What's in Store for Retail Stocks This Earnings Season?

Amid soaring inflation that continues to burden consumer budgets, there appears to be a prevailing sense of optimism. Early Black Friday discounts in October were notably higher than in past years, indicating retailers’ concerns about potential subdued demand during the pivotal holiday shopping period.

Several of America's largest retailers have begun rolling out Black Friday sales events this week. According to studies, consumers are expected to spend an average of $567 during Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, a 13% increase year-over-year. This trend is driven by shoppers pursuing the best deals amid the economic strains of high prices and interest rates.

The expected average spending sets a record for Deloitte’s annual Black Friday-Cyber Monday survey, with about 84% of shoppers expressing confidence in adhering to the budgets they established in September.

Despite ongoing increases in living costs impacting household budgets, around 74% of consumers plan on taking advantage of the November sales this year. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday spending is predicted to grow between 3% and 4% annually. This year’s estimated holiday spending falls between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion.

Shopping trends are shifting from physical stores to digital dominance. Data from Adobe Analytics reveals that in 2022, approximately 69% of Black Friday shopping was conducted online, leading to record-breaking sales worth $9.2 billion.

U.S. e-commerce sales comprised 21.4% of total retail sales in 2023's third quarter, reaching $271.7 billion, a 7.8% year-on-year growth, according to Digital Commerce 360's analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data. Concurrently, total retail sales for the quarter rose by 3.2% to reach $1.267 trillion.

Online shopping, which gained substantial popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to maintain this momentum, is anticipated to grow between 7% and 9% this holiday season, contributing significantly to overall spending.

However, McKinsey’s study found that U.S. consumers are less likely to overspend this holiday season than last year, potentially due to high inflation and escalating interest rates that have driven credit card annual percentage rates (APRs) to new peaks.

With retailers American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (AEO), Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF), Urban Outfitters, Inc. (URBN), and Kohl's Corporation (KSS) set to unveil their earnings reports on November 21, let’s see what’s in store for these retail stocks.

American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (AEO)

Young adult apparel retailer AEO appears well-positioned to capitalize on its robust brand appeal and steady demand propelled by its engaging product range and innovative marketing endeavors. The corporation's impressive growth can be ascribed to favorable demand for its flagship brands and strong efforts in branching into new markets.

In the previous quarter, AEO reported revenue of $1.20 billion, a 0.2% year-on-year increase, on par with the industry analyst estimates. The last reported quarter proved exceptionally productive for the retailer, with EPS surpassing projections, primarily due to robust growth in the Aerie segment. This brand continues demonstrating a stunning growth trajectory, as illustrated by its stellar performance in the first quarter of fiscal 2023.

Additionally, AEO's heightened revenue forecasts and operational income guidance for the fiscal year 2023 (operating income is expected to be in the range of $325 to $350 million, up from prior guidance of $250 to $270 million) – are strikingly optimistic.

The company's progressive strategies, robust omnichannel capabilities, and focus on efficient stock management likely contributed to an elevated top and bottom line for the forthcoming quarter's performance. A strong digital presence is projected to further bolster the fiscal third quarter performance.

As 2023's second half unfolds, AEO expects a positive reception for its early autumn merchandise, a development expected to amplify fiscal third-quarter sales, especially for the Aerie brand. AEO also predicts greater gross margins, fueled by reduced freight, product costs, and markdowns.

However, AEO has been contending with an upswing in corporate compensation, incentives, and other corporate expenses, only partially mitigated by cost efficiencies. A surge in selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses has also been observed. An uncontrolled increase in costs and expenses could affect the company's margins and profitability in the quarter awaiting results.

AEO is expected to surpass top and bottom-line growth when it reports third-quarter fiscal 2023 results. Analysts expect its revenue and EPS for the fiscal third quarter ending October 2023 to increase 3.3% and 15.3% year-over-year to $1.28 billion and $0.48, respectively.

AEO’s shares have gained around 40% year-to-date. Wall Street analysts expect a price target of $19.25 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential downside of 1.8%.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF)

With a market cap of over $3.7 billion, young adult apparel retailer ANF has been gaining from consistent growth momentum in its Abercrombie brand and a systematic improvement in its Hollister brand. Strategic store optimization initiatives and reduced freight expenses are aiding the company's thriving bottom line.

ANF has emphasized that efforts to enhance the brand image of Hollister have begun yielding positive results. The company’s Always Forward Plan, which encompasses strategic investments in stores, digital platforms, and technology, promises to bolster its positive trajectory.

It has been experiencing demand upsurge attributable to successful rebranding initiatives that align with prevailing fashion trends. Additionally, ANF's persistent endeavors to diversify its inventory across all brands have enticed customers to explore a wider product range, potentially promoting top-line growth in the soon-to-be-reported quarter.

For the fiscal third quarter, decreased freight expenses and substantial growth in average unit retail (AUR) is projected to facilitate margin expansion. Management forecasts an 8% to 10% operating margin in the third quarter, a significant increase from 2.4% in the year-ago quarter. This expansion is driven by a rise in gross profit rate spurred by lower freight costs, higher AURs, and moderate operating expense leverage on increased sales.

Analysts expect its revenue for the fiscal third quarter ending October 2023 to increase 11.6% year-over-year to $982.40 million, while its EPS for the quarter is expected to increase significantly year-over-year to $1.07.

ANF is venturing into the earnings season, with Wall Street analysts anticipating a price target of $66.50 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential downside of 9.2%.

Urban Outfitters, Inc. (URBN)

URBN, a retail and wholesale consumer goods company, has reaped significant advantages from its strategic initiatives. The technological advancements, rationalization of store count, and focused merchandising tactics have all played pivotal roles in reinforcing their prosperity.

The robust reinforcement of its direct-to-consumer operations, the enhanced productivity across existing channels, the expansive offering of products, and the optimized inventory management significantly strengthened the company's positioning.

URBN’s exponential acceleration of digital activities has further solidified its market presence. A key contributor is URBN's Nuuly, a subscription-based rental service that amplifies the company's premier brands among its customer base instead of eroding wholesale profitability.

Nuuly is projected to attain profitability by the third or fourth fiscal quarter of 2023. Although relatively new, the subscription service has thrived, with revenues nearly doubling year-on-year in URBN's second quarter due to an impressive 85% surge in active subscribers.

An uptick in consumer demand at the beginning of the fiscal third quarter is poised to drive total company sales into high single-digit growth. This progress, backed by a mid-single-digit increase in the Retail segment's comparable sales and a substantial double-digit spike in Nuuly's segment sales, places URBN in a favorable position.

The financial prognoses indicate a gross margin improvement of over 400 basis points year-over-year, driven by an increase in initial product margins due to decreased inbound freight costs and merchandise markdowns.

However, challenges presented by a rigorous operational environment, inflationary pressures, and currency volatility may have posed barriers for the company. Persistent struggles with higher SG&A expenses and subdued wholesale division sales have been troublesome for the retailer. Consequently, deteriorated wholesale unit sales could partially counter the fiscal third quarter's overall sales.

For the fiscal third quarter ending October 2023, URBN is likely to surpass top and bottom-line figures when it releases third-quarter fiscal 2024 results on November 21, after market close. Analysts expect its revenue and EPS for the quarter to increase 7.4% and 106.5% year-over-year to $1.26 billion and $0.83, respectively.

Wall Street analysts expect a price target of $37.92 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential upside of 3.2%.

Kohl's Corporation (KSS)

Leading omnichannel retailer KSS, boasting a market cap exceeding $2.83 billion, continues to prosper from its core initiatives like refining the customer experience, streamlining value strategies, orderly inventory and expense management, and solidifying its financial structure.

To augment customer experience, the retail giant persistently works toward evolving sectors like gift services, Sephora collaboration, home decor, and longer-term new stores. KSS's tactical alliances, notably with Amazon, along with the consistent implementation of omnichannel approaches, have proven fruitful.

Adding to its recent successful ventures, the early savings holiday event "Deal Dash," held from October 9 across over 1,100 KSS outlets and online at Kohls.com, is expected to impact its third-quarter outcomes positively.

KSS rolled out an innovative strategy for attracting potential customers by adding "+ Sephora" to its store signs, a testament to its significant partnership with the beauty retail giant established in 2020.

However, KSS currently contends with issues of rising product costs, which are impacting its profit margins. In the fiscal second quarter of 2023, its gross margin declined to 39%, while SG&A expenses increased 1.6% year-over-year to $1.30 billion.

The surge in SG&A costs could potentially hinder performance results in the forthcoming quarter, with management anticipating nearly a 3% increase due to supplementary store-related investments and the inauguration of 45 small Sephora outlets.

KSS’ digital sales declined 17% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2023 and 18% year-to-date, with clientele reversion to physical stores identified as one of the causes. Alongside this, the elimination of online-only promotions was seen to affect sales. For fiscal 2023, the company projects net sales to decline between 2% and 4%, triggering concerns for future quarters.

KSS could register top-and-bottom-line declines for the fiscal third quarter of 2023. Analysts expect its revenue and EPS for the quarter to decline 2.6% and 54.9% year-over-year to $3.95 billion and $0.37, respectively.

Notably, upcoming earnings may be affected by backlash from a "woke" dispute beginning in May over Pride-themed merchandise sold by KSS. Although this controversy only accounted for two months of the second quarter, it is still unknown if the backlash from conservative consumers further intensified and potentially harmed the company’s performance. Regardless, this issue should not be overlooked, particularly considering KSS' demographic of clientele.

Even though shares of KSS declined about 17% over the past year, it gained over 22% over the past five days. Wall Street analysts expect a price target of $24.90 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential downside of 1.5%.

4 Stocks to Buy Before Black Friday 2023

Black Friday, a renowned shopping holiday, is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide. The fervor surfaces like clockwork every year. The event signals the onset of the festive retail period, where vendors entice consumers with considerable discounts and appealing deals on merchandise.

Consumers’ scramble for long-desired products is typically the culmination of months of intense preparation undertaken by retailers, warehouse supervisors, and distribution center managers.

Financial analysts conventionally consider the sales returns on Black Friday to outline prevailing consumer confidence. For retail entities, Black Friday has consistently offered an immense financial uplift. Many consumers leverage the occasion to fulfill their Christmas shopping needs at competitive prices.

With persistent escalations in living costs pressurizing household budgets, 74% of consumers intend to exploit the November sales extravaganza in 2023. The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday spending will increase annually by 3% to 4%. This year's total festive spending is anticipated to range between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion.

Black Friday is transitioning from physical store-bound activity to being predominantly digital. In 2022, 69% of Black Friday shopping occurred online, as consumers splurged a record-breaking $9.2 billion, according to data from Adobe Analytics. Furthermore, logistical operations for this retail marathon require meticulous strategizing by retail managers, leading to millions in annual outlay.

As digital transactions encroach on the week-long event, it carries notable implications for delivery logistics. Notably, while retailers profit from the holiday season, package delivery services also stand to reap considerable benefits.

Considering this backdrop, it is pertinent to examine why United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS), FedEx Corporation (FDX), eBay Inc. (EBAY), and Best Buy Co., Inc. (BBY) could be solid investments this festive season.

United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS)

With a market cap of over $121 billion, UPS is a logistics behemoth that offers various integrated solutions for customers scattered across more than 200 locations worldwide.

Despite its significant standing, the company has been grappling with an assortment of challenges throughout this year. These range from a weakening demand due to economic slowdown to expensive, drawn-out labor contract negotiations, all translating into a forecasted decline in the company’s revenue and earnings for the current fiscal year.

The protracted labor talks significantly distorted UPS' earnings during the year. The resulting five-year contract led to a whopping $500 million upfront expenses in the third quarter alone. At the same time, the extended negotiations caused many customers to switch their deliveries to other networks.

However, opportunities abound as the Black Friday holiday season approaches for UPS to turn the tide. This retail extravaganza provides ample scope for UPS to augment its revenue, attract fresh clientele, and retain its existing customer base, courtesy of its high-quality service offerings.

UPS is improving the underlying quality of its business. This is most easily seen in two areas relating to its revenue. The first is the conscious decision to be more selective over deliveries rather than chasing volume growth. Second is that UPS has made great strides in expanding its connections with small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) and healthcare customers, and it's been able to significantly grow its revenue per piece in recent years.

Moreover, the company's noteworthy 4.7% dividend yield appeals to a broad swathe of income-oriented investors, and value investors also find favor given its appealing valuation metrics. The firm's below-industry non-GAAP P/E ratio presents a lucrative buying opportunity for investors.

Over the past year, the stock has lost roughly 20% and trails behind the 50, 100, and 200-day moving averages. However, Wall Street analysts forecast the stock to reach $168.30 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential upside of 17.6%. The price target ranges from a low of $100 to a high of $202.

FedEx Corporation (FDX)

The shipping and logistics company FDX, with a market cap of over $63 billion, is poised to reap significant benefits from the upcoming Black Friday sales. In anticipation of heightened online shopping activity during this period, increased demand for shipping services allows the company to expand its customer reach and deepen its market penetration.

Its potential to attract consumers by offering holiday promotional discounts on its services could significantly drive its revenue growth and expand its market share. The company's decision to partner with retailers for shipping services further bolsters the potential for enhanced revenues during this season of heightened consumer spending.

Additional services provided by FDX, including gift wrapping, package tracking and insurance, could further distinguish it in a competitive marketplace, attracting additional consumers during the holiday season.

Furthermore, FDX's effective cost-reduction strategies have successfully strengthened its financial standing. Outperforming Wall Street predictions, the international courier company reported impressive fiscal first-quarter adjusted earnings of $4.55 per share.

This robust financial performance led the company's management to elevate its future financial outlook. FDX shares gained momentum after the Memphis-based firm announced adjusted earnings expectations for fiscal 2024, projecting $17 to $18.50 per share.

The company also expects capital expenditure to reach $5.7 billion, with investment priorities geared towards improving efficiency through fleet and facility modernization, network optimization, and automation strategies.

Driven to implement transformative initiatives enhancing efficiency and reducing expenses, FDX anticipates building upon current momentum to improve profit margins and returns throughout the fiscal year. The stage is set for another year of exceptional profitability for FDX, with shares currently trading at a reasonable valuation.

Over the past year, the stock has gained roughly 45% and trades above the 200-day moving average of $237.12. However, Wall Street analysts forecast the stock to reach $297.85 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential upside of 17.2%. The price target ranges from a low of $265 to a high of $330.

eBay Inc. (EBAY)

With over $20 billion in market cap, EBAY, an established e-commerce heavyweight, is tirelessly striving to attract its consumers' interest and spending power. The company initiated the publication of its discount coupons on November 6.

Customers seeking automotive necessities, smartwatches, and Apple products can reap the benefits of up to 75% discount by commencing their shopping endeavors with EBAY this holiday season.

The company recently expanded access to its Generative AI technology, an innovative system designed to upgrade the listing experience for sellers, which is now available to mobile users in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany, and 50% of desktop users in these regions.

However, EBAY's recent sales forecast for the upcoming holiday period has somewhat dispirited investors. Expected revenues for the current quarter are anticipated to total between $2.47 billion and $2.53 billion, which, while robust, fall below the industry analysts' average projections of $2.60 billion.

Its bleak revenue predictions for the historically lucrative holiday quarter indicate continued difficulties in retaining customers amid fierce competition from larger competitors. Despite U.S. online sales being projected to increase by 4.8% during the holiday season spanning November 1 to December 31, EBAY faces an uphill battle to attract traffic. To weather these challenges, the company plans to enhance its cost efficiencies to safeguard profit margins and earnings.

The unexpected forecast emanated shockwaves throughout the financial sector, particularly unsettling EBAY investors. Post-announcement, the company's shares suffered a significant plunge, underscoring the heavy expectations investors attach to EBAY due to its commanding position in the e-commerce market.

Over the past year, the stock has lost over 12% and trades below its 50-, 100-, and 200-day moving averages. However, Wall Street analysts forecast the stock to reach $44.75 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential upside of 11.6%. The price target ranges from a low of $32 to a high of $56.

EBAY constantly refines its strategies to uphold its preeminence in an industry characterized by relentless evolution and revolution. As the holiday season looms, its performance is under intense scrutiny as never before, making its sales forecast a widely watched indicator in the e-commerce landscape.

Best Buy Co., Inc. (BBY)

BBY, with over $14 billion market cap, is a specialty consumer electronics retailer that introduces various promotional events via its recently inaugurated Holiday Gift Center – offering unique exploration and immersive discovery experiences of cutting-edge technologies for its clientele. BBY members can anticipate exclusive savings throughout the holiday period. The company will depend on its My Best Buy membership benefits to boost this year's holiday sales.

Interestingly, BBY finds itself in a unique situation this festive season as it battles to maintain market share during a time frame it typically dominates. The retailer has tempered expectations for a highly successful holiday season, which usually accounts for a significant proportion of its profit margins.

While BBY has a low non-GAAP P/E of 10.30x, its dividend yield of 5.74% remains low for various reasons. As of July 29, 2023, BBY has $8.43 billion in current liabilities and $8.30 billion in current assets. Of its current assets, $5.65 billion in merchandise inventories highly depends on consumer spending patterns.

The company’s vulnerability can be illustrated further by its lower than 1x current ratio. Given the upcoming debt maturity, the company’s fortunes largely hang on the successful sale of inventory to maintain its dividend.

This year’s holiday season provides a moment for BBY's modern retail business model – which largely thrived during the pandemic – to prove its resilience. The Richfield, Minnesota-based firm continues to concentrate on enhancing its digital capabilities, such as augmenting its omnichannel services. Its consultation service, supporting customers' personalized tech requirements, has grown in popularity.

In the second quarter that ended July 29, 2023, digital sales comprised 31% of our domestic revenue, consistent with the year-ago quarter and nearly twice as high as the domestic revenue percentage in the pre-pandemic second quarter of fiscal 2020.

Although the BBY stock has declined over 10% over the past year and is trading beneath the 100-day and 200-day moving averages, Wall Street analysts remain optimistic. They forecast the stock to reach $78.60 in the next 12 months, indicating a potential upside of 18.2%. The price target ranges from a low of $60 to a high of $110.

Even though it is perceived as a risky stock with slim margins and limited appeal to investors, BBY is determined to convince potential investors that its forward-looking strategies, industry reshaping efforts, and focus on advancing in-store experiences and robust pickup/delivery operations mark it as a worthwhile investment prospect. Hence, it could be best added to the watchlist.