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Retail Round-Up: Masters of Their Domain?


Best in golf hit links while best in retail falter.

It's Spring Time in New York and a young man's heart turns to the Love and the Masters.

I come and go on how I feel about golf itself. It's an expensive, historically racist sport involving rich guys in terrible pants. And there isn't a thing in the world more purely enjoyable than the moment after you've just nutted an improbable 3-wood and you're watching it slowly draw towards a distant green. Such moments are felt deep in the wobbly parts of a man's body. They are impossible to forget.

I watched, really watched, my first Masters in 1986 when 46 year old Jack Nicklaus put up a little 30 on the back nine to win his last major. I hadn't golfed more than 20 full rounds in my life at the time, but I was watching with my dad so it was all good. My dad, about Jack's age and fighting 50 different wars in the early days of his tenure as Dayton Hudson (now Target (TGT)) CEO, was still My Dad then. He was strong, smart, tough and embattled. I was young, strong, dumb as a box of rocks and I had a mullet (the official hair-style of ignorance).

Dad and I sat together, letting ourselves be hypnotized in that unique Masters way, until the 16th hole. With the result very much in doubt, Jack Nicklaus made my ox-strong father weep like a school girl by piping a 5-iron to 3 feet then winking at his caddy who was also Jack's son.

Today I know why my dad cried. I didn't then. He cried because of everything it means to be aging and raging but liking your chances anyway. Sometimes life gives you a chance to do something really special, if you can only summon the guts to master the moment. Sometimes life puts a kid and his dad on the same couch on a sunny Sunday and throws something in front of them that is simply too rare and glorious to ignore.

I haven't missed a Masters since 1986.

What I've learned watching all that golf is this: sometimes the outcome is gripping, sometimes it's forgettable but the tournament always revolves around the guys on top of the leader board. There is no magic in watching suffering. There isn't even a sadistic pleasure. It's simply dull and pointless.

So, what's all this have to do with March retail results? Simply this, the vast majority of the results are abysmal. Most same-store-sales Thursdays I'd be more than happy to muck through the misery and note that the vast majority of the chains managed to trip over a bar that wasn't only set low, it was laid on the floor. The Gap (GPS) comping down 18%? Horrendous. Simply horrible and under normal circumstances I'd be happy to rant on about just how awful it really is.

But not today. Today I'm going to note that Wal-Mart (WMT) is up pre-market after raising guidance. I'm going to focus on Costco (COST), putting up more solid results with and without rising gas prices. I'm going to tell you I still like Home Depot (HD), where it looks like a bottom is being made well ahead of the housing market.

Having thus focused on the good as I see it in today's results, and having shared the only three names in retail I could actually picture myself owning in this environment, I'm going to get myself geared up for my 23rd consecutive Masters. Those so inclined can sort through the scores posted by the entire field this morning. I'll be focusing on the leaders; Tiger, Wal-Mart and CostCo and teaching my kid how to hold a golf club.

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