Ahead Of The Bell: Citi Cuts High-end Retailers

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Citing the view that wealthier shoppers are starting to get more cautious about their spending again, a Citi Investment Research analyst downgraded retailers Macy's Inc., Nordstrom Inc. and Saks Inc. on Wednesday.

During the depths of the recession, shoppers from all income levels curbed spending as they worried about high unemployment, a dismal housing market and a volatile stock market. As economic conditions began to improve, shoppers â¿¿ particularly those at the high-end â¿¿ started to spend a bit more.

But Citi's Deborah Weinswig says there are signs that those affluent shoppers are beginning to curtail their spending once more, as high-end department store operators reported a slowdown in revenue at stores open at least a year during the months of April and May. This figure is a key gauge of a retailer's health, because it measures growth at existing locations, while excluding results from stores recently opened or closed.

A continued slowdown in this critical revenue figure could weigh on Macy's, Nordstrom and Saks.

Weinswig said she is also growing increasingly concerned about the consumer heading into the second half of the year because the U.S. economic outlook is softening and consumer confidence is faltering.

She cut her ratings on Nordstrom, Macy's and Saks to "Neutral" from "Buy".

Weinswig said that Macy's sales were likely weak in June. The analyst trimmed her forecast for June revenue at stores open at least a year to an increase of 1-to-3 percent, compared with a prior forecast for gains of 3-to-5 percent.

The analyst also believes Macy's may slow down its stock repurchase program due to the economic uncertainty and slowing revenue growth. She now predicts the retailer may repurchase $750 million of its stock. Her previous prediction was for buybacks of $1 billion.

Weinswig slashed Macy's price target to $37 from $49. Shares of the Cincinnati-based chain fell 67 cents, or 2 percent, to $33.53 in premarket trading.

For Nordstrom, Weinswig is concerned that increased investments in technology to help drive online sales may hurt near-term earnings-per-share growth. The analyst reduced the Seattle company's price target to $52 from $63. Shares, which closed Tuesday at $48.62, were not trading premarket.

Similarly, Weinswig said that Saks may spend more on its five-year technology investment program dubbed Project Evolution than originally expected, which could weigh on profit margins. She trimmed her price target on the stock to $11 from $14.

Shares of New York-based Saks declined 28 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $9.75 before the market open.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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