Why the worst-performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year could be heading even lower

Kohl's and Macy's are the worst-performing stocks in the S&P 500 this year, and some analysts see further downside ahead.

Shares of the department stores took a dive last week when both posted weaker-than-expected holiday sales and lowered their full-year earnings-per-share guidance range.

As of Wednesday's market close, Kohl's was down more than 17 percent year to date. And Macy's, down more than 16 percent year to date, will shutter 68 locations this year (part of the 100 closures that will occur over several years) and cut part of its management.

On a technical level, the outlook doesn't appear promising.

As Jonathan Krinsky, chief market technician at MKM Partners, pointed out, the consumer discretionary sector (the area in which both Kohl's and Macy's fall) is the best-performing sector since the market's 2009 lows, even after the sector's recent underperformance.

Much of that is from Amazon's performance over the last eight years (up more than 1,300 percent in that period), Krinsky said. But even on an equal-weighted basis, consumer discretionary has still led the pack.

"So the recent weakness that we've seen in a lot of these traditional brick-and-mortar retail stocks, while it's been extreme, when you think about where they came from in 2009, that tells you that maybe there's still a bit more damage to go," Krinsky said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

Looking at long-term charts of both names, Krinsky said the companies are at what could be considered potential support, "but the trend is just so bad; the relative strength versus the market and even the discretionary sector is very poor. So our advice would be, if you do get any type of bounce, you want to use that to sell into, as opposed to trying to pick the bottom here."

It's not likely that either Kohl's or Macy's, will see a rebound from their poor performance this year, according to Bridget Weishaar, senior equity strategist at Morningstar Equity Research.

"We think Macy's is trading at a discount to its fair value if you include upside from real estate monetization over the next couple years, but continue to think the core business is in trouble with customers preferring to shop online," Weishaar wrote Wednesday in an email to CNBC.

"The fact that it's hard to get any firm insight into the timing or value of the real estate opportunity only complicates things more for the stock," she added.

Weishaar, who tracks other retail stocks like Gap, Nordstrom, TJX and Coach, has a buy rating on Macy's, and a hold rating on Kohl's.

What's more is the options market is pointing to bleak sentiment from investors, according to Dennis Davitt, managing director at Harvest Volatility Management.

"If anything, I see people buying more puts to protect the downside in these stocks," Davitt said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

If he had to pick, Davitt would choose Kohl's over Macy's.

"Macy's is like a mall within the mall, so they don't really stand out productwise. Kohl's is a lower price point. So we're seeing more activity in Macy's to the downside — people buying protection," he said.

Research analysts give both Macy's and Kohl's an average hold rating, according to FactSet data. Since analysts tend to be bullish on the stocks they cover, this is akin to a Wall Street vote of "no confidence."


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Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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