As millions of Americans celebrate the start of the holiday season — with what else but rampant consumerism? — much focus will be centered on Black Friday sales results, particularly for the big-box retailers. Occupying the number one and two slots of the discount retail industry, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT), have not had much reason for joy. Both stocks are down heavily year-to-date, and recent technical performances have not swayed investors from the overwhelming bearish sentiment. Will this season’s Black Friday turn fortunes around?
For Target, their Black Friday online sales results appear promising. According to a report from Business Insider, a company spokesperson revealed better-than-expected performance — the best ever, in fact, in the retailer’s history. This was in part aided by Target’s decision to open its doorbuster program two hours early to 6pm on Thanksgiving day. The biggest winners by product were the Apple iPad, the Apple Watch, and the Wii U gaming console.
By itself, this is great news for the embattled company. In a greater context, however, it changes very little. Online sales represent a very small portion of Target’s overall business — roughly 3%. In addition, Target’s aggressive foray into the digital realm — no doubt to compete against Amazon’s virtual hegemony — has failed to meet forecasted performance this year. The decision to provide free shipping throughout the holiday season has netted some gains, but not enough to generate a paradigm shift.
In the same Business Insider report, industry experts have already declared this year’s Black Friday to be a bust for retailers. Foot traffic has declined significantly, with many consumers eschewing long lines that often result in fisticuffs for the convenience of online shopping. That puts a dagger in the hearts of both Wal-Mart and Target, which largely depend upon converting said foot-traffic into high-volume sales.
Technically, the picture is even more murky. TGT stock has been in steep decline since July of this year, while fierce rival WMT has tanked since the beginning of January. Neither stock shows any hint of a sustained reversal, outside of token spurts of bullishness.
Without a meaningful restoration among major retailers, the often-touted economic recovery is in serious doubt. International weakness has also negatively impact domestic retailers, particularly Wal-Mart. Combined with currency headwinds due to a strong dollar, American companies with global leverage have suffered considerably.
Until huge macroeconomic conditions are reversed, look for big-box retailers to remain challenged, regardless of how well they do on one magic day.