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Wal-Mart looks better than Target: Analyst

Big-box retail wars

Wal-Mart and Target were on the move today after Cowen and Company's Oliver Chen made a big call on the retail sector.

In separate (but related) notes he upgraded Wal-Mart to outperform, and downgraded Target to market perform.

Chen highlighted Wal-Mart's positive U.S. store traffic and the company's investment in the quality of its customers' experiences as reasons to be bullish on the stock.

He also points to the retailer's international expansion opportunities, as well as a boost in e-commerce sales following the acquisition of Jet as near-term positive catalysts.

Ultimately, Cowen believes Wal-Mart is showing signs of being an "early stage retail comeback story."

A Walmart store is seen in Miami, Florida.
Getty Images
A Walmart store is seen in Miami, Florida.

But Wal-Mart's gain is another store's loss.

Chen cut his rating on Target because the company is losing market share to Wal-Mart and Amazon, and he thinks the recent changes in food and pharmacy "are not resonating with guests."

Target
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Additionally, he doesn't see any "upside drivers" that will push this stock higher in the future.

On today's "Halftime Report" the desk debated if Wal-Mart or Target is the better bet and whether traditional retail's bricks are making a comeback against online and Amazon's clicks.

Jim Lebenthal agrees with Cowen's Wal-Mart call, as he believes the stock has momentum from here.

But unlike Cowen, he also believes now is the time to buy the bullseye.

"It [Target] has been in a bit of a down-cycle. This is probably a time you want to buy it as it comes out of favor," he argued on the "Halftime Report".


Like Lebenthal, Joe Terranova believes that both Wal-Mart and Target are a buy at these levels.

He thinks a market correction could be coming, which means defensive retail plays -- like Wal-Mart and Target -- will outperform.

Amazon trades at 131X forward earnings, which means if the market pulls back -- as Terranova anticipates -- the stock's high P/E could send investors fleeing.

Steve Weiss, on the other hand, isn't sold on Cowen's call to add Wal-Mart to your shopping list. His chief concern is growth potential.

Given how big the chain already is, he wonders how much it can actually grow from here.

Additionally, Wal-Mart's premium to the market and lower-than-its-peers dividend yield has Weiss looking elsewhere in the sector.

Trader disclosure: On September 12th, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC's "Halftime Report" were owned by the "Halftime Report" traders:

Joe Terranova: Long ADBE, ALB, BBT, BLK, CTAS, DLTR, DPS, FB, FIS, FXY, ICE, NOC, ORCL, PSX, SHW,SJM, SKY, SLB, SLV, TJX, TMO, TXN, VMC, VRTS, VXX, VZ

Josh Brown: LongAAPL, AMGN, BMY, CORE, DE, DNKN, GE, GOOGL, NVDA, SAM, SHAK, TWTR, XLE, YUM

Steve Weiss: Long AAL, BAC, HZNP, MU, OA, SRPT Puts: SRPT

Jim Lebenthal: Long AAPL, BA, C, CSCO, DCO, DIS, EEQ, GM, INTC, JCP, KMI, MPC, ORBC, PFE, QCOM,QRVO, SPLS, TIF, TRN, TWX, WGO