Target executives reap big bucks as stock soars

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2012 - 9:39 PM

With Target shares up 130 percent since 2009, four executives reaped millions by selling some stock.

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Wall Street is expecting Target sales to rise 3.1 percent through June for stores open at least a year, but some analysts are setting their sights lower.

Photo: Marisa Wojcik, Special to the Star Tribune

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It's a good time to be a Target Corp. executive.

Over the past several weeks, four of its top leaders, including CEO Gregg Steinhafel, have reaped millions of dollars from selling shares in the Minneapolis-based retailer.

Target stock has jumped about 130 percent since late 2009 and closed Monday at $58.27, up 20 percent since the start of the year. Shares have soared as Target's P-Fresh grocery format, Red Card program and exclusive merchandising partnerships have led to higher traffic and bigger purchases per visit.

The last time Target shares crossed the $60 mark was in 2007. Jeremy Brunelli, a veteran Wall Street analyst, said Target executives may be reaping the financial windfall of their stock's strong performance. Or it may be that they believe that shares have hit a ceiling.

A Target spokesman declined to comment on the sales beyond the SEC filings.

In Steinhafel's case, the veteran Target chief decided to exercise a stock option last month that allowed him to purchase 75,817 shares at $38.25, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He then sold those shares at $58.72, netting him a profit of $1.55 million.

Tina Schiel, executive vice president of stores, sold 15,000 shares on June 5 at $57.34, giving her $860,100. Timothy Baer, executive vice president and general counsel sold 34,872 shares in two separate trades last month, reaping about $2.06 million.

But it was John Griffith, executive vice president of property development, who was the most active last month. On June 18, Griffith exercised an option to buy 32,027 shares at $38.27. He promptly sold those shares at $58.55, netting a profit of $650,180.

Two days later, Griffith sold 15,400 shares at $58.47, giving him $900,438. Then on June 21, he sold 32,415 shares through two trades, generating about $1.9 million from the sales. In all, Griffith received $3.4 million.

Explaining why an insider sells stock is more art than science, said Jeremy Brunelli of Consumer Edge Research in Stamford, Conn. And there's always the chance the company could hit a rough patch. Cleveland Research recently lowered its sales forecast for Target in June. In a recent research note, Dave Strasser, an analyst with Janney Capital Markets, said he now expects Target's sales at stores open for at least a year in June to rise only 2.7 percent, lower than Wall Street's consensus view of 3.1 percent.

Strasser said today's weak economy, as reflected in still-high unemployment, might lead to less consumer spending.

"Further declines in consumer confidence, along with a slowdown in key economic indicators ... keep us on edge about the direction of consumer spending as the year progresses," Strasser wrote.

"A recovery in employment and growth of personal income are among the two critical drivers for sustainable spending trends, with both showing [signs of decreasing]. As a result, we are less optimistic than the market about a recovery and continued consumer spending" in the second half of the year.

Target generates nearly $70 billion in annual sales and employs 365,000 people, including 10,000 in downtown Minneapolis alone.

Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113

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