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Wal-Mart holds annual meeting; announces $15 billion more in stock buybacks

Bentonville, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced a $15 billion share buyback program at its annual shareholder meeting on Friday. It also said it expects to generate $10 billion in global e-commerce sales by the end of the fiscal year.

The new buyback program replaces the previous $15 billion plan, which had about $712 million remaining under the 2011 authorization.  

“Our strong cash flow enabled the company to invest in growth and repurchase over $14 billion of our stock during the last two years,” said Charles Holley, Walmart executive VP and CFO.

The annual meeting, held at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's Bud Walton Arena, included the usual mix of celebrities and entertainment. Hugh Jackman, star of "X-Men" and "Les Miserables," served as the host, and there were performances by singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.

The meeting also had a serious side as the chain faces ongoing scrutiny from investors over how it has handled the allegations of bribery regarding its Mexican operations, and some displeasure over its response to the factory building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

The New York City Pension Funds had been vocal about what it called the board’s poor oversight of compliance and lack of overall independence. It said it would vote its more than 5.1 million shares against nine of Wal-Mart's 14 board nominees -- including chairman S. Robson Walton and CEO Mike Duke. However, the vote is largely symbolic as members of the Walton family collectively own just over half of Wal-Mart's shares.

There were also protests by OUR Walmart, a union-backed group that hopes to get the attention of the Walton family and other shareholders who attend the meeting. The group wants the chain to publicly commit to providing full-time work with a minimum wage of $25,000 a year.

In remarks at meeting, Duke credited associates for the retailer's financial strength and personally welcomed on stage several dozen associates who he said represented the significant range and number of job and career opportunities offered by Wal-Mart, which is the world's largest private employer.

"No company provides more opportunity to more people to go from where they are to where they want to be than Walmart," said Duke. "Associates join Walmart for so many different reasons. When it comes to our careers, what we all have in common is that we started somewhere. What matters most is that we get the chance to go as far as hard work and talent will take us."

Duke also highlighted the company's strong financial results, net sales growth at its operating segments, and management's confidence in its long-term business strategies.

In his address to shareholders, Robson Walton defended the company's integrity and the independence of its board.

"We have the finest board of any company," said Walton. "As board members, integrity, transparency and openness guide our decisions."

 

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