Kohl's shares rise on earnings beat, retailer promises big gains ahead in activewear, beauty

Key Points
  • Kohl's reported a 13.3% decline in quarterly net sales during its third quarter, as consumers bought less dress apparel and footwear during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Same-store sales at Kohl's also fell 13.3%, despite robust growth online.
  • Still, CEO Michelle Gass said the retailer entered the holiday season "well-positioned" against rivals.
  • The retailer is looking to grow especially in activewear and beauty in 2021.
A shopper prepares to pay for items at a Kohl's department store in Peru, Illinois, May 16, 2019.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Kohl's shares rose more than 5% Tuesday, after Chief Executive Michelle Gass laid out the retailer's plans to expand in activewear and personal care in 2021, two hot pockets of growth that have accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kohl's reported a 13.3% decline in quarterly net sales during its third quarter, as the pandemic limited the number of people visiting its stores to buy work clothes and dress shoes. But the department store chain sparked hope about its chances for a stronger turnaround in the New Year.

"Some would call this the homebody economy, with people spending more time at home," Gass said during a call with reporters. "It's growing in importance. ... And we've established ourselves as an active destination for the last five years, that we're going to take to a whole new level."

Kohl's also said it is entering the holidays "well-positioned" to rival its peers and take advantage of the market share up for grabs in the wake of numerous retail bankruptcies and store closures this year. The retailer significantly cut its inventories during the latest quarter, putting it in a position where it will be less reliant on discounts during the holiday season.

Here's how the retailer did during the third quarter ended Oct. 31 compared with what analysts were expecting, based on Refinitiv data:

  • Earnings per share: 1 cent, adjusted, vs. a loss of 43 cents expected
  • Net sales: $3.78 billion vs. $3.86 billion expected

For the quarter ended Oct. 31, the company reported a net loss of $12 million, or 8 cents per share, compared with net income of $123 million, or 78 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding one-time charges, Kohl's earned a penny a share, better than the 43-cent loss expected by analysts.

Kohl's net sales fell to $3.78 billion from $4.36 billion a year ago. Analysts were calling for $3.86 billion, according to Refinitiv estimates.

Total revenue dropped 14% to $3.98 billion from $4.63 billion a year earlier.

Same-store sales at Kohl's, which track sales online and at Kohl's stores open for at least 12 months, also fell 13.3%. Analysts, on average, were calling for an 11.39% decline.

But the company said it did report positive sales growth in three categories — athleisure, lounge and sleepwear — which it has been investing in heavily.

Kohl's strategy heading into 2021 is to trim the amount of dressier merchandise it has in stores and focus more on adding active and comfortable clothing. It plans to launch a new athleisure brand, called FLX, next year, while expanding the amount of space devoted to activewear in its stores by almost 20%.

"Our vision is to be the most trusted retailer of choice for the active and casual lifestyle," Gass said during a post-earnings conference call.

Kohl's has also been bringing more casual wear brands into its stores, such as Lands' End, which is known for its outwear and swimwear. The company currently offers the complete Lands' End catalog online, and plans to double the number of stores that sell Lands' End apparel in 2021, from 150 to 300.

Outside of apparel, Kohl's said it plans to at least triple its sales in beauty, seeing this category as another growth opportunity, where it competes with the likes of Ulta Beauty and Sephora. But some of Kohl's rivals are looking to grow in beauty, too. Target and Ulta earlier this month struck a deal to open makeup and skincare shops inside of hundreds of Target stores across the country.

Kohl's is also testing a shop called Wellness Market in 50 stores, which includes personal care products, baby goods and pet items.

Beauty "is a small business for us today, but we've made steady progress over the last five years," Gass said. "We see a lot of upside."

The retailer is seen as having a leg up on mall-based department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom, since most of its locations are in open-air shopping centers. But it still faces competition from the likes of Target and Walmart, with the latter reporting Tuesday same-store sales gains in the U.S. of 6.4%, and e-commerce sales growth of 79%.

Kohl's also said it will reinstate its quarterly dividend in the first half of 2021, after pausing it earlier this year due to the pandemic. And in a bid to boost liquidity, it said it fully paid off a $1 billion balance on a revolving line of credit during the third quarter.

As of Monday's market close, Kohl's shares are down about 49% this year. Kohl's has a market cap of $4.1 billion.

Find the full earnings press release here.

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