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Shares of Target (NYSE: TGT ) soared higher in early trading today after the discount retailer reported better-than-expected quarterly sales. First-quarter profit spiked 1.2% thanks to impressive sales of its grocery items and trendy (yet affordable) fashions. With the stock up almost 10% so far this year, is it too late for investors to grab a piece of the action?
Not even close.
I first recommended the retail chain back in July, when I gave the stock a five-year outperform rating on my profile in Motley Fool CAPS. The company has passed many milestones since last year. And following today's upbeat earnings announcement, Target now expects greater full-year profits for fiscal 2012.
On the money
The retailer pulled in $697 million in the quarter, or $1.04 a share ahead of analysts' estimates of $1.01 a share, according to Reuters. Same-store sales were the highest they've been in more than six years, jumping 5.3% for the period ended April 28.
These results are particularly encouraging considering Target took a $55 million loss on costs tied to the retailer's entry into the Great White North in 2013. The Minneapolis-based company is on track to open 125 to 135 Target stores in Canada, with completion set for 2014.
Another growth strategy that's starting to pay off for the retailer is the addition of a fresh-food assortment. Target expanded into groceries behind rival Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) in a push to become a one-stop shop. This format is working because Target's food category successfully combines convenience and value -- pulling more customers through its doors on a regular basis.
Eye on the prize
Differentiated merchandise is also boosting Target's appeal. As other big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart and Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) , stand idly by and let shoppers use their stores as showrooms, Target continues to counter comparison-shopping with smart initiatives like its limited-edition collections. With the help of world-renowned designers such as Missoni and Jason Wu, Target offers its customers one-of-a-kind pieces at affordable prices.
The retailer is stretching this concept to include designer devices, with its store-within-a-store format. Similar to the mini-Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) stores found inside select Best Buy locations, Target's new concept stores will sell popular Mac-made products and will be staffed by Apple specialists. In this way, Target is able to offer customers a unique experience that they won't find on Amazon.com. The partnership with Apple should also help the tech company get its products into the hands of consumers who otherwise wouldn't go out of their way to visit an Apple store.
If the stock fits ...
I think Target is a bulls-eye investment and one that every investor should consider as a core holding. The stock looks affordable, with shares trading at 13 times earnings. Target also pays an annual dividend of $1.20 on a 2.18% dividend yield. I already own Target stock and plan to continue building my position in this retail star going forward. If you're not ready to jump in, I highly encourage you to add Target to My Watchlist -- The Motley Fool's free tool that lets you track and monitor your favorite stocks. Get started today -- it's free.