Walmart CEO Doug McMillon had a few messages to impart during the company's Tuesday earnings call that didn't relate to the company's quarterly results. Among them was McMillon's view that it is "imperative" for elected officials to work together to pass more stimulus funding.
He also congratulated Joe Biden on his win, adding his name to a growing list of corporate leaders that have acknowledged the outcome of the November 3 presidential election even as President Donald Trump refuses to concede. Other Fortune 500 CEOs, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, have offered their congratulations to Mr. Biden, although few have publicly addressed Mr. Trump's refusal to accept his election loss.
"I want to wrap up by saying congratulations to President-elect Biden," McMillon said at the end of his prepared remarks on the Tuesday morning call with Wall Street analysts. "We look forward to working with the administration and both houses of Congress to move the country forward."
McMillon also turned his attention to stimulus funding, noting that small businesses are under more pressure as states from the East to West coasts impose more restrictions due to surging coronavirus cases. Already, there are signs that consumers may be pulling back on spending as the rise in COVID-19 cases saps their confidence in an economic rebound, paired with a lack of fresh stimulus spending from Washington, D.C.
Walmart, as the largest U.S. private employer, with 1.2 million workers here, is reliant on consumers continuing to open their wallets. A hit to small businesses — which have fewer resources than corporate giants such as Walmart to weather a downturn — could impact many of Walmart's customers, given that small businesses employ almost half the nation's workforce and often serve as suppliers and vendors to larger businesses like Walmart.
"The increase in cases will put more pressure on small businesses that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic," McMillon said. "As various governments around the country tighten up to help keep people healthy, it will be imperative that elected officials in Washington work together to deliver the help so many businesses need to get through this next phase of the pandemic."
Retail sales in the U.S. drew to a "near halt" in October, according to Oxford Economics senior U.S. economist James Watson, citing data from the U.S. Commerce Department released on Tuesday.
"Consumers closed their wallets as the first chills of fall set in, with retail sales barely rising across October," Watson said in the research note. "This reading is one of the first signs that spending is set to struggle in the face of lapsing income support and a massive surge in virus cases across the U.S."
Economists have credited stimulus packages passed earlier this year, such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (or CARES Act), with propping up households struggling with job losses and income reductions. The CARES Act also provided funding for businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. But much of the funding from the CARES Act has either been spent or will expire next month.