The investing universe can't be all tech stocks that garner multiples of 30 or 40 times earnings. Some stocks have to be in the vicious retail world, where margins are sliced thinner than restaurant bacon, and investors just don't seem willing to pay up for some decent growth prospects. So it might be time to take advantage of that investor disdain and scoop up some retail. Below I highlight 5 stocks that could be interesting plays for the retail portion of your portfolio.
1. Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT )
Yes, Wal-Mart stock has done precious little in the past decade. But can I help it if investors overpaid in years past? Now the stock trades at less than 11 times forward earnings. So U.S. sales are rough. The domestic segment's performance is obscuring the company's successful international expansion. The international segment grew 2010 operating profit more than 11% year over year. And the company recently announced a 21% bump to its dividend and now sports a 2.8% forward yield.
2. Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO )
And you think Wal-Mart is cheap? This teen retailer trades at less than 10 times earnings. That's pricing in almost no growth, despite analyst predictions of 12.5% annual earnings increases over the next half-decade, although next year's earnings are expected to be flat with this year's. The low valuations in the teen retailer space have prompted much speculation that private equity would make another acquisition, and some are predicting Aeropostale or American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO ) as likely buyouts. With nearly $240 million in cash and no debt, Aeropostale has taken advantage of the lower valuations and increased its share-repurchase authorization by $300 million.
3. Gap (NYSE: GPS )
Gap was a laughingstock for its redesigned logo, but the public's heated response shows just how much the brand still matters. The company trades around 11 times trailing earnings, sports $1.7 billion in cash and no debt, and has grown its dividend at more than 17% annually over the past five years. Sales growth has been sluggish in the past five years, but the company's focus on cost-cutting has allowed margins to grow to their highest level in a decade. And the company is investing in its briskly growing online and international operations, so sales growth can return.
4. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY )
This electronics retailer is beset by heavy competition from Internet retailers, but the stock is also priced for it, trading at just 9.6 times earnings -- essentially no-growth territory. But the company has a briskly growing operation in China and has pushed cash back to shareholders, with a payout that has grown 14% per year for the past five years. Is this one a value or a value trap? The company's low valuation has my colleague Anand Chokkavelu buying the stock for his Rising Star portfolio -- and I have to agree.
5. Guess? (NYSE: GES )
Did this interrogative retailer even notice there was a recession? Sales growth has been positive in the last four fiscal years, and profit has climbed an annual average of 16.6% for the past three years. Still, this stock trades at a reasonable 16 times trailing earnings and just 13 times this year's profit. This company has effectively no debt and about 11% of its market cap in cash. It's not surprising then that Motley Fool Hidden Gems has recommended a purchase of the stock in its real-money portfolio.
BONUS: 6. Lumber Liquidators (NYSE: LL )
Here's my most speculative pick. The company trades at nearly 25 times earnings, but analysts are projecting earnings growth of 21% next year and 20% annually for the next five years. The company's low capex model is impressive: It needs just $300,000 to open a store (of which $225,000 is inventory) and in just one year the typical store has earned back its original investment. Those great economics are reflected in the company's 140% return on invested capital over a three-year period. Some recent stumbles implementing an inventory control system have knocked shares down.
Foolish bottom line
These stocks are cheap relative to their prospects, and their proven performance in years past suggests that the market will one day wake up to these quality retailers. With sometimes ridiculously low multiples, these retail stocks look like safe places to put your cash. So are these values or value traps?
Click on Lumber Liquidators, Best Buy, or Aeropostale to add them to your watchlist, or start a new watchlist and add any company you want. You'll get valuable updates as well as immediate access to a new special report, "Six Stocks to Watch from David and Tom Gardner." Click here to get started.