What happened

Dollar Tree (NASDAQ:DLTR) shareholders barely kept up with a booming market last year. The stock gained 15% in 2020 compared to the 16% increase logged by the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The retailer's shares spent most of the year in negative territory but moved decisively into positive returns late in 2020.

A young couple shopping together in a mall.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Dollar Tree fared well through the COVID-19 pandemic disruption, with sales and operating margin both rising in the first half of 2020. Its large network of stores remained open throughout, and shoppers turned to both the Dollar Tree and Family Dollar brands for cleaning supplies, food, and other essential products. Yet the stock's 2020 gain mostly came in the wake of its third-quarter report.

That announcement showed that comparable-store sales rose 5% through late October even as profitability improved. The result of those two trends was a 29% spike in earnings per share.

Now what

CEO Mike Witynski and his team said in late November that the holiday season was off to a "very good start," with comps tracking ahead of the third quarter's solid levels. That's why investors are hoping to hear additional good news on the growth and earnings fronts when Dollar Tree announces its official fourth-quarter results in mid-February.

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