HOW HAVE America’s retailers coped with covid-19? “We’re still learning,” declared John Furner, who runs Walmart’s vast American operations, on November 17th, as the supermarket giant reported third-quarter results. He is being too modest. Walmart, as well as a handful of other big firms such as Target, its smaller rival, and Home Depot, a DIY Goliath benefiting from housebound home-improvers staring at dingy walls and outdated kitchens, are thriving.
Paul Lejuez of Citigroup, a bank, described the three months to October as “another stellar quarter” for Walmart. Total global revenues increased by 5.2%, year on year, to $135bn. If anything, international sales, which grew by just 1.3%, dragged down strong performance in America, which accounts for the bulk of revenues; Walmart has said it will sell most of its flagging Japanese supermarkets. By contrast, domestic comparable-store sales, a standard industry metric, rose by 6.4%. Home Depot’s quarterly revenues shot up by 23% compared with a year ago, to $33.5bn, keeping up the previous quarter’s pace. Target’s operating profit nearly doubled to $1.9bn.
Shining retail stars mask darkness elsewhere in the industry. American shoppers rebounded faster than elsewhere in the rich world (see chart). But retail sales grew by just 0.3% last month, compared with the one before,…