Target ( TGT) sent shudders through the retail sector after the trendy discount chain lowered its sales outlook for July. Target's shares recently were losing $2.43, or 5.1%, to $45.12, while other retail stocks were pulled down as investors reacted to yet another sign that consumers are feeling pinched. The Minneapolis-based company said late Monday that it now expects July same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, will rise only 3% to 4%, down from its previous forecast of 4% to 6%. That reduction comes after Target's larger rival, Wal-Mart ( WMT), earlier this month posted soft sales for June. With crude-oil futures making new highs on the Nymex, hitting $77 a barrel on Friday, sales pressure at Wal-Mart is widely expected. The world' largest retailer has long warned investors of the heavy burden that high gas prices put on its low-income customer base. The disappointing news from Target not only compounds those concerns, but also suggests that coming weakness in consumer spending may be more widespread than many have anticipated. Target's higher-income shoppers, who often refer to the chain as "Tar-zhay" in a nod to its fashionable product line, were thought to be less affected by economic pressures like the cost of gasoline than their Wal-Mart counterparts. The chain has been posting higher same-store sales than Wal-Mart for years. Meanwhile, with the housing market slowing, interest rates rising and commodities costs soaring, many economists view consumer spending as a vulnerable spot for the economy With recent employment figures suggesting new signs of weakness in the jobs market, some observers say consumers will have to change their spending habits to cope with debt burdens and afford necessities. Target's sales news reinforced the view, and the weakness showed up elsewhere in the sector.
Best Buy ( BBY) was recently down $1.53, or 3.3%, to $44.30. Its counterpart in consumer electronics retailing, Circuit City ( CC), dropped 83 cents, or 3.4%, to $23.32. Department stores also took a beating. Federated ( FD) shed $1.23, or 3.6%, to $33.28; J.C. Penney ( JCP) was down $2.67, or 4.1%, to $62.99; and Nordstrom ( JWN) was losing $1.25, or 3.7%, to $32.31. Among teen apparel chains, long the object of Wall Street's affections, Aeropostale ( ARO) was down $2.02, or 6.7%, to $28.07; American Eagle Outfitters ( AEOS) fell $1.56, or 4.5%, to $33.21; and Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) dropped $3.16, or 5.9%, to $50.35.' The S&P Retail Index was moving lower by 2.3%. Aside from its sales woes, Target reported Tuesday that Amazon Enterprise Solutions, a unit of Amazon.com ( AMZN), extended an e-commerce agreement with the retailer until 2010. Amazon provides technology services for Target's online operations.