In a Volatile Market, These Retail Stocks Are Ending 2018 on a High Note

2018 has been a wild ride for investors.

In December alone, the Dow tumbled 9.7 percent, marking the largest single-month decline since February 2009 and the worst December since the Great Depression.

Many major retailers — even those that beat earnings and revenue expectations for the fourth quarter — have seen their stock market gains from earlier in the year wiped out in the past month. The XRT retail ETF is down more than 22 percent from its August highs and down 9.74 percent since January 2018.

Still, there are some bright spots in the sector: Nike is capping off the year up nearly 14 percent, putting it on track to be the third-best-performing Dow stock of 2018. The sneaker giant reassured investors and analysts with impressive fiscal second-quarter results in late December, including improved profit margins and accelerating sales in the U.S. and abroad.

“We are increasingly confident that a now better operating model is not only helping to drive stronger results currently but also allowing Nike to distance further from an ever widening competitive set,” Oppenheimer analyst Brian Nagel wrote in a note.

Despite December tumbles, both Kohl’s and Macy’s are up overall for the year, showing signs of health in the troubled department store category. Analysts credited some of the stocks’ post-Christmas gains to early data from Mastercard SpendingPulse indicating that Americans spent $850 billion at retailers from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve, an increase of 5.1 percent year over year.

Kohl’s (up close to 15 percent through Dec. 31) and Macy’s (up nearly 12 percent) are also reaping the rewards of investments in omnichannel capabilities like buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) and ship from store, as well as shuttering unprofitable locations to focus on better-performing locations.

Looking at the top-performing footwear retailers, Shoe Carnival has also surged more than 20 percent year-to-date, beating analysts’ earnings estimates in each of the past four quarters, while DSW shares are up more than 10 percent since January.

As it stands, many of the political and economic concerns that battered the market in 2018 look poised to carry over into the new year, including fears over the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, signs of a slowdown abroad and uncertainty around the possible ramifications of Brexit on the U.K. and Europe. Still, fundamental U.S. indicators paint a more hopeful picture for the retail sector at home: Unemployment held at a near 50-year low of 3.7 percent in November, and consumer confidence remains high in spite of a December drop.

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