Naughty: Retailers

Since this is the time of year Santa Claus is making his list, and checking it twice, there's no better time to contemplate who's been naughty and nice in the world of business and investing, too.

Who should get a few lumps of coal in their stockings? When that question was posed to me, I couldn't help but recall an article I wrote last summer, about some retailers reducing the frequency of their same-store sales, or comps, reporting. So I've got to nominate that retail "trend" as a naughty turn in 2006 -- but keep reading because there's a naughty twist at the end, too.

This isn't exactly a new development. There are some retailers, like Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) , which haven't reported monthly same-store sales data for quite some time now (it does report that data quarterly). And it was a well-known development when Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) stopped reporting its comps on weekly (although I admit, weekly comps might be overkill). However, given the fact that most retailers do report same-store sales data monthly, in 2006 it was no longer an anomaly to drop that tradition.

Last summer, I couldn't help but consider the fact that some of the retailers opting for the "less-is-more" angle had their share of challenges. For example Bombay Co. (NYSE: BBA  ) has been struggling for a long time. Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) also said it would quit reporting same-store sales data on a monthly basis. Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) said that it would stop reporting comps at all -- although it later reversed that decision (probably not surprising seeing how that company has been on the hot seat lately).

In October, I noted what I believed was a more shocking recent development along these lines -- Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) said it will no longer report its comps on a monthly basis. As a Starbucks shareholder, I really wasn't thrilled by that decision.

Now comes the twist. Most of the retailers that have chosen this route have cited the volatility that can hit their stocks when monthly comps are reported. And it's absolutely true. That fateful Thursday every month often brings about drastic stock moves that strike some of us as absolutely nonsensical. (No wonder one Fool dubbed this behavior Wall Street's retail idiocy.)

And there's the crux of the situation -- while I don't condone the idea that "less is more" when it comes to timely, frequent information for investors, investors share some of the fault. Here at the Fool, the point has been made many times that one month's sales data does not make a good thesis for buying or selling a stock.

In July, I said, "As investors, we have our own responsibilities. Take monthly same-store sales fluctuations with a grain of salt. Resist the hype when you're trying to find true quality retailers with sustainable competitive advantages. Do your due diligence on free cash flow, profitability, debt, revenue, margins, and inventories. Remember that same-store sales are short term, not the be-all and end-all."

That's why, unfortunately, while I can say retailers that are ratcheting down the frequency of their same-store sales communications belong on my "naughty" list for 2006, I can't help but admit that some investors share the blame. After all, illogical share-price volatility gave the companies that have decided to go this route what seems like a perfectly logical excuse, and I can't say that in the long run, any of this is good for investors.

For related Foolishness, see the following articles from 2006:

There's a whole world of naughty and nice out there! Take a lookat the rest of the bunch.

Wal-Mart and Home Depot areMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendations. Starbucks is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorpick.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks and Urban Outfitters. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

DocumentId: 518279, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 4/20/2014 8:02:13 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...


Advertisement