There’s a silver lining for investors in all these recent horrible retail earnings reports

Bloated inventories at big box retailers were a big part of last week’s dismal April quarter results from Walmart and Target. Pain has continued this week among specialty retailers like Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods. But one happy result of those piled up goods across the nation is that they may also mean inflation is on the verge of receding, just as anxiety over soaring gasoline and other prices soars to new peaks. After all, consumer prices as a whole jumped 8.3% in April compared with the same month a year before, down just a hair from 8.5% in March. Looking ahead, however, Evercore ISI economist Ed Hyman sees “inflation slowdown coming,” in the words of his Monday report to clients. “To the extent to which there’s been an increase in unwanted inventories, there could be a drop in orders and an increase in markdowns ,” he wrote. The idea is retailers are going to have to start offering discounts and promotions to clear goods from their shelves and prepare for back-to-school season and, eventually, end-of-year holidays . After all, Walmart’s inventories at the end of March rose 8.4% from December, and jumped 32% from a year before. At Target, year-over-year inventories soared 50%. Dick’s inventories widened by 40% vs a year ago. Even Nordstrom’s expanded by 24%. Early Tuesday, Best Buy said that inventories in the quarter ended in April were more than 9% above year ago levels. Real inventories are growing faster than sales at almost every major retailer except for Lowe’s, according to Evercore ISI analyst Greg Melich. As a result, orders are going to slow down, and markdowns are on the way, at least in the field of general merchandise. “[U]nit (or real) inventories are up in many general merchandise categories (about $1 trillion TAM) where demand in units is running down,” Melich wrote in an email, referring to total addressable market. “That’s what needs to be fixed into the summer…It’s most or many general merchandise categories where the mismatch is greatest.” For consumers in the market for new sheets, furniture or tableware, discounts can’t come soon enough.

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