The stock market had a quiet opening on Wednesday morning, with market participants reacting to the latest earnings reports from a couple of major retail players. Investors are also trying to sort through all the macroeconomic, geopolitical, and company-specific factors that are affecting the market right now.

As of shortly before 11 a.m. EDT today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.04%) was down 26 points to 35,333. But the S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.16%) had gained 2 points to 4,450, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -0.18%) had picked up 20 points to 14,676.

Among top retail stocks, Target (TGT 1.92%) and Lowe's (LOW 0.47%) were the latest to weigh in with their most recent results. Some investors were surprised to see Lowe's turn out to be the bigger winner, especially given how much it has outperformed rival Home Depot (HD 0.67%) with its stock price gain as a result of their respective announcements this week.

Lowe's heads toward highs

Shares of Lowe's were up more than 9% on Wednesday morning. The home improvement retailer often seems to take second billing to Home Depot, but its stock move definitely eclipsed its rival's much less impressive post-earnings move.

The numbers from Lowe's certainly weren't entirely positive. Revenue was up less than 1% from year-ago levels. Comparable store sales actually dropped 1.6% across the company, including a 2.2% decline in comps for its U.S.-based home improvement business.

Several people at a construction site with tools.

Image source: Getty Images.

But it's important to put Lowe's numbers in the context of an extremely strong year in 2020. The pandemic led many people to take on home improvement projects, especially as lockdowns forced a substantial number of workers to stay home from jobs. When compared to numbers from two years ago, comps were up 32% in the U.S., and Lowe's got solid contributions both from professional contractors and do-it-yourselfers. Online sales rose 7% even after a 135% jump in the year-ago quarter.

Lowe's bottom line showed healthy growth of 13% to $4.25 per share, and the company's outlook for 2021 remains encouraging. It expects comps to remain roughly 30% above 2019 levels for the full year, and that points to sustained growth that even an end to the pandemic might not take away.

Target hits a bull's-eye, but investors remain unimpressed

Elsewhere, shares of Target were off more than 1%. The downward move came despite strong financial results from the retailer during its second quarter.

Target managed to build on last year's success. Comps grew 8.9% year over year, even though the year-ago gain of 24.3% was extremely large. Adjusted earnings of $3.64 per share were 8% higher year over year and double Target's figure from the second quarter of 2019.

The retailer got positive performance from all five of its core revenue-generating areas, and it expects growth to remain strong for the remainder of the year. The company announced guidance for comps growth in the high single-digit percentages for the second half of 2021, which is near the high end of its previous guidance range.

Shareholders also got a nice bonus in the form of a huge $15 billion stock repurchase program. That will add to the $1.8 billion available from Target's buyback authorization from 2019, and it shows management's belief that it will be able to keep performing well even as conditions in the consumer economy continue to evolve.