Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT), Nordstrom, Inc. (JWN): High End, Low End, and the End of the Market’s “Good” Times

Retail earnings are coming out, and the uneven results should give even the most bullish investors a chill. From Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) on the low end to Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN) on the high, many consumers are keeping their wallets shut.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) reported lackluster quarterly results, and its same-store sales figure lent even more reason for concern. Comps in the U.S., where Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) does the majority of its business, fell by 0.3%; adding in overseas same-store sales only resulted in a flat figure.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)The discount behemoth also lowered its outlook for the remainder of the year, reflecting low-income consumers who are still having a difficult time climbing out of the economy’s pockets of extreme weakness. Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley revealed that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)’s customers’ three big financial worries are jobs, the cost of food, and their gas and energy bills.

One takeaway is that the sluggish recovery has created a tier of American consumers who are struggling far more than Wall Street thinks; many Americans with better means may not be noticing, either.

In another sign that says “buyer beware” on many stocks, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)’s not even the only one that reported disappointing tidings, and that indicates that many consumers are pulling back. Luxury retailer Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN)’s quarterly results managed to beat analysts’ expectations, but it lowered its outlook for the rest of the year.

Furthermore, even some of the less extreme retailers plopped in the middle aren’t faring so well. Macy’s quarterly results missed analysts’ expectations as well.

Here’s another ominous takeaway: These retailers are getting cold feet about the rest of the year. Investors who aren’t just pondering, say, today’s or tomorrow’s stock price should get a sense of what that means. Major holidays approach, and it appears that some major retailers aren’t envisioning much success in what’s traditionally the best shopping frenzy of the year.

Rationality vs. rationalizations
This may very well illustrate that “the new normal” that nobody really talks about anymore is alive and well, the giant elephant in the room.