What happened

Shares of several department store chains were trading lower on Wednesday amid a broad market decline, as rising rates of COVID-19 infections in some parts of the United States had investors concerned about the ongoing reopening of the U.S. economy. 

Here's where things stood for these three companies' stocks as of 2 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, relative to their closing prices on Tuesday.

So what

Rising rates of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in areas of the United States that have recently reopened had investors concerned about consumer-discretionary stocks on Wednesday, for reasons that are probably obvious. 

Most companies dependent on discretionary spending (particularly those relying on brick-and-mortar stores for much of their revenue, like the three companies here) have had a rough few months. Most nonessential stores in the U.S. and Europe were closed in March, and remained closed until late April or into May. 

A Macy's sign on the outside of a store.

Image source: Macy's.

Stores have been reopening in recent weeks, and companies have reported that sales are recovering. But many stores have reopened with limits on occupancy and hours. And with consumers still worried about the virus, a surge in new infections could slow the recovery or even reverse it for a while. 

Given that all three of the companies here have already increased debt to try to bolster their balance sheets against the revenue lost from the store closings, a setback in the recovery could become a serious problem.

Now what

Macy's said on Tuesday that it expects to report a loss of $2.03 per share on about $3 billion in revenue for its fiscal first quarter ended May 2. While that was in line with Macy's reduced guidance, it followed downbeat reports and forecasts from both Kohl's and Nordstrom, reinforcing for investors that all three department store chains will face challenges for a while longer, and that the all-important holiday season is likely at risk.