Target says it's ready to go back on offense

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2011 - 9:25 PM

The retrenching appears to be over as the retailer outlined some aggressive growth plans.

With its sights set on Canada and an upbeat outlook on its domestic operations, Target Corp. on Thursday projected that annual sales could exceed $100 billion in the next six to seven years, about a 52 percent increase from its current level.

After several years of retrenching and reacting to a meltdown in the financial markets and a shaken consumer, the Minneapolis-based retailer is again striving to gain market share.

The retailer plans to open 21 stores this year, twice as many as last year. Its increasingly profitable credit card portfolio is on the auction block, with executives hoping to close a deal in late 2011 or early 2012. And the company expects to open up to 150 Target stores across Canada, mostly in 2013.

"Target is at its best when they're not defending share, but when they're taking another company's share," said Jeff Klinefelter, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis. "With the country coming out of the recession and a general stabilization of the business, there's confidence now to embark on those investments and go after share aggressively."

Part of Target's sunny outlook in the coming years stems from its success with remodeling existing stores and adding an expanded assortment of fresh grocery items. The retailer has added grocery to 462 of its 1,750 stores, and plans to remodel about 380 more stores in 2011.

Executives also say they are encouraged by a program launched in October that gives a 5 percent discount on all purchases with a Target-branded credit or debit card.

Target expects both efforts to boost same-store sales 4 to 5 percent in the coming year.

"It's a club, Costco mentality that the consumer appreciates," Klinefelter said. "It's a much more convenient way for customers to realize savings. And it's a way for Target to accelerate the size of average transactions."

Target on Thursday said strong holiday season and improving credit card operations lifted profit 11 percent to $1.03 billion, or $1.45 per share, for the three months ended Jan. 29. Total revenue increased 2.8 percent to $20.3 billion.

But the results fell shy of CEO Gregg Steinhafel's rare prediction last quarter that the holidays would lift the company to its best quarterly sales "in three years." The company posted a 2.4 percent increase in same-store sales, a key measure of a retailer's health, but needed to exceed 2.8 percent to reach Steinhafel's goal.

Customers still are coming in mostly for groceries and other staples. Through the holidays and beyond, Target continued to struggle with an unpredictable consumer.

"Sometimes they're very value-focused. Sometimes they're very convenience-focused. Sometimes they're in planning and preparation mode," Steinhafel said in a morning call with analysts. "We're really trying to dissect the [holiday] season and be more thoughtful in terms of how we market and approach the season on a week-by-week basis."

As Target has found its footing, Wal-Mart has seen fewer customers come through its doors. This week, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company reported its seventh straight quarterly drop in same-store sales in U.S. stores.

An analysis of about half of 118 retailers tracked by Massachusetts-based RetailMetrics Inc. found that earnings are up 12.5 percent over the same period last year. Total retail revenue is up 3.8 percent to date, further signs that consumers are tentatively venturing back to stores.

Target said that during the latest quarter the average customer's purchase rose only 0.8 percent but more customers came into its stores, fueling a 1.6 percent increase in transactions.

Within its credit card segment, profit more than tripled to $151 million, compared with $39 million in the year-ago period. And it had to write off one-third of the bad debt it did a year ago, costing $83 million in the quarter.

For the year, Target's same-store sales increased 2.1 percent. Profit was $2.9 billion, up 17 percent, on a 3.7 percent revenue gain to $65.8 billion.

The stock rose 3.5 percent to close at $52.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

  • 4th quarter FY2010, 1/29

    2010 2009 % chg. Revenue $20,661.0 $20,181.0 +2.4 Income 1,035.0 936.0 +10.6 Earn/share 1.45 1.24 +16.9 12 months Revenue $67,391.0 $65,357.0 +3.1 Income 2,920.0 2,488.0 +17.4 Earn/share 4.00 3.30 +21.2 Figures in millions except for earnings per share.
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