We finally know where consumers did their Christmas shopping

Retail earnings eyed as Wall Street looks to modest gains

We finally know where shoppers spent their money over the Christmas holidays — and it wasn't just on Amazon.

A round of upbeat reports from TJX, Home Depot and Wal-Mart show that several traditional retailers grew sales in a tough quarter for bricks-and-mortar players, and even increased traffic to their stores.

The results help explain the discrepancies between rosy holiday sales reports from the Commerce Department and the National Retail Federation, and the lackluster performances at chains including Macy's, Target and GameStop.

They also provide evidence that consumers are comfortable spending money when they find the right product.

At TJX, both sales and earnings increased during the fiscal fourth quarter, coming in at $9.47 billion and $1.03 per share, respectively. Those figures beat Thomson Reuters consensus estimates that called for a profit of $1 per share on $9.44 billion in revenue.

Sales at the company's established stores also topped Wall Street's expectations, rising 3 percent.

"For a consumer increasingly moving online, the off-price model continues to stand out in the world of bricks and mortar," Citi analyst Paul Lejeuz told investors. "We believe TJX is capturing market share put up for grabs by closing department stores, which should continue in [fiscal year 2017]."

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Home Depot reported similarly impressive results just one day earlier. Sales at the home improvement retailer's established stores moved higher in all 19 of its U.S. regions, contributing to a 5.8 percent comparable-sales gain.

Home Depot's results have been boosted by a solid housing market that's encouraged shoppers to invest in their homes. Like TJX, a greater number of transactions contributed to the chain's gains. Transactions are often used as a proxy for traffic.

"We saw a healthy balance of growth among both our Pro and [do-it-yourself] categories," CEO Home Depot CEO Craig Menear said on a conference call.

Traffic gains also contributed to Wal-Mart's fiscal fourth-quarter sales increase. The world's largest retailer reported its ninth straight quarterly lift in that metric, helping drive its largest same-store sales gain in more than four years. The retailer also gained ground online, growing its digital U.S. sales 29 percent.

Yet while these reports show there's life in bricks-and-mortar — particularly in categories that speak to value or home improvement — challenges remain. They include the rapid rise of Amazon, a penchant to spend on experiences and widespread discounts.

Indeed, as TJX, Home Depot and Wal-Mart turned in top line growth, chains including Macy's and Dillard's reported another quarter of contraction. Macy's expects tough times to continue in the fiscal year that just got under way, as it grapples with changes in the way its customers shop.

"Consumers have money. They're spending their money," Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren told CNBC Tuesday. "They're spending it in different places than in stores like ours.... [but] once they've spent their money on [cars and other] various categories, they've got to be ready to come back to ours."

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