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Walmart Reworks Legal Team

WMT TGT

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Walmart Stores Inc. (WMT - Analyst Report) has promoted Karen Roberts to the post of executive vice president and general counsel. Walmart said that Karen Roberts will take up the new roles from February 2013.

The 42-year old Roberts has been working with Walmart for 17 years. Currently, she is the executive vice president of Walmart Realty for Walmart U.S. She had also previously served as the senior vice president and chief compliance officer for Walmart U.S.  

Roberts will report to executive vice president and corporate secretary Jeff Gearhart. Roberts, in her new post, will manage the legal department. Her team will handle relevant legal matters in domestic and international markets of Walmart. Gearhart will oversee the legal department as well as the newly-expanded compliance, ethics and investigations teams.

The restructuring of the legal team comes at a time when Walmart is facing plenty of legal charges. Walmart has been charged of lobbying and bribing in India. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission has also filed bribery charges against the company in Mexico.

According to The New York Times, Wal-Mart’s Mexican division arranged to bribe an official of the Mexican government for building a store in the Elda Pineda’s alfalfa field, barely a mile from the town’s ancient pyramids. Building a store so close to the town’s cultural structures went against the local law.

In this scenario, the new legal division is very significant as Walmart believes that Roberts will play a crucial role to steer the company out of the legal tussles. Roberts will replace Jay Jorgensen, who has been shifted to the newly-created position of global chief compliance officer.

Walmart posted third quarter earnings of $1.08 per share, which beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny and the prior-year earnings by 11.3%. The results were within the company’s earnings guidance range of $1.04 to $1.09 per share.

The company has 8,500 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names. Walmart also continues to expand internationally and in the emerging markets through accretive acquisitions and opening new stores .

However, Walmart, which competes against Target Corporation (TGT - Analyst Report), needs to be more careful as customers seek discounts on items to curb expenses. Currently, we have a Neutral recommendation on the stock. Walmart holds a Zacks #3 Rank (short-term Hold rating).

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