Kohl's stock plummets more than 20% after massive earnings miss

Scott Mlyn | CNBC
  • Kohl's posted a quarterly loss and missed Wall Street's revenue expectations for the first quarter.
  • The retailer also lowered its forecast for the full year.
  • The company noted strength in its Sephora shop-in-shop partnership. In March, Kohl's struck a similar partnership with Babies R Us.

Kohl's shares plummeted more than 20% Thursday after the company posted a surprise loss per share, coming in well below Wall Street's expectations for a slight profit.

That share slide made for the stock's biggest single-day percentage decline ever.

In an interview with CNBC, CEO Tom Kingsbury chalked up slower sales to tough comparisons. He said the department store had higher-than-usual clearance levels in the year-ago period, as it tried to clean up inventory and jumpstart its turnaround plan.

He added sales trends started the quarter strong in January and February, but weakened in the last five weeks of the period as customers held back on buying seasonal merchandise such as clothing for spring because of poor weather. He said, "fortunately, we see it coming back as the weather improves."

For investors, Kohl's weak results have raised questions about the company's turnaround strategy. Led by Kingsbury, the previous leader of off-price chain Burlington Stores, Kohl's has tried to attract shoppers by adding fresh merchandise such as home decor, gifting items and pet goods. It has also opened more Sephora shops inside of its stores.

So far, those efforts have not shown up much in the numbers. Kohl's reported a net loss of $27 million, or a loss of 24 cents per share, for the first quarter compared to a year-ago profit of $14 million, or 13 cents per share.

Net sales decreased 5.3% to $3.18 billion compared to the year prior.

Here is how Kohl's did in its fiscal first quarter compared to what Wall Street was expecting, according to a survey of analysts by LSEG:

  • Loss per share: 24 cents vs. a profit of 4 cents expected
  • Revenue: $3.18 billion vs. $3.34 billion expected

The company on Thursday lowered its 2024 guidance. It now expects full-year net sales to decline between 2% and 4%. Wall Street analysts polled by LSEG had been expecting its 2024 sales guidance to reflect a 0.2% gain.

Kohl's expects full-year diluted earnings per share in the range of $1.25 to $1.85, far lower than the $2.34 in earnings per share expected, according to LSEG.

On top of company-specific challenges, Kingsbury said the company took a more conservative stance with its full-year outlook because of higher interest rates and inflation.

"While spending among our high-income customers has remained steady, our middle-income customer continues to be impacted," he said in the release.

Despite the first-quarter results, he told CNBC that Kohl's has made progress with newer initiatives. For example, he said, the women's category showed positive trends and Sephora in-store shops have continued to be a bright spot.

For Sephora at Kohl's, comparable sales, a metric that takes out the effect of store openings and closings, rose 20% year over year during the quarter.

That is far higher than Kohl's comparable sales, which sank 4.4% during the same period.

Kohl's plans to open another 140 Sephora shops, with most opening in the second quarter. It announced in March that it would add similar in-store outposts of Babies R Us to about 200 locations.

Other new categories are doing well, too, Kingsbury said, with comparable sales for seasonal and everyday decor up more than 30%. Some of those gains are because Kohl's did not carry many items in those categories before. It has bulked up its selection, such as offering more picture frames, wall art and decorative glassware, such as vases.

"We are going to continue to work hard on these underpenetrated categories," Kingsbury said.

Inventory was down 13% year over year as Kohl's tightened up on expenses and tried to give itself more flexibility to respond quickly and buy merchandise that is on trend. It has focused on that especially in the juniors department, which caters to teen girls. Kohl's is moving that department next to Sephora to encourage shoppers to browse for outfits, too.

"You have to be in the trend at the right time," Kingsbury said. "You can't be post trend, for sure."

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