Even Wal-Mart gets the blues

Cutbacks in discretionary spending take their toll, even at the "low-price leader"

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 8, 2009 2:26PM (EST)

While other retail chains stumbled as the current recession dug in, Wal-Mart continued to report strong sales numbers. Its performance made sense -- when times get tight, price does make a difference, and love Wal-Mart or hate it, you can't deny that the company features low prices.

But no longer: The lead story on both the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times' Web sites on Thursday morning tell us that Wal-Mart is also beginning to hurt. According to the Financial Times, Wal-Mart reported "that fourth quarter sales were below expectations and that it would downgrade its earnings forecast."

What does that really mean? You can get a deliciously visceral sense of just what kind of role Wal-Mart has played in the U.S. economy over the last quarter-century from a nifty data-visualization gizmo produced by FlowingData that documents the spread of new Wal-Mart stores across the country, year-by-year. (Thanks to Felix Salmon for the link.)

(I originally embedded the data-visualization doohicky in this post, but deleted it after reports that browsers were crashing. You can find it )

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization Great Recession How The World Works U.s. Economy Wal-mart