All's Well for Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT  ) well known to be an exception to the rule in the rotten economic scene. Along with another low-price expert, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) , it's among the few stocks to have actually done well in 2008. Wal-Mart still manages to look pretty good, even if its fourth-quarter results had a few weaknesses.

Fourth-quarter net income actually dropped 7.4% to $3.79 billion. Wal-Mart's profit was hit by unfavorable currency exchange rates and a charge to settle litigation. Total revenue ticked up a mere 1.7% to $108 billion. Same-store sales increased 2.8% without fuel.

Wal-Mart did manage to beat analysts' expectations with its earnings, which these days, goes a long way with many investors. However, it missed revenue expectations and gave cautious guidance. Of course, there's an argument that any consumer-facing company that isn't releasing cautious guidance may be more than a bit disconnected with reality.

Wal-Mart's quarter may not inspire euphoria, but still, it was a decent quarter in times that are tough even for discounters. Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) had some less-than-stellar tidings recently, and Target (NYSE: TGT  ) has been lagging despite the fact that it is technically a discounter, too.

Wal-Mart, a Motley Fool Inside Value pick, remains one of the solid stocks investors should consider buying and holding despite the major economic problems we face. Investors would do well to avoid many retail stocks; for example, consider middle-of-the-road department stores like Macy's (NYSE: M  ) , which recently showed a distinct lack of magic. Be very careful when choosing retail stocks these days, as many retailers are suffering big-time. (January same-store sales data showed that the big chill continues.)

Despite the company's ability to perform, the price of Wal-Mart shares has actually dropped 17% in the past six months, giving investors a more tantalizing price to get in. It's trading at 14 times earnings, which may seem like a premium compared with, say, Target's price-to-earnings ratio of 9. But still, Wal-Mart's been able to excel in this ugly climate, which implies it's worth a premium. Meanwhile, it's a dividend payer, too. Investors could do a heck of a lot worse than Wal-Mart in their portfolios.

Wal-Mart Stores and Costco Wholesale are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Costco Wholesale is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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