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In Ten Years: Wal-Mart

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The retail giant conquers the final frontier: New York City.

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10 Companies in 10 Years

To those who say we're living in the Age of Wal-Mart, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In 10 years, clothing, electronics, groceries and household items won't be the only reason we hit up the giant retailer. No, by 2018 we'll be banking at Wal-Mart (WMT), investing with Wal-Mart financial advisors, and applying to Wal-Mart for our mortgages.

It's the nightmare of every workers' rights advocate, but over the course of the next 18 months -- the approximate length of time experts suspect it will take the economy to recover from recession -- Wal-Mart will carve out an increasingly prominent role in people's lives. Indeed, as we enter the Age of Austerity, where prudent spending replaces conspicuous consumption, Wal-Mart's latest slogan -- "Save money. Live better." -- will be adopted in practice by vast swaths of the population.

And when the recession recedes, which it will, Wal-Mart will have garnered the fierce loyalty of untold millions - among them the same people who used to look down their noses at the retailer's "everyday low prices" and abysmal brand image.

Barring any toxic-waste spills, this goodwill will more than compensate for any perceived transgressions as an abusive employer, uprooter of mom-and-pop competitors, and buyer cheap goods made by malnourished children. Americans vote their wallets, not their hearts. Especially when the chips are down.

Which means, by the time the future decides to show up, there may even be a Wal-Mart in Manhattan.

If you're familiar with the big-box retailer's attempts to breach New York airspace, you might call this a bold prediction. In fact, after 2 failed attempts -- one in the borough of Queens, one on Staten Island -- Wal-Mart's usually tenacious CEO, Lee Scott, went from "Make no mistake, we will be in New York" to "I don't care if we are ever here."

Quite an about-face, but such is life in a city as taken with itself as New York. Couple this self-importance with the power of organized labor (Wal-Mart is infamously non-union) and you can see why breaking ground in the City That Never Sleeps has proven such a Herculean task.

That was then; this is 2018. After a prolonged period of economic malaise, the majority of New Yorkers -- the ones who don't wear leather wingtip shoes to work -- got sick of trekking westward through the tunnels to shop at the Wal-Mart in Secaucus, New Jersey. Or eastward via the crowded Long Island Expressway to New Hyde Park. All the K-Marts (SHLD) and Targets (TGT) in the world just aren't the same as Wal-Mart.

And so they organized, sent emails, congregated in like-minded Facebook groups and appealed to local lawmakers to cut a win-win deal with Wal-Mart. The giant retailer acquiesced and altered its compensation structure - even though it steadfastly refused to unionize. This seemed like a small price to pay: There are only so many small towns and suburbs in America. Urban areas were the final frontier.

Wal-Mart gained immediate access to New York's 8 million residents - and New Yorkers gained the ability to buy ultra-cheap guns and ammo without leaving the 5 boroughs. In the shadow of a larger-than-life billboard for the latest Miley Cyrus download, it opened a Times Square location. It quickly became its most profitable location.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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