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Stock Market News: Target Takes a Hit; Hershey Looks Sweet

By Dan Caplinger - Mar 25, 2020 at 12:06PM

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Wall Street was mixed Wednesday morning as it digested the proposed stimulus bill.

Stock market investors have waited for Washington to get in gear with legislation to support the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, and they finally got their wish Wednesday morning. A deal among key lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives set the stage for $2 trillion in economic stimulus, with provisions aimed to help individuals, small businesses, and large players in industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak. Because investors had largely anticipated the package, however, the moves to the market were muted. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.60%) was up 419 points to 21,124. However, the S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.60%) rose a more modest 13 points to 2,460, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -0.60%) actually dropped 5 points to 7,412.

Companies have had a lot of difficulty trying to predict what their immediate results will look like, and retail giant Target (TGT -0.74%) finally admitted that it just won't be able to provide much guidance until things resolve somewhat. Meanwhile Hershey (HSY 1.55%) got a vote of confidence from stock analysts looking for ports in the coronavirus storm.

Missing the Target

Shares of Target fell 5% Wednesday morning, recovering from steeper losses earlier in the session. The department store retailer issued a new business update that highlighted the unique challenges the coronavirus outbreak has caused.

Target store location as seen from parking lot, with a few cars and blue sky.

Image source: Target.

Target will need to reschedule some of its anticipated strategic moves because of higher traffic and sales related to essential items like food, medicine, cleaning products, and other pantry items. Specifically, it anticipates doing just 130 store remodeling projects in 2020, down from its previous guidance for 300. Small-store openings will see similar reductions, with new expectations for 15-20 such stores down from the 36 Target had anticipated.

The boost in traffic has been remarkable. Comparable store sales were up 3.8% in February, and March has seen comps soar more than 20% above 2019 levels. In addition to staples, Target saw heightened demand for things like furniture and entertainment needed by those seeking to work from home and those kept home from school and other outside activities.

Yet Target has also seen sales of other items fall off, and so it decided to withdraw its first-quarter guidance along with projections for 2020 sales and earnings. That's what has investors worried about the future -- even though the current situation seems to have helped the retailer more than hurt it.

Hershey looks scrumptious

Elsewhere, candy giant Hershey saw its stock climb 3%. The candy maker has held up better during the stock market decline than many stocks, and analysts like what they're seeing from Hershey.

Hershey got a couple of upgrades from different analyst companies. Piper Sandler upgraded the chocolate maker all the way from underweight to overweight, setting a price target of $138 per share on the stock. Although Hershey has had to close some of its flagship specialty retail stores in light of the coronavirus outbreak, analysts believe that strong consumer demand for its products should help it make up for lost revenue.

Piper Sandler was also optimistic that the key Easter holiday, which is important for candy sales, could actually turn out better than expected as consumers look for some way to provide entertainment to their families while they're stuck at home. Elsewhere, Edward Jones boosted its rating on Hershey from hold to buy.

Consumer staples stocks have traditionally been good defensive plays for investors, and Hershey has gotten the job done recently. If the current environment actually provides some growth opportunities for the candy maker, then it could bode even better for Hershey's long-term prospects.

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Stocks Mentioned

Target Corporation Stock Quote
Target Corporation
$140.19 (-0.74%) $-1.04
The Hershey Company Stock Quote
The Hershey Company
$218.50 (1.55%) $3.33
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
$30,589.57 (-0.60%) $-185.86
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
$3,762.52 (-0.60%) $-22.86
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return) Stock Quote
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return)
$10,962.92 (-0.60%) $-66.28

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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