Tesco: Not quite infallible
Tesco's pre-tax profits last year were either just under or just over £3bn, depending on whether you think the statutory or "underlying" measure is the better yardstick.
I tend to prefer the statutory number, for all its flaws, because it's less amenable to manipulation by businesses - not that Tesco would indulge in any sleight of numerical hand.
And in Tesco's case, that would mean its profits grew by 5.5% to £2.95bn - or 4.3% after adjusting for a rogue 53rd week in the 2009 figures.
For what it's worth, Tesco would argue that its profits grew 8.8% (on an adjusted 52-week basis) to £3.1bn.
Not that it's worth having a punch-up about.
On either measure, it's a solid performance in ghastly global economic conditions.
So the results are a reminder that even in a recession, the British and world economies are very substantial indeed.
The British economy may be contracting, perhaps by almost 4% this year, but that means the UK's output will diminish to the level of three or four years ago - when we weren't paupers.
So there are lots of profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses that know what they're doing.
What's striking is that British consumers are still playing a disproportionately important role in fuelling the economy: they are spending a good deal of the cash put in many of their pockets by cuts in interest rates; there's a bit of extra saving going on, but not as much as you might expect given the uncertain economic outlook.
And lest we forget, the reason why Tesco's results are such a good barometer of what shoppers are doing is that it is so blinkin' enormous.
Tesco has around a third of all supermarket sales.
And even in non-food, it's a giant: at £8.7bn, its UK non-food turnover is well over twice the clothing and general merchandise sales of Marks & Spencer.
It's not exactly a minnow outside the UK either: total international sales were £17.9bn, up 13.6% at constant exchange rates (including the benefit of the sharp fall in the value of sterling, overseas sales rose 31%).
What the figures show is that British shoppers are not partying on the Titanic, but nor are they battening down the hatches, hoarding the cash in the mattress and only eating tinned baked beans.
There are two or three other notable features of Tesco's numbers.
Given my eccentric interests, you won't be surprised that the fat returns made by its financial services arm stood out for me.
This made a gross profit of £627m on loans and other assets of £6.2bn.
Even after a charge of £134m for expected losses on lending and £249m of running costs, the operating profit was £244m.
At a time when many of the world's biggest banks are struggling to make any profit at all, that's a pretty handsome rate of return.
At this relatively early stage in its development, Tesco Personal Finance is already a player in financial services.
The matter-of-fact confirmation today that it's planning to become a "full-service retail bank" should give the willies to every traditional bank and building society.
However, Tesco is not infallible. Its brave new US venture is making bigger losses than it hoped - and won't do any better this year.
Also, after years of performing miles better here in the UK than its smaller rivals, they are catching up a little bit.
Sales per unit of selling space are currently growing faster at Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda than at Tesco.
There are two reasons: they're better managed than they were; and the recession has hit non-food sales, where Tesco is bigger than most other supermarket groups, harder than food sales.
That said, this catch-up by Sainsbury et al is like saying Everton and Aston Villa are narrowing the gap with Manchester United and Barcelona.
Or to put it another way, on a good day for the opposition, Tesco can be beaten in the odd game; but its grip on the title doesn't look any less firm.