A Discount Disappointment

Oddly enough, Target (NYSE: TGT  ) has seemed unable to capitalize on Americans' new frugality. Target's third-quarter results revealed more of the same.

Third-quarter net income dropped 23.8% to $369 million, or $0.49 per share. Revenue grew an anemic 1.7% to $14.6 billion, and same-store sales dropped 3.3% in the quarter.

Meanwhile, Target temporarily suspended its share buyback program as it said it plans to reduce its planned capital expenditures in 2009 by $1 billion.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) has been one of the winners as consumers flock to discounters, as have Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) and McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) . But even Wal-Mart chilled investors last week when it tempered a solid earnings report with lower guidance.

Worse, Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) dropped quite an information bomb last week as well, lowering its annual guidance and describing "rapid, seismic changes in consumer behavior."

Personally, I've been mystified as to how Target has not been one of the bright spots in these down times. (And if you have an opinion on this, please feel free to comment in our comment boxes below, or add your opinion in Motley Fool CAPS, which currently gives Target a three-star rating.) True, Target is perceived as a purveyor of higher-quality merchandise than rival Wal-Mart, and also true, its decorative home items helped make it hot, and those aren't exactly in great demand in the current malaise. Still, with consumers trading down in general, you'd think Target would benefit.

Maybe Target was a beneficiary of an extremely spendthrift consumer climate over the last several years, but now it's arguably also up against tough comparisons, since it really was an impressive performer until recently. Target had double-digit compound annual growth in earnings from operations over the last five years. Given the difficulties in recent months, it will be interesting to see if Target can continue its strong performance during these challenging times.

I've long been a big fan of Target as a company and a stock, and its growth before this increasingly difficult year is part of the reason why. Of course, while historical growth is important, investing is really about the future, and Target just seems to be floundering around at the moment.

So while I still think Target is a great company with an exemplary brand, the holiday season looks like it's going to be brutal, and I'm beginning to wonder whether Target can buck the difficult trends. For now, I'm thinking investors who are targeting shares of Target might want to wait for a cheaper price -- or signs of improvement -- to buy in.

Catch up with related Foolishness:

Wal-Mart Stores and Best Buy are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Costco Wholesale and Best Buy are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You'll be able to take a look at all our past and present stock picks and see how we sort the wheat from the chaff.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2008, at 11:11 PM, chicken0100 wrote:

    Unfortunatly Target sells the almost the same items as Wal-Mart with a few exceptions some clothing and bath items and sells them at a higher price. Their food prices where I live are twice as much. The only reson to go there now is if Wal-Mart is out and Sams motto was never be out. For me l hope Wal-Mart follows his words.

  • Report this Comment On November 18, 2008, at 11:13 AM, UncleSkell wrote:

    I'm with chicken0100 on this one. They're selling an upscale lifestylem positioning themselves as being not as low-class as Wal-Mart but not as pricey as Macy's.

    You can get the same stuff from the Sons of Sam that you can get from the Targét, but for less money. To a growing number of people who are starting to see themselves as broke, this is important, and will continue to reduce their sales.

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