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Target ( TGT) operates in a tough industry with bigger rivals and very few competitive advantages. But that hasn't stopped the $40 billion retailer from a cascade of higher sales each year -- and thicker margins to boot. It also hasn't stopped Target from paying out a sizable 9.4% shareholder yield.

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Target runs nearly 1,800 big box stores spread across North America. Together, those locations added up to more than $73.3 billion in sales last year -- as well as 4% net margins. To be clear, those are hefty levels of profitability for a mass retailer. In a business where one store is basically the same as the next, Target has done a great job creating a niche as a slightly more upscale big box chain.

The addition of fresh grocery sections to stores over the last several years has done its job of drawing customers into stores, but Target never saw the margin deterioration that most analysts were expecting as a tradeoff. As a result, the firm has had enough room on its balance sheet to significantly reduce its debt load in the last year and leave more value for shareholders, not lenders.

Target remains a best-in-breed retail name right now.

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