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Wal-Mart Is Not Target

The average EPS estimate among analysts for TGT is 78 cents, which is slightly below last year's 82 cents. Anything above 78 cents should help move TGT's stock price to the upside. Analysts' average estimate concerning quarterly revenue is $16.93 billion, slightly ahead of last year's $16.40 billion.

It will be very interesting to see if the wallop felt by super-storm Sandy will impact these numbers positively or negatively. If either company misses, they can always blame Sandy, the elections, or even the price of gasoline, which, thanks to Sandy, is down significantly in the past two weeks.

Here's a 1-year look at how the stock prices of WMT and TGT have performed. Notice that WMT has corrected a little more than 8% from its 52-week high, while TGT has only corrected around 5%. When you factor in how much WMT has gone up in share price since early May, when WMT and TGT were trading at around the same price, you'd have to call WMT the total-return performance winner so far.

WMT Chart WMT data by YCharts

When it comes to paying dividends, this year had been a draw between the two companies. TGT pays a yield-to-current-price of 2.3%, which represents a payout ratio of only 28%. WMT's yield is currently around 2.21% based on a share price of $72. That represents a slightly higher 32% payout ratio.

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Now let's compare the very important trailing 12-month operating margin. WMT's weighs in with a 5.94% operating margin. Not too shabby! TGT, though, has an operating margin of 7.43%. At first glance that doesn't seem significant, but it points to the fact that TGT's operating margin is a whopping 25% higher than Wal-Mart's. That's a meaningful difference.

Yet when you look at the very important Cash from Quarterly Operations, WMT is the first-prize winner! To illustrate this, take a gander at the chart below. WMT's overhead and cost of doing business is more sizeable than TGT's, but as the chart demonstrates, WMT's Operating Cash is almost 6 times greater!

WMT Cash from Operations Quarterly Chart WMT Cash from Operations Quarterly data by YCharts

So in which of these two shining stars in the "big box retailing" constellation should we be investing? The simple answer from my perspective is "both." They are both "best in breed", yet one "pony" just happens to be much bigger than the other.
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