BENTONVILLE, ARK. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is fighting battles on multiple fronts after posting its first quarterly profit decline in 10 years, and analysts question whether the retailer can regain the feverish growth rates of its past.
Wal-Mart's woes range from high energy prices, which hit its lower-income customer base and its own costs, to setbacks in its international strategy, to public relations stumbles like this week's sudden resignation of civil rights icon Andrew Young as its public ambassador over comments made about the ethnicity of store operators.
On the plus side, analysts say, Wal-Mart has ambitious programs to stock trendier products, remodel most of its more than 2,000 Supercenter stores and tighten its grip on the costs of inventory, labor and energy.
In Lawrence, the firm's store at 3300 Iowa is being expanded into a supercenter, and plans are under way for a new store at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
Combined with an ongoing public relations offensive to counter critics who claim its pay and benefits are skimpy, Wal-Mart is juggling a lot of balls at once and analysts say the outcome is still up in the air.
"I think they're in so much transition right now that it's hard to measure whether or not they're making progress," said Patricia Edwards, portfolio manager and retail analyst at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich in Seattle, which manages $8.2 billion in assets and holds 51,000 Wal-Mart shares. "It is a lot to handle."
Second-quarter results showed the first profit decline in a decade on the cost of selling its loss-making business in Germany. It quit another loss-maker, South Korea, in May but still operates in 13 countries in Asia, Latin America and Britain and intends to keep expanding, especially in China.