Michelle Gass is aiming to put Kohl’s Corp. back on the growth path with stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter profit gains and an outlook that has sales this year bouncing back by a percentage in the mid-teens.
But that projection for 2021 sales growth still won’t be enough to undo the coronavirus-spurred declines logged last year — and the chief executive officer has activists nipping at her heels, pointing to a sluggish run before the COVID-19 and trying to replace the company’s whole board.
Investors are still in wait-and-see mode even as Kohl’s, in a move that signals a return to something more like normal, said it would boost its capital expenditures and reinstate its dividend and share repurchase programs after a very long year.
Kohl’s shares shot up when the activist group — including Macellum Advisors, Ancora Holdings Inc., Legion Partners Asset Management and 4010 Capital — made their move last week. But the stock was up just another 1.6 percent to $57.90 in premarket trading Tuesday as investors reacted to fourth-quarter results.
Net income rose 29.4 percent for the quarter to $343 million, or $2.20 a diluted share, from $265 million, or $1.72, a year earlier. Results came out better than Wall Street projected, with adjusted earnings of $2.22 a share 21 cents ahead of the $2.01 analysts had penciled in.
Sales for the three months ended Jan. 30 slipped 10.1 percent to $6.1 billion from $6.8 billion.
“After an extraordinary year managing through the pandemic, we ended the year in a very solid financial position, and we enter 2021 with strong momentum,” Gass said. “We are pleased with the progress we are making against our strategic initiatives and we are set up to deliver a multiyear improvement in sales and operating margin. Several newly announced initiatives will come to life for our customers in the year ahead, most importantly the launch of our Sephora partnership in August.
“We are committed to driving shareholder value and based on our strong financial outlook we are resuming our capital allocation strategy in 2021,” she said.
For all of 2020, Kohl’s saw a net loss of $163 million, or $1.06 a diluted share, which compared with 2019 earnings of $691 million, or $4.37 a share. Revenues fell 20.1 percent to $16 billion from $20 billion.
The activists maintain that Kohl’s had stagnated well before the stresses of last year, noting that 2019 sales of $18.9 billion were only $100 million higher than sales in 2011.
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