Through all the ups and downs in the market this year, one thing has been pretty consistent: Walmart (WMT) .
Shares of the world's largest retailer are up a cool 17% year to date, trouncing the Dow Jones Industrial Average's 8% gain. Walmart isn't exactly a startup seeing exploding sales and profits because it has solved world hunger or some other daily nuisance. No, it's the world's largest retailer with over 4,700 stores in the U.S. and steady quarterly same-store sales and profits.
Understanding why Walmart shareholders are enjoying such a good year isn't as easy as studying the financials. In many respects, the financials are only one component to the larger story of perception. That was something reinforced to me and the consumer team here at TheStreet on Wednesday as two key Walmart contacts came for a visit. Although what was discussed can't be revealed, the key takeaway is that Walmart is not the same company it was five years ago (or even a year ago). It's hungry, determined and moving at a speed that should frighten a grocery store like Kroger (KR) and fellow discounter Target (TGT) .
Welcome to the new age of Walmart.
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What's Smoking Hot on TheStreet
Amazon car-dealer talk won't go away: This news continues to spread around the globe, probably sparking fear in the minds of all used-car salespeople. As TheStreet reported this week, Amazon (AMZN) has reportedly taken early steps to become an online car dealership in Europe, according to a German trade weekly called Automobilwoche. The German newspaper cites Christoph Moeller, an industry specialist, as saying he has been placed in charge of the company's European business with carmakers. Amazon is said to be planning to run that business out of Luxembourg and is eyeing the U.K. as its possible first market.
Step aside Starbucks: Panera Bread (PNRA) continues to impress on so many fronts. On Tuesday, Panera Bread announced it has exceeded $1 billion in digital sales. TheStreet reports that the "Amazonization" of fast food continues.
Starbucks (SBUX) isn't the only one who can do digital well.
Apple and cars: TheStreet dives deep into Apple's (AAPL) car ambitions. To be sure, this is a story that is just starting to play out. Companies from Ford (F) to Uber should be closely planning for Apple's aggression in the auto space over the next five years.
About Uber: Uber's investors continue to back the embattled ride-sharing company, according to TheStreet's sources.