Doors Wide Shut

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What's going on?

Kohl’s posted quarterly earnings that beat analysts’ expectations on Thursday – though that’s not too hard to do when your chain of department stores has been… well, closed.

What does this mean?

Kohl’s sales were a whole lot better than expected, climbing 70% compared to the same time last year. And that seems to have left the company feeling pleased with itself: it upped its sales expectations for the rest of the year too.

Still, “better than expected” is a relative statement, and the bar wasn’t exactly high: Kohl’s stores were shuttered this time last year, which meant its sales were down 40% compared to 2019. What’s more, last quarter’s sales were still lower than they were in the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic ever darkened our doors. And that – alongside investors’ concerns that demand will vanish when stimulus checks run out – might be why its shares initially fell 6%.

Why should I care?

For markets: This time, it’s personal (spending).

Kohl’s isn’t the only US retailer to nod to surging demand this week: Walmart, Macy’s, and Target all reported strong earnings this week, thanks to what some economists are dubbing “revenge spending”. Those economists noticed it first in China as early as April last year, and they’ve suggested watching the country’s developments closely to get a better sense of what’s to come elsewhere.

The bigger picture: Activists get their way, for better or worse.

If the pandemic weren’t scary enough, Kohl’s has also had to stave off dreaded activist investors – major shareholders that try to effect change in hopes of boosting a firm’s share price. They were criticizing Kohl’s for its long history of lackluster sales, until the company finally gave in last month and agreed to expand both its board of directors and its share buyback plan. So far, though, it has nothing to show for it, with its shares having underperformed department store rivals Macy’s and Nordstrom ever since.


Originally posted as part of the Finimize daily email.

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