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Stephens upgrades Wal-Mart on store improvements, e-commerce offering

Investments that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has made in its in-store experience are paying off, Stephens analyst Ben Bienvenu said in an Aug. 10 research note as he upgraded the retailer to "overweight" from "equal-weight."

Over the last few years, the company has lowered prices, expanded its e-commerce capabilities and improved customer service, Bienvenu wrote. Those changes give the company an advantage in the grocery market, particularly as Amazon.com Inc. aims to complete its purchase of Whole Foods Market Inc. and as German discount grocer Lidl continues its expansion into the U.S.

Wal-Mart now sells about 50 million products online, up from 10 million one year ago, and initiatives such as having employees deliver customer orders on their way home demonstrate "a willingness to experiment," Bienvenu wrote.

"We think that Wal-Mart is one of the best-positioned companies to be a net winner in this changing environment," he said.

In addition to upgrading the company's stock, Bienvenu raised Stephens' price target to $91 per share.

Shares of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer were trading 0.27% lower at $80.44 during afternoon trading Aug. 11. The stock's price has risen about 16% since the beginning of the year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"Even with the recent increase in the stock price, we believe this is an attractive entry point for shares given what we see as a path to accelerating earnings in FY'19," Bienvenu said.