Despite June's concerns about a cooled-down, cooped-up consumer, there was consolation in the earnings reported by Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart's second-quarter net income increased 8.6% to $2.65 billion, or $0.62 per share, with sales higher by 11% at $69.72 billion. Although its sales were slightly lower than expected and dipped on a sequential basis, the company managed to squeeze profits from each of its divisions. Higher margins offset higher wages as the company was able to sell briskly without the help of markdowns.
Meanwhile, Target's second-quarter profits quadrupled, but before getting too excited, much of that boost related to its high-profile sale of Marshall Field's. Check this out: Its net income was $1.42 billion, or $1.54 per share, which includes a $1.11 gain related to the sale, as well as a $0.05 loss on debt repurchase.
However, if you exclude the one-time items, Target's earnings were $0.48 per share, in effect beating Wall Street's expectations by a penny. Target's total sales increased 10% to $10.56 billion.
It seems my Foolish colleague Seth Jayson was right on earlier this summer when he discounted the media frenzy over June's lowered sales outlooks for Wal-Mart and Target. His point was legit -- if consumers really are feeling squeezed by gas prices, fears of inflation, and the nagging thought that yes, it's time to pare down credit card debt, then the discounters quite likely have a climate for success.
However, Wal-Mart's chief executive still let on about concerns about high gas prices and the subsequent consumer squeeze -- though now he is of the opinion that growth in jobs and income will offset any damage. For those who might be concerned about the gender discrimination lawsuit filed against the company, Wal-Mart said that it thinks it will have a "minimal impact" on ongoing financials.
Upcoming perks for discounters of course include the imminent back-to-school supply loadup as well as Wal-Mart's "optimistic" view of the consumer. That's heartening, as the discounters are seen as a reasonable gauge of consumer feeling.
Despite the shaky June, the discounters persevered. Investors who didn't give in to the temporary nerves earlier this summer have good reason to feel vindicated. Shares of both retailers lifted today, likely buoyed by the idea that indeed, the power of the discount remains pretty mighty.
Discuss high gas prices, inflation, and other aspects of the economic environment and how it relates to discounters on the Wal-Mart discussion board.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.