Target Corporation Earnings: Improving Operations and Finances

By Markets Fool.com

Target posted first-quarter earnings results today that included surprisingly high per-share earnings. But Wall Street analysts had the retailer's sales figure exactly right: Revenue grew by 3% to reach $17.1 billion.

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Here's a look at how the headline results stacked up against Wall Street's first-quarter forecasts:

Metric Expected Actual
Revenue $17.1 billion $17.1 billion
Earnings $1.02 per share $1.10 per share

"Expected" is the average forecast of the 22 analysts who cover Target's stock. Source: Company financial filings and Yahoo! Finance.

Strong sales growth
Target's revenue growth was powered by a solid 2.3% comparable-store sales improvement. While lower than the prior quarter's 4% bounce, it was enough to soundly beat rival Wal-Mart's 1.1% quarterly gain.

Higher customer traffic, higher prices, and increased average basket size all contributed to Target's comps uptick. And e-commerce sales tacked on almost a full percentage point to comps this quarter: The online business was up 40%, year over year. "We're pleased with our first quarter traffic and sales, particularly in our signature categories," new CEO Brian Cornell said in a press release.

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Improving finances
Target's success in those core categories is important because the clothing, home, and beauty products carry a higher profit margin than the rest of Target's business (dominated by groceries and electronics). As a result of that shifting product mix, gross margin improved by one percentage point this quarter, to 30.5% of sales. Management also held the line on costs, and together those two trends pushed earnings up 20% above the prior year.

Target spent $300 million repurchasing its own stock, marking the first time it has engaged in buybacks in almost two years. Those seven quarters were a particularly hard time for the business. Target suffered through spiking expenses and negative customer traffic following the 2013 data breach. And at the same time, it had to endure a huge cash drag from the now-retired Canada business.

The resumption of the buyback program indicates that management believes the company has put those rough times behind it. It also points to more aggressive dividend hikes down the road.

This year's outlook
Cornell and his team raised their full-year profit forecast slightly. The company sees adjusted full-year earnings coming in between $4.50 per share and $4.65 per share, up from the prior $4.45 to $4.65 per-share range. And EPS should grow by 13% in the second quarter, up to $1.13 per share.

The article Target Corporation Earnings: Improving Operations and Finances originally appeared on Fool.com.

Demitrios Kalogeropoulos owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.