Target Corp. is seeking a buyer for its $6.7 billion credit card receivables portfolio.
The news comes as the retailer's credit card business is on the mend, and quarterly profits have nearly doubled.
Target said it has hired First Annapolis to help with the asset sale. It intends to retain operational control of its credit card unit, which since October has been giving customers a 5 percent discount on all purchases at the retailer.
Also on Thursday, Target said it would open its first international stores, in a $1.85 billion deal to buy out leases of about 220 Zellers discount stores. The two events are unrelated. Target said it would fund the foray into Canada with cash flow from current operations.
David Strasser of Janney Capital Markets said in a research note that he sees a sale of the credit card portfolio as a positive move. Credit card revenues should be about $1.5 billion in 2011, he said. But if the company uses the proceeds to accelerate its share repurchase program, shareholders could benefit from higher earnings per share.
Piper Jaffray analyst Jeff Klinefelter sees an upside: "They've signaled their intention to sell the balance of the portfolio," he said. "Now's a good time to go ahead and do it and become entirely focused on retail."
Carol Levenson, director of research at Gimme Credit, didn't see a "significant financial benefit" of a portfolio sale but predicted terms would "preserve Target's ongoing profit from the business, while offloading the funding and most of the financial risk."
This is the second time Target has put its credit card receivables on the auction block. In 2008, it sold 47 percent of its then $8.1 billion portfolio to New York financial services giant J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for $3.6 billion, a 5 percent discount to book value.
At the time Target was under pressure from activist investor William Ackman, who owned about 10 percent of the company. Since losing a bid for board seats in 2009, Ackman has sold much of his Target holdings.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335