Kohl’s same-store sales deceleration overshadows a positive story

Kohl’s Corp.’s 1.2% same-store sales growth over the holiday period fell short of the high expectations set by the fourth quarter last year, but was enough to overshadow all of the positives that Cowen thinks should be highlighted.

“We note that Kohl’s holiday comps will likely be the best in the department store sector, which is experiencing heightened store traffic pressure,” wrote Cowen analysts led by Oliver Chen.

Instead, Cowen focused on the positives, such as products from Under Armour Inc. UAA, -0.31%UA, -0.45% , Nike Inc. NKE, +0.35% , and Adidas AG ADS, +0.85%  ; store fulfillment of online purchases; private labels that “are helping drive the right product at the right place and time”; and a “leading” loyalty program.

“We believe Kohl’s is ahead of peers in leveraging data to drive improved results through a combination of best-in-class loyalty program, greater personalization, and marketing effectiveness which are yielding stronger customer engagement and new customers,” Cowen wrote.

“Meanwhile, we think Kohl’s has a healthy footprint and are encouraged by the success of the standard-to-small initiative which drives greater productivity.”

Cowen rates Kohl’s KSS, -6.85%  shares outperform, calling it its “favorite department store pick,” with an $82 price target.

Kohl’s shares sank 6.7% in Thursday trading, which analysts call “overdone,” particularly after Macy’s Inc. M, -18.95%  announced that it was slashing guidance after a lackluster holiday season.

Moody’s Christina Boni, department store analyst, says the retailer’s results were “tempered” by the 6.9% increase in November and December sales last year, which raised the bar for this year.

Still, Kohl’s lowered its debt by about $413 million in the fourth quarter.

“In our view, Kohl’s executed well over the holidays,” wrote Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail. “For us, the main takeaway from Kohl’s numbers is not that growth has come down a bit. This is to be expected. Rather it is that Kohl’s is executing and delivering in a consistent way with some good progress on both the top and bottom lines.”

Kohl’s shares have rallied 11.2% over the past year while the SPDR S&P Retail ETF XRT, -1.96%  and the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.00%  are each down 6% for the period.

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