Naturally, investors care about the price they pay when buying shares in a company. After all, the maxim is "buy low, sell high," which maximizes your return. Nonetheless, there are some businesses that are worth jumping in to buy, no matter the price, since they are core long-term holdings with strong growth prospects.
Walmart (NYSE: WMT) belongs in this esteemed group. This retailer opened its first discount store nearly 60 years ago, but it retains strong competitive advantages that will allow the company to continue to prosper.
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Since the early 1960s, the company has been pushing to keep costs low, and passing these savings along to customers. While many companies strive to cut expenses, Walmart has ingrained it into its culture. This allows the company to keep its commitment to offer the lowest prices.
No doubt, this low-price model helped the company's fiscal first quarter of 2021 (ended April 30) as people ran out to buy everyday items. Its quarterly revenue rose nearly 10% versus the year-ago period after excluding foreign exchange translations. While the coronavirus pandemic created extraordinary circumstances that caused costs for items like special bonuses to hourly employees and higher wages in fulfillment centers, operating income still increased by 6.6%.
The higher expenses should prove temporary, and Walmart has a history of finding savings in all areas of its business. Offering low prices is a popular strategy no matter the state of the economy, and it should prove especially popular in the current recession.
Walmart is confronting the challenge from online companies, most significantly Amazon.com. It has been boosting its e-commerce efforts to include offerings such as same-day pickup (order online, and pick up the item from the store), same-day delivery, and "endless aisle," which allows customers to check on the stock of an item and order it online if it is not at the store.
Walmart appears poised to strike again, showing investors that it is not growing complacent. In a direct push back against Amazon, it is reportedly launching Walmart+, a subscription service that charges $98 annually. This expands upon Walmart's Delivery Unlimited beyond groceries to offer fuel discounts and other perks.
History of dividend increases
Walmart's success has led it to generate a prodigious cash flow. In its first quarter, its operating cash flow was $7 billion. After spending $1.8 billion on capital expenditures, its free cash flow was $5.2 billion. This handily covered the $1.5 billion of quarterly dividends. Last year, Walmart generated $14.6 billion of free cash flow.
The company shares the wealth by regularly raising dividends. In fact, it has done so since it first paid a dividend in 1974, making it part of the elite Dividend Aristocrats. These are members of the S&P 500 that have hiked dividends for at least 25 straight years.
This global powerhouse, with operations in 26 other countries besides the U.S., has perfected its business with a laser focus on costs that it uses to save people money. Combined with improving its e-commerce efforts, Walmart is one stock that belongs in your portfolio for the long haul, even if you have to pay up to own it.
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