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Shares in Target (NYSE: TGT ) are up today after the retail giant reported second-quarter earnings that beat analysts' expectations on top-line growth.
What you need to know
For the quarter, Target reported net earnings of $704 million, or $1.06 per share. Excluding one-time gains and losses, this equated to $1.12 per share, a 4.6% increase from the year-ago period.
Most promising was the retailer's top-line figure, which came in at $16.78 billion compared to an average consensus estimate of $16.75 billion. It also represented a 3.3% increase over the second quarter of 2011.
Same-store sales for the quarter, an important metric in the retail industry, increased 3.1%. Its credit card division reported a 5% decrease in revenue due to a lower interest rate spread and higher charge-offs.
Target's chairman and chief executive officer, Gregg Steinhafel, said, "We're pleased with Target's strong second quarter financial performance, which reflects a continued focus on delivering an outstanding experience for our guests and disciplined execution of our strategy."
A look at other retailers
Target's results are largely consistent with the larger retail picture.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Commerce released its monthly retail sales report for July. While analysts had predicted another month of measly sales, the sector surprised many by rising 0.8%. Despite the rise, fellow Fool Justin Loiseau cautions: "July's retail sales report comes as a relief to a market and economy plagued with bad news, but take heed, ye of macroeconomic faith: Macro trends are no replacement for careful company analysis."
Looking at another retailer for more context, shares in Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) are up considerably since yesterday after the world's largest home improvement company reported second-quarter earnings of $1.5 billion, or $1.01 per diluted share, compared to $1.4 billion, or $0.86 per diluted share, in the same quarter last year. The company also confirmed its expectations that full-year sales will be up 4.6% year-over year.
The market also reacted warmly to Macy's (NYSE: M ) announcement last week that it was raising its earnings guidance for the year on the back of its strong second-quarter performance. Earnings per diluted share came in at $0.67, a 22% increase over last year. And the all-important same-store sales were up 4.1% in July alone. The company was particularly pleased because, according to Macy's chief executive officer Terry Lundgren, the results "came on top of exceptionally strong spring season performances in each of the past two years." These are some of the reasons my Foolish colleague Andrew Marder chose Macy's as one of three stocks for the rest of 2012.
The most notable exception to this trend is J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP ) which is struggling to remake itself under the leadership of Ron Johnson, the former retail head of Apple. It's no exaggeration that the company's second-quarter results were abominable. Its top-line GAAP reported sales were a staggering 23% lower than the prior-year quarter's and missed analyst estimates by 6%. And its bottom-line EPS of -$0.37 was also substantially less than its performance last year and the consensus estimate (both of which came in at $0.07).
Foolish bottom line
While many writers and analysts are interpreting rising second-quarter retail sales as a sign the economic recovery has gained traction, it'd be wise to withhold final judgment until more substantial figures emerge. For the time being, in turn, I'd urge you to learn which stock our analysts have called "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." To give you a hint... it's a retail company that dominates the southern hemisphere and has seen its share price increase by over 215% in the last five years alone. To download this free report instantly, click here now.