Picture: 123RF/YOORAN PARK
Picture: 123RF/YOORAN PARK

New York  — US retailer Macy’s plunged on Wednesday after a worse-than-expected second quarter underscored investor fears that the teetering department-store industry is slated for more pain.

The retailer, which is the first in its sector to report earnings, slashed its profit outlook for the year by 20c — and it warned that the cut doesn’t even take into account the next round of Chinese tariffs, some of which will hit as soon as September 1.

The shares fell as much as 17% in New York on Wednesday, putting them on track to open at the lowest level since 2010. Stocks of rival department-stores including Nordstrom and Kohl’s also dropped as concerns flare about the overall health of the sector.

JC Penney reports its results Thursday, with its peers reporting the following week.

Even before Macy’s reported, department stores showed indications of weakness in the second quarter, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Poonam Goyal said, citing falling credit card point-of-sale data. “That’s played out with Macy’s,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if JC Penney comes out with a weak quarter as well.”

Department stores have been under pressure as competition ramps up from online rivals such as Amazon and popular discount retailers such as TJX Companies, which owns Marshalls and TJ Maxx. They’re also getting squeezed as the Trump administration ratchets up tariffs on Chinese goods. A levy on department-store staples such as handbags already went into effect, with the vast majority of other products slated for hikes later this year, even after a partial reprieve.

“I think very few retailers had a good second quarter,” said Chuck Grom, MD at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.

Tariff risk

With new tariffs on everything from apparel to shoes looming, companies are finding themselves hard pressed to give investors confidence that the macro- and earnings environment won’t worsen over the next six to 12 months. CEO Jeff Gennette said in May that if President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on $300bn items from China is enacted, it would hit the retailer’s private and international brands.

At Macy’s, same-store sales for owned as well as licensed stores rose 0.3% in the latest quarter, matching analysts’ expectations, according to Consensus Metrix. Even though that marks the seventh consecutive gain, the growth is still anaemic compared to big-box store peers. Gennette called out a “slow start to the quarter” that “finished below our expectations”.

While Macy’s is working on its individual strategies to bring people into stores, such as its experimental Growth50 initiatives, it can’t completely separate itself from the macro-geopolitical uncertainties, Grom said.

“I think the consumers are under some stress and they’re having some trouble drawing traffic into their stores,” he said. “You’ve got some big headwinds and that’s why the stock is down.”

Forecast cut

Macy’s says it now sees diluted profit in a range of $2.85 to $3.05 a share, excluding some items, even as it held its sales forecast unchanged. The company blamed too-high inventory levels in the quarter, including “a fashion miss in our key women’s sportswear private brands”.

It also cited a faster decline in international tourism, which often props up its flagship stores. Recent data backs up the retailer’s experience: international visitors to the US spent $17.5bn in June, according to the US commerce department. That’s the lowest total in two years, and the 2.9% drop from a year earlier was the second-steepest since 2009.

There were some bright spots: its digital business posted its 40th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth, it said. Macy’s also said its strategic initiatives are “on track to continue delivering sales growth” in the second half.

But while it said it has corrected course, Goyal said she still questions “if their back half is too aggressive in lieu of what they saw in quarter two, and just in what they saw with tariffs”.