Walmart is making a mockery of the retail apocalypse -- and traders are betting it will keep soaring

  • Walmart crushed its most recent earnings report, beating Wall Street profit and sales estimates, while also raising full-year guidance.
  • The company also grew e-commerce gross merchandise volume by 54%, suggesting that it’s holding off Amazon.
  • Traders made adjustments to get more bullish heading into earnings, and are positioned for more strength ahead for Walmart’s stock.

There’s no denying that the retail apocalypse is sweeping America, leaving thousands of brick-and-mortar store closures in its wake.

Apparently someone forgot to tell Walmart.

The biggest brick-and-mortar store of all is arguably doing better than ever, fresh off a blockbuster earnings report that saw the company smash Wall Street estimates and post its best sales growth in more than eight years. The report sent the company’s stock surging 10%, demolishing its previous record high.

However, nothing in Walmart’s quarterly report piqued investor interest like its decision to raise its full-year earnings guidance. In a market where money managers are increasingly interested in what’s next for a company, rather than what’s already happened, it’s the ultimate driver of positive sentiment.

And the future certainly does look bright for Walmart, even in a retail landscape constantly under pressure from online retail titan Amazon.

The company’s e-commerce segment grew gross merchandise volume by 54% in the quarter, suggesting that it’s taking the fight to Amazon. Those figures now include Jet.com, the online retailer that Walmart acquired back in 2016. Walmart has now expanded US revenue for 13 straight quarters.

While investors certainly took notice of Walmart’s stellar performance immediately after its earnings report, their confidence in the company had been building for weeks. This can be seen in a measure called short interest, which tracks bets that a stock will fall. The number of shares being held short fell by roughly 9 million, or 18%, in the month leading up to the quarterly release, according to data compiled by financial-analytics firm S3 Partners.

That implies that traders weren’t particularly concerned with positioning against a potential drop in Walmart’s stock — a wise outlook in hindsight.

Walmart short interestS3 PartnersWalmart short interest dropped in the weeks leading up to the company’s blockbuster earnings report.

Walmart investors are looking similarly confident going forward. They’re paying the lowest premium in two years to protect against a 10% decline in Walmart’s stock over the next six months, relative to bets on a 10% increase, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Still, it would be unwise for both Walmart traders and the company to get too comfortable with current conditions. Amazon has shown repeatedly that it’s capable of creating or erasing billions of dollars of market value with a single action. And while Walmart looks unscathed right now, there’s no telling what kind of tricks Amazon has up its sleeve.

But for the time being, Walmart and its shareholders can find comfort in the fact that they have avoided the retail apocalypse.

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