1 Retailer Rising Above the Pack

If you had to choose a number to define October, it turns out that the number would be four. That's a bit of broad-brush painting, but it certainly seems like the thing to do in October was to increase same-store sales by 4%. Ross (Nasdaq: ROST  ) , Buckle (NYSE: BKE  ) , Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) , and Macy's (NYSE: M  ) all did it, and once again, it looks like it's going to be a very good Christmas. Here's what investors need to know, and the info on one last company that broke the 4% mold.

Club membership
Let's start at the bottom and work our way up. Discount chain Ross capped off an excellent quarter in October. In the three months prior, same-store sales increased 6% and revenue was up 11% to $2.3 billion. The company also slightly revised its earnings-per-share estimate for the quarter, increasing it by a cent to a $0.71-$0.72 range. That all seems like excellent news, but as usual, the market had other ideas. Analysts were looking for a larger increase in same-store sales, to put the company in line with the other increases it has seen so far this quarter. With the slight shortcoming, the stock took it on the chin and traded down more than 6% yesterday.

Taking a slight step up, Gap fell roughly in line with investor expectations. Same-store sales for the quarter are also up 6%, with revenue rising 8% to $3.9 billion. The retailer has been on a tear this year with its new design team and a newly revised management structure. Last year in October, same-store sales fell 6%. Since that time, Gap has refocused on its branding and manufacturing, and the stock has risen 91% since this time in 2011. EPS for the current quarter is expected to fall in the $0.61 to $0.63 range, which is a 60% increase from the same period last year. With sales on the rise, Gap should be looking forward to an excellent holiday season.

Macy's beat expectations soundly with its 4% same-store sales increase, and the stock jumped 5% today. Investors were also happy to hear that the 200 or so stores that were affected by Hurricane Sandy shouldn't impact sales for the quarter. Based on the strong same-store sales increase and Macy's continued strength this quarter, management raised its second-half same-store sales guidance from 3.7% to 4%. That now pushes the company's forecast growth above the year-to-date position, which stands at 3.7%. Year-to-date, revenue is also up 3.7% to $18.3 billion.

The final member of the club is my personal favorite, Buckle. The jeans retailer has swung hard in both directions this year, and the stock is only just getting back toward its March high. October was another good month, though, and investors responded kindly to the October increase. In part, it shows that the company is increasing its strength. Year-to-date same-store sales are up 3.2%, while this month's 3.8% increase indicates a good push going into the end of the year. The increase at Buckle not only gave it a good head of steam going into the holidays, it also surprised and delighted Wall Street. Analysts had been expecting a 1.3% decline  in same-store sales, and the stock jumped 5% on the good news.

The surprise success
While the four other companies move steadily down the path to a good Christmas, high-end department store Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) is charging down the road. The company racked up a 9.8% increase in same-store sales in October, and its third-quarter position now stands at a 10.7% increase. With its excellent results and strong brand, Nordstrom is pushing forward with its expansion plans. The company has two more stores in the works for November, and has already laid the groundwork for four new stores in 2013. All six of those locations will be from the company's Nordstrom Rack brand, which increased same-store sales by 10.5% in October.

Nordstrom keeps surprising analysts, and this release was no different. The consensus had put a sales increase near 6%, and the better-than-expected results inched the stock up 2%. Nordstrom's high-end appeal may be hurting it, as macroeconomic factors and forecasts continue to play a dampening role. Once the election is over and Americans have more certainty about the next four years, I expect Nordstrom to see stock market success more in line with its business success.

Nordstrom is one of those companies that are doing everything right but are being held back by external forces. The company is only trading at a P/E of 18, slightly above the apparel industry average. These sorts of stocks are the things of dreams, because once everyone else catches on, early investors get a huge bump. The Motley Fool has a special free report, "3 Stocks Wall Street's Too Rich to Notice," that details three other overlooked companies. Click here to get your free copy today.

Fool contributor Andrew Marder has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of The Buckle and Gap. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend The Buckle and Gap. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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