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With 2012 still in the rear view, companies are looking back at December to see what went right. Overall, a few big brands were able to break through the fiscal cliff noise and convince shoppers to part with more of their hard-earned dollars. While the overall picture is still developing, these three retailers beat the odds and expectations to show great strength coming into 2013. Investors can learn from the 2012s of yesterday, and look forward to a whole year of good news.

Macy's finishes a fine year
(NYSE: M  ) increased comparable store sales by 4% in December, beating analysts' expectations . The retailer has worked to turn the ship around over the past five years, and this result marks the fourth consecutive December of increased sales . While online sales are included in the comparable store sales figures, it's worth nothing that online alone was up 52% in December. That says two things to me. First, that Macy's is seeing weaker in-store growth than the 4% would suggest. The 52% growth skews that figure. Second, it's making up for that weaker physical growth by creating a meaningful omnichannel experience.

As consumers increasingly use mobile online shopping resources, companies need to learn to meet them on their own turf. Macy's actually called this initiative out in its press release, highlighting the importance that it will play in the future . Even with the strong performance, management issued a slightly reduced earnings-per-share outlook, which pushed the stock down 1% in early trading.

Even with the reduced forecast, Macy's is poised for a good 2013. It's adaption to the new shopping model was tested in December, and it performed well. In addition to its strong sales, the company is closing underperforming stores, which will help it in the long-term.

TJX sprints to the finish
There was no hint of bad news in the TJX (NYSE: TJX  ) sales announcement. The company blasted past the 2% forecast for December comparable sales growth, pulling in 6% instead . That showing brought year-to-date comparable store increases up to 7%, and pushed management to increase its full-year outlook. TJX now expects to earn between $2.50 and $2.51 per share. That's a 2% increase from its previous forecast, and over 20% growth from its full year earnings per share from the previous year .

TJX is going to have a boost in 2013 from its recent acquisition of online retailer Sierra Trading Post. The $200 million purchase was made in cash, and should certainly help revenue growth next year. In addition, TJX acquired a decent amount of infrastructure in the form of call centers and distribution points. Those represent new opportunities for growth, or costs that can be trimmed over the next few years .

No stopping the Gap
As a final flourish to an excellent 2012, Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) increased December comparable sales by 5%. That's a huge turnaround from last December's 4% drop, and shows just how well management has understood the company's problems and moved to address them. The company's biggest turnaround came from Old Navy, which had fallen 4% last year, but which gained 13% this year . The line had been plagued by quality and branding issues, and was a heavy focus in 2012.

In other good news, Gap announced its acquisition of INTERMIX, a high-end fashion retailer  that should add a whole new customer to Gap's already large base. The brand is steps above Banana Republic, the company's existing upper-end, and carries shoes in the $800 range, and bags that easily break the $1,000 mark. Gap's existing distribution system should be a boon to the smaller brand, and could even lead Gap to being a serious high-end competitor in the next few years. The year 2013 should be the start of a very interesting new business.

I've been a big fan of Gap's new business and branding for some time now, and the company has been happy to reward investors. I think 2013 is going to be an even better year for Gap and, with a P/E that's below the industry average, now is still a fine time to get in on the action.

The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his number one stock for the next year. Find out which stock it is in our brand-new free repo, "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2013." I invite you to take a copy, free for a limited time. Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

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Related Tickers

9/28/2016 4:02 PM
GPS $22.06 Down -0.23 -1.03%
Gap CAPS Rating: **
M $36.10 Down -0.50 -1.37%
Macy's CAPS Rating: **
TJX $74.39 Down -0.85 -1.13%
The TJX Companies CAPS Rating: *****