Well before the trading in the equity market opened on Friday morning, Goldman, Sachs & Co. analyst Matthew Fassler upgraded Target Corp. stock to a “buy.”
Also before the market opened, but well after Fassler acted, Target announced that its giant customer data security breach was far worse than previously thought, its fiscal fourth quarter comparable store sales decline was worse than thought and its earnings in Canada were worse than thought.
And, of course, it’s earnings per share for the fourth quarter were going to be worse than thought.
I’m sure Fassler didn’t have a great start to his Friday workday, once the Target release was out, but Fassler doesn’t look particularly bad even considering Target’s terrible news. And he may prove to be correct in his thesis on the stock.
Fassler based his optimistic view on an expectation that comparable-store sales will turn around in 2014, Target’s operations in Canada will improve dramatically and that Target’s e-commerce progress will continue.
The costs of cleaning up the data breach, whatever they are, will not be much of a factor in forward earnings estimates or valuation. He did expect that the cash outlay would use up some of the capital allocated to buying back stock.
He certainly was planning on the fourth quarter looking weak: his report cut estimates for the last fiscal quarter to below management’s fourth-quarter guidance and the consensus of other analysts who follow Target.
Later in the morning, after Target’s news release was out, Fassler wrote that his estimates and target price for the stock would have to be updated to reflect what Target had just announced.
“That said,” he wrote, “it does not derail the notion that the firm suffered from a virtually unique bad fiscal 2014 – still ongoing – with the potential to recover across the board.”
Fassler is in the minority by turning bullish on Target’s stock, but he deserves credit for making a call. To upgrade the morning after the company reports a big comparable store sales gain is hardly gutsy and adds far less value.
For those surprised that Target’s stock continues to trade above $60 per share, having Goldman on the street with this kind of report is one reason why. And it's one more example of how the investment community has come to mostly regard 2013 as just Target’s very bad year.