Through all the ups and downs in the market this year, one thing has been pretty consistent: Walmart (WMT - Get Report) .

Shares of the world's largest retailer are up a cool 17% year to date, trouncing the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 8% gain. Walmart isn't exactly a startup seeing exploding sales and profits because it has solved world hunger or some other daily nuisance. No, it's the world's largest retailer with over 4,700 stores in the U.S. and steady quarterly same-store sales and profits.

Understanding why Walmart shareholders are enjoying such a good year isn't as easy as studying the financials. In many respects, the financials are only one component to the larger story of perception. That was something reinforced to me and the consumer team here at TheStreet on Wednesday as two key Walmart contacts came for a visit. Although what was discussed can't be revealed, the key takeaway is that Walmart is not the same company it was five years ago (or even a year ago). It's hungry, determined and moving at a speed that should frighten a grocery store like Kroger (KR - Get Report) and fellow discounter Target (TGT - Get Report) . 

Welcome to the new age of Walmart. 

 

The Aisle @que_vegana_roman #relatable#wewerebored#myfriendissingle#lookingforanicechritsiangirl#walmart

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Walmart shares were up 0.5% to $79.92 at Wednesday's close.

What's Smoking Hot on TheStreet

Amazon car-dealer talk won't go away: This news continues to spread around the globe, probably sparking fear in the minds of all used-car salespeople. As TheStreet reported this week, Amazon  (AMZN - Get Report) has reportedly taken early steps to become an online car dealership in Europe, according to a German trade weekly called AutomobilwocheThe German newspaper cites Christoph Moeller, an industry specialist, as saying he has been placed in charge of the company's European business with carmakers. Amazon is said to be planning to run that business out of Luxembourg and is eyeing the U.K. as its possible first market.

U.S. names that could be at risk should Amazon eventually sell cars in the states: CarMax (KMX - Get Report) , AutoNation (AN - Get Report) and struggling upstart dealer Carvana (CVNA - Get Report) .

Step aside Starbucks: Panera Bread (PNRA) continues to impress on so many fronts. On Tuesday, Panera Bread announced it has exceeded $1 billion in digital sales. TheStreet reports that the "Amazonization" of fast food continues.

Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) isn't the only one who can do digital well.

Apple and cars: TheStreet dives deep into Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) car ambitions. To be sure, this is a story that is just starting to play out. Companies from Ford (F - Get Report) to Uber should be closely planning for Apple's aggression in the auto space over the next five years.

About Uber: Uber's investors continue to back the embattled ride-sharing company, according to TheStreet's sources

The fidget spinner craze has died: Autozone (AZO) tweeted a photo letting everyone know they now sell fidget spinners, TheStreet reports. Suffice it to say, the trend is now dead.

Tesla investors may want to look out: TheStreet reports Tesla (TSLA - Get Report) shareholders could be at risk from a looming lockup expiration. Let's see if Elon Musk tweets back to our tweet on the matter. 

Starbucks and Apple are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells SBUX? Learn more now.

(This article originally appeared at 1:51 p.m. ET today on Real Money, our premium site for active traders. Click here to get great columns like this from Jim Cramer and other writers even earlier in the trading day.)