Wal-Mart Says 'Go Slow'

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Many financial analysts were pleased with the news, as they had been calling on the company to reduce its "capital expenditures" or spending on major projects such as opening new stores. Retailer watchers have wanted the company to focus on those areas where the company has struggled, in particular apparel.

Citigroup's Deborah Weinswig described the announcement as "shocking" and later wrote in a note to investment clients: "The announcement came earlier and the magnitude was greater than expected. Management will now be more focused on existing stores, reflecting a clearer strategy toward improving retail operations."

Wal-Mart to Shoppers: Live Better

Throughout the meeting, Wal-Mart emphasized the new message it wants to convey to its employees, its shareholders and in particular, its customers: "Saving people money so they can live better."

Developed internally within the past few months, the slogan featured prominently on the new multicolored, pixilated pattern background the company has started to use. That layout was developed with Wal-Mart's new advertising agency, the Martin Group.

The message could be seen on banners hanging near the meeting, on T-shirts, on the giant television screens in the arena and was used throughout the presentations by executives at Wal-Mart.

Rob Walton, chairman of the board and son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, used the phrase throughout his presentation: "We're working harder so people can lead better lives."

The message dovetails with the retailer's renewed emphasis on "every day low pricing" after the company stumbled last fall in its attempt to attract a more affluent shopper.

And it worked. Low prices drove customers to the stores during the holidays, and the world's largest retailer ended the year with revenue increasing to $345 billion with profits totaling $12.18 billion.

That was enough for Wal-Mart to reclaim the No. 1 spot on the Fortune 500 from ExxonMobil for the year.

Walton also used the shareholder meeting to broadcast a message to CEO Lee Scott that the board appreciated his hard work, perhaps trying to stop speculation about Scott's position.

"The board and the Walton family have absolute confidence in your leadership," he said.

Also addressed during the more than four-hour meeting was the election of the board of directors and the rejection of 11 shareholder proposals that ranged from requiring a report on how rising health care costs would affect the company to documenting pay by race and gender, and disclosing donations to charitable groups.

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