Merger Buzz Sends Kroger, Target Stocks on Wild Ride

CNBC has since squashed the rumors

Mar 23, 2018 at 10:36 AM
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Shares of Kroger Co (NYSE:KR) and Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) popped at the open after a Fast Company report suggested the two retailers were in merger talks -- following last year's purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon (AMZN). Both KR and TGT have since pared a portion of their earlier gains after CNBC nixed the takeover chatter, but both stocks continue to trade near key technical levels.

Kroger Options Traders Eye a Strong Finish to Today's Session

Kroger stock was up nearly 3.7% earlier, but was last seen at trading 1.5% higher at $23.73. The shares have shed 24.5% since their late-January annual high of $31.45, and an earnings-induced bear gap from earlier this month sent Kroger plummeting below its 200-day moving average. This descending trendline is currently perched just above at $24.38.

Options traders have kept the faith toward the grocer, though. The weekly 3/23 24-strike call has seen the biggest increase in open interest over the past 10 days, with 10,590 contracts initiated. Data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) confirms mostly buy-to-open activity here, meaning speculators expect Kroger stock to settle north of $24 at tonight's close, when the weekly series expires.

Analysts Remain Skeptical of Target Stock

Target stock jumped 1.9% out of the gate, but was more recently seen up 0.4% to trade at $69.17. The shares came within a chip-shot of taking out their Jan. 23 annual high of $78.70 on Feb. 27 -- topping out at $78.43 -- but have since shed 11.8%. The pullback appears to be finding a foothold near TGT's 80-day moving average, which worked as resistance back in November.

Analysts remain skeptical of the retail stock, though. Of the 17 brokerages covering the shares, 13 maintain a "hold" or "strong sell" rating, while the average 12-month price target of $76.48 stands at a tepid 10.6% premium to TGT's current price.

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