NEW YORK — Since its streak of 20 months of consecutive same-store sales gains was snapped in May, Gap Inc. has been caught in the backdraft of intensified competition and picky consumers.
And on Wall Street, the specialty retailer can’t seem to catch a break. Piper Jaffray on Wednesday hit Gap Inc. with its second stock downgrade in a week and Lazard Fréres & Co. and Banc of America Securities announced downward profit revisions. Wachovia Securities downgraded Gap Inc. last week.
Retailing in the last several months has struggled with several trends, including shoppers with more discretionary money being lured by branded goods at department stores. There are also economic factors such as higher fuel prices and queasiness over the job market, which have driven some price-sensitive shoppers out of stores. Within the specialty retail channel, consumers seem to be switching allegiances.
For Gap, the consensus among analysts is that the retailer has improved its operations, and that Paul Pressler, president, chief executive officer and director, has led a turnaround of the company. And their longer-term outlook is positive as management seeks to bolster its cash flow and improve operations. Still, the analysts said the market position of Gap, which hired Sarah Jessica Parker for its glitzy new advertising campaign, is threatened by competitive forces as well as a change in how and where consumers choose to spend their discretionary dollars.
Jeffrey Klinefelter, equity analyst at Piper Jaffray, said in his research note that he was downgrading Gap’s stock to “Market Perform” from “Outperform” because “sales trends will continue to moderate in the Gap and Old Navy divisions.” He also lowered his price target on the stock to $21 from $23. Shares of Gap Inc. have been trading around $19, above its 52-week low of $17.80, but well below the 52-week high of $25.72.
Stacey MacLean, spokeswoman for Gap Inc., said the company does not comment on analyst actions or on the value of its stock.
For the third quarter, Klinefelter sees Gap delivering flat comps — sales in stores open at least a year — instead of a previous estimate for a 3 percent gain. He based his downgrade on several factors, including consumer discretionary dollars being drawn to higher-end stores where shoppers are attracted to branded denim.
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