Target Corp. had an OK first quarter — but its outlook for the second spooked investors.
The company’s shares fell 7.6 percent on Wednesday to close at $67.99 as its cautious forecast added to growing fears that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers are facing an upheaval in consumer behavior that they don’t quite know how to fix. Its results came after a string of dismal financial results from the retail sector, which began last week with Gap posting a larger-than-expected same-store sales decline. Macy’s last week slashed its profit expectations for the year and Kohl’s reported an earnings miss on weaker revenues.
The retailer said the recent slowdown in consumer trends has cooled its view of the second quarter, with comps expected to be flat to down 2 percent, and adjusted EPS of $1.00 to $1.20. However, the retailer believes full-year adjusted earnings per share within its prior guidance range is achievable.
“We are pleased with our first-quarter financial results, which demonstrate the effectiveness of our strategy in an increasingly volatile consumer environment,” said Brian Cornell, chairman and chief executive officer of Target. “With an outstanding team, a resilient business model and a strong balance sheet, we plan to successfully implement our long-term strategy, even in the face of a challenging short-term consumer landscape.”
Home and apparel outperformed the company and are driving market share gains, Cornell said during a conference call with analysts. “Home and kids comps were in the midteens, while apparel comps were up 2 to 3 percent in the first quarter. We picked up market share before, during and after Easter. I feel particularly good about that in a tough apparel environment.”
From a “very strong February and March, we saw a slowdown in April,” Cornell said.
There are signs that “the consumer is more cautious,” Cornell said, adding that he sees consumers wanting to spend on their homes.
“As we look at our competitors’ reports, there’s a lot of inventory in the market,” he said. “We expect to see the most inventory in the apparel space. It will be the most competitive setting with high levels of inventory.”
Target saw volatility across the country, with wildly divergent results between regions.
“For ready-to-wear, the West Coast had an earlier spring,” Cornell said. “We had markets that were up 20 percent, and others that were down 90 percent. The Northeast had very slow sales performance in the quarter.”
Double-digit growth in rtw on the West Coast was offset by declines in the Northeast, the retailer said.
Cornell called Marimekko for Target, its limited-time collaboration that bowed online and in stores on April 17, a success, and said Cat & Jack, a new apparel line for children, has the potential to be a $1 billion brand.
As Target continues to highlight its signature categories, it began in April to “reset” the grocery department at the center of stores with the addition of about 1,000 products. The company is banking on an improved grocery business leading to more fill-in trips.
Target’s flexible-format stores, which are smaller than traditional boxes, are gaining acceptance both in urban settings and on college campuses, the retailer said.
Cornell said the first Target store in Manhattan will open in October in TriBeCa. The two-level store will be a dense, urban iteration. “The flexible format stores are tailoring assortments to their communities,” he said. “Even in a small box, it feels like Target.”
The company reported that net income from continuing operations fell 0.4 percent in the first quarter to $632 million from $635 million in last year’s first quarter on sales of $16.2 billion, a 5.4 percent decrease from $17.1 billion a year earlier.
First-quarter EPS of $1.29 came in above the company’s guidance of $1.15 to $1.25 a share, and beat Wall Street analysts’ estimate of $1.20 a share for the quarter. During the same period last year, Target earned $1.10 a share.
Comparable-store sales increased 1.2 percent in the first quarter, driven by growth in traffic and basket size.
Comparable digital channel sales rose 23 percent, on top of 38 percent growth in the first quarter of 2015; analysts were looking for an increase of at least 25 percent in digital sales. Comps for Target’s signature categories of style, baby, wellness and health grew at three times the company average.
Target’s first-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization and EBIT margin rates were 11.5 and 8.2 percent, respectively, compared with 10.5 and 7.4 percent, respectively, in the 2015 period.
First-quarter gross margin decreased 3.8 percent to $5 billion in the 2016 first quarter from $5.2 billion last year.
Gross margin rate was 30.9 percent, compared with 30.4 percent in 2015.