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The doom and gloom crowd has had a hard time cracking shares of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) this year despite unprecedented economic and market turmoil. Unbelievably, the stock is up over 27 percent in the past 12 months including an impressive 15.5% rise year-to-date. Compare that to a 28% drop in Target Corp. (TGT) shares in 2008 and you’ll begin to see why shareholders have been rejoicing.

I suggest you hold your applause until after the earnings release in tomorrow’s pre-market. The company is slated to report its Q3 results ahead of the opening bell on Thursday, November 13th. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expect the mega-retailer to post a profit of $0.76 per share on revenue of $98.41 billion.

In looking back at the last five quarters, WMT shares have demonstrated a rather lethargic reaction to its recent tendency to beat quarterly expectations and guide in-line. The most recent quarter in which guidance was below expectations goes back all the way to August 2007. Yes, this is before the credit storm hit our global shores and while investors languished on the beaches of equity exposure without so much as a passing thought of the risk of overexposure. Attention Wal-Mart shoppers, shares on sale in 'isle' 4!

As you can see by WMT’s earnings history, guidance is key to how investors price in results. With shares currently priced for perfection, a sharp shift in sentiment could emerge should guidance show even the slightest weakness. The short crowd is drooling here with short interest increasing over 8% in the last 30 days.

On August 14, 2008, WMT slipped 0.4% in pre-market trade after beating expectations and setting guidance in line with estimates. It turned just slightly into the green in the following regular session, ending up 0.3%.

On May 13, 2008, WMT declined 1.2% in pre-market trade despite beating Q1 expectations and setting guidance in line for its Q2. It headed further south in that day's regular session, losing 2.3% by the closing bell.

On February 19, 2008, WMT gained 1.3% in pre-bell action after topping earnings expectations and setting in-line guidance. It saw much of that early gain evaporate in the regular session, ending the day up a mere 0.4%.

On November 13, 2007, WMT advanced 3.6% in pre-market trade after topping Q3 estimates and setting Q4 guidance in line and FY EPS above forecasts. The stock continued heading higher into the Nov. 13 regular session, ending the day up 6.1%.

On August 14, 2007, WMT declined 4.3% in pre-bell action after it missed Q2 expectations and offered EPS guidance below the Street view. It continued heading south in that day's regular session, closing bell-to-bell trade off 5%.

Times have changed and one might reasonably argue that the near future for all retailers is less than chipper. Is Wal-Mart too big to fail? Of course, and so is Circuit City (CC).

Disclosure: no positions

Source: A Wal-Mart Earnings Miss Is Likely to Entice Short Sellers