The greatest euphemism in business is "mature." Frequently executives and analysts will describe low growth as "maturing", as if this is OK. Just today CBSMarketwatch (read article here) reported an analyst from Fifth Third Bank said WalMart (chart here) is a mature business — and then goes on to say this is a good thing! Incredibly, he thinks slower growth will lead WalMart to paying more in dividends and buy back more shares raising the stock price as it stops investing in stores.
That’s what we used to call "milking" the business. And we now know that simply doesn’t work. The thinking used to be that the cash flow was sound, due to market domination, so the cash could be paid out. But just look at WalMart. It’s having to spend plenty of money just trying to stay in place as competitors (Target, Kohl’s, JCPenney and others) keep stealing customers and revenues. Last week WalMart cut prices on 15,000 items, which will cost billions of gross margin dollars, in an effort to get customers back into stores for Christmas shopping. And because WalMart growth has slowed dramatically (sales in same stores are up only .8% compared to a year ago – less than inflation) the company is desperate to invest in things like Japanese grocery stores seeking something that will grow. So the money is still flowing out of WalMart in plenty of big ways, without going into the pockets of shareholders. Or employee pockets as they still work without benefits or overtime pay, and sometimes even over breaks – as we learned in a Pennsylvania lawsuit.
Businesses are not genetic material. They have no biological requirement to "mature." And businesses can’t afford to "mature." They have to constantly grow. Without growth, they quickly will be consumed by competitors. If we say WalMart is "mature", that is a very, very bad thing. I agree wtih the UBS analyst who said that WalMart needs a turnaround. But that won’t happen any time soon at Locked-in WalMart. For investors, employees, vendors and customers, the word "mature" is more devastating in business that it even is in life.