Citigroup downgrades Kohl’s, saying it has run too far, too fast

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Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Customers pull a dinnerware set from a shopping cart outside of a Kohl’s store in Peru, Illinois.

Kohl’s stock has gotten ahead of itself, and it’s time to “step aside,” according to Citigroup, which downgraded the company to neutral from buy on lingering fears of weak traffic.

“Outside of a major announcement of their partnerships expanding (which could help traffic), Kohl’s still has a challenge to drive traffic on its own,” analyst Paul Lejuez said in a note to clients Thursday. “Overall traffic (measured by transactions) was down in the first quarter excluding the benefit of the shift in weeks. This was tolerable at $60 to $65. But with the stock at about $76, we believe the risk reward is balanced.”

In premarket trading Thursday after the report, the stock declined 1.5 percent, to $74.60.

Though the Wisconsin-based retailer posted same-store sales and earnings that beat Wall Street’s expectations in late May, Chief Financial Officer Bruce Besanko revealed that the sheer number of transactions was relatively flat over the quarter.

Lejuez did acknowledge Kohl’s initiatives and partnerships in its efforts to retain customers, including its relationship with e-commerce giant Amazon. Such partnerships, he said, are likely responsible for a 23 percent rally in the company’s shares over the past month.

“To be clear, this is not a head for the exits call,” Lejuez said. “The company is in the process of testing partnerships with grocery stores with its standard to small initiative. It also has the ongoing partnership with Amazon in 86 stores. Both of these initiatives seem promising and we believe it is possible the Amazon partnership could be expanded.”

“But it also seems that the market may already be assuming the partnership grows, leaving more risk to the downside if it does not.”

Citigroup’s new price target of $75 implies nearly 1 percent downside over the next year.



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