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Wal-Mart 'Best-Positioned' To Withstand Economic Slowdown: CEO

6/06/2008 01:47:00 PM Eastern

Fayetteville, Ark. — CEO Lee Scott said Wal-Mart is better positioned than any other retailer to succeed in the current economic climate and in the challenging retail environment taking shape for the future.

Speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting here this morning, the chief executive said that transformational changes made by management over the past three years, plus a focus on improving people’s lives by saving them money, are driving results for the business and preparing it for the impact of rising energy costs and an aging population.

“Wal-Mart is uniquely positioned to succeed not just in this economy but in these times. And among retailers, we are the best positioned to lead in the world of tomorrow," Scott said, citing the company’s global footprint, its sustainability initiatives and the appeal of its price leadership strategy to aging consumers.

Scott also said that issues affecting Wal-Mart’s customer base, which is disproportionately impacted by higher fuel and health care costs, will be the focus of the upcoming presidential election.

“We see it in our stores every day,” he said, “working men and women living paycheck to paycheck and making more and more difficult decisions. We serve millions of customers like this every week in the U.S. We understand them.”

During an afternoon analyst session, Eduardo Castro-Wright, president/CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., said the division's brand repositioning, led by chief marketing officer Stephen Quinn with the promise of “Save money, live better,” had a significant impact on the retailer’s improved results.

Another driver was a restructuring that improved merchandising and product management by breaking out categories by customer segment and retail competitor. “We’re managing our business like a portfolio," noted chief merchandising officer John Fleming, "and are focusing on categories where we can grow rapidly and take market share.”

Doug McMillon, president/CEO of Sam’s Club, said the wholesale club division continues to “drive a lot of sales” in CE, although TV price compression has impacted dollar volume in flat panel.

The annual meeting, which filled the 16,000-seat Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus, is traditionally a raucous gathering of management, shareholders, employees and analysts, and this year didn’t disappoint. Associates whooped, cheered and hollered throughout the four-hour presentation, which was hosted by actress/singer Queen Latifah and featured performances by “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Hudson, “American Idol” winner David Cook, and country singer Tim McGraw.

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