Chances of Success for the Long-Awaited Turnaround of Bed Bath & Beyond

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Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ: BBBY) has been one of those great turnaround stocks that just has not been able to get its operations turned back around. The company faces a slew of online competition from the likes of Amazon and specialty websites, all of which are keeping customers out of the Bed Bath & Beyond store locations. There is an old saying that nothing lasts forever. And that might even be true about Bed Bath & Beyond.

The home furnishings and products retailer saw its shares surge by double-digit percentages on Thursday after its earnings report and guidance. After years of pressure on its shares, is this finally the start of the elusive turnaround?

The company reaffirmed its earnings guidance of about $2 per share, and the company now targets roughly the same for the coming year. This is on the heels a big cut to guidance one quarter earlier, and it has been giving rather muted expectations for longer than investors would like to be reminded. If Bed Bath & Beyond makes $2.00 per share in the coming year, that would be handily above consensus expectations of about $1.60 per share, and it would put this stock in the bargain bin for value investors at roughly seven times expected earnings.

A major driving force on top of just its earnings and guidance was that the company claims to be ahead of its longer-term financial goals that were targeting the persistent drop in operating income and earnings per share. And the company also wants to grow its earnings again in 2020. The gains have been seen in eliminating less profitable items for sale, adjusting its free shipping threshold to $39 from $29, and even making changes to pricing algorithms.

Bed Bath & Beyond is even testing formats, the number of items and other visual issues in its stores to find what is working best in a world where many consumers are no longer even bothering to go to stores. More decorative furnishings also are being pursued via the Bee & Willow line, with the expectation that these are more resistant to the plethora of online competition as consumers might want to see and touch the real product rather than blindly trusting online photos.

Big gains in a share price might make some investors think the all-clear sign has been sounded. The problem here is that Bed Bath & Beyond has faced years of disappointment. Its shares peaked at close to $80 at the end of 2013 and then again at the start of 2015, but the stock had slid to under $15 in a long and slow bleed-out.

Wedbush Securities was among the firms remaining cautious here. The stock was maintained as Neutral and the price target was lowered to $14 from $15, with the firm calling it a weak quarter with a low-quality beating of earnings estimates. The firm pointed out that there was another miss on comparable store sales and that gross margins were offset by SG&A expense reductions that included a $0.16 per share boost from a gain on sale of a building. The firm did note that Bed Bath & Beyond is going back to a focus on profit over sales and that the company will reduce its gross margin pressure from coupons and free shipping while also continuing to cut its SG&A.

Also, Merrill Lynch maintained its Underperform rating and has an $11 price objective. The firm noted another quarter of weak operating results, with both same-store sales and gross margin again missing its internal estimates. Also noted was that guidance was aggressive, considering its continued weak results. The firm even said, “we see continued earnings pressure and do not believe Bed Bath & Beyond is at an inflection for growth.”

CFRA (S&P Global) saw its equity analyst lower the rating to Sell from Hold after earnings, also cutting its target to $11 from $16. That downgrade cited a decline in the popularity of the company’s e-commerce website rankings while other peers have seen their rankings rise in popularity. CFRA is wary of the long-term payoff of ongoing digital investments.

One issue that may be helping to propel Bed Bath & Beyond shares higher is short covering. Short sellers have had their way for so long that they finally may be declaring victory, even if they are not sure if the future prospects are that great. The stock’s short interest has been above 30 million shares on average dating back to last summer.

It has been quite some time since investors had anything exciting at all to think of when it comes to Bed Bath & Beyond. There has been such a disappointment that it is understandable why investors might be so skeptical of whether this is the real beginning of a long-awaited turnaround or if it is just another head-fake.

Bed Bath & Beyond shares in the noon hour were up more than 10% to $13.54, but the stock’s intraday range was $12.71 to $13.95. Its 52-week range is $10.46 to $24.08, just a mere fraction of its glory days when this company could do no wrong. After closing up 4% at $12.26 on Wednesday, this stock was actually indicated up 15% at $14.10 in Thursday’s premarket trading.

One very positive trend, even if it is augmented by short covering, was that trading volume was nearing 32 million shares into the noon hour. That was already over six-times normal trading volume.