Nowadays, when Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) sneezes, the market catches a cold. Yesterday, the mega-retailer reported that same-store sales in November fell 0.1%; at market close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq all posted steep declines.
It's reasonable to assume that investors unloaded in part out of fears that consumer spending won't be very robust during the all-important holiday season. However, Wal-Mart's soft November may have stemmed more from problems the company was having with a core group of customers, rather than from broad consumer trends. What's more, the retailing giant's recent appeasement of these formerly upset shoppers could help sales in the coming weeks.
In April, I wrote that the retailer had sparked the ire of Christian conservatives by selling DVD copies of BrokebackMountain, a movie that portrays a love affair between two men. April's spark recently turned into an inferno, according to a fried of mine who follows such things.
Leading the recent charge against Wal-Mart was the American Family Association, a national Christian group that has opposed what it calls the "homosexual agenda" by, among other things, boycotting Ford (NYSE: F ) and Disney (NYSE: DIS ) for gay-friendly policies. For most of November, the AFA urged its 3 million supporters to boycott Wal-Mart on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving because the company was contributing to gay and lesbian rights groups.
The AFA called off the boycott late on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving after Wal-Mart released a statement indicating it would avoid contributing to groups involved in "highly controversial" issues. However, given that the AFA's cancellation came so close to the holiday, lots of people may have missed the message and eschewed their local Wal-Marts.
Wal-Mart has long taken heat from those on the left side of the political spectrum. But with this recent turn of events, the company appears to have become an equal-opportunity cultural target. While the AFA boycott certainly can't account for all of Wal-Mart's November softness, it could have had an effect, especially as a variety of other Christian groups key off the AFA's messages. However, now that Wal-Mart is back in the AFA's good graces, December may be a much merrier month for the retailer.
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Fool contributor Brian Gorman does not own shares in any the companies mentioned.