Target clobbers Q2 earnings estimates, reveals new $15 billion stock buyback plan

Target (TGT) delivered solid results for the second quarter and joins a select few retailers — namely rival Walmart — in saying the COVID-19 Delta variant hasn’t led to a marked sales slowdown for the all-important back-to-school shopping season even as consumer confidence has begun to wane.

“While the current environment remains volatile, our results over the last 18 months have proven conclusively that our team and operating model can seamlessly adapt to changes in the environment, and we’re well-positioned to deliver outstanding performance in the back half of the year,” said Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell in a press statement announcing its second quarter results. 

Here is how Target performed in the second quarter compared to Wall Street profit forecasts:

  • Net Sales: $25.16 billion vs. $24.51 billion

  • Comparable Sales: +8.9% vs. +8.2% (Walmart U.S. 2Q21: +5.2%)

  • Gross Profit Margin: 30.4% vs. 30.5%

  • Operating Margin: 9.8% vs. 9.1%

  • Adjusted Diluted EPS: $3.64 vs. $3.48 (consensus range: $3.11 to $4.10)

Target said Wednesday that second quarter comparable sales rose 8.9%, fueled by a 12.7% increase in the number of transactions. The average transaction amount fell 3.4% after rising 18.8% last year as consumers stocked up on essentials at the height of the pandemic.

“Back-to-school and back-to-college are off to really strong starts,” Cornell told Yahoo Finance on a media call to discuss second quarter earnings. The comments echo what Walmart CFO Brett Biggs told Yahoo Finance a day earlier.

Added Cornell, “So, backpacks and lunch boxes are selling and school uniforms are on the top of that list. We’re seeing a really strong start, and that’s continued as we move into the third quarter. I think it’s going to be a really robust back to school and back to college season.”

The commentary may provide a bit of relief for investors who are concerned that Target’s momentum for most of this year could stall as consumers spend more cautiously amid the Delta variant spread.

If the retailer is to be dinged by analysts for its second quarter results it’s that gross and operating margins both declined from the prior year, owing mostly to increased supply chain inflation. By comparison, Walmart U.S. saw its gross and operating profit margins increase year over year.

Target also fine tuned its full-year guidance relative to what was provided three months ago:

  • Second Half Comparable Sales: up high-single digit percentage (previous: mid to high-single digit)

  • Full Year Operating Margin: 8% or higher (previous: “well above” 7%, “potential” to hit 8%)

As a sweetener (and perhaps helpful in boosting/supporting earnings as they come off their COVID peak), Target revealed a new $15 billion stock buyback plan. 

Target CFO Michael Fiddelke told Yahoo Finance on the call the company is unlikely to lever up its balance sheet to support the sizable new buyback plan.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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