Can Zale Continue to Shine On?

While the vast majority of retailers, both big and small, have suffered through the recently ended quarter and subsequent earnings reports, one mid-level jeweler seems to have bucked the trend. Zales (UNKNOWN: ZLC.DL  ) reported better-than-expected results this week, sending shares near their 52-week high. The company still posted a loss on the bottom line, and sales ticked up only marginally on the whole, but it was same-store sales that convinced investors and analysts that this company, previously wrecked by the financial crisis, is now an outperformer, and worthy of their investment.

The question now is, after Zale's fresh gains, does the stock have room to move further north? Let's take a look at recent earnings for clues.

Earnings recap 
As I mentioned above, Zale saw its revenues grow by 2.5% this past quarter to just over $417 million. On the bottom line, the company still posted a loss of $0.25 per share, but it ended up delighting the market, as Wall Street consensus had estimates coming in at an average of negative $0.33 per share. For revenue, the Street was expecting $409 million, achieving an appealing (and recently rare) double beat.

Neither of those numbers were as interesting as comparable-store sales, though, as Zale showed companywide same-store sales gains of 5.6%, alongside flagship Zale same-store gains of an impressive 8.1%.

Overall, the fiscal fourth quarter indicated a return to success (EPS losses aside) for the previously beleaguered jewelry firm. In just the past six months, amid effective management turnaround efforts, Zale stock has climbed more than 200%. Management described the earnings report as its first meaningful adjusted profit in the last six years.

What comes next? 
Zale suffered the double whammy of a major economic recession and poor merchandising tactics, which led to its stock, at one point, diving under the $1-per-share range, and prompting many to declare the business a bankruptcy contender. But, upon the appointment of CEO Theo Killion in 2010, things began to (very slowly) turn around. At $12.50 per share today, Zale has rebounded by more than 1,000% since its March 2009 low.

Has the proverbial low-hanging fruit of cost savings and merchandising rebounds brought this stock back to a point where it won't perform as well in the future? Not quite.

The stock is a bit pricey at just under 20 times forward earnings. Higher-market jeweler Tiffany, for example, trades at 18.8 times forward earnings, and delivered a better-than-predicted earnings report. Tiffany's merchandising may be less risky than Zale's. The latter relies on third-party names, such as Vera Wang, to move product -- while Tiffany's is an iconic company with a timeless product that requires fewer short-term adaptations.

Still, Zale is a long way off from its pre-2009 days of $30-plus per share. If the company can now shift from a turnaround play to a growth story, there could be plenty more room to run. However, investors looking to ride the coattails of this three-year, quadruple-digit-return stock should keep a more conservative outlook going forward.

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