Can Target profit from good jobs news?
With unemployment dropping, the retailer is poised to gain market share.
Economists hoping for good employment data got it in abundance Friday when the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the nonfarm private sector added 243,000 jobs in January, ahead of most analyst estimates by nearly 100,000.
The unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3%, and the economy has added jobs for three months in a row.
While the news has caused a widespread rally in American markets, some companies will benefit from stronger employment more than others. One may be Target (TGT), which is well-positioned to benefit from a growing American economy in which shoppers to spend more cash.
There are a few reasons behind this. First, many shoppers moved away from Target to Wal-Mart (WMT) and Costco (COST) during the downturn, causing revenue and stock prices for the budget big-box retailers to climb. Wal-Mart shares jumped nearly 11% in 2011 and Costco's rose more than 15% while Target fell 14.8%, as the budget-conscious looked for ways to make dwindling dollars stretch. Rising commodity prices and food prices pushed consumers further toward thriftier options.
Austerity has become a way of life for Americans for nearly half a decade, and patience is wearing thin. The need to splurge has prompted consumers to spring for Target, resulting in a 5.1% increase in net retail sales for January to $4.6 billion -- eclipsing the $4.38 billion in sales from a year earlier. That compares to just a 1.4% increase in December sales last year to $9.88 billion.
The stronger growth for January may also reflect the rally that U.S. stock markets have seen in the past month. At least for now, optimism seems to have taken hold of investors and consumers alike. More optimism, translated into consumer confidence, will help bring consumers into Target stores and increase sales.
Consumers may also be spending on purchases they had postponed. Target reported that shoes, health care products, and boys' and girls' clothing were the strongest performers, with electronics and books much weaker. This may indicate that people are buying the things they use the most more frequently in a move against protracted frugality, although big-ticket items are still not on the docket.
The fact that consumers are buying, but not spending too much, would explain the disappointing results from retailers with higher price tags than Target. Both Macy's (M) and Dillard's (DDS) reported sales below expectations for January, although both stocks were up in Friday's trading, thanks to the new employment figures. Such a response may be overly hasty, since the companies have not yet proven that they can translate that economic data into higher sales.
Target, on the other hand, has already done that, and it is benefiting from failures amongst the competition. The slow collapse of Sears Holdings (SHLD) and its K-mart subsidiary may speed up if it cannot access credit, which is becoming a real possibility. Sears' looming store closings will free up market share for Target, which is still opening new stores.
Target will need to steer clear of extra competition from Costco and Wal-Mart. Shoppers who moved to the budget chains may find themselves more comfortable with the stores. Target will also need to orient its offerings to customer tastes.
Not only that, I love the fact that Target lets me know by email that my prescriptions are automatically refilled and ready for me, and I get to visit Starbucks for a yummy frappachino. I really hope that Target recovers and surpasses the competition.
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The solid report comes a month after the retailer closed all of its Canadian operations.
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