Wall Street Analysts React to Retailers’ Mixed Holiday Results

It’s been a challenging week for retail stocks — with Macy’s suffering its worst single-day drop in history. Kohl’s, Target and J.C. Penney were hit by the sell-off too.

But was the beating warranted, especially given that early U.S. holiday retail sales data painted a much rosier picture of the sector? Or was it another instance of the same wild volatility the market saw throughout 2018?

Analysts weighed in on where retailers stand as they kick off the new year.

Kohl’s Corp.

While Kohl’s same-store sales growth of 1.2 percent was disappointing to some after its 6.9 percent growth in the same quarter last year, several analysts remained bullish on the company overall.

“We note that Kohl’s holiday comps will likely be the best in the department store sector, which is experiencing heightened store traffic pressure,” Cowen’s Oliver Chen wrote in a research note to clients. He highlighted retailer’s Under Armour, Nike and Adidas offerings as a strong point, as well as its private-label merchandise and omnichannel investments, including buy online, pick up in store and ship from store.

“We believe the retailer is further along in making changes to its business given the retailer’s more mature loyalty program, attractive product exposure, better-positioned store base and digital excellence,” Chen wrote.

Jefferies analyst Randal Konik also voiced his support for the stock, citing the bump the retailer is likely to see from Sears closures. “We are buyers given traction in proprietary brands, share gains from peer closings, thoughtful traffic-driving partnerships with Amazon, omni-initiatives and favorable off-mall real estate,” he wrote. “We see inventories remaining lean and turns increasing, while foot traffic should improve as competitors close doors.”

Macy’s Inc.

Coming off a strong year with high expectations, Macy’s is now having to take a more somber attitude going into the first quarter of its fiscal 2019.

According to Chen, the retailer erred by “coming into the season with an overly aggressive plan as well as underestimating the impact of tweaking its pre-Christmas earn-and-redeem promotional event.” It also doesn’t help that the mall sector as a whole is struggling, as demonstrated by L Brands’ weak holiday quarter. And while Macy’s is “taking painful yet prudent steps of clearing its inventory and entering 2019 in a clean position,” Chen continued, it will likely have to continue discounting to do so, putting pressure on its gross margins.

Target Corp.

Target said its 2018 holiday same-store sales rose 5.7 percent, marking its best fourth quarter since 2004. So why did its share price take a hit? Analysts pointed to margin fears and a reiteration, rather than a raise, of its full-year guidance.

“Target is doing an excellent job driving sales growth,” Simeon Gutman, a Morgan Stanley analyst, said in a research note. “However, this growth is coming at the expense of profitability.” The coming year will pose additional challenges as well, he added, with its “weaker consumer spending backdrop.” On Friday, Target’s stock was up nearly 2 percent, recovering partially from the prior day’s fall.

J.C. Penney Co.

While J.C. Penney’s sales came in slightly above Wall Street’s expectations, they were still down 3.5 percent year over year, and analysts remain cautious about the retailer’s future. In a holiday sales update on Thursday, the company announced plans to close three stores as “part of an ongoing evaluation of [the] store portfolio occurring over the next few months.”

Cowen, however, advised that the retailer will ultimately need to close up to 125 doors, or about 15 percent of its fleet, which means that “management will need to consider strategies to offset lost Ebitda with recapture programs, strategic initiatives and cost savings programs,” wrote Chen.

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