TJX Companies Inc Stock Isn’t as Bulletproof as It May Seem

TJX stock - TJX Companies Inc Stock Isn’t as Bulletproof as It May Seem

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A little more than weeks ago, off-price retailer TJX Companies Inc (NYSE:TJX) dished out an impressive earnings report. Though profits per share of TJX stock fell short of estimates, the bottom and top lines were both still up, and same-store sale grew a solid 4%.

A week later, Burlington Stores Inc (NYSE:BURL) scored another victory for the discounted apparel cartel, beefing up the bottom line to the tune of 17%, and boasting same-store sales growth of 5.9%. Around that same time, rival Ross Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROST) reported a 16% improvement in revenue for its most recently-completed quarter.

So why have ROST, BURL and TJX stock each lost ground since their seemingly bullish results were posted? On the surface, one might assume concerns about a growth-slowdown were the culprit.

Ross Stores, for instance, is only looking for comparable sales growth of 1% and 2% this year, and TJX is looking for the same. Both retailers expect higher employee wages to crimp margins as well.

One can’t help but wonder, however, if there’s something bigger, and perhaps something subconscious, that’s planting seeds of doubt in investors’ minds.

Things Are Differet Now

Anyone reading this likely already knows the off-price retailers like TJX Companies’ TJ-Maxx and Ross Stores have been the darlings of the department store world of late, shrugging off the so-called “retail apocalypse” that’s put the kibosh on once-great names like Macy’s Inc (NYSE:M) and Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN).

TJX stock, for perspective, is up more than 80% for the past five years, while shares of Macy’s have fallen more than 30% for the same timeframe.

The reasons? Bargains, for one. Though the economy was stable, it’s not exactly been robust until last year, when employment and GDP growth really firmed up.

Another largely unsung reason the discount apparel retailers have been thriving? Cultural changes. High-end clothing labels aren’t quite the draw they used to be. Labels are gauche, and the age of the internet means looks come and go too fast to invest a lot of money in a wardrobe. Cheaper is better.

Nothing lasts forever though, and all things are eventually cyclical. And, the cycle that made heroes out off-price retailers could be on the verge of moving in the other direction again.

That’s the way Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow sees it anyway. He recently downgraded TJX stock from an ‘Outperform’ to a ‘Market Perform,’ pointing out that the conditions that worked so well for so long for the retailer are now changing.

Namely, full-price retailers (and manufacturers) that were previously all too happy to dump their unsold inventory on TJX are now using technology to get much better at inventory management.

In other words, TJX and Burlington may simply not have access to the merchandise they used to have access to.

There’s also the not-so-small, related problem that the upper-scale venues like Macy’s and Nordstrom are doing more of their own discounting work rather than offloading their unsold merchandise. Macy’s ‘Backstage’ and Nordstrom’s ‘Rack’ are a chance for the two department store chains to make lemonade out of their proverbial lemons.

Also working against the likes of Ross Stores and TJ Maxx is a proliferation of discount apparel stores. Kroll Bond Rating Agency analysts suggested in October of last year:

“[W]ith department stores struggling, fewer off-price stores opening, and different location strategies emerging, sales siphoning could be taking place,” adding “How this all plays out is still too early to tell, but it seems to be clear that the off-price business model is being reassessed.”

That’s the polite way of saying these retailers may have been thinking a little too aggressively, counting on inventory and demand that just isn’t there.

…But Don’t Count TJX Stock Just Yet

Not everyone agrees the off price environment is taking a turn for the worst, and nobody seems to think the tide is going to turn in a big way anytime soon. In fact, JP Morgan thinks it will be at least a decade before off-price retailers will hit a saturation headwind. That leaves the industry room to add nearly $20 billion in sales before the end of 2021. Not bad.

Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberly Greenberger is also bullish on ROST, BURL and TJX stock, holding ‘Overweight’ opinions on all three as standouts within the retailing world.

Still, nothing lasts forever. Consumers are fickle, and companies eventually adapt when there’s an opportunity at hand. At the very least put the possibility of an off-price retailing slowdown on your radar.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.

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