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Wal-Mart: Save Money, Live Better, Increase Shares?

Investors were closely listening to what was said Friday at Wal-Mart’s annual shareholder meeting. What do you need to know?

Wal-Mart's newly installed President and CEO Mike Duke pledged to shareholders Friday that the world's largest retailer will build on its success by keeping its customers even when the economy improves.

"I believe the economic crisis has brought a fundamental shift in consumer attitudes and behavior," Duke told cheering shareholders packed into a University of Arkansas arena in Fayetteville, about 30 miles from its Bentonville headquarters.

"There is a 'new normal' in which people want to save money and are getting smarter about saving money. ... So let me be clear, and people ask me about this all the time: our customers will stay with us when this economy turns around," he said.

Duke is referencing skepticism on the Street that Wal-Mart will be able to retain higher end customers who were forced to trade down to Wal-Mart due to tough times. Skeptics argue when they have the means to shop elsewhere, they will. But Dana Telsey, of Telsey Advisory Group isn't worried. She tells Fast Money, “I think the word value is here to stay and that means Wal-Mart.”

As a testament to recent success, Wal-Mart announced it would launch a new $15 billion share buyback. The program replaces a $15 billion program begun in 2007 that $3.4 billion of remaining authorization.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Schoewe told shareholders that the company was increasing sales and profits faster than its competitors. He noted that Wal-Mart forecast earnings per share for fiscal 2008 of between $3.30 and $3.43.

The meeting also featured Wal-Mart's customary celebrity appearances. Miley Cyrus, who has a new apparel line with Wal-Mart, performed, as did American Idol winner Kris Allen, who is from Arkansas. Basketball legend Michael Jordan also spoke briefly.

Even entertainer Ben Stiller, the host of the meeting, took the opportunity to take a jab at Target.

"You guys get up early," said Stiller, referring to the 7 a.m start of the meeting. "I hear they are still sleeping over at Target."

It’s also worth noting that Wal-Mart intends to move forward with an aggressive remodeling of its stores, which includes a better display of electronics and lower shelves to help shoppers navigate the store more easily. The company plans to remodel 500 of its more than 3,600 stores in the U.S. this year.

The company is also launching more exclusive launches in apparel and home furnishings that should help shoppers buy more than just detergent and groceries. This week, the company launched a new fashion line with teen star Cyrus and BCBG designer Max Azria for the critical back-to-school shopping season.


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