The Abercrombie Panic

Mr. Market is making another frowny face today, and one of the companies taking a bigger-than-average shellacking is Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) . The reason? It looks like one of those clever Wall Street analysts has decided to pan the stock.

Lehman Brothers' Jeff Black reportedly worries that Abercrombie's sales have been weak. He doesn't like the inventory trend, and sees no possibility of improvement until the summer season flows into back-to-school time.

For all I know, Jeff may be an extra-clever guy, but come on. Tell us something we don't already know! At the very least, draw conclusions from the obvious at a point in time when it could make a difference for those who want to try and trade on short-term trends (a fool's errand, in my opinion). How about May 24, when the stock traded up past $84 a share after its so-so earnings release?

Sure, Abercrombie's comparable-store sales these days are more like Pacific Sunwear's (Nasdaq: PSUN  ) -- not so good -- than American Eagle's (NYSE: AEO  ) . And none of them can compete with the revenue growth that Guess? (NYSE: GES  ) is generating via its overseas expansion. But it's hardly time to panic on Abercrombie. Fashions don't always hit. Sometimes, there may simply be no explanation for a waver.

Despite my colleagues' suspicions that Abercrombie is a bit off the mark or mired in sameness, I'm inclined to attribute at least some of the recent sales blahs to economic worries on the part of households who are watching gas prices climb through the roof. Abercrombie is a premium brand in the space, and while that presents some risk exposure to the overall economy, I'm not ready to crawl into the bunker with my cash, shortwave, and dried beans just yet.

The final bit about inventory doesn't strike me as a legitimate worry. As last quarter's figures show, inventory is tracking higher a bit more quickly than is growth in total revenues, but not enough to warrant a panic.

Will Abercrombie be dead money until the school season begins? Sure. Maybe. Why not? Research has shown that short-term calls on stocks track about as well as a coin flip, so hey, we've got a 50% shot of being right either way. To my mind, Abercrombie's trading at a 15% discount to its fair value -- calculated with an eye to the long run. So rejoice, Abercrombie fans. It's not every day that Wall Street hands you an extra 3% off coupon for one of the strongest brands in the game.

American Eagle and Pacific Sunwear are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. To see how the newsletter is beating the market, come sign up today for your 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 here. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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