Quietly, Walmart (NYSE: WMT ) and other big-box retail stores are having a resurgence, boosting their stocks. In fact, Walmart stock has weathered the markets' recent downturn quite well, as WMT has actually risen about 7% since Oct. 1.
Multiple types of big-box stores have delivered strong results in recent quarters, with left-for-dead retailers suddenly looking like they can survive the Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) threat. And yesterday, another staple of American shopping centers, Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) announced decent results despite a lackluster housing market.
On the other side of the equation, Amazon is starting to show some cracks. The stock has declined sharply since it recently hit the $1 trillion market-cap threshold. Much of that retreat was due to the recent weakness of the tech sector. But questions have mounted about Amazon's 2019 outlook.
Also, the hype around Amazon's HQ2 decision obscures an important point. Often, when a business or economy is at the height of its power, it builds large, new headquarters to advertise its strength. For instance, Sears opened the Sears Tower in 1973 and its retail business pretty much headed straight downhill from then on. Then there's New York's Empire State Building, which opened just as the Great Depression hit. By the time Amazon's new headquarters opens, the company may be peaking.
Physical Stores Still Matter
Amazon and other online retailers have clearly permanently changed consumer shopping. Concepts such as department stores now seem largely obsolete, and the old regional suburban mall is probably in permanent decline, outside of a few upscale markets here and there.
But in the rush to declare old shopping models dead, many investors wrote off Walmart stock prematurely. Mass market freestanding stores, such as Walmart and Sam's Club, may very well not be outdated. We can endlessly debate what portions of shopping will be physical and digital, but clearly both channels will remain important for many years to come.
And with the growing income inequality in the U.S., Walmart and Walmart stock have benefited from the growth of the struggling lower middle class. A large number of consumers are not that enamored with online shopping and will continue to patronize WMT due to its convenience and rock-bottom prices.
An Increasingly Good Omnichannel Experience
In recent years, WMT stock has sometimes suffered. At times, it traded down to truly bargain price-earnings ratios in the 12 range because people felt its business would never grow. That may be true of its U.S. brick-and-mortar business. But Walmart has stores in more than two-dozen countries, many of which, like Mexico, have attractive demographics and far less e-commerce penetration than the U.S.
That gives Walmart a huge opportunity, both at home and overseas, to be the best shopping experience. With its purchase of Jet.com and Flipkart and its increasingly deep partnership with China's JD.com (NASDAQ: JD ), Walmart is building the platform it needs to give Amazon a run for its money.
As we've seen recently, Amazon now feels the need to launch physical stores. Its Whole Foods purchase was a major move in that direction, and Amazon has additional brick-and-mortar ambitions. While Amazon still provides a better digital experience than WMT, Walmart clearly knows the brick-and-mortar business better. The early reviews of Whole Foods under Amazon's ownership have not been especially favorable.
Walmart was late to the online shopping game. But WMT, which has become the number two e-commerce retailer in the country, is clearly catching up, and it has left a number of its peers such as Target (NYSE: TGT ) in the dust. Given Walmart's huge network of stores around the world and its unparalleled supply chain, it can compete effectively with Amazon on both price and convenience. And now, with WMT able to utilize more and more digital channel experts who are working for it and its partners, Walmart combines technical know-how and industry-leading logistical capabilities.
How Much Is WMT Stock Worth?
The issue now is that the market has started to become more bullish about WMT stock. As a result, Walmart stock is hardly a bargain-basement value play now like it was a few years ago.
And WMT stock has an interesting quirk. Old-fashioned retail stocks have climbed as fears about the dominance of AMZN have diminished to a considerable degree. Investors now perceive retail as a safe, defensive sector with reasonable dividend yields and exposure to what's still, Fed hikes notwithstanding, a robust U.S. economy.
WMT stock, however, is increasingly being priced like an e-commerce company rather than a staid brick-and-mortar retailer. Consequently, WMT could be more vulnerable to selloffs in technology stocks than its peers. If valuations for e-commerce firms go down, Walmart stock will struggle to stay above $100.
Hold WMT Stock After Earnings
Walmart stock is certain to be volatile in coming days following its third-quarter earnings report which is due out tomorrow. Regardless of what the stock does in the short-term, however, the company's long-term outlook is still compelling. In the immediate wake of the results, investors will likely largely focus on WMT's Q3 same-store sales and e-commerce growth.
But just as importantly, watch for early indications of how the all-important holiday shopping season is going. Additionally, remember that 2019 will be a key year for Walmart as it integrates Flipkart into the company's operations and financial results.
In the short-run, WMT stock could go down on earnings volatility or continued selloffs of e-commerce stocks. But WMT stock should have at least a couple more good quarters, even though its valuation has admittedly gotten stretched.
At the time of this writing, Ian Bezek owned JD stock. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.
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