But then, on Wednesday, we heard from Home Depot (HD). This company has given us a category-by-category analysis, and standing out as winners are appliances -- big-ticket appliances, items you wouldn't get at either Macy's or Wal-Mart. Best Buy (BBY), though, has a similar product portfolio, so hard goods were being bought aggressively by consumers. TJX (TJX) had terrific numbers, but let's be clear: I thought the call-out was for its HomeGoods subsidiary. The home-goods section of Anthropologie, the high-end portion of the Urban Outfitters (URBN) chain, was also very strong. Urban's strongest unit, however, was teen apparel from Free People. It's a mixed bag but, again, strong in the home.
So let's put it all together. It seems that the wealthy consumer is being picky and extremely fashion-conscious. The middle class and working class aren't spending on themselves as much as on their homes.
That means, to me, that the consumer overall is a mixed bag. But, for the purposes of the Federal Reserve, Macy's and Wal-Mart matter more than Home Depot -- and the rest, frankly, is just one big push.
Now, one thing is for certain. When lots of big money is investing in the Merrill Lynch Retail HOLDRS ETF (RTH), you simply must do the opposite. This is the single most disparate, least coherent moment I have seen in owning and trading retail stocks in all my history. The RTH is by far the worst way to play what we see.Most important, if someone from the Fed were to listen to these earnings calls, they would have to say, "It is way too inconclusive to start tapering stimulus in September, even though it looks pretty clear that we have the lost bond market already." Maybe that's what we need to know as we get an onslaught of Fed data -- some of which, I am sure, will be indirect conflict with this boots-on-the-ground information. At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, had no positions in the securities mentioned.