Wal-Mart and Target Could Lead U.S. Retail Recovery

Includes: CRRFY, TGT, WMT
by: Dana Blankenhorn

With stocks finally trading near historic multiples, investors are looking for some sign that earnings are starting to grow before leaving the safe haven of bonds.

They may have gotten it this week when Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) both reported better earnings, more than justifying their mid-market P/Es.

Target reported earnings up 11.5% on 5% more revenue, although it has modest expectations for the rest of the year. Wal-Mart's earnings were up 12% despite poor same-store sale comparisons.

This is not flat-line news, as some have suggested. Target and Wal-Mart target bargain shoppers, the mid-market. These are folks who have been hard hit by the Great Recession. If they're back to buying, it should mean good news for other retailers down the road.

Wal-Mart isn't standing still. It's looking to expand online sales of groceries, to build smaller stores closer to shoppers, and to buy Carrefour's Brazilian operations, which have been executing on the strategy it now seeks to pursue.

Wal-Mart's cost advantages have always been based on mass delivery, with computer systems tied to bulk products that are only broken down at the store. But if it can break bulk and still maintain its prices, as it now thinks it can, the bottom-line benefits could be considerable.

All that spells change and growth, not stagnation and depression. And if Wal-Mart can do it, and Target can do it, chances are other companies can too.

American investors have been in a sour mood on the U.S. economy for some time, assuming that we have high costs, lazy workers, and inbred management. In fact our cost problems are mostly dealt with, our workers remain the world's most productive, and our managements are the envy of the world.

Yet right now you can buy Wal-Mart for a multiple on earnings less than one-third that of its French rival Carrefour (CRERY.PK), which is not nearly so well-run.

I'd call that a bargain. Once global investors recognize the bargains to be had in America's stock market, we're headed for a bull run. And don't be surprised if Wal-Mart leads the way.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.