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More Concerns Brewing for Macy’s?

Jon C. Ogg

this last weekend.

After seeing many analysts have caution around retail in recent days, it seems that the notion that retail is hitting 52-week lows is just not making the stocks cheap enough to buy. A fresh report from independent research firm Argus signals that Macy's is far from a screaming buy.

Argus merely maintained its Hold rating after the firm's soft sales and weak guidance sent shares lower. As a reminder, Macy’s actual earnings report showed that its reported adjusted earnings were $0.56 per share in the third quarter. That was down 8% year over year, even if it was against a $0.54 per share estimate.

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Argus lowered its 2016 earnings estimate to $4.30 per share, down from a prior $4.70 per share estimate. That was based on trimming the fourth quarter to $2.58 per share from $3.00. Argus further said that the reduction reflects a forecast for sales to drop by 3% rather than the 1% drop it originally expected.

Argus noted in its report:

The news that sent the shares down more than 10% was that sales decelerated and were much softer than expectations. Comparable sales (excluding licensed businesses) were down 3.9%, which was below the StreetAccount consensus call for a 0.7% decrease. The number of transactions, which is a proxy for traffic, was down 3.6% in the quarter which is an unfavorable change from a flattish trend in the first half of the year.

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What is interesting is that Argus still expects Macy’s to have continued success with its “My Macy’s” initiative. That involves a tailoring service, marketing and merchandise to fit the needs and preferences of local markets. Argus said about this effort:

The initiative has generally exceeded our expectations, and we expect further benefits going forward. Macy’s is coaching its sales associates to interact with shoppers, ask questions, and provide advice that is intended to encourage incremental purchases and repeat business. Macy’s is also working to improve its multichannel selling capabilities. We believe this will be an important source of future growth, and note that it also helps the company to manage inventory more efficiently. We also expect the company to develop new merchandise and store formats including outlet stores and to drive additional growth.

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We believe that Terry Lundgren and his team are making good strategic decisions, but there are some issues: Brick-and-mortar mall traffic is very weak, the strong dollar is crimping spending by tourists, people seem to be reallocating spending from apparel to home-related categories (even at Macy’s), sales of handbags and accessories have cooled and Macy’s may not be getting its share of athleisure spending. Another sector issue, in our opinion is that we aren’t seeing enough reasons for shoppers to open their wallets for apparel. Another issue that deserves some attention is that Macy’s posted significantly better comparable sales than Kohl’s since the end of calendar 2010. Kohl’s has recently been posting better comps than Macy’s.

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Macy's shares hit a 52-week low of $37.87 on Monday, but the stock was down 2.2% at $38.24 in the afternoon. Now consider that the 52-week high is $73.61 and that Macy's shares are down 30% over the past year.

Based on the movement seen in the past week, that $55.00 consensus price target from analysts just feels a bit too high now. Macy's shares were at $50.45 just on November 5.

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