You'd figure it'd be important -- and pretty easy -- to get Wal-Mart's (WMT) - Get Report earnings right, wouldn't you? After all, the company stands as the most influential American retailer, and it's earned a well-deserved reputation for not playing games with numbers.
So in reporting those numbers, what in the world could the business media possibly get wrong?
Look at this funny juxtaposition from National Public Radio. The
(is all about how while other retailers are going bankrupt, Wal-Mart reported an excellent third quarter.
Here is the written summary: "The world's largest retailer posted a stronger-than-expected third-quarter profit. Wal-Mart announced Thursday that sales were up 7 percent and earnings increased 10 percent. Many analysts predicted the economic downturn would be a boon for Wal-Mart."
Even if you listen to the whole segment, you won't get hide nor hair of the fact that Wal-Mart said cautionary things about future numbers. The information is right there in an
article running beneath the radio link on the NPR site, but if you were listening to the segment on the radio, you would have missed it.
appropriately situates the tidbit in the second sentence of its report, right beneath the good news: "But the world's largest retailer trimmed its profit outlook for the fiscal year as it faces a troubled global economy and the renewed strength of the dollar."
also mention the strength of the dollar? Right on, wire service cubs.
, for its part, did an excellent job getting the issue of the dollar into its headline -- "
-- and lead:
"The bad news is: Wal-Mart Stores issued a profit warning. The good news is: the shortfall has been described as a consequence of the improving dollar - making it more mechanical than fundamental - while sales growth and the holiday outlook remained intact. Taken at its word, Wal-Mart's value proposition is still appealing, suggesting consumers haven't shut the spigots on spending entirely."
So the dollar is a key element to Wal-Mart's caution for the full year. Then why didn't
so much as mention the dollar in its report? Business is anticipated to be good internationally, but
goes for the
"Even though Wal-Mart has often been one of the few retail bright spots out there these days, it seems like some investors got the creepy feeling that maybe it's not as immune as they once thought."
We are soon being told that investors are getting the news with a "cold shudder." But when earnings are up or down because of currency fluctuation, savvy investors know not to confuse it with core trends in the business.
Even though it did a quick job of it, the
did a good job of at least throwing a bone in the direction of the market share issue.
Look, no retailer is going to knock the cover completely off the ball in this environment. But if you are a savvy investor, you want a company that can hold serve to a degree and set itself up for gains when the economy turns. It does this by grabbing market share from the less nimble, the really troubled.
The business media are so short-term-focused, though, so enamored of quarterly numbers vs. expectations, that they often ignore the market share issue. We've also seen it recently with
, which is struggling, but who isn't? It also seems to be positioning itself for the long term by grabbing customers from the totally reeling
And above and beyond Wal-Mart, The Business Press Maven has proved once again that he must have a face for radio with a recent appearance on NPR. My "
" segment discusses bonus prospects for employees of Wall Street firms that have received cash off the public dole.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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