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Don’t Let the Rally In Bed Bath & Beyond Stock Fool You

Luke Lango

Shares of struggling merchandise retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) surged as much as 20% after the company reported third-quarter numbers that included a bullish forecast from management. Specifically, management said that due to the early success of a few profit-optimizing initiatives, fiscal 2019 earnings are expected to be flat with fiscal 2018 earnings, and fiscal 2020 earnings are expected to be up from both.

The Street had been sitting at earnings-per-share of $2 for fiscal 2018, $1.60 for fiscal 2019 and $1.40 for fiscal 2020. Thus, the guide for $2-plus EPS in fiscal 2019 and 2020 was a huge 20%-plus lift. Consequently, BBBY stock rallied 20%.

But, don’t let this rally fool you. Bed Bath & Beyond still missed on revenues and comparable sales in the quarter. The comparable sales miss was wide, and comps are still negative. Gross margins are still falling. So are operating margins. Profits are down, too.

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In other words, nothing about the current numbers warranted a 20% rally in BBBY stock. Instead, the rally was powered entirely by what management said is going to happen. Granted, management knows their business better than anyone, so the guide shouldn’t be disregarded. But, it also seems ambitious given current trends.

In the big picture, a lot needs to go right in order for earnings to grow over the next several years. If that does happen, BBBY stock could essentially double. But, it probably won’t happen, and as such, the stock is best avoided until there’s confirmation in the numbers that presently negative trends are reversing course.

BBBY Stock: The Quarter Was Still Awful

By most retail standards, Bed Bath & Beyond’s third quarter was pretty bad.

Comparable sales dropped 1.8%. The consensus was for a 0.3% drop, so that’s a wide miss. It’s also a 2018 low, as comps in the first two quarters of the year dropped 0.6%. Plus, it’s lower than the comp drop in 2017 (down 1.3%) and 2016 (down 0.6%). In other words, comparable sales trends are still negative, and arguably only getting worse.

Meanwhile, gross margins are still falling. In the quarter, gross margins fell back by 210 basis points year-over-year. Granted, that’s better than the second quarter’s 270 basis point compression. But, it’s also worse than the first quarter’s 140 basis point compression. Also, margins have come down a lot from their peak, and the fact that they are still falling by several hundred basis points year-over-year is a bearish trend.

Overall, this is still a declining comp, eroding margin company with trends that aren’t getting better yet. Those trends could get better. But, a lot has to go right in order for that to happen.

A Lot Has to Go Right

Bed Bath & Beyond’s struggles aren’t anything new. For several years, this has been a retailer with negative comparable sales growth, eroding margins, and falling relevancy in an increasingly competitive retail world.

Management implied that this era is coming to an end. Specifically, due to a few profit-optimizing initiatives, management expects margins to finally stabilize and potentially even improve over the next several years.

That’s a tall order. Gross margins have been in perpetual decline for most of this decade due to elevated competition. That competition is only getting bigger, stronger and fiercer than ever before, with Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT) all aggressively turning into low-cost, one-stop-shop retail destinations with unparalleled convenience. In that environment, it’s tough to see BBBY’s gross margins heading higher.

Management could cut lower margin SKUs and/or not engage in price wars with the Big Three. It seems that’s what they are planning to do. That will preserve gross margin. It will also accelerate the comparable sales erosion. If comps keep falling, or start falling by more, there’s no way the company can leverage operating expenses and pull down the SG&A rate.

Big picture, it’s tough to see BBBY stock benefiting from a trio of positive comps, rising gross margins and falling opex rates over the next several years. If you get all three, the company could reasonably do about $3 in EPS in five years. A historically average 10X forward multiple on that implies a $30 long-term price target.

But, because of the aforementioned competitive risks, you likely won’t get all three. Instead, you will gross margin expansion at the expense of sales growth, and that will lead to — at best — stable earnings. If BBBY stock is supported by stabilized $2 EPS in five years, then an average 10X forward multiple on that implies a four-year forward price target of $20. Discounted back by 10% per year, that equates to a present value for BBBY stock of between $13 and $14.

That’s exactly where BBBY stock trades today, so realistic growth assumptions imply shares are fairly valued here.

Bottom Line on BBBY Stock

The quarter wasn’t good, the guide is promising and there’s finally a light at the end of this dark tunnel for Bed Bath & Beyond stock.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s time to buy into the stock. Instead, Bed Bath & Beyond stock seems fully valued after its post-earnings pop, and further upside will have to be confirmed by an improvement in the numbers, which hasn’t happened just yet.

As of this writing, Luke Lango was long AMZN and TGT.

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