Investors Dump Target as It Launches Smaller Stores

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Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) has started to build smaller stores, to move into cities, but Wall Street does not buy the company’s overall management. The stock trades at $69, near its 52-week low and off the period high of $84.

Target is often considered Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s (NYSE: WMT) smaller brother, the second largest big-box retailer, but one that has struggled. Over the past year, Wal-Mart shares are up 14% and Target’s down 15%. Target continues to be wedged between the world’s largest retailer on one side and the extraordinarily successful Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) on the other.

Retailers have tried to launch stores that are a different size than their traditional ones. As a matter of fact, Wal-Mart did, with little success. Target does not have the brand power that retailers like Wal-Mart and Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) do. Bigger or smaller stores likely won’t solve that problem.

Moody’s Analyst Charles O’Shea recently was quoted in Barron’s:

While we think it’s still early yet, we believe that Walmart’s big upfront spend to grow online, among other steps in recent months, is showing early signs of promise. Target, in contrast, has fallen harder and has much more work to do before it can regain its footing. The gulf is widening between Walmart and Target. Moody’s rates Wal-Mart Stores Aa2, the third highest rating, with a stable outlook. Target gets an A2 rating, a middle tier of investment grade.

When Target released it most recent earnings, Brian Cornell, board chair and chief executive, remarked:

While we recognize there are opportunities in the business, and are addressing the challenges we are facing in a difficult retail environment, we are pleased that our team delivered second quarter profitability above our expectations. Looking ahead, we remain focused on our enterprise priorities as we continue to see the benefits of investing in Signature Categories, store experience, new flex-format stores and digital capabilities. Although we are planning for a challenging environment in the back half of the year, we believe we have the right strategy to restore traffic and sales growth over time.

Challenging indeed. In the same quarterly report, the company said:

While Target has plans in place to strengthen results over time, based on the current retail environment the Company believes it is prudent to lower its expectations for comparable sales in the second half of the year. In both the third and fourth quarters of 2016, Target now expects comparable sales growth in the range of (2.0) percent to flat.

No wonder new store sizes have not made Wall Street excited.