On Strong March Sales, Target Boosts Q1 Outlook

Same-store sales rose 7.3 percent last month, beating the expectations of both Wall Street analysts and the company itself.

Target Corporation's sales surged in March, beating Wall Street expectations and prompting the company to boost its first-quarter earnings outlook.

The Minneapolis-based retailer said Thursday that same-store sales-sales at stores open for at least a year and a key industry barometer-rose 7.3 percent last month. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters predicted a 5.4 percent jump.

Meanwhile, net retail sales for the five weeks that ended on April 2 totaled $6.4 billion, representing a 7.9 percent jump from the same period last year.

“March sales were well above our expectations, reflecting a healthy underlying trend combined with the benefit of an earlier Easter and favorable weather this year,” Target Chairman, President, and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement.

Based on the company's solid performance, Steinhafel said that Target now expects same-store sales to rise 5 percent to 6 percent for the first quarter, which ends later this month. In early March, the retailer said it expected a 4 percent jump in same-store sales for the period.

Target also now expects earnings per share to fall between $1.04 and $1.10 for the quarter, up from its previous guidance of 97 cents to $1.07 per share.

On news of the retailer's strong performance in March, shares of its stock were trading up about 1 percent at $58.38 mid-morning on Thursday.

Following a weaker-than-expected December, Target has had a strong start to 2012. In January, same-store sales jumped 4.8 percent, more than double the 2.1 percent increase predicted by analysts, and net retail sales rose 5.1 percent to $4.6 billion. Then in February, same-store sales rose 7 percent, more than the 5.2 percent increase expected by Wall Street analysts, and net retail sales increased 8 percent to $5.1 billion.

The retailer serves customers at 1,765 stores and on its website-and it will expand into Canada next year. It is Minnesota's second-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $68.5 billion in the fiscal year that ended in January.