Grocery stores, among other industries, have been under attack by Amazon Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), especially after the Whole Foods acquisition. As in most cases, it’s not always what happens but how to respond that makes or breaks a company. With Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) earnings scheduled to release before the markets open on Friday, we can see where it currently stands and perhaps a clearer picture of how this major grocer plans on dealing with an increasingly competitive industry.
The consensus estimates are $0.39 in earnings per share (EPS) and $27.49 billion in revenue. This compares with fiscal third-quarter results from last year of $0.47 in EPS and revenue of $26.57 billion.
Kroger operates 2,792 stores in 35 states. Its store count has been virtually flat since the second quarter of 2015. The company has 443,000 associates. However, even with all this fire power, same-store sales rose only 1% last year. Kroger’s revenue has improved for most of the past five years, but that growth has almost stopped. It is a flattening that retailers like J.C. Penney and Target began to struggle with long ago.
Presumably, investors share the opinion that Kroger will start to shrink as consumers have more options to get groceries from several sources. Among those is Amazon, which has decided to branch out into physical locations in addition to its existing delivery business.
Amazon may find it has made a mistake, based on its decision to buy stores. However, even a mistake could cost others in the industry dearly. The huge e-commerce company is bound to stick to its new strategy, if only for a year or two, and invest in it substantially. In the meantime, the competition against Kroger may be crippling.
Kroger’s management has two directions it might go. The first is to fight Amazon by keeping its entire store chain with the hope the success a large network and its brand will allow it to grow again. The other is to take the lesson many other retailers have: close underperforming stores and hope to win the battle for profitability.
A few analysts weighed in on Kroger ahead of the earnings report:
- Oppenheimer has a Buy rating with a $28 price target.
- Deutsche Bank has a Buy rating with a $26 price target.
- Jefferies has a Hold rating and a $24 price target.
- RBC has a Buy rating with a $34 price target.
- Stephens has an Underweight rating and a $20 price target.
- Wells Fargo has an Outperform rating with a $28 price target.
- Argus has a Buy rating.
- Morgan Stanley has an Equal Weight rating and a $30 price target.
- BMO Capital Markets has a Hold rating with a $27 price target.
So far in 2017, Kroger has vastly underperformed the broad markets, with the stock down about 35%. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock is only down 31%.
Shares of Kroger were last seen trading at $22.50, with a consensus analyst price target of $26.09 and a 52-week range of $20.46 to $36.44.