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Vaccine Promise Raises Prospect of Improved Consumer Outlook in US

Apparel retail earnings are currently forecast to fall 40.1 percent for the third quarter from a year ago.
A shopper in New York | Source: Getty

As positive coronavirus vaccine news makes strategists more optimistic about the future for retailers, investors will look to earnings results and forecasts from these companies in the coming days for clues about consumer spending.

The thinking is that effective vaccines will “translate into positive performances for discretionary,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for CFRA, which recently raised its recommendation on the S&P 500 consumer discretionary sector to overweight from market weight.

The pandemic and restrictions on businesses have added to revenue struggles for some traditional retailers like department stores while boosting sales for Amazon and other sellers that have capitalised on the work-from-home phenomenon.

Results from Home Depot Inc., Walmart Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. are due on Tuesday, while reports from Macy’s Inc. , L Brands , Target Corp. and TJX Cos are expected later this week.

The US retail sales report for October also is due on Tuesday.

Investors will be especially eager to hear guidance and commentary from retail executives on consumer spending.

“We’ve gotten used to now buying online increasingly and delivery has become smoother,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey. “The question is, does it continue?”

Shares in a number of retailers rallied on Monday as a result of optimism that a Covid-19 vaccine will help the economic recovery in the months ahead.

Moderna Inc said its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial. Pfizer Inc said last week its experimental Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective based on initial trial results.

Among the biggest percentage gainers in the S&P 500 consumer discretionary index on Monday were Gap Inc., up 9.5 percent; Under Armour, up 5.8 percent; and Ulta Beauty, up 4.9 percent.

Investors also are watching whether upcoming holiday sales data can support hopes for retailer shares despite a surge in Covid-19 cases and increased restrictions across the United States and in Europe.

“As long as the jobs market holds up and we see (unemployment benefit claims) continuing to go down, that helps consumers' optimism,” said Krosby.

Some retailers' shares remain down sharply this year so far, including Macy’s, which is off more than 50 percent since December 31 despite a 9 percent gain on Monday as the pandemic added to their recent struggles.

On the earnings front, there continues to be a big divide within the consumer discretionary sector.

Analysts expect the sector to post an earnings decline of 5.1 percent for the third quarter from a year ago, compared with a 7.4 percent decline for the entire S&P 500, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

But earnings for internet and direct marketing retail companies are showing about a 43 percent rise in the quarter, while apparel retail earnings are forecast to fall 40.1 percent.

Nordstrom Inc , Gap Inc and American Eagle Outfitters Inc report earnings next week.

By Caroline Valetkevitch; editors: Alden Bentley and Cynthia Osterman.

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