Investors still skeptical of Macy’s rebound

Hema Parmar and Janet Freund
Bloomberg News

It’ll take more than three good quarters to convince Wall Street that Macy’s Inc. is back in style.

The department-store chain’s shares plunged as much as 14 percent, the most on the Standard & Poor’s 500 on Wednesday — and it appeared to spark steep declines at peers including Kohl’s Corp. The rout signals that Wall Street’s recent appetite for retailers like Macy’s was short-lived and pessimism about the industry’s ability to lure consumers into stores is back.

Before the start of trading, Macy’s reported a second-quarter same-store sales gain, exceeding estimates and marking three consecutive quarters of expansion. The company also boosted its earnings and sales guidance for this year. But investors looked beyond the positive numbers to focus on a spike in spending, sending the shares to their biggest intraday decline in more than a year.

The losses were replicated across the industry on Wednesday: Nordstrom Inc. fell as much as 6.2 percent, while J.C. Penney Co. declined 11 percent. Beyond department stores, shares of apparel retailers such as Gap Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. also declined.

Macy’s has been spending to win back shoppers by offering discounts and cutting unnecessary inventory. Like its peers, the company is struggling with a broader shift by consumers to online shopping and away from brick-and-mortar stores. Even as comparable sales unexpectedly rose, net sales in the second quarter fell 1.1 percent.

While “the quarter is good, on sales and gross margins, expenses were a little on the high side,” Poonam Goyal, senior U.S. retail analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said.

Macy’s executives said gross margins are expected to decline in the second half of the year compared with the first half on higher costs associated with its new loyalty program. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gennette said the chain’s online sales will grow at double-digit rates this year.

To lure back shoppers who are defecting from traditional department stores, Macy’s has been pushing its discount-focused Backstage concept, which offers an array of off-price items for bargain hunters. The retailer has opened about 65 locations in existing department stores in the first half of the year and plans an additional 55 through December. Macy’s is also expanding its Bluemercury cosmetics chain.

Those efforts helped the company report a surprise bump in comparable sales, which had declined for 11 straight quarters until the last holiday season. Same-store sales at owned plus licensed locations rose 0.5 percent in the quarter, beating the 0.9 percent drop analysts had expected, according to Consensus Metrix.

The department chain raised its full-year profit outlook to between $3.95 and $4.15 a share, excluding some items.

But that growth comes at a cost, with the company spending about $100 million more in the first half of the year to fund growth.