Conn's Blown Over

Shares of home appliance and electronics retailer Conn's (Nasdaq: CONN  ) have trended down over the past couple of days, as the company released earnings that came in slightly below analyst expectations.

Our recent Fool by Numbers will walk you through more of the specifics, but basically Conn's is in the midst of a hangover, since hurricane rebuilding efforts benefited sales last year. This made same-store sales growth more difficult to achieve.

Conn's is also seeing a higher level of loan delinquencies in its credit portfolio. Fellow Fool David Meier recently wrote a very insightful article explaining that Conn's is as much a financing company as a retailer; 50%-60% of items sold involve clients using its financing options to pay for those televisions and major home appliances. That makes the Conn's operating model different from Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) and CircuitCity (NYSE: CC  ) , companies that rely heavily on the sale of merchandise rather than credit. Conn's doesn't separate credit metrics from retail statistics, as it considers both an integral part of retaining its customer base, but it also doesn't hide the fact that credit has been a focus at the company since 1962.

Conn's does have a solid track record of serving its core Louisiana and Texas market from its 60 retail locations, and it operates with very minimal long-term debt on the balance sheet. At a recent presentation at the Southwestern Showcase, management detailed that it is the ninth largest retailer of appliances in the country and is eyeing expansion opportunities close to home in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and prudently near the Mexican border, where more consumers are likely to use its financing options.

The company's credit business clearly adds another layer of complexity. For one thing, metrics aren't broken out separately; for another, a special-purpose entity -- formed to buy its receivables and securitize them for sale to third parties -- requires an understanding of consumer finance. There is also the risk that deteriorating credit trends can hurt the bottom line (as they have recently), but loan losses have stayed under 4% since 2000 and usually stay below 3%.

Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) may be the safer bet because of its purer retail focus, larger size, and geographic diversity, but it trades at a higher P/E and has lower net margins than Conn's. Conn's has a forward P/E below 12, offering some form of downside protection from the higher-risk financing operations and other potential retailing snafus. It also has a reputation for posting double-digit growth in sales and earnings, and possesses plenty of room for future expansion. It may take some more investigation into the credit operations to get comfortable with the name, but Conn's represents another interesting option for overall consumer electronics exposure.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to further discuss any companies mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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