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Monthly Sales Data Doesn't Mean Much Any More

Now that Wal-Mart is abandoning its monthly sales reports, don't expect to have much of an idea of how the retail industry as a whole is performing every 30 days or so. Since it's the largest retailer in the world, not having its monthly figures completely destroys the overall monthly picture of chain stores' health in this country.

"This decision aligns investors with the long-term view we take to build shareholder value," explained Tom Schoewe, the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's chief financial officer, in the company's April sales press release. "We feel this also will reduce the intra-period volatility related to events such as calendar shifts."

I don't have any problem with a focus on long term investment, but that doesn't mean retailers shouldn't provide monthly sales figures and give industry observers a snapshot of monthly performance. This is especially crucial during the holiday-season months, when most retailers experience a huge chunk of their annual transactions.

Now monthly sales reports, like the one issued by the International Council of Shopping Centers on year over year same-store sales, are sorely incomplete. For example, when calculating April sales, ICSC's research team looked at data from 32 different chains, including Wal-Mart. Those chains' same-store sales rose 0.7 percent. If you took Wal-Mart out of the picture in April, and erased its huge footprint of stores and sales power, April same-store sales would actually decrease by 2.7 percent.

Wal-Mart isn't the only retailer to stop reporting monthly data. Home Depot and Sears Holdings stopped reporting a while ago. But the sheer size of Wal-Mart's store fleet and sales volume makes any picture of monthly sales irrelevant, and that's not a good thing if you want an understanding of what is happening in retail more frequently than fiscal quarterly reports.

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