The Walmart 10-Q form covers the period for the three months ending April 30th while other companies post their first quarter reports for the three months ending March 30th. Why does Walmart end one month earlier than other companies? How are companies regulated in this regard?


A December fiscal year end, which gives a first quarter of three months ending March 30, aligns the fiscal and the tax year. This can be very convenient and in the United States is sometimes required. In addition, some regulated firms like banks are required to prepare documents on calendar quarters regardless of the month of their fiscal year end, and it is often cheaper and easier to have them be synchronized rather than close the books additionally for regulators.

Firms may be motivated to alter their fiscal years so that they can better serve their customers or investors. For example, some banks have a fiscal year end not in December so that customers needing to do financial transactions at the end of their year could do so without the bank simultaneously having to close their own books. For many years Morgan Stanley did this. Walmart may be doing this because December is the Christmas shopping season in the United States and management wants to focus on that critical shopping period without the distraction of accounting issues. Additionally, if some shopping comes in after the holiday (say if Hanukkah comes late or because of a rash of belated Festivus shopping), it might split a single shopping season into different fiscal years which could be undesirable for investors trying to compare retailer performance.

I don't want to lean too hard on any of these explanations for Walmart's timing. If I recall correctly from looking in Compustat a few years ago more than 80 percent of US listed firms have a December FYE and this didn't vary a huge amount across industries.

UPDATE: I went into Compustat and I redid the table of retail, banking, and other firms showing the months of fiscal year end the last 12 months (8/2014-7/2015). I was surprised to see that retail was indeed vastly (>20 times) more likely to have a January FYE than a typical publicly listed firm in 2015. The results appear in the figure below. FYE by industry Source: Compustat

This gives credence to the hypothesis that as a retailer with significant holiday sales, Walmart may have a January FYE to highlight those results.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good answer, but incomplete— it might be worth adding a reference to explain that Walmart, being a large retailer that does significant has significant sales before and after Christmas, would benefit from closing its Q4 books at the end of January, rather than immediately after the holiday, both from a resources standpoint and to include a complete picture of holiday season sales. $\endgroup$ Aug 4 '15 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ I integrated your suggestions into my answer. Thanks for the feedback. $\endgroup$
    – BKay
    Aug 4 '15 at 13:11

I offer the following reason why a business like Walmart may desire to have January end as its closing-date for the fiscal year: in anticipation of the high-season of Christmas, it is natural that inventories rise "abnormally", in order not to lose sales. Most probably Walmart has return-contracts with suppliers. So during January is when any products that did not fulfill forecasted sales are returned (especially for Christmas-specific products) in order to optimize inventories.

Optimizing the value of inventories is essential for a commercial company. Assume now that such optimization takes place during January, but the fiscal year closes on Decemeber 31: the optimization would never show in the official yearly Financial Statements. The company would have to include Notes saying things like "inventories may appear high, but during January we have returned... etc". But a note in the Financial Statement is never as strong as the magnitude appearing on the Balance Sheet itself. So the company, in order to allow for an actual management practice to show in the Financial Statements (and not in order to artificially embellish its financial picture), closes the year on January end.


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