When in doubt, be skeptical but don't be in disbelief.
The numbers we are seeing from so many retailers and restaurants are pretty insane. You don't get an 8% comparable-store growth from a Home Depot (HD) or an 11% from Domino's Pizza (DPZ), which is on Mad Money tonight unless something truly special is going on. It's just not supposed to happen.
But it has.
I hear disbelief in the numbers. They can't be this good. The consumer isn't doing that well. There's nothing that's sustainable.
What I want to hear, though, is skepticism. Something like, OK, as long as gasoline stays down here, these numbers can continue, but if gasoline goes back up, they could be tough. Or, last year the weather was so bad that you can't really extrapolate these numbers. The compares are too easy.
These concerns make sense. They put it in context. They allow you to grade the retailers: Wal-Mart's (WMT) not up to snuff and that's why they are raising salaries, to get better people. Nordstrom (JWN) should be doing better and should be even higher, but the spend on tech is really hurting numbers. Let's hope it really is winding down.
Why can't Macy's (M) be as good as Dillards (DDS)? Clearly they have historically been a better operator. Has this been the quarter where people have come back to the mall? Is it all gasoline and discretionary? How do we explain what Visa (V) said on its call -- that the consumer isn't spending as much as we think -- with these numbers, which would indicate otherwise?
We need to think bigger about travel and leisure -- how about those hotel numbers and the numbers from theme parks like Six Flags (SIX) and Disney (DIS)? How can that be, given the strong dollar and a lack of foreign travelers? How did we get to the point when people are taking to the roads like never before -- is that, again, the amazing decline in gasoline?
Who is doing the spending? We know it isn't at the Tiffany (TIF)/Ralph Lauren (RL) end of things. But are the dollar stores really doing well? How do TJX (TJX) and Ross (ROST) stack up against, say, Macy's and Nordstrom? Is Bed Bath (BBBY), so derided for so long, now solid because of the spare change? Can Best Buy (BBY) start getting some more customers in? How can all of these stores do so well despite the huge chunk of money spent on Apple (AAPL) iPhones? How can people spend so much money on video games? How do they have the time to be watching so much television, gaming so much and being on Facebook (FB)? How much retail is being driven by advertising on the Web? What's getting the customers in?
I put all of this out there because these are the questions that should be asked instead of "I can't believe it," or, "The aggregate numbers don't show these gains," or "This is all going to be ended by something Janet Yellen says." That's the kind of amateur "analysis" that I am totally sick of, yet truly is the conventionally asked wisdom.
Think skeptical. Not incredulous. One makes you money. The other? It gets you nowhere other than a parlor game at best, and a profitless wilderness of thought at its worst, which is really how it is playing out today.