Wal-Mart announces massive share buy-back plan, up to $15 billion

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Wal-Mart (WMT) has decided what to do with billions of the dollars that it has earned as its sales and profits have defied the economic downturn. The world's largest retailer will buy back as much as $15 billion of its stock.

Wal-Mart made the announcement at its annual meeting. Its board will use the new repurchasing facility to replace one that began in mid-2007. Over $3 billion is still left in that pool. Wal-Mart's press release for the program says: " 'We remain committed to returning value to our shareholders through share repurchase and dividends,' said Mike Duke, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. president and chief executive officer. 'During the last five years, Wal-Mart has repurchased approximately $21 billion worth of its shares.' "

Wal-Mart joins a small list of highly successful and cash rich companies that have elected to push large portions of their earnings directly back to shareholders. McDonald's (MCD) made an announcement similar to Wal-Mart's earlier this year.

The buy-back does say something else about the retailer environment in the US and abroad. Wal-Mart is clearly not using most of its cash for the capital expenditures needed to build new stores. The company recently said it was considering expanding its business in India and Russia, but Wal-Mart's board must believe that the expansion will not be too costly, at least for a company Wal-Mart's size.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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