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Investors not protesting Wal-Mart. Stock at all-time high.

October 10, 2012: 12:58 PM ET

There may be clouds above this particular Wal-Mart. But investors see nothing but blue skies ahead for the retailer. The stock's at an all-time high.

Some Wal-Mart workers have been protesting against the giant retailer's labor practices this week. And several employees from around the country descended on Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Wednesday to stage a rally while executives were holding their annual investor day meeting with analysts.

But Wall Street doesn't seem too concerned by the latest bad press. Wal-Mart (WMT) shares were up more than 3% Wednesday afternoon, hitting an all-time high in the process.

The discount retailer has clearly benefited from an economy that remains sluggish. With consumers pinching pennies, bargain-priced retail chains like Wal-Mart are thriving. Wal-Mart's stock is up 28% in 2012, making it the fourth best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Shares of top rival Target (TGT) are up nearly 25%. Retailers catering to the most frugal are doing even better, such as Family Dollar (FDO) and Dollar General (DG), have also surged this year.

Traders on StockTwits pointed out that Wal-Mart's Wednesday pop probably was due in part to strong results from Costco (COST), the warehouse retailer that competes with Wal-Mart's Sam's Club. Costco shares were up nearly 4% Wednesday and also hit a new all-time high.

And even though Wal-Mart is often making headlines for the wrong reasons -- remember the Mexico bribery allegations earlier this year? -- investors still seem to think Wal-Mart (and the brick-and-mortar retail sector in general) has more room to run.

d_ramsden: As $AMZN$AAPL & $GOOG worry about each other, shouldn't neglect offline world, which is rumbling. See $WMT lately http://stks.co/bBzn

jessefelder: Wal-Mart Same-Day Delivery Service Says to Amazon: Bring It http://t.co/Akx4OqoZ$WMT $AMZN

BrianSozzi: Look, Costco is Not being Killed by Amazon Yet. Mad props to @ashleylutzhttp://t.co/cTBJmAVj @businessInsider $COST $AMZN

These are all great points. We all know that consumers are doing more shopping online. But that clearly hasn't been a death knell for big box retailers that carry a variety of merchandise. Wal-Mart and Costco can coexist with Amazon (AMZN). But specialty retailers like Best Buy (BBY), Barnes and Noble (BKS) and Staples (SPLS) appear to be in trouble.

Other traders pointed out that the growing layaway trend could boost Wal-Mart sales -- particularly with Black Friday and the holidays just around the corner.

firstadopter: Sounds like $WMT going to be SUPER aggressive this year on marketing and lay-away lending this year

sbanjo: So far, Walmart says it has $400 million in holiday layaway, half of what was spent via layaway all of last year – $WMT

Layaway is a term that has negative connotations. But the practice clearly makes sense for many consumers that are watching their cash.

Along those lines, the big move by Wal-Mart into prepaid cards and checking accounts through its Bluebird service with American Express (AXP) earlier this week is yet another sign that the retailer is constantly looking for more ways to capitalize on the fact that consumers are thriftier than ever.

So unless Wal-Mart's fundamentals suddenly start to deteriorate, the stock is likely to continue heading higher -- even if discontent among the greeters and other rank-and-file Wal-Mart employees grows.

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Paul Lamonica
Paul R. La Monica
Assistant Managing Editor, CNNMoney

Paul R. La Monica is an assistant managing editor at CNNMoney. He is the author of the site's daily column, The Buzz, and also tweets throughout the day about the markets and economy @LaMonicaBuzz. La Monica also oversees the site's economic, markets and technology coverage.

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