Mr. Market Turns Sour on Sweet Gymboree

I don't know what Gymboree (Nasdaq: GYMB  ) has to do to turn that stock chart right-side-up. Really, I don't.

All the children's clothing retailer does is churn out one fine quarter after another, raising its earnings guidance every step along the way, and building out a darn impressive store network using nothing but cash flow and elbow grease. And this at a time when archrival Children's Place (Nasdaq: PLCE  ) looks so lost it had to flush out the management suites, and top retailers like Sears (Nasdaq: SHLD  ) and Target (NYSE: TGT  ) can't measure up to the market's expectations.

That kind of performance should lead to market-thumping stock returns, but that's not what happened. For example, last night's earnings release showed earnings above and beyond the recently upped guidance range, and the conference call was full of congratulations from a fawning flock of analysts. And, yes, Gymboree raised its full-year earnings guidance again, this time by $0.04 per share. So of course, the share price is down more than 6% from yesterday's opening level.

Well, I guess the only thing to do is to whittle away at the business model and ferret out more growth ideas. The core Gymboree store brand may have little left in the way of malls that need some Gymbo love, with 562 locations in the U.S. alone. But CEO Matt McCauley has other tricks up his sleeve: the Janie & Jack brand could support another 100 stores or so, in addition to the existing 88, and Matt thinks the brand-new Crazy 8 concept could scale up to match the Gymboree brand itself.

As long as Gymboree refuses to borrow money to support its expansion plans, it will take a while to reach those lofty build-out goals. The total revenues here won't equal Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) or Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) anytime soon. On the other hand, it makes Gymboree more recession-proof, which could be a handy attribute to have in the coming couple of years.

Maybe that's the key: Wait for a macroeconomic hammer to hit retailing, and see Gymboree still standing after the weaker stores cave in under the pressure. Or just keep slapping the market around with a steady stream of brilliant quarters, and see if the silly thing comes to its senses. One can always hope.

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