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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Few retailers reach the top. Even fewer stay there when they do. The reason is deceptively simple: Those retailers best positioned for success in bad times are often poised for failure in good times -- and vice versa. Such is the trap that faces today's most successful retailers as they attempt to navigate the transition from the Great Recession to, potentially, the Great Recovery. And three stocks in particular -- Wal-Mart Stores ( WMT), Aeropostale ( ARO) and TJX ( TJX) -- are facing the prospects of a sudden, and possibly swift, reversal of fortune.
Wal-Mart, of course, has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the recession. Its low prices that seem to keep getting lower, have been a lure for shoppers who are looking to trade down. As a result, the discount behemoth has beaten Wall Street's profit expectations in three of the last four quarters. And while Wal-Mart discontinued reporting monthly sales figures back in May, prior to the announcement it had posted 24 consecutive months of positive sales. And as Wal-Mart picked up these gains, rival Target ( TGT) was getting pummeled. Stocking more discretionary merchandise like apparel and home furnishing, in the last 15 of 16 months, Target experienced negative same-store sales. But it appears the tides are changing. Target's October comparable sales slipped just 0.1%, and their declines have been easing since the end of the summer. Target management also announced that apparel sales -- its weakest segment amid the recession -- were slightly stronger during the month compared with the same time last year.