Why Analysts Are Mixed on Whole Foods After Earnings


The fiscal first-quarter financial results Whole Foods Market Inc. (NASDAQ: WFM) reported on Wednesday were not exactly positive. While most analysts took this as a sign to cut their price targets, the stock has only gone up since these results were reported.

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

This organic grocer said that it had $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.

It might be thought that comparable sales would drag the stock down for the quarter, with comps down 2.4% and 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 fiscal 2017, 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.

Pivotal Research has a Sell rating with a $20 price target. The firm 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.

Credit Suisse has an Outperform rating and raised its price target to $40 from $36. The 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.

A few other analysts weighed in on Whole Foods:

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

Shares of Whole Foods were last seen at $30.34, 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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