Wal-Mart Stores stock fell as much as 9% on Wednesday — its worst drop in nearly 16 years — after the retail giant forecast a drop in annual profit, disappointing investors who have been hoping for a rebound in growth.
Earnings are expected to drop 6% to 12% in fiscal 2017, Wal-Mart officials announced at the company’s investor day. Analysts had estimated a gain of 4% on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Wal-Mart shares fell as much as 9.9% to $60.12 in New York, erasing about $20 billion in market value and amounting to the biggest drop since February 2000. The stock was already down 22% this year on lower quarterly earnings and downgraded forecasts.
The outlook was “far worse than anyone expected,” Charles Grom, an analyst with Sterne Agee & Leach, said in a note to clients.
Wal-Mart has been investing in its workforce and e-commerce business to reignite stagnant sales growth. In April, it raised its base employee wages to $9 an hour and plans a further increase to at least $10 an hour next year.
The pay effort, combined with an expanded training program, added about $1 billion in costs this year and $1.5 billion next year.
Wal-Mart has also been trying to win back customers by improving the shopping experience, expanding its online grocery pickup service, and opening more small-format stores, called Neighborhood Markets, Bloomberg noted, but investors “have been skeptical that the changes will reignite growth.”
The company previously cut its forecast for this year. Wal-Mart said in August it expects earnings of $4.40 to $4.70 a share, down from an earlier projection of as much as $5.05 a share.
Wal-Mart’s second-quarter earnings missed analysts’ estimates. Profit amounted to $1.08 a share in the period, excluding some items, while analysts had expected profit of $1.12 a share. Results for the third quarter are due on Nov. 17.
“There is no way they can continue to grow, they are just too big,” Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners, said before Wednesday’s forecast. “They do $500 billion worth of revenue — how are you going to grow that?”
Wal-Mart also said its board has authorized $20 billion in stock buybacks.