Is Kroger the Top US Retailer?

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Investors may not be impressed with Kroger Co.’s (NYSE: KR) performance lately, but it seems the company’s manufacturing partners see things differently. Kroger was named the top retailer, tied for first place in the overall composite score, in the latest Kantar Retailer PoweRanking. It dethroned last year’s top retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), which had held the spot for more than a decade.

According to Kantar Retail:

This is the first time in 20 years that Kroger has reached the pinnacle of the prestigious list, which is determined by participating manufacturers. The Kantar Retailer PoweRanking™ is designed to identify the retailers currently setting the highest standards of performance as viewed by their trading partners, and to gain insight into what makes these retailers “best in class.”

Kroger also ranked first in the following categories:

  • Best retailer to do business with
  • Best practice category leadership
  • Best buying teams
  • Most innovative merchandising

And it tied for first in the “clearest strategy” category.

Now the country’s largest supermarket chain by revenue, and second-largest general retailer (behind Wal-Mart), just has to impress investors. Shares are down more than 26% year to date, compared to a 13% rise for Wal-Mart and a more than 3% gain for the S&P 500. The stock has recovered somewhat from the 52-week low of $28.71 hit back in early October.

Kroger did offer better-than-expected earnings in its most recent quarterly report, but investors were less than thrilled with the revenue miss and the lowered guidance for the full year. CEO Rodney McMullen put the best face on it at the time:

We are focused on long-term performance over a three-to-five year horizon. We have the right strategy, the right people, and the financial flexibility to execute our strategy, which allows us to continue investing in our associates and our business and growing market share. By staying on our strategy, we create long-term value for our shareholders.

However, in perhaps another hopeful sign for the company, short sellers got out of the way in the most recent settlement period. The number of shares sold short dropped more than 12% to 15.2 million, or 1.6% of the float, in the final weeks of October.

Kroger shares closed on Tuesday at $30.79, in a 52-week trading range of $28.71 to $42.75. The consensus analyst price target is $35.91.

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