I absolutely love Form 10-Ks, which most publicly traded companies are required by law to file every year with the SEC to provide a comprehensive summary of their businesses. Like an unsung hero of the financial world, 10-Ks give investors a chance to look through all the smoke and mirrors for a real glimpse of how their companies are doing.
Most notably, it's worth perusing the "Risk Factors" section of any given 10-K. Just like it sounds, this block contains a comprehensive list of any significant risks currently facing the subject company.
Take Target (NYSE:TGT), for example, which has proven a tremendous investment in a solid long-term business, as the company has effectively managed many of its risks over the years. In fact, Target stock has not only risen more than tenfold over the past 20 years, but Target has also been able to raise its dividend 41 times in the nearly 46 years since its 1967 IPO.
Even still, Target's most recent 10-K lists a total of 17 risk factors that could put the business in jeopardy. Let's dig in, then, to explore three of the most significant of those risks facing Target stock today:
1. "If we are unable to successfully develop and maintain a relevant and reliable multichannel experience for our guests, our reputation and results of operations could be adversely affected."
To be sure, Target is in the middle of a technological revolution, forcing it to make the most of not just its brick-and-mortar stores, but also to draw more business through online channels to compete with Internet-only behemoths like former partner Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). As a result, Target must both maintain an edge with its traditional and mobile websites and manage customer perceptions through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
Of course, Target certainly isn't alone in this struggle; fellow Fool Rick Munarriz recently wondered whether Amazon's showrooming effect may finally be hurting both Target and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), especially after Target stock fell hard recently on weaker-than-expected quarterly results, hurt by a 0.6% decline in same-store sales. Wal-Mart, however, fared even worse by missing expectations on both its top and bottom lines on a 1.2% decline in comparable-store sales.
Meanwhile, last quarter Amazon managed to grow revenue by 22% year over year. Of course, Amazon is also developing multiple revenue streams, so not all of that growth came from its retail operations. What's more, fellow Fool Travis Hoium recently pointed out that Wal-Mart and Target still have an edge -- for now, anyway -- while Amazon currently can't match their ability to cater to errand-runners for essential items like milk, toilet paper, and produce.
2. "Our earnings are highly susceptible to the state of macroeconomic conditions and consumer confidence in the United States."
At the end of 2012, all of Target's 1,778 retail stores were located in the United States. By comparison, Wal-Mart currently operates more than 10,800 retail units spread across 27 countries.
Let it suffice to say, then, that both the state of the domestic economy and U.S. consumer confidence are massively important to determining whether Target stock can continue to outperform.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with the economy continuing to strengthen and consumer confidence on the rise, Target stock has managed to slightly outpace the S&P 500 index by returning nearly 19% so far in 2013 -- even despite its recent plunge. However, should macroeconomic conditions take a turn for the worse here in the states, you can bet Target investors will feel the pain.
3. "If we do not effectively execute our plan to expand retail store operations into Canada, our financial results could be adversely affected."
That said, the folks at Target recognized the risk of their overreliance on the U.S., so the company opened its first retail stores in Canada during the first quarter of 2013. All told, Target has outlined plans to complete as many as 124 new Target locations in Canada by the time the Christmas shopping season begins.
Naturally, this move inevitably comes with risks of its own, as Target plans to spend around $2 billion on the expansion by the end of next year. In addition, the company will need to work hard to build out its supply chain, hire a massive number of new employees, and successfully market its brand in an entirely new country. Though Canada's not exactly a giant leap into the unknown, investors will surely be watching closely to see how this new foray turns out.
Foolish final thoughts
While the above risks present a very real threat to Target's operations, I think the company will be able to manage them well as they've done for the past few decades. In the end, I remain convinced Target stock still has what it takes to continue to outperform the broader market for the foreseeable future.