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Kohl’s Corporation (NYSE:KSS) Q3 2023 Earnings Call Transcript

Kohl's Corporation (NYSE:KSS) Q3 2023 Earnings Call Transcript November 21, 2023

Kohl's Corporation beats earnings expectations. Reported EPS is $0.53, expectations were $0.33.

Operator: Good morning, and welcome to the Kohl's Corporation Q3 2023 Earnings Conference Call. Please note that this call is being recorded. All lines are currently in listen-only mode. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Thank you. I will now turn the call over to Mark Rupe, SVP of IR and Treasury. Please go ahead.

Mark Rupe: Thank you. Certain statements made on this call, including projected financial results, and the company's future initiatives are forward-looking statements. Such statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties, which could cause Kohl's actual results to differ materially from those projected in such forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, those that are described in Item 1A in Kohl's most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and as may be supplemented from time to time in Kohl's other filings with the SEC, all of which are expressly incorporated herein by reference. Forward-looking statements relate to the date initially made, and Kohl's undertakes no obligation to update them.

In addition, during this call, we may make reference to non-GAAP financial measures. Reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures can be found in the investor presentation filed as an exhibit to our Form 8-K filed with the SEC and is available on the company's Investor Relations website. Please note that this call will be recorded. However, replays of this call will not be updated. So, if you're listening to a replay of this call, it is possible that the information discussed is no longer current, and Kohl's undertakes no obligation to update such information. With me this morning are Tom Kingsbury, our CEO; and Jill Timm, our Chief Financial Officer. I will now turn the call over to Tom.

Tom Kingsbury: Thank you, Mark, and good morning, everyone. Kohl's third quarter earnings reflect strong gross margin and expense management as well as additional progress against our strategic priorities. We achieved this despite a softer-than-expected demand environment driven by less-than-ideal weather and persistent macroeconomic pressures on our customer. Throughout 2023, we have focused on our four strategic priorities, which are: enhancing the customer experience, accelerating and simplifying our value strategies, managing inventory and expenses with discipline, and further strengthening our balance sheet. Our actions against these priorities are working and resonating with our customers. I am pleased with our positive year-to-date stores' performance, driven by strong growth in Sephora, and more recently, our home and gifting initiatives.

In addition, we have furthered our efforts to simplify our value strategies, manage expenses tightly, and reduced inventory 13% at the end of the third quarter. Looking ahead, the work we have done this year will continue to build momentum and set us up to be successful in 2024. As we've said before though, it will take some time for the full impact of our efforts to be realized. Let me now share some additional details on Q3. Net sales decreased 5.2% and comparable sales were down 5.5%. Digital sales were down 16.5%, and continue to be impacted in part by our decision to eliminate online-only promotions in favor of omnichannel pricing across the enterprise. While this has pressured our digital performance in 2023, it remains the right long-term strategy for our business.

Store comparable sales were down approximately 1% in Q3. Taking a closer look at the quarter, we had a solid back-to-school season, and through the first eight weeks, sales were tracking above our expectations. However, warmer weather during the latter part of September and into October had a clear impact on demand for our fall seasonal goods, especially in store. While I don't like blaming weather for performance, the fall transition period has historically proven to be when Kohl's apparel-intensive business is most sensitive to weather fluctuations. We experienced a fairly significant divergence in performance on a regional basis. Store sales in our Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast regions, where the weather impact was most apparent, were down low- to mid-single digits in Q3, while all other regions increased low-single digits.

We have various initiatives underway to de-weather our business as we focus on growing sales in less weather-sensitive categories like beauty, home, gifting and impulse. Before sharing an update on our progress against our strategic priorities, I really want to emphasize the importance of our stores' performance. In 2023, we have re-established our stores as a key focal point of our strategy. This has come in the form of leadership's time and attention, meaningful investments, and new operational processes. Our actions have included expanding our gifting assortment and repositioning it to the front of store, simplifying our in-store signage and graphics, consolidating the customer checkout area, improving our overall merchandising while adding new categories, and empowering our stores to capitalize on opportunities to drive sales in their local markets.

I am proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far this year in our stores. The response from customers has been favorable, and this has yielded a return to brick-and-mortar sales growth year-to-date. Let me now turn to our longer-term initiatives and provide more detail on our overarching priorities. Enhancing the customer experience remains our top priority and represents the largest growth opportunity for Kohl's. As I shared on our Q2 call, we believe Sephora, gifting, impulse and home decor, and longer-term, new stores, will be the most significant contributors to our future growth, as these are largely white space opportunities for Kohl's. We're also focused on stabilizing our apparel and footwear businesses by optimizing our assortments to reflect our customers' interests.

Let me now share some updates on where we stand on some of these initiatives. Starting first with Sephora at Kohl's. We continue to be extremely happy with our partnership with Sephora and with the results that we are achieving. Based on our success, we have increased confidence that Sephora at Kohl's will be a $2 billion business by 2025. In Q3, comparable beauty sales in the shops opened in 2021 and 2022 increased more than 30% to last year. This is an acceleration from greater than 20% growth in Q2 and mid-teens growth in Q1. We attribute the improving trend to the increased awareness and shopping frequency. Total beauty sales increased more than 70% in the quarter, driving additional beauty share gains. We saw strong demand across the entire assortment, including skincare, makeup and fragrance.

During the third quarter, nearly 100 more of our stores received Sephora shops. There is now a Sephora presence in over 900 of our stores, with more than 850 large-formats and 50 smaller shops. As it relates to our new smaller shops, we are very pleased with the initial performance. This supports our plan to expand this format to the remainder of the chain by 2025. For the holiday season, we are well-positioned with Sephora, featured in 50% more of our stores as compared to last year. We are building on last year's successes within our beauty assortment, significantly growing the number of holiday gift sets, which also supports our broader gifting efforts. We want Kohl's to become a gifting destination. This holiday season, we have significantly expanded our gifting section at the front of the store, and 50% of the gifting assortment is new this year.

We have added gift baskets and increased the number of stocking stuffers and personal care gift sets. In addition, we see impulse products as a white space opportunity for Kohl's. Many of our competitors have successfully built impulse businesses through merchandising checkout areas. This holiday season, we are showcasing an expanded assortment of impulse products, and in 2024, we plan to continue installing queuing fixtures in many of our stores. We will merchandise these fixtures with a variety of beauty, wellness, electronics, toys, snacks and other products. Home decor is another important growth opportunity for Kohl's. Building a home decor business complements our other businesses and fills a void that our customers have historically shopped elsewhere for.

To capitalize on this opportunity, we have invested in the merchandising organization and have formed new vendor relationships. In Q3, we began to flow new products into our stores, including wall art, glassware and ceramic home decor, barware, botanicals, lighting and more. We will drive significant incremental growth in home in the coming years as we further expand our assortments and as customers begin to see Kohl's as a destination for a broader set of home goods. In Q3, our home business outperformed in-stores, driven by solid initial performance in our new categories, which are featured more prominently in-store. We have also discussed our opportunity to grow our pet business. It is a category that we have invested in through expanding in-store space and broadening our assortment of products like dog beds, cat and dog apparel, and pet toys.

The results have been very positive with Q3 sales increasing more than 40%. We expect to build on this momentum during the holiday season with plenty of pet-related gift options. As more of our customers recognize our expanded offering of gifting, impulse and home decor, sales will build. We've already seen this with Sephora, and I'm optimistic that through our collective product and marketing efforts, our customers will respond favorably and allocate more of their spend to Kohl's. My optimism is supported by strong customer feedback and the positive store sales we've achieved year-to-date. Now let me provide you with a quick update on the longer-term opportunity to expand our footprint with new stores. We remain committed to capitalizing on opportunities to open new smaller-format Kohl's stores.

We recently opened five new stores, completing our new store activities for the year. In total, in 2023, we opened six new stores, completed one relocation and closed one store. In the near term, we will follow a similar cadence for new store openings, though continue to see a significantly larger opportunity longer term. Turning to our apparel and footwear offerings. There was obvious weakness in our cold weather businesses during Q3. However, we continue to see strength in our polished casual and dressy offerings, areas where we have focused our attention in 2023. Women's dresses and Men's suiting, dress shirts and dress pants outperformed in Q3 with solid results across brands like Lauren Conrad, Draper James, Apt. 9 and Haggar. We were also pleased with the performance of other key brands including Nike, Under Armour and Eddie Bauer, as well as our private brands Jumping Beans and Little [and] (ph) Co. Broadly speaking, however, we have more work to do to improve our overall apparel and footwear performance, and a lot of this work is already underway.

Let me share one example. In our Juniors business, we are pivoting our strategy by leaning into more domestic market brands for trend-oriented items while continuing to offer our core basics through our private brands. In doing so, we are reducing lead times in a category where success is dependent upon speed to market. We currently have some of these market brands in select stores and have seen encouraging sell-throughs. This gives us confidence that we will be more relevant in the Juniors category as we further scale this year. I look forward to sharing more on the progress of our work in the coming quarters. Now let me discuss our second priority, which is accelerating and simplifying our value strategies. Kohl's provides great value to our customers.

A close-up on a fashionable pair of the company's footwear, the details revealed in sharp focus.
A close-up on a fashionable pair of the company's footwear, the details revealed in sharp focus.

This is evident in the millions of customers that shop at Kohl's on a regular basis. However, for newer customers, we have an opportunity to simplify our offers and pricing to ensure that they too recognize the value that Kohl's provides. This is an important effort of ours and one that we believe can drive overall customer engagement and conversion. During 2023, we have increased the mix of targeted offers and implemented more regular clearance events, while also testing a percentage of our merchandise with clear and consistent price points. In our key value items initiative, which is high volume pricing on key items in our private apparel and home brands, we continue to see encouraging results with positive sales growth. Customers see these items in our marketing as must-have pricing.

They account for just a small portion of our assortment currently, but we plan to scale them more meaningfully in 2024. Our approach has been thoughtful, recognizing the risks of moving too quickly. I am pleased with the progress that we've made to date. Another important component of the great value we provide our customers is our leading loyalty program. This includes Kohl's Cash, Kohl's Rewards, our Kohl's Private Label Credit Card, and most recently, our newly launched co-brand credit card, which gives customers more ways to earn Kohl's Rewards. I will now transition to our third priority, which is managing inventory and expenses with discipline. During the third quarter, we had strong inventory and expense management. We reduced inventory by 13% compared to last year, ahead of our goal of planning inventory down mid-single-digits percent.

The new disciplines we implemented earlier this year where we operate with greater open to buy proved beneficial in Q3 as we're able to stay agile as the demand environment softened. For holiday, we are well-positioned from an inventory perspective, with better in-stock levels in core basics as compared to last year as well as increased investments in gifting and home decor. Our goal remains to increase inventory turns over the long term. And from an expense perspective, we were able to manage expenses slightly better than our expectation due to our disciplined focus in a tougher demand environment. We continue to focus on driving expense efficiency across all areas of the company, including reducing our marketing spend and embedding more technology into our operations to drive productivity.

And lastly, our fourth priority is strengthening our balance sheet. We remain committed to returning our balance sheet to its historical strength with a long-term objective of managing to 2.5 times leverage level. Our near-term focus is significantly reducing our revolver borrowings and rebuilding our cash position. We also remain committed to returning capital to shareholders. Jill will discuss our overall capital allocation priorities in a moment. To summarize my comments today, I want to leave you with three things. First, we are repositioning Kohl's. We are executing several important strategic initiatives that will better position the company to drive improved sales and profitability growth over the long term. It includes efforts across the products and categories we carry, the value we offer, the experiences we provide, and the operational processes and disciplines we leverage to manage our business.

Second, we remain in the early innings of our growth initiatives. I've said many times that it takes time to build businesses. Our focus has been two-fold: one, optimizing our current assortments and embedding new disciplines and processes; and two, adding new relevant products. While aspects of our future vision will be evident this holiday season, they will be even more visible in 2024. I am proud of the work we've accomplished this year, and I'm anxious to see more of our efforts come to fruition in 2024 and beyond. And third, the holidays have always been important time for Kohl's, and this year, they carry even more significance given that our new strategies will be seen for the very first time by many of our customers. I want to thank all of our Kohl's associates across the organization for their efforts to set us up for success this holiday season.

I hope those listening today will get a chance to visit our stores over the coming weeks. I will now turn over the call to Jill to discuss our third quarter results and 2023 outlook. Jill?

Jill Timm: Thanks, Tom, and good morning, everyone. I will provide additional details on our third quarter results and then discuss our updated fiscal year 2023 guidance. As you heard from Tom, we made additional progress against our strategic priorities and had strong gross margin and expense management in the quarter. Turning to our results. Net sales declined 5.2% in Q3 and are down 4.5% year-to-date. Store comparable sales were down approximately 1% to last year, with continued strong performance from Sephora at Kohl's. Echoing Tom's comments earlier, stores are incredibly important to our business and have been a key focus of ours this year. We are encouraged with the year-to-date store sales up slightly compared to last year.

Digital sales declined 16.5% in Q3, with digital penetration of 26%. Digital continues to be impacted by our efforts to simplify our value strategies. Other revenue, which is primarily our credit business, declined 6% in Q3, which was relatively in-line with our expectations. As we discussed on last quarter's call, we are seeing payment trends decline and loss rates increase as expected. For Q4, we expect other revenue to perform in-line to slightly better than net sales as we start to benefit from our co-brand card. I will touch more on our credit business in a moment. Moving down the P&L. Gross margin in Q3 was 38.9%, an increase of 158 basis points to last year. The year-over-year increase was driven by lower freight costs, reduced digital-related cost of shipping, and further progress against simplifying our value strategies.

This was partially offset by product cost inflation. Although shrink remains elevated, it was in-line with our expectations during the quarter. Year-to-date gross margin was 39%, up 56 basis points to last year. SG&A expenses increased 1.9% to $1.4 billion, slightly better than our expectation as we manage expenses tightly given the softer sales environment. The increase to last year was driven by continued investments in Sephora shop openings, wages, and other store-related expenses. Partially offsetting these were efficiencies in marketing and distribution costs. Year-to-date, SG&A expenses have decreased 0.2% compared to last year. Depreciation expense of $188 million was $14 million lower than last year due to reduced technology capital spend.

Year-to-date depreciation expense decreased $46 million to $562 million. Interest expense of $89 million was $8 million higher than last year due to primarily increased revolver borrowings. Year-to-date interest expense increased $36 million to $262 million. Our tax rate was 13% in Q3, and year-to-date is 16%. Net income for the quarter was $59 million, and earnings per diluted share was $0.53. Year-to-date, net income was $131 million, and earnings per diluted share was $1.18. Now, moving on to the balance sheet and cash flow. We ended the quarter with $190 million of cash and cash equivalents. Inventory at quarter-end was down 13% compared to last year, exceeding our commitment of a mid-single-digit decline. As Tom shared earlier, we feel good about the level and composition of our inventory for the holiday season.

Operating cash flow was $151 million in the third quarter and $379 million year-to-date. In Q4, we expect to drive strong operating cash flow as we move through inventory during the holiday season. Capital expenditures for the quarter were $157 million. This included investments for five new stores, which opened earlier this month, and nearly 100 Sephora openings. Based on our year-to-date spending and outlook for the remainder of the year, we now expect full year capital expenditures to be towards the lower end of our $600 million to $650 million guidance range. Looking ahead to 2024, our initial view is that capital spending will be lower than 2023 levels given that much of the Sephora buildout is now behind us. We will provide more details on our fourth quarter earnings call.

Now, let me provide an update on our capital structure and capital allocation priorities. We remain committed to strengthening our balance sheet. Our focus in the near term is to pay down our revolver borrowings and rebuild our cash position. Over the longer term, our objective is to manage to a 2.5 times leverage level. During the third quarter, we utilized our revolver to fund seasonal working capital build ahead of the holiday season as expected. At quarter-end, our revolver balance was $625 million. Looking ahead in the fourth quarter, we will take another step to strengthen our balance sheet, retiring $111 million of bond maturities. In addition, we expect to significantly reduce our revolver borrowings. As it relates to shareholder returns, our current dividend remains a priority.

We paid $55 million or $0.50 per share in dividends to shareholders in Q3. And on November 7, as previously disclosed, the Board declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.50 per share payable to shareholders on December 20. Now, let me share some color on our updated outlook for 2023. As you've heard today, we continue to feel good about the progress we are making against our strategic priorities. Based on our performance to date and our outlook for the remainder of the year, we are updating our fiscal year guidance range. We currently expect net sales for the full year to decrease between 2.8% and 4% versus 2022 as compared to our previous guidance range of a decrease of 2% to 4%. As a reminder, this outlook includes sales from the 53rd week, which is worth approximately 1 percentage point of growth.

Operating margin for the full year to be approximately 4%, which is unchanged from our prior guidance. For EPS, we currently expect full year earnings per diluted share to be in the range of $2.30 to $2.70 excluding any non-recurring charges. This compares to our prior guidance of $2.10 to $2.70. Before turning it over for Q&A, I would like to discuss our credit business in the context of recent regulatory developments surrounding credit card late fees. As many of you are aware, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, has proposed lowering the late fees credit card companies can charge. If enacted as proposed, it would have an impact on credit card revenues if unmitigated. We are actively pursuing various initiatives to mitigate the effects of this potential ruling.

One thing unique to Kohl's is that we just launched our co-brand credit card, which is more reliant on revolving interest fees. Our co-brand card is off to a good start, and as we scale it over the next couple of years, it will serve as a key opportunity to drive credit revenue. In addition to scaling our co-brand card, we are also working on various other initiatives with Capital One, our credit partner, to mitigate the potential loss of late fee revenue. Through these efforts, we feel good about our ability to quickly offset any potential impact within a couple of years. We are closely monitoring developments on this issue, and as you can appreciate, there are a lot of unknowns at this time. We, like everyone else, are waiting on the final rule.

I want to make it clear that we believe in our ability to offset this regulatory headwind to our credit business over time. In the meantime, we are not going to speculate on this topic as the scale and timing of our mitigation efforts will depend on the final ruling. To the extent appropriate, we will provide an update on our fourth quarter earnings call. With that, Tom and I are happy to take your questions at this time.

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