Wal-Mart's Solid Earnings Not so Simple

Tickers in this article: WMT

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Did Wal-Mart(WMT) report good first-quarter earnings yesterday? Is the Pope German? Despite a fraught international economy and the world's biggest retailer's merchandising struggles in recent years, Wal-Mart turned in a stalwart quarter, with earnings at $1.09, beating expectations by several pennies and a robust top-line too.

Why did they do much better than expected? Well, that's more complicated -- at least if you listen to the media, who in typical fashion focused on single, primary reasons.

Here's what The Wall Street Journal said in a headline: "With More on Its Shelves, Wal-Mart Results Rise."

But to Wall Street Cheat Sheet, it was something else altogether: "Walmart Makes More Money on Lower Prices."

And to CNBC, it wasn't the amount on the shelves or its price. Instead, they told traders, "the world's biggest retailer benefited from warmer weather and an earlier Easter."

So who was right? To paraphrase John Ruskin, a famed English art critic, who once said 'Composition is the arrangement of unequal things," -- good earnings are the arrangement of several factors. But the media, who never met an issue they could not oversimplify, tend to zero in on a particular reason, playing it to the hilt. Wal-Mart did better because they had more on their shelves -- and what was on their shelves was lower-priced, a departure from recent years that fit the troubled economic moment. Moreover -- with the exception of Target(TGT) , competitors like J.C. Penney(JCP) , Sears(SHLD) and Best Buy(BBY) are all struggling.

A word on Easter: in absolute terms, it helped Wal-Mart's quarter. But its early arrival was not a surprise to analysts. It had little to do with Wal-Mart's earnings beat.

But -- with apologies to the narrow-framed media -- there were plenty of other reasons.