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A Target for the Bears

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Retailers across all sectors are finding it increasingly more difficult to get customers to come in their stores. When customers do arrive, there is also the challenge of getting them to spend money.

Unfortunately, Target (TGT - Get Report) has fallen short in both categories.

Although rival Wal-Mart (WMT) has faced similar challenges, Wal-Mart has figured out ways to offset weakening sales and softer comps. Making matter worse is Target's management has issued meager guidance, which has resulted in several analyst downgrades.

At this point, Target investors are unsure of what to make of the stock. Management has not been able to quickly respond. But unless management figures out from where Target's next leg of growth is going to come, this stock may become target practice for the bears for the foreseeable future.

Target has always proven to be an extraordinarily smart company by the way it has been able to appeal to both the frugal shopper and those with an appetite for the "upscale high-end" category. This model has benefited the company while Target still held true to its strategy of offering great products at discounted prices.

It seems, however, that this advantage is now slowly evaporating as there wasn't much to like in the company's recent earnings report. Sales were up half of 1% to $16.6 billion. As with other large retail chains such as Lowe's (LOW), which recently reported flat sales and weak comps, Target attributed the weaker sales (in part) to adverse weather.

Interestingly, rival Home Depot (HD), which posted 7% increase in sales to go along with a 4.3% growth in comps, reported no such concerns. While I do believe that weather can have an adverse impact of retail traffic, the relative performances of peers makes this reason hard to grasp.

Comps, or same-store-sales, is the metric that tracks the sales performance of stores that have been opened at least one year. Target posted a 60-basis-point decline in that category. It's not a great number. But I'm willing to give management credit here for outperforming Wal-Mart, which posted 1.4% decline.
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