Wal-Mart International: A True Growth Story

| About: Walmart Inc. (WMT)
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If you were lucky enough to buy Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stock about 30 years ago, you're probably not reading this. You're probably sitting on your yacht, somewhere warm and sunny, sipping champagne and eating caviar. If you are one of these lucky people, and purchased just 100 shares during the IPO in 1970, you would currently own 204,800 shares, worth approximately $11.3 million, with a yearly dividend income of almost $300,000 (per Wal-Mart Investor Relations). But for those of us who weren't lucky enough to buy WMT 40 years ago, the story has been very different.

We've seen the company's public image degrade from the low-cost retailer into the mom and pop-killing, union-breaking corporate behemoth loathed by many a consumer. The stock has been on life support since the early 2000s, never breaking higher than the low 60s, and the company has been struggling with sluggish US growth and declining same-store sales. Many have decreed an investment in WMT to be dead money, and with a yield chronically under 3%, even long-term dividend investors are bearish. But despite the doomsday predictions, behind the scenes WMT is still growing, still generously paying its shareholders, and working hard to become the world's most powerful retail giant.

US sales are slowing, there is no doubt about that. Over the past few years, Americans have shown a desire to ditch the big box discount chain in favor of more healthy, trendy options, like Whole Foods (WFM) and Trader Joe's. And while I believe WMT's plan to penetrate denser, more urban markets with smaller grocery stores and still smaller convenience formats will ultimately be successful, I'd like to focus on the most exciting segment of WMT's business -- Wal-Mart International.

According to the company's 10-k, sales from Wal-Mart International (henceforth referred to as WI) have grown by an average of 9% a year over the past five years. Last year there was a superb 12.1% growth in international sales. This has brought WI's revenues from 19.2% of total sales to 26.1% in 2011, even more impressive considering Wal-Mart US and Sam's Club revenues have also grown during this time, albeit at a slower pace.

During the same period, operating income from WI has grown substantially, from $4.3 million to $5.6 million, and now accounts for 21.9% of total operating income. International operating margin of 5.1% is slightly lower than the US margin of 7.7%, but that is to be expected, since WMT does not have the amazing infrastructure and supply chain control it does here in the States.

The company seems to be opening new international outlets almost daily. In 2007, WI consisted of 2,757 units. By this past year, there were 4,557 units. That's a total of 1800 new units in five years, or roughly 360 a year. This year, WMT expects to increase international space by 23-24 million square feet. Using the average WMT store size of 108,000 square feet, this equals an addition of roughly 220 new units.

Currently, WI operates in 14 countries outside of the US, with the heaviest presence in Mexico, with 1,730 stores. It's growing its footprint in every "hot" new country (except for Russia), with stores in India, China, and Brazil, among many others. In fact, it just recently entered into a minority stake with Yihaodian, an popular online retailer in China, further establishing its presence in this new economic power.

In 2010, it also entered into two new deals, one with Dansk Supermarket in the UK, to purchase Netto Foodstores Limited, which operates 193 units there. Also, in a more publicized deal, WMT acquired a controlling 51% stake in South Africa's Massmart (OTC:MMRTF), which operates 288 units in South Africa and 13 units in other sub-Saharan countries under numerous banners. Africa is being touted (by some) as the next great economic success story, and at times, South Africa has even called itself the fifth BRIC country. The purchase of Massmart assures that WMT will not be left out if Africa turns out to be the next economic frontier.

What is most interesting, and I feel most important, about its international growth is the diversification that it offers. If you were to travel to India, you would not be greeted by that yellow happy face behind a blue and white WMT logo; you would instead enter a BestPrice Modern Wholesale. If you were to go to Brazil, you might go shopping at a Hypermarket or Maxxi Atacado. WI has made an effort to both move away from the oft-stigmatized Wal-Mart, while also giving locals a brand of their own -- a much better idea than trying to shove another American product in their faces. And with international numbers like these, it's hard to argue this strategy isn't working.

Adding this all up on its own is one thing; when you look at the whole picture, WMT becomes even more appealing. The company has a five-year EPS growth of 11.4%, and has grown total revenues by an average of 8.2% over the last decade. Margins are steady, and return on equity has remained above 20% since 2002. The company has kept debt to total capital under 40%, even while growing like gangbusters outside the US. And the dividend (37 years of consecutive increases, a five-year growth rate of 15.9%, and a payout ratio of just 29%) is enough to keep any patient investor happy as they wait for WMT's stock price to catch up to its growth. At just 13.1x TTM earnings, expected EPS growth of 7%, and a dividend yield of 2.6%, this stock is a great conservative, income producing investment at the current price of $55.22.

Disclosure: I am long WMT.