bebe's Small Strides

bebe Stores (Nasdaq: BEBE  ) is one of those retailers that's been in need of a turnaround, and although things are tough all over for many retailers, apparently some investors didn't mind bebe's profit drop, judging by the stock's significant jump following the report on its first quarter.

Net income dropped 25% to $15.4 million, or $0.16 per share. Revenue edged up by 2.5% to $161.1 million. Quarterly comps decreased 9.3% (against a 12.8% increase last year). Gross margin decreased to 47.5% of sales versus 50.5% this time last year.

bebe, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, also said second-quarter comps will be in the negative low-single-digit range, with earnings of $0.25 per share to $0.30 per share (boosted by a share buyback this past year).

As far as I can tell, there's no real surprise one way or another in bebe's first-quarter report, since customer response is still sluggish. However, in its conference call, repeated use of the word "sexy" and "sexiest" in describing the holiday season merchandise and ad campaign seem like a good sign that bebe knows it needs to get back to the core of its brand, although comments on value pricing for a small selection of "amazing" items are worth contemplating, given bebe's more upscale history.

These are tough times for specialty retailers looking to turn around -- and there are a whole slew of them. Off the top of my head, I think of names like Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) , Coldwater Creek (NYSE: CWTR  ) , and Chico's (NYSE: CHS  ) , some of which have been in the doldrums far longer than others. (Granted, these companies don't compete with bebe's sexy attire like Guess? (NYSE: GES  ) and BCBG do.) It's not exactly the best state of affairs when you've been struggling to turn around and get your merchandise issues straightened out and consumers are feeling nervous about money, and that seems to be the case for a good many retailers as we get closer to the end of the year.

Regardless, bebe's recent fashion issues have given the stock bargain allure; for example, it has a PEG ratio of 0.96. I wouldn't be the first to think that this might be the time to get a solid company at a bargain price, but of course, that also requires confidence in the likelihood that bebe can get its act together, fashion-wise. I can't wait to see if bebe really can pull off a sexy holiday season.  

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