A Christmas sales miss by Target (NYSE:TGT) put coal in many corporate stockings.
The company said comparable-store sales grew just 1.4% during the Christmas season, with toy sales flat and electronics down 6%. The retailer maintained its earnings guidance.
Shares fell anyway, by nearly $9 or 7%. Target stock opened Jan. 17 below $117, with a market capitalization of about $59 billion.
Target wasn’t the only stock traders tossed aside. Toy makers in particular were hammered, although both Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS) and Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) later recovered. Morgan Stanley even warned about mighty Walmart (NYSE:WMT), although not for the reason I had.
Should Target shareholders panic and run for the exits? Or is this a buying opportunity?
What’s Going On?
Shareholders have been taking profits on Target since early December, but little has changed.
The strategy is based on the realization that just putting stuff on sale no longer works. But Target can’t make iPhones or PCs. Electronics was the department that took the hardest hit, and it was the most popular category with children.
Unable to throw Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) under the bus because of the Target miss, analysts decided to toss the toy makers. They had been expecting better results after the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy, they didn’t pay attention when toy makers themselves trimmed their lines and they ignored an Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) announcement that its toy sales were strong.
What’s the Problem?
Many analysts gave Target a mark of “A” for its performance during the holiday season, noting that online sales were up 19%.
But there is a problem. Target has become known as a soft goods retailer. People go to Target for clothes.
This means there are Target brands that may not be performing, like Opalhouse, Project 62 and Room Essentials. The company’s release on Christmas said its home goods, as well as toy sales, were flat. Target now has 41 such brands, in clothes, food, pet supplies and personal care. It also has 10 “exclusive brands” for which it’s the only outlet, including two wine brands.
There are two ways to look at this. The glass half-full crowd will say that Target has gotten women, especially high-income women, into the store. The glass half-empty crowd will complain that it’s not getting enough of their money.
For most consumers there are different kinds of shopping. There’s clothes shopping, which is seasonal, personal and occasional. Target is doing great there. Then there’s weekly shopping, the daily grind of groceries and related products, of filling out a list. This is where Target remains weak. Not all Target stores have grocery departments, and those that do have limited choices. Target’s not a food store, in the way Kroger (NYSE:KR), Walmart or even Costco (NASDAQ:COST) are food stores.
The Bottom Line on Target Stock
Target CEO Brian Cornell is in the position of a football coach who has had a great season and now sees top assistants being poached by losing teams. An example is former chief merchandising officer Mark Tritton, hired away by Bed, Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY).
Cornell is building a new team and must develop new ideas to keep Target growing. It’s not about rebuilding but reloading. Investors want to see whether Target can defend its new success against its own people, and how it will expand the beachhead it has established.
With a dividend yield now over 2.2%, and a price-to-earnings ratio of 18.7, Target stock is fully priced, but its weakness makes it a good speculation for income investors seeking long-term defensive plays.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in AAPL, AMZN and BBBY.