Walmart flexes in the fourth quarter, beats all expectations

FILE — Shoppers look at the toys at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston in November 2018.
FILE — Shoppers look at the toys at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston in November 2018.

NEW YORK — Walmart delivered a quarterly report that beat expectations on profit and revenue, and e-commerce sales surged during the critical holiday period.

Shares moved sharply higher before the opening bell Tuesday.

Walmart is the first major retailer to deliver fourth-quarter results and its performance was the latest evidence that it is widening the gap between itself and its rivals, and that it is holding its own against

Given the company's size, it's also encouraging news for the retail sector after an especially weak December retail sales report released last week spooked markets. The government data, delayed by a government shutdown, raised fears that a volatile stock market, a government impasse, and a trade war with China had chilled consumer spending. Moreover, the concern that average tax refunds are falling could mean there's less impetus for shoppers to spend in the coming months.

Walmart however, remained resilient in the face of such challenges, as a strong job market and rising consumer confidence outshone numerous headwinds. Walmart and other retailers are also benefiting from the woes of others. Toys R Us and Bon-Ton Stores have gone out of business, and the list of casualties keeps getting longer. This week, Payless ShoeSource started going-out-of business sales at more than 2,100 stores in the U.S. and the Puerto Rico. Sears is shrinking. And J.C. Penney is floundering.

Walmart posted strong sales across a wide range of products. That helped sales at stores open at least a year rise 4.2 percent at its U.S. namesake stores, following a 3.4 percent pace in the fiscal third quarter.

Since buying two years ago, Walmart has been expanding online by acquiring brands and adding thousands of items. It's also been ramping up grocery delivery and pickup options. Walmart has also revamped its website with a focus on fashion and home furnishings. That all helped to drive a 43 percent increase in e-commerce sales in the quarter, matching the pace from the previous period.

The company had a fourth-quarter profit of $3.69 billion, or $1.27 per share. Earnings, removing one-time items, were $1.41 per share, which is 8 cents better than analysts had expected, according to a survey by Zacks Investment Research.

The Bentonville company had revenue of $138.79 billion, also better than expected.