Don Edwards, a recent MBA graduate has been asked to analyze the financial performance of Sears and Wal-Mart. Although Wal-Mart is the industry powerhouse, its 20% return on equity (ROE) lags behind that of Sears’ 22%.
Wal-Mart operates fewer stores than Sears but is ahead in terms of total selling area by a ratio of 3.4:1. Between 1995 and 1997, Sears’ retail store revenue per selling square foot was not only lower than that of Wal-Mart but in decline.
Sears allows customers to pay for merchandise over time if they use the company’s proprietary credit card. Sears opened 24 million new credit card accounts over a 3 year period and had 27 million active customer credit accounts with an average balance of $1058 in 1997. The balance on credit cards accounted for 90% of the total receivables. In contrast, Wal-Mart does not have their own proprietary credit cards and its customers may use a MasterCard with a Wal-Mart logo that is issued by the Chase Manhattan Bank.
Sears’ total revenues of $41 billion were a third of Wal-Mart’s revenues. 55.1% of sales were charged to a Sears Card. 12% of total revenues came from credit operations. Sears’ was able to reduce risk and generate revenues through securitization whereby receivables were converted to pass through certificates sold to third partiers and this was reported as sales for financial statement purposes. Cost of sales was equivalent to 65% of total revenues.
Bad debts cost Sears approximately $1.5 billion. Provision for uncollectible accounts was 31% of credit revenues, and the delinquency rate went up to 7% from 5.4% the previous year. At 200 days Sears’ average receivables collection period was very high when compared to Wal-Mart’s 3 days. Sears’1997 net income of 1.19 billion was down $83 million or 6.5% from 1996. Cash outflow from operating activities exceeded inflow by $556 million.
In 1998, Wal-Mart generated