I'm a believer in growth stocks. As an analyst for our Motley Fool Rule Breakers service, I think you should be a believer, too. But even I have to admit some growth stories are bogus, hence this regular series.
Next up: Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO ) . Is this casual apparel retailer the real thing? Let's get right to the numbers.
|Motley Fool CAPS stars (out of 5)||***|
|Bullish pitches||102 out of 114|
|Highest rated peers||Urban Outfitters, TJX Companies, Ross Stores|
Data current as of Oct. 28.
If Fools can't make up their minds about Aeropostale, it's probably because of the fickle nature of teen fashion. Nothing in the financial statements is the least bit suspect.
Sales performance also seems to be on track. Same-store sales increased 3% in September, down from last year's 19% increase but still good considering that, industrywide, comps rose 2.6% last month, according to data from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
If anything, Aeropostale's long-term record of improving free cash flow is reassuring. Too many retailers fail to generate even $1 of cash flow, let alone hundreds of millions over the course of several years, as Aeropostale has.
"Aeropostale literally has the best supply chain management and inventory control I've seen among retailers of the same class. With their lean cost structure, competitive pricing, and solid products, Aero has been doing very well in the older teen's market. It is the hip thing to wear, trust me," Foolish investor KamisterJas wrote last month.
The elements of growth
Past 12 Months
|Normalized net income growth||36.6%||54%||17.1%|
|Shares outstanding||93.5 million||94 million||100.4 million|
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
I can't speak to fashion trends, but this table speaks to our Fool's first point. Aeropostale is well positioned for long-term growth. Let's review:
- First, Aeropostale is growing normalized net income faster than revenue, a good sign that's at least partly because of a shrinking base of shares outstanding.
- More importantly, management is proving judicious with inventory. In each of the past three years, inventory has grown at less than half the rate of revenue.
- Gross margin is also on the rise, another good sign. In this case, it means Aeropostale is keeping a lid on costs instead of discounting itself into oblivion.
- Add it up and you've got a picture of an efficient organization that Capital IQ says has produced better-than 50% returns on its available capital since 2008.
Competitor and peer checkup
Normalized Net Income Growth (3 years)
|Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF )||(35%)|
|American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO )||(27%)|
|Gap (NYSE: GPS )||15.1%|
|The Children's Place (Nasdaq: PLCE )||3.1%|
Source: Capital IQ. Data current as of Oct. 28.
This table helps confirm everything we just learned in the prior table. In short, it proves that Aeropostale is unusual: A standout performer in an industry that hasn't produced many standout performances recently.
As growth stocks go, Aeropostale isn't sexy. So be it. There's no doubting this retailer's earnings and cash-generating power. And with the stock trading for a fraction of analysts' long-term projected earnings growth rate, today's price looks like an attractive entry point. I'm therefore compelled to rate Aeropostale to outperform in my CAPS portfolio.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. Do you like Aeropostale at these levels? Let us know what you think using the comments box below. You can also ask Tim to evaluate a favorite growth story by sending him an email, or replying to him on Twitter.
Interested in more info on Aeropostale? Add it to your watchlist by clicking here.