From its detractors' polemics over its destruction of Main Street to its continuing status as a false bellwether for an entire nation's retail health, Wal-Mart (WMT) has undisputedly been one thing: an American story.

That notion, though, is obsolete. As Tom Petty sang: "After all it was a great big world/With lots of places to run to..." And somebody better clue the business media in to the fact that Wal-Mart ain't an American girl anymore.

Wal-Mart reported its fourth quarter Tuesday and much of the business media saw fit to lead with a number of different factors. Some led with the sexy thought that Wal-Mart became the first retailer to report $100 billion in quarterly sales. Others led with chat of performance vs. expectations, the effects of discounting at Wal-Mart or the wider impact of stateside consumer spending.

But it's as if the business media, too often complacent, was literally plugging their ears to the new story at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has run overseas and one takeaway of yesterday's report was that it's working quite well, thank you.

Let's take a quick look at one business media outlet that captured Wal-Mart's accomplishment in this regard with a perfectly appropriate emphasis. We'll look at another that at least bothers to mention it. Then we'll let loose on a couple of media outlets that don't even mention the word "international."

From Gary McWilliams at The Wall Street Journal, we get a pitch-perfect headline that centers upon the word "Global." The lead, God bless it, rightly credits Wal-Mart's international sales as making up for a host of other troubles:

Headline: "Wal-Mart Evades Global Woes as Net Rises."

Lead: "Fiscal fourth-quarter profit rose 4% at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as cost-cutting and strong international gains helped the world's largest retailer sidestep many of the troubles dogging its rivals in a soft U.S. market."

Then we even get the detail on the fast improving profit picture overseas: "Outside the U.S., fourth-quarter profit jumped 14.5% as economic strength in China, Brazil and Argentina drove sales up 19%."

McWilliams, doing yeoman's work, does not get carried away though. He let's you know what was a function of the weak dollar. The dollar, as The Business Press Maven has said in the past, will eventually strengthen and it's important to track what its weakness may be adding, so we'll know what its strength might take away: "The weak dollar added $106 million to profit and about $1.7 billion to sales. International results have benefited all year from the dollar's decline."

The Associated Press did not rise to the standards of McWilliams, but did well. At least it mentioned international sales, albeit three-quarters of the way through the article: "Net sales grew 8.3 percent to $106.27 billion, helped by 18.8 percent international growth and 5 percent growth at U.S. Wal-Mart stores. Stores in 13 countries outside the U.S. accounted for about 25 percent of total company sales in the quarter, up from 23 percent a year earlier."

Then, when the Business Press Maven saw this Business Week headline: "Wal-Mart: Fashioning a New Growth Track," I was jazzed. I naturally thought it was going to talk about how Wal-Mart was no longer the American Girl.

But it didn't. It was talking about high-end apparel and, in fact, the article made the case that international growth would not in the end be a savior for Wal-Mart ... but that's fine. We can disagree over the long-term potential of the shift.

Here is Business Week's take:
"But time and again, Wal-Mart has found that its formula for success -- high volumes of cheap goods -- doesn't work everywhere. In 2006, it sold its stores in Germany and South Korea after failing to excite shoppers there with its deal-driven approach. And just last week, its Japanese unit, Seiyu, posted a loss of 20.9 billion yen, or $195.5 million, for the year ended Dec. 31. That's twice the 10.5 billion yen loss the company had forecast."

My take is that Wal-Mart has failed in several places and has been very serious about taking losses quickly to concentrate on what's working. Not to mention the company continues to face challenges from Target ( TGT) for alpha-retailer status.

But whatever the case, what cannot happen, of course, is that reporters or investors ignore overseas sales outright. It renders an article as dated as The Business Press Maven's bathrobe, useless to the savvy investor. But dust these articles from The New York Post and Barron's for any mention of international sales (pro or con) and tell me if your CSI work leads to anything. Ironically, the Post article was even titled "Detail in the Retail."

Finally, this fun word on Warren Buffett, who often plays bridge with Bill Gates. Buffett said this week that he could not be distracted from a game by a naked woman. This is somewhat curious on a number of different levels, but I'm concentrating on this one: the fact that the two greatest businessmen of the past half century play bridge, not that old businessman standby poker.

Which do you play and why? What is it about bridge that attracts these guys? Anyhow, for a highly unscientific survey, please email me your thoughts and perceptions. As a poker player, I'm very curious.

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; click here to send him an email.

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