U.S. retail sales - which account for 70% of economic activity - unexpectedly fell 0.4% for the month of January according to the Commerce Department today (Thursday). The decline marks the second straight drop after a 0.1% fall in December.
Auto sales were the major contributor to the miss. Sales of motor vehicles and parts dropped 2.1%, while Americans also spent less on restaurants and clothing. The report also showed soft holiday sales for retailers at the end of last year.
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What's Next for Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) and J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) Stocks
This week, Yahoo! parted ways with Chief Operating Officer Henrique de Castro, whom Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer poached from Google in October 2012. That's because the ship de Castro was steering - digital ads - has more than halved since 2008, and dropped from 6.8% to 5.8% in 2013.
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The One Retail Stock to Buy that Will Survive the December Slump
As Main Street gears up for the holiday shopping season, the retail sector takes center stage on Wall Street.
The bad news for those investing in retail stocks: Morgan Stanley cautions overall retail sales growth is expected to be the weakest since 2008 - meaning the sector's robust 40% year to date could be headed for a slowdown.
Weighed down by concerns over pay and hiring, consumer confidence continues to fall, suggesting consumers will continue to be tight-fisted. After a steep drop in October, the consumer confidence level fell further in November. Slipping to 70.4 from 72.4, it marks the lowest level in seven months, Tuesday's Conference Board data revealed.
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Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFM) Is the Envy of Peers, but Is It a "Buy"?
The organic foods business is a $60 billion global industry, and no other grocery chain has profited from this boom as much as Whole Foods Market Inc. (Nasdaq: WFM).
Whole Foods is leading the charge of supplying organic, natural, and locally grown foods to the health-conscious eater. Founded in 1980, it now has a count of 355 stores in 40 states and 3 countries.
How the "Wal-Mart Syndrome" Pushes Millions More Onto Food Stamps
Call it the "Wal-Mart Syndrome".
Entire industries -- such as low-end retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and fast food chains like McDonald's Inc. (NYSE: MCD) - pump up their profits by paying employees extremely low wages.
But thousands of Americans who need to support a household on such low wages - either the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 or just a bit above it - can only do so with public assistance.
In other words, with the help of welfare.
What Wal-Mart's Dismal Sales Mean for These Retail Stocks
While we showed you last week how high-end retail stocks were soaring right now, on the flipside of things is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT).
A Wal-Mart executive offered a candid view of just how bad sales have been of late in an e-mail to other company execs obtained by Bloomberg News.
"In case you haven't seen a sales report these days, February [month-to-date] sales are a total disaster," Jerry Murray, VP of finance and logistics, said in the Feb. 12 e-mail. "[It's] the worst start to a month I have seen in my seven years with the company."
The retail giant's woes stem from a confluence of factors hurting sales: the 2% increase in the payroll tax, the recent surge in gas and food prices and consumer confidence levels sinking to their lowest since 2011.
Retail Stocks to Buy: Time to Profit from Lifestyles of the Rich
CNBC stock picker Jim Cramer calls it a "Great Gatsby market," the growing divide between the rich and the rest of us.
And you can profit from it - by buying stocks of retailers that cater to the rich.
That's because these luxury retailers don't feel the pinch of economic hardships among their rich customer base nearly as much as lower-end retailers do.
Cramer says the rich can afford to buy expensive items, while much of the rest of the population struggles to get by and has less discretionary income now, partly because of the recent increase in the payroll tax and soaring gas prices.
"This is a Great Gatsby market; the rich are not like us," Cramer says.
Even if the stock market slows this year, analysts don't expect that to reduce spending among shoppers at high-end retail stores.
Can Retail Stocks Survive the Death of the Shopping Mall?
As consumers do less shopping in physical stores and more shopping on the Internet, retail stocks will need to evolve or face extinction.
And if tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen is right, they don't have much time. In an interview with PandoDaily's Sarah Lacy, the co-founder of Netscape and renowned Silicon Valley venture capitalist unabashedly predicted the demise of brick-and-mortar stores by the end of the decade.
"Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice," Andreessen said. "Malls are going under, and there's more to come. These chains are much closer to going under than you think."
He reasons that the superior business model of online retailing will undermine brick-and-mortar rivals.
"Retail chains are a fundamentally implausible economic structure if there's a viable alternative," he says. "You combine the fixed cost of real estate with inventory, and it puts every retailer in a highly leveraged position. Few can survive a decline of 20% to 30% in revenues. It just doesn't make any sense for all this stuff to sit on shelves. There is fundamentally a better model."
As extreme as it sounds, the transition is already well under way in some retail categories.
Online retailer Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) played a major role in undermining the business of two of the country's largest bookstore chains, Borders, which went out of business in 2011, and Barnes and Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS), which recently announced plans to close a third of its stores over the next decade.
And the popularity of online video streaming such as that offered by Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) torpedoed video rental giant Blockbuster, which filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and was eventually bought by Dish Network Corp. (Nasdaq: DISH).