Target's On Track; Wal-Mart, Home Depot Hit Rough Numbers

It may very well turn out to be a good holiday for retailers, but it certainly won't be an easy one: While Target Inc. announced stronger third-quarter results than expected, both Wal-Mart and Home Depot reported disappointing numbers yesterday.

Coming off slower October sales and moving into a period with some doubts about consumer spending, retailers are realizing they'll need to pull out all the stops to make the holiday quarter as big as it needs to be.

The biggest day, of course, is Black Friday--the day after Thanksgiving, when 34 percent of shoppers plan to hit the mall, according to a recent online survey conducted by St. Louis-based Maritz Research Inc. But these aren't just any shoppers--they're the big ones, the more affluent consumers who will spend the most this holiday season.

Wal-Mart--named as the No. 1 shopping destination in the poll--has vowed to give shoppers plenty of reasons to get out there, with ultra-aggressive pricing strategies. Yesterday, following its earnings announcement, it did it again, announcing additional price cuts in toys and games. (It's the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's second crack at lowering toy prices. It has already cut prices on appliances and electronics as well.)



One place Wal-Mart may get a boost is in Chicago. The Chicago Sun-Times yesterday reported that 25 percent of Chicagoans told pollsters they plan to shop less at the new Macy's, which has replaced the Marshall Fields brand. And 71 percent said they plan to do some Christmas shopping at a discount store, compared to just 53 percent last year.

Wal-Mart reported third-quarter sales of $83.5 billion--an increase of 12 percent over the third quarter of fiscal 2006--and income of $2.6 billion, an increase of 7.1 percent from the year-earlier period.

What worries observers is that in the U.S., Wal-Mart's comparable store sales for the quarter increased just 1.5 percent. And at The Home Depot, while sales for the third quarter of fiscal 2006 registered an 11.3 percent jump to $23.1 billion, same-store sales--hammered by the slowing real-estate market--declined 5.1 percent.

The good news came from Minneapolis-based Target, which said its revenues in the third quarter increased 11.2 percent to $13.5 billion--averaging a 4.6 percent increase in comparable store sales.

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