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Walmart said yesterday that its Q4 "was not our best," in the words of CEO Doug McMillon.

The retailer said that total revenue for the period was up 2.1 percent, or $2.9 billion, to $141.67 billion, on US same-store sales that were up 1.9 percent and US e-commerce sales that were up 35 percent.

Net income for the quarter was $ 4.14 billion, up 12.3 percent from $3.68 billion during the same period a year ago.

For the fiscal year, Walmart reported total revenue of $523.9 billion, up 1.9 percent from $514.4 billion the previous year, and e-commerce sales for the year were up 37 percent.

In a statement, CFO Brett Biggs said: “The fourth quarter started and ended strong with solid sales growth through Cyber Monday and in January. In the few weeks before Christmas, we experienced some softness in a few general merchandise categories in our U.S. stores. However, Walmart U.S. grocery sales and eCommerce sales were strong throughout the quarter. Sam’s Club performed well, including solid results in eCommerce. We experienced softness in some key international markets, as well as in Chile, where unrest led to disruption in the majority of our stores. Walmex, China and Flipkart all had a solid quarter.

"The holiday season delivered positive transaction growth and underlying expense leverage was strong for the quarter. However, it wasn’t as good as expected due to lower sales volumes and some pressure related to associate scheduling. We understand the factors that affected our results and are developing plans to address them. We remain confident in our business strategy and our ability to deliver value and convenience for our customers through an integrated omnichannel offering across the globe."

In its story, the Miami Herald notes that "it was the shortest holiday shopping season since 2013, leaving retailers scrambling to figure out how to get people thinking about the holidays sooner. The ongoing trade war with China has raised costs for most and now, a new virus in China is hitting a huge customer base as well as manufacturing facilities and supply chains.

"The challenges come on the back of a slew of bankruptcies as retailers attempt to satisfy a customer who has gone increasingly online, one who demands speedy delivery and returns."

KC's View:
 

The spread of the coronavirus in China is putting new stresses on Walmart, even as it says - for the moment - that it is not adjusting its financial projections because of it.  The Washington Postnotes that Walmart, in addition to adjusting its hours and staffing policies in China, where it has more than 400 stores, is shifting its inventory "to focus on fresh food and necessities instead of toys and apparel."  And, the fact that China is "largely on lockdown" has meant that "residents have become increasingly reliant on the company for home delivery of groceries and other supplies."

This could be a harbinger of the future in other places if the coronavirus continues to spread;   retailers have to be ready to respond.  And, ironically, Walmart's expanded focus on health care products and services could also help it navigate the challenges of the near future.