Wal-Mart has closed over 269 stores over the past year, leaving many rural communities struggling to cope.
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Prepaid cards like Wal-Mart's Bluebird card are quickly becoming a widespread alternative to banks.
Though convenient for many, this trend has the potential to be truly dangerous.
Wal-Mart -- the infamous low-price retailer -- is ditching its most well-known pricing strategy in an effort to compete with e-commerce leviathan Amazon.com.
Cisco announced plans to cut 4,000 more jobs (5% of its global workforce); the sales forecast for the quarter came in surprisingly low.
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.
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.
You all chimed in with lots of great comments, including some that questioned what I really had against prepaid cards, especially if they are "no-fee" cards and serve those with less-than-average wherewithal (wherever that descending measure is these days) who rely on them for everything from consumer transactions to bill paying and ATM access.
First of all, let me say that I think prepaid cards are good. They're not great, but I hope they get there.
But I want to talk about what's not great, and how to make prepaid cards better.
I told you about the interchange fees that are charged to merchants and how those end up being passed along to consumers. Maybe that's not such a big deal if we can quantify their additional cost on a per-item basis. All I'll say about that is, it adds up.
My problem with prepaid cards is what we can't see about them.
What's going on behind the scenes? Do they offer adequate protection to their users? Is the proliferation of them going to present some systemic risk? How should they be regulated?
Regulation? I know what some of you are thinking. We have too many regulations as it is, and the regulators are all asleep at the wheel anyway, so regulation is the problem not the answer.
I agree with you, but not exactly. You'll see what I mean.
Overall sales this August were up only slightly from last year, failing to give stores the boost they needed after a sluggish summer.
A report from MasterCard's SpendingPulse released yesterday (Wednesday) showed that consumers gave a slight bump to children's clothing and consumer electronics with their back-to-school shopping, but pulled back in other areas of merchandise which cut into sales gains.
But among uneven retail numbers this year exists a bright spot that has been growing for years, and is leading companies to overhaul their traditional business models: the online retail market.
In Part I of this investment series, "Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going for the Gold," we discussed ways investors could safeguard against the imminent decline of the U.S. dollar by buying gold.
In Part II, "Three Ways to Brace for a Double-Dip Recession: Going Global," we explored potential investments in foreign countries that have more stable economies and better growth prospects.
And today, we're going to conclude by looking at "recession-proof" stocks right here in the United States.
Wal-Mart has been among the stocks to lose ground in the recent market correction. But with more than $400 billion in annual sales, the world's largest retailer is still one of the soundest plays an investor can make - particularly in times of uncertainty.
In the year and a half stretching from January 2008 to June 2009, Wal-Mart stock managed a 3.45% gain despite being interrupted by one of the worst stock market plunges in history.
Individual spending rose for the sixth consecutive month in April, this time by 0.6%, or $36 billion. Personal income was up 0.3%. U.S. gross domestic product climbed at a 3.2% annual rate for the first three months of 2010, and U.S. factory output has risen.
"A lot of manufacturers may be struggling to keep up with demand," Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, told Bloomberg News. "We're seeing clear demand improvements from both consumers and businesses that should provide a strong tailwind for several months at least."
However, 2010 will be difficult for retailers as they contend with high unemployment, tight credit, and aggressive competition.
Retail sales gained 3.6% year-on-year from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24, SpendingPulse, a unit of MasterCard Advisors (NYSE: MA) said earlier this week. But an extra day between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year may have skewed the data anywhere from 2% to 4%, SpendingPulse said. Sales in the same period last year declined 2.3% as consumers reeled from the financial meltdown that occurred in the fall.
"The latest holiday shopping season wasn't a rip-roaring success, but at least it met or slightly exceeded expectations," John Lonski, chief economist of Moody's Capital Markets Research Group (NYSE: MCO) told The Associated Press. "Consumer spending is indeed in a recovery mode, which brightens prospects for 2010."