Stocks were little changed in early trading on Tuesday morning, as market participants seemed content to wait for more guidance on key issues like trade and global macroeconomic prospects. As of 11:45 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 40 points to 25,860. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) picked up 3 points to 2,795, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) edged higher by 3 points to 7,581.
Earnings season has largely come to a close, but there are still a few high-profile companies that are only now revealing how they did to finish 2018. For Target (NYSE:TGT), news from the often challenging retail world was better than many had expected. But in the software-as-a-service niche of the technology industry, salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) didn't quite deliver what investors had wanted to see.
Hitting the Target
Shares of Target climbed 4% after the department store retailer reported its fourth-quarter financial results. The company said that it had the strongest growth in full-year comparable sales in more than 10 years, with comps in the fourth quarter climbing 5.3%. Traffic levels surged during the holiday season, and adjusted earnings climbed double-digit percentages from the year-earlier period to reach record levels as Target declared the key period a successful end to an outstanding year.
Yet CEO Brian Cornell sees even better times ahead. "We have been driving an ambitious agenda to transform our company, evolve with our guests, and drive strong growth," Cornell said, and "on every count we've been successful." The CEO believes that 2019 will see Target using its momentum to keep innovating and giving customers the shopping experience they want.
Unfortunately, what's less clear is whether Target can sustain its recent rate of growth. The retailer issued guidance calling for low- to mid-single-digit percentage gains in comparable sales for both the first quarter and the full 2019 year, and adjusted full-year 2019 earnings of $5.75 to $6.05 per share would represent just 7% to 12% growth from 2018's final figures. That's slower than the 15% bottom-line gains Target saw in 2018, but at least for now, shareholders don't seem overly concerned with the long-term implications of a slowdown.
Salesforce investors shrug off strong growth
Moving the other way were shares of Salesforce.com, which were down between 1% and 2%. The software company's fourth-quarter results included signs of solid growth, but investors didn't seem as comfortable with its outlook for the coming year.
Fiscal 2019 was a good year for Salesforce, with a 26% rise in revenue during the fourth quarter and for the full year. Adjusted net income soared 88% in fiscal 2019 compared to the previous year's numbers. Co-CEO Marc Benioff lauded Salesforce's performance, asserting "another year of outstanding revenue growth [and] surpassing $13 billion in revenue faster than any other enterprise software company in history."
The big question for Salesforce is what comes next. Co-CEO Keith Block set high expectations for the long-term future, seeking to double sales by fiscal 2023. Yet despite calls for fiscal 2020 revenue growth exceeding 20%, adjusted earnings are likely to remain flat from the most recent year's results. That might be causing investors to rethink their enthusiasm about the stock -- even though the long-term prospects for the industry as a whole remain encouraging.