Turning lululemon Into Lemonade

You go, yoga.

Upscale fitness apparel retailer lululemon athletica (Nasdaq: LULU  ) is at peace with investors after coming through with better than expected fiscal-fourth-quarter results.

Net revenue more than doubled to $105.1 million during the holiday quarter. Earnings more than quadrupled to $0.21 a share. Analysts expected the Vancouver-based chain to earn just $0.19 a share on $92.7 million in net revenue.

Yes, those numbers are as sweet as the margin-widening results imply. Comps rose a staggering 41% -- and a still jaw-dropping 24% on a constant dollar basis -- as the stores remain a magnet for well-to-do soccer moms and yoga enthusiasts.

The company's CEO will step down this summer, but that may not be a bad thing, after he stirred up headlines last year over accusations that he padded his online resume and brought on a New York Times expose on iffy seaweed-fiber apparel claims. Christine Day, who heads up the company's retail operations, will take the place of the departing Robert Meers.

Despite the obstacles, the numbers prove that shoppers couldn't care less about the CEO's past or seaweed fiber's future.

The chain's guidance is upbeat. Meers expects the company to earn between $0.70 a share and $0.72 a share, with the top line exceeding the company's long-term target of 25% in annualized growth.

The guidance includes a $0.02-a-share hit, as a result of the company bowing out of Japan, where it has just four stores. The company will focus instead on stateside growth; lululemon plans to open 35 stores and beef up its e-commerce appeal.

In sum, it's hard to find a specialty retailer showing this kind of burgeoning store-level popularity. The niche alone can't be the secret to its success, since retailers such as Liz Claiborne's (NYSE: LIZ  ) prAna and VF's (NYSE: VFC  ) Lucy also have interests in yoga apparel.

No, lululemon isn't cheap. Now fetching roughly 45 times this year's profit guidance, mallrats will find cheaper valuations in less specialized concepts.

That kind of multiple stands out when pitted against mall staples like Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) , American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO  ) , Hot Topic (Nasdaq: HOTT  ) , and Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO  ) , which are trading at just 11-14 times this year's projected earnings.

Then again, you don't see any of those chains growing so quickly, or churning out such sky-high comps, at a time when shoppers are clinging to their pennies.

lululemon is onto something special, and hopping onto a company's growth curve early is usually worth a pretty premium.


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