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The U.S. economy is still grappling with an uneven recovery, and companies are tussling to shield themselves from the financial turmoil. Target Corporation ( TGT - Analyst Report ) is persistently trying every means to keep itself afloat in this sluggish economic environment.
The company’s P-fresh remodel program, 5% REDcard Rewards program, City Target stores, The Shops at Target initiatives and its foray into the foreign market are its arsenal to safeguard itself from any unprecedented events.
The Company Counts Upon
Target’s efficient marketing, multi-channel strategy, product innovation, compelling pricing strategy, and new merchandise assortments, should drive comparable-store sales and operating margins in the long term. We expect the company to gain market share, and believe that increased focus on consumable items should boost sales and earnings in a soft consumer environment. The company’s long-term objective is to attain $100 billion or more in sales and $8.00 or more in earnings per share by 2017.
The company will focus more on store renovations and improving store sales productivity. This year, Target plans to sustain its remodeling program at existing general merchandise locations, which include an expanded grocery offering, improved store layout and enhancement of in-store shopping experience across departments, such as apparel, home, beauty, shoes and baby. The company plans to complete about 230 more general merchandise remodels in the year.
Management indicated that Target’s P-fresh remodel program and 5% REDcard Rewards program will sustain its sales momentum and continue to drive traffic. With ever changing consumer preferences, Target feels the need to adapt to the demands of time and consider consumer-oriented strategies. The recent one, ‘The Shops at Target,’ are small boutiques in stores, and are similar to J. C. Penney Company Inc.’s ( JCP - Analyst Report ) store-within-store concept.
Tapping the Urban Market
In order to tap the urban markets where real estate remains a constraint, Target plans to introduce smaller-format stores called City Target similar to its biggest rival, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ( WMT - Analyst Report ) . The company informed that the new stores will vary in size from 60,000 to 100,000 square feet compared to its typical format of 125,000–180,000 square feet.
Earlier, Target used to concentrate on the suitability of its large format stores for a particular location, which lowers its accessibility to the country’s thickly populated and space-crunched urban regions. However, with the changing business scenario and rising competition, Target felt the need to have stores of various sizes and formats to align with the targeted area.
We believe that this approach will help the company augment its sales. Target unveiled its first three smaller format stores in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago, with plans to open two more similar format stores, one each in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Efforts Reaping Results
Amidst the lackluster economic environment, cautious consumer spending and intense competition, Target posted better-than-expected second-quarter 2012 results on the back of healthy sales. Lower shares outstanding also provided cushion to the bottom line.
The company delivered quarterly earnings of $1.06 per share that rose 3.4% from $1.03 earned in the prior-year quarter, and also came ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.01. However, excluding costs related to Canadian operations, earnings from its U.S. operations came in at $1.12 per share, up 4.6% from $1.07 posted in the year-ago quarter.
Total revenue climbed 3.3% to $16,779 million from the prior-year quarter, and beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $16,769 million. Retail sales grew 3.5% to $16,451 million as shoppers are gradually opening up their wallets, though they remain wary. However, revenue from the Credit Card segment tumbled 5.1% to $328 million.
The healthy results, prompted management to raise its fiscal 2012 earnings expectations. Target now projects adjusted third-quarter 2012 earnings between 83 cents and 93 cents a share. For fiscal 2012, earnings are expected to be in the range of $4.65 to $4.85 per share, up from $4.60 to $4.80 forecasted earlier.
On a GAAP basis, including expenses related to the company’s entry in the Canadian market, management projected earnings between 69 cents and 79 cents for the third quarter and between $4.20 and $4.40 per share for fiscal 2012, up from $4.10 and $4.30 projected previously.
Target is actively managing its cash flows and returning much of its free cash to shareholders’ through share repurchases or dividend. These strategies not only enhance shareholders’ return but also raise the market value of the stock. Through this strategy, the companies bolster investor confidence in the stock, and thereby persuade them to either buy or hold the scrip instead of selling off.
During the second quarter of 2012, Target bought back about 9.6 million shares at a price of $57.09 per share, aggregating $549 million, and also paid dividends of $198 million. The company recently hiked its annual dividend by 20% to $1.44, and expects it to increase to $3.00 per share or more by 2017.
The Need to Diversify
The greater concentration of the company’s revenue generating capabilities in limited regions of the United States, poses a competitive threat to Target, compared with Wal-Mart and Costco Wholesale Corporation ( COST - Analyst Report ) , which are geographically diverse and more resourceful.
Target is eyeing opportunities in international markets, such as Canada and Latin America. The company plans to open 125 to 135 stores in Canada by 2013 and 2014. We believe, store openings outside the United States will definitely boost the company’s top and bottom lines and better its cash flow generation capability.
Tough Economy Still a Threat
The economy is still not out of the woods. It is evident that the company’s customers remain sensitive to macroeconomic factors including interest rate hikes, increase in fuel and energy costs, credit availability, unemployment levels, and high household debt levels, which may affect their discretionary spending, and in turn curtail the company’s growth and profitability.
The global credit markets have recently undergone a significant disruption. This may create difficulties for companies to obtain financing on reasonable terms, aggravating the risk of higher cost of borrowings and diminishing the ability to obtain additional financing or refinance existing long-term obligations. This may jeopardize the company’s future growth plans.
The above analysis supports our unbiased view on the stock, and therefore, we advocate our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. However, Target retains a Zacks #2 Rank that translates into a short-term Buy rating and well defines the company’s relentless endeavors to keep itself on the growth trajectory.
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