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Retail sales, Walmart and Target earnings: What to know this week
Sun, November 14, 2021, 9:14 PM·8 min read
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Investors this week will be focused on data on the consumer, with both retail sales and earnings results from two retail giants set for release.
The total value of retail sales in the U.S. is expected to have climbed by 1.1% month-on-month in October, according to the Commerce Department’s latest monthly print on Tuesday. This would accelerate from a 0.7% monthly advance in September, which had been an unexpected increase at the time given that many economists were anticipating that a rise in Delta variant cases would weigh on spending during the month.
“Our data suggest broad-based improvement across major sectors, including restaurants, department stores, and general merchandise,” Bank of America economist Michelle Meyer wrote in a note on Friday. “Netting out restaurants, gas, and building materials, we look for the core control group to increase 0.5% [month-over-month]. Consumer spending remained resilient in October and will likely stay elevated as we head into the holiday season”.
If results come is as expected, October would mark a third straight monthly increase in retail sales. However, the rate of growth in consumer spending has slowed considerably in the second half of this year so far, compared to the first half when government stimulus checks and other economic support had helped pad consumers’ wallets and stoke spending. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ last report on U.S. GDP showed that personal consumption slowed to a just 1.6% annualized rate in the third quarter, down from a 12.0% clip in the second.
A jump in prices, as inflationary pressure reverberates across the recovering economy, is one-factor economists are closely watching as a potential anchor on consumer spending. While many companies have signaled in their latest earnings reports that they have been able to pass on prices to end users so far, consumers are beginning to take note of rising inflation. Depending on the magnitude and extent of the price increases, this could have a further dampening effect on consumption.
The University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers highlighted last week that consumers expected inflation to rise by 4.9% over the next year, which was the highest print since 2008. And the headline index for the University of Michigan showed that the overall sentiment index fell to a 10-year low in early November, in large part reflecting concerns over how inflation would impact consumers’ finances. This report came just two days after the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) for October showed that inflation jumped by a greater-than-expected 6.2% compared to the prior year, marking the fastest annual rise since 1990.
“It does take a while before a drop in consumer sentiment impacts spending,” Yung-Yu Ma, BMO Wealth Management’s chief investment strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live last week.
“That’s going to be one of the big things going forward, to see whether or not that consumer sentiment can bounce back, whether consumers will be resilient in the face of these price pressures, or whether they’ll start to pull back a bit and decide they’re going to hold off on spending and wait to see when prices come down or at least stabilize before they spend more in the new year,” he said. “So that remains to be seen, and that is a big question mark as we go into 2022.”
Big box retailers report earnings
Quarterly earnings results from companies including Walmart and Target will also be monitored this week as a proxy of consumers’ propensity to spend, especially heading into the critical holiday shopping season. The results and earnings calls will also likely include more commentary around how shipping delays and supply chain disruptions are impacting America’s largest retailers.
A back-to-school season that saw many students return to class in-person likely helped stoke spending at both Walmart and Target. Growth still likely slowed compared to earlier on during the pandemic, however, when the companies had benefited from a consumer shift to spending on goods rather than on services, and to big-box stores that would allow them to get all their shopping needs to be done in one trip during the pandemic.
Walmart’s sales are expected to grow just 1% on a year-over-year basis to reach $135.5 billion, data from Bloomberg showed. This would mark the slowest top-line growth rate since the first quarter of 2020. Total Walmart U.S. same-store sales are expected to grow 7%, however, to accelerate from the prior quarter’s 5.4% increase. Walmart’s U.S. operating margins are also expected to expand to 5.35%, compared to 5.2% in the same quarter last year, but may contract compared to the 6.2% margin posted in the second quarter this year.
Already last quarter, Walmart executives highlighted during their last earnings call in August that “out of stocks in certain general merchandise categories” were “running above normal given strong sales and supply constraints,” presaging what many other companies have highlighted in their own earnings results in recent weeks. The firm added at the time that they were also taking steps to try and circumvent supply snarls, including chartering vessels specifically for Walmart goods. All these measures, however, also incur additional costs.
Target, for its part, also mentioned it was trying to maneuver around supply chain disruptions on its latest earnings call as well.
“Our team has been successfully addressing supply chain bottlenecks, which are affecting both domestic freight and international shipping. Steps include expedited ordering and larger upfront quantities in advance of a season, mitigating the risk that replenishments could take longer than usual,” said Target Chief Operating Officer John Mulligan in August. “Bottom line, with Q2 ending inventory up more than 26% or nearly $2.5 billion compared to a year ago, we believe we’re well-positioned for the fall and ready to deliver strong growth on top of last year’s record increase.”
Target is expected to see revenue grow 8% to $24.09 billion in its fiscal third quarter, also slowing compared to its 9% growth rate in the second quarter and 21% year-over-year increase in the same period last year. Closely watched same-store sales are expected to rise b 8.3%, or slower than the 8.9% rate in the second quarter. Digital same-store sales, however, are anticipated to accelerate sequentially to a 13.25% clip, on top of the 155% digital sales growth Target posted in the same period last year.
Commentary around labor supply shortages and hiring trends will also be closely watched for both Target and Walmart. In September, Target said it would be hiring 100,000 seasonal employees for the holidays or fewer than the more than 130,000 workers it hired in each of the last two holiday seasons. It planned to instead provide more hours and pay to its slightly smaller holiday workforce this year.
Walmart said in September it was planning to hire about 150,000 new U.S. store workers ahead of the holidays, with most of these comprising permanent and full-time roles.