Why More Analysts Are Growing Negative on Whole Foods After Earnings

Although Whole Foods Market Inc.’s (NASDAQ: WFM) fiscal first-quarter financial results were not entirely positive, the stock was last seen up for the day. Further adding to the mix, analysts weighed in on the stock, with most cutting their price targets.

24/7 Wall St. has included some highlights from the earnings report, as well as what analysts are saying after the fact.

The company posted $0.39 in earnings per share (EPS) and $4.92 billion in revenue, versus consensus estimates from Thomson Reuters of $0.39 in EPS and revenue of $4.98 billion. The same period of last year reportedly had EPS of $0.46 and $4.83 billion in revenue.

Comparable sales for the quarter were down 2.4%, with transactions dropping by 3.9%. The company also mentioned that comparable sales in the fiscal second quarter were down 3.2% so far, with transactions down 1.9%.

Looking at the guidance for the 2017 fiscal year, Whole Foods expects to see $1.33 or greater in EPS, sales growth of 1.5% or greater, and comparable sales of “approximately −2.5% or better.” The consensus estimates for the fiscal year call for $1.44 in EPS and $16.26 billion in revenue.

Credit Suisse has an Outperform rating and raised its price target to $40 from $36. The brokerage firm also lowered its 2017, 2018 and 2019 EPS estimates to $1.33 (from $1.42), $1.37 (from $1.50) and $1.52 (from $1.72), respectively. Risks to these estimates include an intensifying competitive landscape in food retail, execution risk as the company looks to accelerate its strategic turnaround, and uncertainty around management succession.

Pivotal Research has a Sell rating with a $20 price target. The firm further detailed in its report:

The rapid decline in average ticket and customer count is our biggest concern following Whole Foods’ guidance cut which is the latest in a multi-year string of earnings setbacks. There may be a misperception that Whole Foods is effectively putting the brakes on new store growth based on the unprecedented closure of nine stores.

Management also plans to walk back its long term goal for a national footprint of 1200 locations. However, for FY17 the current plans still call for 30 new stores (5% square footage growth) with 93 stores in the pipeline. While the headlines may point to a smarter capital allocation strategy, in terms of substance very little has changed. The core challenges are no different for Whole Foods in FY17 as last year or the year before. A key difference is that it will be increasingly difficult to mask the sharp decline in operating income through share buybacks and aggressive cost reduction. The limits of cost cutting will be more evident in earnings going forward.

A few other analysts weighed in on Whole Foods:

  • JPMorgan cut its price target to $29 from $31.
  • Telsey Advisory Group has a Market Perform rating and lowered its price target to $28 from $30.
  • RBC has an Outperform rating and lowered its price target to $35 from $37.
  • Deutsche Bank has a Hold rating and lowered its price target from $29 to $28.
  • Jefferies has a Hold rating and lowered its price target to $27 from $31.
  • Merrill Lynch reiterated an Underperform rating and cut its price objective to $24 from $25.

Shares of Whole Foods were last seen up about 3% at $30.17 on Thursday, with a consensus analyst price target of $29.60 and a 52-week trading range of $27.67 to $35.58.

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