Last month, there seemed to be a little bit of irrational exuberance about Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart's comps increased a mere 0.4% in October, despite the discount behemoth's early-bird, slash-and-burn strategy in price reductions. The discounter's strong suits included its Sam's Club warehouses, which reported a 2.7% increase in same-store sales, and the company said that its comps were strong in staples like groceries and pharmacy items (in other words, the bare necessities). On the other end of the spectrum, sales were soft in apparel, home, and hard-lines merchandise.
Whereas many retailers had a pretty miserable October, Target showed notable strength, with same-store sales increasing by 4.1%. The company pointed to Halloween as a helpful late-month driver, although it did say it experienced soft sales in its higher-margin categories. However, as tough as things may become over the next couple of months in a macro sense, Target still expects comparable same-store sales to increase in November and December.
Sure, most retailers' October comps results point to pretty terrifying times for consumer spending. However, even with consumers pinching pennies, some retailers will fare better than others. Target and Costco
I still can't see Wal-Mart as headed for growth. On the one hand, its lower-income shoppers are strapped for cash. On the other, it's arguable that many more affluent shoppers don't see its selection or customer experience as compelling (and some surely think it's cheap for a reason), and the massive glut of recalls of Chinese-made products probably isn't helping, either.
Although retail can be a tough sector to invest in (fashion's fickle in the first place), it's during times of macroeconomic challenge -- when investors seem terrified of all things retail -- that it's easiest to find good buys on quality retail stocks for the long term. (My Foolish colleague and cube-neighbor Seth Jayson agrees.) Personally, I consider Target to be one of those quality long-term names.