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Retail

Target Sets Cautious Tone As Consumers Turn Thrifty

By Dayeeta Das
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Target Sets Cautious Tone As Consumers Turn Thrifty

Target Corp has forecast a grim second quarter as the retailer struggles with consumers shunning non-essentials, such as electronics and home goods in the face of persistently high prices, but maintained its full-year profit expectations.

Discretionary products account for a major portion of the company's merchandise and it has been looking to increase the share of household essentials as sticky inflation and higher interest rates weigh on consumers' spending decisions.

"American consumers continue to face difficult trade-off decisions as they juggle the wants and needs of their families ... The fear of a looming recession weighs heavily on many American families," senior Target executive Christina Hennington said on a post-earnings call.

The company's lacklustre forecast comes after top US home improvement chain Home Depot Inc on Tuesday guided a steeper-than-expected decline in annual profit, in a tepid run-up to retail giant Walmart's earnings on Thursday.

"These continued signs of caution among consumers have reinforced why we entered this year with a conservative inventory position," CEO Brian Cornell said.

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Inventory at the end of the first quarter was 16% lower than last year, reflecting more than a 25% reduction in discretionary items, helping gross margins improve.

Shoplifting To Weigh

Target also warned theft and organised crime could reduce this year's profitability by more than $500 million, compared to 2022 when inventory shrink was over the $650 million expected.

CEO Cornell called the issue "increasingly urgent".

The pressure in discretionary categories outweighed strong growth seen in everyday essential businesses, finance chief Michael Fiddelke said.

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Target is also benefiting from steady demand for beauty products, as well its private-label brands.

Even though US retail sales rose less than expected in April, the underlying trend was solid pointing to strong consumer spending early in the second quarter, data showed on Tuesday.

Target projected adjusted profit between $1.30 and $1.70 per share, below estimates of $1.93 for the current quarter and forecast comparable sales to decline in the low-single digits.

"There is still some pain points with the consumer and they are still being cautious, which in Target's case I do think it's extremely justified going forward," Jessica Ramirez, senior analyst at Jane Hali and Associates.

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Target executives used the word "cautious" at least 13 times during the hour-long earnings call.

First-quarter comparable sales grew by a better-than-expected 0.7%, helped by a 0.9% increase in store traffic, but digital sales posted a surprise drop.

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