyback,replacing the 2011 authorisation for a $15 billion buyback,of which about $712 million remained. Shares were up 1.2 per cent.
As is common for Walmart at these meetings,executives barely made mention of recent controversies,including issues of employee staffing and the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 workers where Walmart was shown to be producing garments. In addition,there is still the continuing investigation into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico and other countries.
But that did not mean those issues did not come up. During the brief portion of the meeting where shareholders could present proposals,criticisms were strong.
One presenter asked why Walmart had not joined European retailers in a pact to improve safety standards in Bangladesh.
The last six months have seen two of the worst disasters in the entire history of the garment industry, said Kalpona Akter,a union activist in Bangladesh,referring to the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen fire. Both occurred in buildings where Walmart goods were produced.
As expected,none of the shareholders proposals passed. The founding Walton family owns more than 50 per cent of shares,making it impossible to pass any measures without their support.
Yet the portion of the meeting where investors could speak amounted to about 15 minutes of an almost four-hour meeting.
The rest of it was devoted to Walmarts version of its story.