Thanks to some stellar results, Kohl's has become one of the best barometers of the retailing landscape. It's publicly traded and carefully scrutinized on a weekly and monthly basis. It has also staked out a unique hybrid market niche -- part department store and part discounter -- that has performed well in tough times.
But even for a great bellwether like Kohl's, times are getting tougher. And a just-released report from New York-based Jefferies & Co. says that all retailers -- including Kohl's -- are set to report some pretty disappointing results for November of this year, but for a pretty odd reason.
This year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28 vs. the earlier date of Nov. 22 in 2001. That means there are only three prime Holiday shopping days in November 2002 versus nine prime days last year, which shifts more Holiday shopping results into the month of December.
But Kohl's could suffer disproportionately, says the Jefferies report. Why? Partly because it did so well in late-2001 -- Kohl's reported a 25.9% comparable store sales gain in November 2001, followed by a measly 0.6% gain in December 2001.
If the discrepancy in those numbers sounds a tad odd, it's for good reason. Apparently the calendar was Kohl's undoing. Kohl's fiscal 2000 (which ended in January 2001), was a 53-week year. Because of this anomaly, the November period captured more of the Holiday season than the year before (because of more post-Thanksgiving shopping days) and December much less. This year, the reverse will be true.
"Hence, we suspect that when Kohl's reports its October results, management may well warn that November comps could be 'flattish' or even down modestly," says Jefferies specialty retail analyst Donald Trott. "December comp-store sales comparisons should be dynamite, however, with the two months combined likely, in our opinion, to produce satisfactory results. If the stock comes under pressure in late October -- in anticipation of 'disappointing' November results, we would be inclined to take advantage of that weakness and would be buyers of the stock."
Funny how the Street works, huh?