3 Stocks to Consume Now

As back-to-school season kicks into gear, retailers and consumer-product companies are looking forward to a little boost. Even with the challenging retail marketplace, the kids still need new clothes and backpacks -- and they'll probably want an iPod, too. And believe it or not, the National Retail Federation forecasts that parents will increase back-to-school spending on their kids by more than 5% this year, to $594 per family.

In honor of the kids, let's look at three family-friendly retail and consumer stocks this week.

Value in store at Children's Place
Gymboree (Nasdaq: GYMB  ) reported second-quarter earnings yesterday, and just as in the previous quarter, the company delivered double-digit sales growth. Although Gymboree did increase its number of stores by 13% and actual revenue by only 12.8%, net income jumped by 38%. Gymboree expects to take a hit in the lagging economy with flat to negative same-store-sales growth for the third-quarter back-to-school season.

In comparison, The Children's Place (Nasdaq: PLCE  ) , which also delivered second-quarter results yesterday, painted a sunnier revenue picture with a 16% net sales increase and a 9% same-store-sales jump. Yes, the company delivered only a tiny profit, but compared with last year's $20 million loss and with the divestiture of the Disney Stores, it's not all bad. The company cut selling, general, and administrative costs by more than 3% year over year, and that's quite an accomplishment, considering the rampant inflation we're seeing everywhere.

The big difference between The Children's Place and Gymboree is product pricing. The Children's Place is offering lower-priced clothing while it continues to cut costs and inventory. At a price-to-earnings ratio of 13, The Children's Place has a slightly higher multiple than Gymboree's 12. However, if The Children's Place can continue to deliver attractive, lower-priced clothing that fits consumers' tighter pocketbooks while it watches its own expenses, the company could generate superior long-term value for investors as well.

Parents, feed your children well
Concerned parents everywhere want to feed their kids healthful and natural foods. That's why Hain Celestial Group (Nasdaq: HAIN  ) has potential as a long-term, family friendly investment. Hain makes Celestial Seasonings tea and other organic and natural foods and personal-care products. The organic-food market continues to expand at double-digit growth rates, even if Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) has faltered lately.

In addition to making wholesome products, Hain was also named one of 2008's Best Green Companies for America's Children in Working Mother Magazine, which cited the company's continued sustainability efforts. To increase its exposure, the company's Hain Celestial Canada group was named the official natural and organic grocery supplier for the 2010 Olympics.

On the downside, the company has struggled to maintain profits with rising food prices. Last quarter's revenue increased by 11%, but earnings dropped by almost a third on a big jump in costs. Hain will report earnings next week, so at this point, it makes sense to wait and analyze the next profit report before proceeding. In any case, with the national and international focus on green investing and organic products, Hain is a good stock to watch in the coming months.

Bouncing with Rubbermaid
Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE: NWL  ) has bounced around a lot recently, and now the stock is down almost 40% from its 52-week high. For the second quarter, the diversified maker of Rubbermaid bins, Sharpie markers, and Graco car seats delivered 8% second-quarter sales growth, tempered by an operating-income drop of 7% as a result of commodity-price increases. Newell Rubbermaid is facing a challenging market ahead, with forecasts calling for a decline in gross margin of 100 to 175 basis points for the year.

Competitor Fortune Brands (NYSE: FO  ) has struggled recently, while Tupperware (NYSE: TUP  ) , having a less direct housing-market connection, has fared better. With a recent dividend yield of 4.6%, Newell Rubbermaid delivers a strong income stream to shareholders. Trading at P/E multiples well under its competitors, this company could be a bargain-basement selection if it can manage rising commodity expenses.

Clothes, pens, and food aren't exactly glamorous additions to your portfolio, but they are products that consumers will continue to buy, even when economic times are tough. When purchased at a decent price, these may be some stocks that make a difference between an early retirement and working into your 70s.

For related Foolishness:

Tupperware is a current Income Investor selection, and Newell Rubbermaid is a former one. Looking for more advice in an all-consuming market? Give The Motley Fool's newsletter services a shot with a 30-day free trial.

Fool contributor Colleen Paulson owns no positions in any of the stocks mentioned above but has purchased a Sharpie marker or two in her day. Whole Foods is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy has a healthy appetite for investing knowledge.


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