Stupid Guess?

"Stupid [insert stock here]!"

That's the way my colleagues and I used to play the blame game when faced with a crummy quarter from a clunker in our portfolios. Slowly, however, it morphed into the preferred expression for a company that had done exceedingly well.

That being the case, today, I'll be shaking my head and muttering "Stupid, stupid Guess!"

Last night, Guess? (NYSE: GES  ) released earnings that were considerably better than the $0.91 to $0.93 per share that management predicted it would post for Q4 only a month ago.

The Q4 total of $0.99 per share represents 77% growth over the prior-year quarter's tally. That looks very impressive, given that total revenue growth came in at 25.2%. The big earnings uptick came, as in the past, via quickly expanding margins. Operating margin for the period improved 4.8 percentage points to 20.5% of revenues.

And for those who think that high level means Guess? is topping out, I urge you to think again. Peers like American Eagle Outfitters (Nasdaq: AEOS  ) and Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) regularly turn in operating margins greater than 20% for the holiday-encompassing quarter, and even for fall. They even crest 25% from time to time. I expect Guess? to not only achieve such margins, but perhaps surpass them, because its fat-margin overseas business is growing even more quickly than its U.S. side. For 2006, operating margins rose to 16.3%, but the full-year operating margin target that management gave for 2007, 17%, is still lower than Abercrombie's usual mark.

In simpler terms, there's more leverage left, especially if Guess? outruns its guidance for 23% revenue growth for the coming year.

I believe management is confident in the company's cash production, since it announced a regular quarterly dividend of $0.12 per share, something I always like to see. Executives threw in a stock split, too, which will probably grab more headlines than it deserves, but also give those of us who like to write options from time to time more opportunity to take small bites.

For more on Guess?, check out:

American Eagle Outfitters is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Discover why with a free 30-day trial.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had shares of Guess? and American Eagle but no positions in any other company mentioned. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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