Target: Bull's-eye or Bear Trap?

Recent hype (and hysteria) surrounding Target's (NYSE: TGT  ) limited-edition Missoni for Target line implied that the retailer's getting its hipster groove back, and that its shares could be an irresistible bargain right now. However, a fair amount of pessimistic sentiment has taken aim at Target.

BusinessWeek recently turned a skeptical eye on Target, punching holes in the idea that it's a better investment than struggling discount rival Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) .

The article cites a laundry list of negative trends and perceptions. The expectation that cash-strapped consumers who had ditched Target for cheaper Wal-Mart would trade back up hasn't come to pass; meanwhile, the thought that the tough economy might drive consumers to trade down from higher-end department store retailers like Macy's (NYSE: M  ) , Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) , and Saks hasn't exactly come to pass either.

The proof is in the comps. Disregard Target's grocery business and 5% promotion for sales transacted with Target's branded debit and credit cards, and Target's same-store sales have been about as lackluster as Wal-Mart's this year.

Even worse, unions have taken aim at Target, too, pointing out that it doesn't really treat its workers better than Wal-Mart, which has usually been the major target of the most scalding criticism in that area.

Target has supposedly lost its cheap-chic cred to rivals as various as fast-fashion retailers like H&M and Rue21 (Nasdaq: RUE  ) and sluggishly old-school retailers like J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) and Sears Holdings' (Nasdaq: SHLD  ) Kmart, which have caught on to the power of a cheap-chic strategy.

Last but not least, Target's focus on the American marketplace is a bit daunting, since the U.S. economy is hardly on certain footing at the moment.

The Missoni by Target hysteria led me to believe the discount retailer is in the process of getting its former shiny excitement back; its shares look like a good deal, trading at just 12 times forward earnings and a PEG ratio of 1.06. I still happen to believe its brand far exceeds Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, and Kmart in consumers' eyes, just for starters, despite the negative sentiment currently taking aim at the company.

What do you think, though? Is it a perfect time to count on a Target turnabout, or are investors doomed to jump into a value trap if they take on Target shares? Give your thoughts in the comments box below, or cast your vote in our poll.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart Stores. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wal-Mart Stores. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Wal-Mart Stores. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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