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Is There Value in Wal-Mart Ahead of Earnings?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Earnings season has reached the point where investors will get a glimpse of how well retailers have performed over the past three months. And there's no question that Wal-Mart (WMT - Get Report), despite the constant stream of negative news about the company, enjoys an extremely large part of all the U.S. retail business.

While it's known for its strong discount prices, what many investors don't know is that Wal-Mart operates one of the most efficient businesses in the world. And although the company didn't have (by its own standards) an exceptional May quarter, it was Wal-Mart's efficiency that once again helped deliver solid profits.

On Thursday, the company will report fiscal second-quarter results. And the Street will be looking to see if the management's recent focus on price can continue paying dividends.

I can never talk about Wal-Mart's strength in efficiency without ever stirring up emotion and long-winded political debates. I've been accused of having become a Wal-Mart apologist, but I don't believe that the company, despite all the good that it's done, has ever gotten a fair shake. Wal-Mart gets killed in the press for a host of issues from disputes over low wages and killing off mom-and-pop shops to sourcing products from China.
[Read: <a target="blank" data-add-tracking="true" href="http://www.thestreet.com/story/12005257/1/apples-ceo-bubbling-in-pressure-cooker.html"><em>Apple's CEO Bubbling in Pressure Cooker?</em></a>]

It seems everyone can operate under the rules of capitalism, except Wal-Mart. I've made this point before and it's worth repeating here:

If you take a look at, say, Amazon (AMZN - Get Report), you will see that Amazon has used similar sales tactics. While Wal-Mart's efficiency has benefited consumers who have come to expect the lowest possible prices, Amazon shoppers are able to save on (among other things) shipping and taxes.

For this, Amazon is perceived as angelic and can do no wrong. But somehow, Wal-Mart is evil.

On Thursday, I don't expect that any of this will matter. The Street will be looking for $1.25 in earnings per share, which would represent year-over-year growth of 5.6%. Revenue it expected to be at $118.6 billion, or 3.8% year-over-year growth.

There's no question that investors have begun to feel better about the strength of the U.S. economy. And Wal-Mart's sales have often been viewed as a gauge for such confidence. But the revenue expectations seem a bit aggressive.
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