Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon expects inflation

U.S. consumers face "serious" inflation in the months ahead for clothing, food and other products, the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations warned Wednesday.

The world's largest retailer is working with suppliers to minimize the effect of cost increases and believes its low-cost business model will position it better than its competitors.

Still, inflation is "going to be serious," Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said during a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board. "We're seeing cost increases starting to come through at a pretty rapid rate."

"We're in a position to use scale to hold prices lower longer ... even in an inflationary environment," Simon says. "We will have the lowest prices in the market."

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart are the best positioned to mitigate some cost increases, Long says. Wal-Mart, for example, could have "access to any factory in any country around the globe" to mitigate the effect of inflation in the U.S., Long says.

Still, "it's certainly going to have an impact," Long says. "No retailer is going to be able to wish this new cost reality away. They're not going to be able to insulate the consumer 100%."


Related previous post: Is Warren Buffett Worried About Hyperinflation?

Specifically, this comment from David Poppe:

I agree with that. Wal-Mart’s competitive advantage, the reason Wal-Mart has the lowest cost, is in large part because it has a substantial advantage in distribution versus almost anyone. Target has not expanded in the same kind of tightly concentric circles because Target requires a little bit higher demographic neighborhood for the store to work and be successful. So it’s not as simple an issue for them to just build them out two miles at a time across the country.

So Target’s strategy is a little bit different. Target’s got low cost but they will never be as low as Wal-Mart’s. They will never have as many stores as Wal-Mart because Target has a narrower customer base. On the other hand, however, I would say Target has a pretty desirable store base because they opened a lot of stores in large metro markets that will be difficult for Wal-Mart to penetrate. I think they’ll both be successful, but Wal-Mart certainly is and will continue to be the low cost provider. Bob talked about companies that are well-positioned for inflation — I can’t think of too many companies that are better positioned for hyperinflation than Wal-Mart.