Why Is Walmart Splitting Its Stock?

The world's largest retailer's 3-for-1 stock split greatly cuts WMT's weight in the Dow.

walmart stock
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're a long-time shareholder in Walmart (WMT) stock wondering why the world's largest retailer effected a three-for-one stock split near the end of February, well, the move wasn't for you. It was for Walmart's employees. 

After all, investors don't need stock splits anymore – not in a world where they can buy fractional shares for free on their smartphones. But Walmart, like a lot of companies, has a program where its employees can buy shares through payroll deductions. The issue? WMT's price was getting a little too rich for the program to work as intended.

After rising almost 18% on a price basis over the past 52 weeks, Walmart stock is trading at record levels. Indeed, at about $174 a pop, WMT stock stands 20% above its three-year average price of $145. Regrettably, the stock's high-flying ways put it out of reach for some.

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"[Founder] Sam Walton believed it was important to keep our share price in a range where purchasing whole shares, rather than fractions, was accessible to all of our associates," said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in a press release.

The solution? A three-for-one stock split ahead of the open on February 26. Recall that as much as the market likes stock splits, they're essentially immaterial. Nothing about a company's fundamentals or outlook changes. A stock split is like making change. I give you two $10s for a $20.

In Walmart's case, shareholders get three shares for every share held – and that could make a big difference to Walmart employees. That's because the company provides a 15% match on the first $1,800 invested each year by eligible associates. 

Walmart's company match works out to $270 – or not even enough to buy two full shares pre-split. After the split, however, that $270 match will buy more than four full shares of this blue chip stock

What it means for WMT investors

Not much. As noted above, stock splits get the market excited for maybe a minute, but they are meaningless. The arithmetic changes, but the fundamentals don't. 

For example, Walmart’s outstanding common stock will grow to approximately 8.1 billion from 2.7 billion shares. At the same time, the dividend per share will drop by two-thirds. Walmart, a member of the S&P 500 Dividend Aristocrats, just hiked its payout for a 51st consecutive year. For fiscal 2025, shareholders will receive an annual cash dividend of 83 cents a share on a post-split basis. That's down from $2.49 on a pre-split basis, but shareholders will own three times as many shares. 

If there's anything interesting about WMT's stock split, it's that it will greatly reduce the name's weight in the Dow. Unlike the S&P 500, which is weighted by market capitalization, the Dow is weighted by price. Pre-split, Walmart is the 17th most important Dow Jones stock with a 3% weight in the index. Post-split, WMT will drop to 26th place with a weight of 1%. 

Interestingly, Amazon.com (AMZN) will join the Dow at the beginning of trading next week. It will slot into the place formerly held by Walmart and its roughly 3% weighting in blue chip index.

AMZN has been one of the best stocks of the past 30 years, and anyone who put $1,000 into Amazon stock a couple of decades ago has done even better. Sadly, Walmart has been a market laggard over the last 20 years. 

If past is prologue, more AMZN and less WMT in the Dow will be good for this bluest of blue-chip market benchmarks. 

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Dan Burrows
Senior Investing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.

A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.

Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.

In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.

Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.

Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.