Will Target CEO Brian Cornell Be Fired?

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CEO Brian Cornell has been turning around Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) since mid-2014. He was brought on board to fix a company reeling from a massive data breach that affected over 70 million customers under predecessor Gregg Steinhafel. The turnaround is in tatters, particularly based on Target’s most recent earnings.

As a result of poor fourth-quarter figures and an equally weak forecast, Target shares have dropped the most they have in 45 years, since the company went public. The drop was as much as 14% to $57. Over $5 billion in market cap has disappeared in one day.

Target appears to suffer from the same trouble as a number of other retailers. However, the problem is one its larger rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has navigated away from. Wal-Mart recently traded just below its 52-week high. Modestly positive same-store sales and the belief that its e-commerce plan has sharply improved have created a positive image on Wall Street.

Target reported:

Target Corporation today announced its fourth quarter and full-year 2016 results. The Company reported GAAP earnings per share (EPS) from continuing operations of $1.46 in fourth quarter and $4.58 for full-year 2016, compared with $2.31 and $5.25 in 2015, respectively.

Also:

Target’s 2017 guidance reflects the impact of the Company’s transition to a new financial model, which will be covered in the Company’s meeting with the financial community later today.

In first quarter 2017, Target expects a low-to-mid single digit decline in comparable sales, and both GAAP EPS from continuing operations and Adjusted EPS of $0.80 to $1.00.

For full-year 2017, Target expects a low-single digit decline in comparable sales, and both GAAP EPS from continuing operations and Adjusted EPS of $3.80 to $4.20.

One thing that retailers with deteriorating results have discovered is that significant improvement is nearly impossible. One solution Macy’s and J.C. Penney have opted for is closing stores. Target has just over 1,770 stores, and the count has been at approximately that level for four years. If there is a logical time for Cornell to shutter locations, it is now.

Cornell was introduced to the financial community as a highly skilled operator. When he was appointed, Roxanne S. Austin, interim nonexecutive chair of the board, said:

As we seek to aggressively move Target forward and establish the company as a top omnichannel retailer, we focused on identifying an extraordinary leader who could bring vision, focus and a wealth of experience to Target’s transformation.

If anything, Target has dropped out of the top omnichannel retailer tier.