Retail Earnings Preview: Wal-Mart and Nordstrom

As if Wall Street wasn't already focused on the world's largest retailer's every move, Dow component Wal-Mart will garner even more attention on Thursday when it reports earnings before the bell.

Last week, reports of a leaked emails between Wal-Mart executives described a "disastrous February" when it comes to sales, with consumers hurt by higher payroll taxes and increasing prices at the pump.

(Read More: Leaked Wal-Mart Email Drags Down Retail Stocks.)

In response, Wal-Mart spokesperson David Tovar told CNBC, "As with any organization, we often see internal communications that are not entirely accurate that lack the proper context and represent individual opinions."

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Bullish investors are holding onto hope that U.S. same-store sales will continue the positive trend, although there seems to be some nervousness persisting. BMO Capital Markets analyst Wayne Hood is reducing his fourth quarter 2012 earnings per share estimate to $1.57 from $1.62, which compares to Wal-Mart's previously issued guidance of $1.53-$1.58 per share.

(Read More: Wal-Mart Sales: Is It Really Such a Bad Month?)

Wall Street analysts are expecting earnings of $1.57 on revenues of $128.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. However, now that the Street may be less surprised if sales are softer than expected, the retailer's outlook going forward will become even more important.

Beyond the quarterly financials, Wal-Mart investors will also look for any developments in the investigations into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Mexico, Brazil, China and India.

A shopper carries a bag from the Michigan Avenue shopping district in Chicago, Illinois.
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A shopper carries a bag from the Michigan Avenue shopping district in Chicago, Illinois.

Wal-Mart isn't the only retailer reporting on Thursday. High-end department store Nordstrom reports earnings after the bell.

Wall Street will look to glean insights about the health of the luxury consumer from the results.

(Read More: Why Luxury Brands Are Celebrating China New Year.)

Investors hope the strong January same-store sales, up 11.4 percent year over year, will boost profit for the quarter.

While Wall Street may be concerned about the impact of higher payroll taxes and gas prices for the Wal-Mart consumer, equity performance is more predictive of the Nordstrom shopper. If the stock market is performing well, the Nordstrom shopper often feels more confident and thus may spend more than if the financial markets are under strain.

Nordstrom is one of the high-end retailers largely insulated from tourist spending, since it does not have a full-line location in New York City, where 20 percent of all luxury spending in the US is done. When tourists are spending on luxury, it hurts Nordstrom to be somewhat excluded from the equation, although it's a good exclusion when tourists are holding back.

(Read More: Limitless Luxury: Why Do These Goods Cost So Much?)

Nordstrom shares have underperformed both the benchmark S&P 500 so far in 2013, as well as the S&P Retail Index. Analysts forecast earnings of $1.34 on revenues of $3.7 billion.

-By CNBC's Courtney Reagan; Follow her on Twitter @CourtReagan

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