Border(s) Patrol

In the wake of a quarter that didn't impress the Wall Streeters, Borders Group (NYSE: BGP  ) is starting to look a little more binary to me; it's either an actual value in the making or it's a value trap destined to suck away hope, time, and money.

Borders is one of those retailers where a lot (if not all) of a year's profits come in just one quarter of the year, barring a major event that drives a mass-market must-have book. And so while it's true that expenses were inflated this quarter by what the company calls "investing in strategic initiatives" (which is company-speak for "spending your money on something we hope will make our numbers look better"), it wasn't going to be a great quarter anyway.

Looking at the namesake business, comp sales were up about 0.7% as improved traffic outweighed smaller tickets. Even still, net income and EBITDA both dropped from the year-ago level, and music continues to be a weak category within the overall sales number.

It's also worth noting that the company saw significantly better same-store sales at the remodeled stores (up about 3.3%), though I can't recall whether the company has talked about how it prioritizes which stores get remodeled first. And that could be a relevant detail -- if it refurbished the under-performers first, that's a powerful affirmation of the potential doing this across the chain. Then again, even if it's the best stores that went first, it's still not a bad result and would still be worth the capital it's investing into the process.

I kinda wish Borders Group didn't look a little cheap here -- it'd be a lot easier to just like Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) , and its cash flow, more and get on with it. Then again, I'm not really all a-twitter about U.S. retailers in general. Sure, there are some stocks out there that look like solid long-term buys, but it sure seems as though things have gotten a little tougher lately.

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Fool contributorStephen Simpsonhas no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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