A Look at Wal-Mart's Bribery Probe

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What's happening in the headlines can affect you as an investor. Here's what's going on, what you need to know, and what you should do.

The cold, hard facts
Financial Times is reporting that retailing giant Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT) has launched an internal investigation into whether employees in its overseas business violated U.S. anti-corruption laws. The probe will look into "whether certain matters, including permitting, licensing and inspections, were in compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

Some context
Put simply, the law prohibits bribery overseas. Wal-Mart disclosed the investigation in a regulatory filing on Thursday, but didn't say which part of its international business was involved.

"We cannot reasonably estimate the potential liability, if any, related to these matters," Wal-Mart said in the filing. "However, based on the facts currently known, we do not believe that these matters will have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, or cash flows."

Following the release of the filing, shares in the company slipped 0.2% to $57.85 in after-market trading, but then climbed back up to $58.11.This is another blemish on their international track record, which took a recent hit on their allegations of misrepresentation of pork products in China .

What you need to know
Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer by sales, and runs stores in 28 countries. You only have to visit any of their U.S. locations to get a hint of the size and scope at which this company operates. Peer Costco (NAS: COST) operates on a similarly large scale, as does Target (NYS: TGT) to a somewhat lesser extent.

Big companies with ocean liners full of employees that are expanding into all four corners of the globe are not neat, simple, easy-to-control operations. If it turns out there was foul play, it could be on a very small scale with nothing of financial consequence coming of it. On the other hand, this could be the start of something big.

There's simply no way to know right now. Investors will just have to see how the story develops. Stay in the know on Wal-Mart by adding it to My Watchlist, a free service of The Motley Fool that lets you keep up with everything on your investing radar. Add Wal-Mart to My Watchlist simply and easily by clicking here now.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorJohn Grgurichloves the smell of newsprint in the morning, but he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned above.The Motley Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart Stores and Costco Wholesale.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Wal-Mart Stores and Costco Wholesale, as well as creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a scintillatingdisclosure policy

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