A Guess Gone Wrong

It seems that trying to be clever with Guess? (NYSE: GES  ) can get you a rash. I sold a good chunk of my position a few months back because I believed things were about as good as they were going to get, and I could not have been more wrong.

Yesterday's Q1 numbers are even more impressive than the headlines suggest, and that's no mean feat when the headlines read like this: Revenues up 42.3%. Net earnings up 71.9%.

Dig in, and you'll see what I mean. The strength at Guess? showed in many of its (increasingly numerous) segments. North American retail, the segment most familiar to us, had comps growth of 13.6%, putting to shame peers like American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO  ) , Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) , Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) , and Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN  ) .

European sales were up more than 77%, and that segment now comprises more than half of the revenues at Guess? Licensing revenue grew 41.5%. Wholesale revenues grew 77.4%, but keep in mind that the number there compares to an unusually weak number for the prior-year quarter as a result of department store consolidation during that period.

As you might expect, that kind of sales growth produced some increased leverage. Gross margins expanded 2.7 percentage points, and operating margins expanded 2.4 percentage points. The difference there is owed to some start-up costs for launching Guess? in China, as well as some investment in a South Korean re-launch of the brand. That should mean more room for margin improvement down the road, and indeed, in the conference call, Guess? management admits that it hasn't been able to leverage SG&A expenses as much as we might like, because of the new concepts and geographic expansion.

Some dilution meant the bottom line for the likes of you and I grew only 65%, to $0.38 per share. That was enough to blow analyst estimates out of the water, however, with the result that the stock, which ran up quite a bit before earnings, is popping up again.

I've learned my lesson on Guess? I'll be holding the rest of my stubs for the long run. It looks to me like the brand has a real global resonance, and the management team is keeping tight control of costs as it works to meet and nurture this demand. The stock is already up more than 500% since I bought it in spring 2005, but I believe it's got plenty more room to run.

Best of all, Guess? still doesn't get much buzz. As investors have chased newer, "hotter" concepts like True Religion (Nasdaq: TRLG  ) or Volcom (Nasdaq: VLCM  ) , Guess? has spoken more softly and carried a much bigger stick. There's a lot to say for being the outperforming, rehabilitated classic.

Comments? Bring them here.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had shares of Guess? and American Eagle Outfitters, but had no positions in any other company mentioned here. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. American Eagle Outfitters is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Volcom is a Hidden Gems pick. Fool rules are here.


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