"February MTD [month-to-date] sales are a total disaster," said Walmart vice president of finance and logistics Jerry Murray in Feb. 12 e-mail to other executives. "The worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company."
We already knew that retail sales were going to struggle to begin the year. The expiration of the payroll tax holiday meant consumers had less spending money in their pockets. And indeed, the first retail sales report since the end of the tax holiday showed spending growth grinding almost to a halt, with sales increasing just 0.1%.
But Walmart's sales woes appear to go beyond a mere slowdown. In another email obtained from Bloomberg, a senior vice president bemoans miserable January sales, asking "Where are all the customers? And where's their money?"
Walmart was quick with the damage control, warning that "we often see internal communications that are not entirely accurate, that lack the proper context and represent individual opinions."
Walmart's fourth-quarter results are due out next week, which means that it will be May before we get to see the first-quarter results that have Walmart's executives in such a tizzy. Once the Street gets a peek at those numbers, we'll see whether shareholders continue to believe Walmart's everything-is-fine spin -- or if they agree that the sky really is falling in Bentonville.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.