Gap (NYSE:GPS) will release its quarterly report on Thursday, and investors have been a bit on edge recently, with the stock reacting sharply in both directions to conflicting news about the retail giant. What's clear, though, is that Gap's strategy is to take the best of lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) and its success in tapping the athletic-apparel market, and combine it with Gap's existing strength against American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) and other traditional clothing retailers.

Gap has had a storied history over the years, proving to be just as vulnerable to the changing trends of fickle fashion shoppers as any other retailer. After soaring to new heights in the late 1990s, Gap suffered its own lost-decade of stagnant returns during the 2000s, as multiple turnaround efforts failed to bear fruit quickly. In recent years, though, Gap has finally moved in the right direction, and investors want Gap's current strategy to keep supporting growth well into the future. Let's take an early look at what's been happening with Gap over the past quarter, and what we're likely to see in its report.

Stats on Gap

Analyst EPS Estimate


Change From Year-Ago EPS


Revenue Estimate

$3.98 billion

Change From Year-Ago Revenue


Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Just how high can Gap earnings go?
Analysts have had mixed views on Gap earnings recently, boosting their October-quarter estimates by $0.01 per share, but cutting their fiscal 2014 and 2015 projections by 1% to 2%. The stock has bounced around furiously during the past quarter, but is down just 2% since mid-August.

Gap has already given investors an early look at what it's likely to report, and they liked what they saw. Preliminary figures for the October quarter showed same-store sales rising 1%, and Gap reaffirmed its previous guidance on inventory figures. Despite falling merchandise margins compared to last year, investors breathed a sigh of relief, and sent the stock up more than 10% on the news.

That guidance continues a favorable trend for Gap. In its July quarter, Gap boosted same-store sales by 5%, compared to a 7% drop for American Eagle Outfitters. Even though Gap's Banana Republic line suffered negative comps, both Old Navy and the namesake Gap brands more than made up for that weakness. Yet, one reason for the stock's big move upward was that Gap had previously announced disappointing September sales figures that panicked shareholders into a big drop.

Gap is looking to keep pushing its advantage by continuing with its successful strategies. The retailer has ambitious plans to open more of its Athleta stores, which pose a direct threat to Lululemon and its past dominance of the women's athletic apparel space. Yet, even with the boost, Gap will likely have just a third of the store count that Lululemon has, giving Gap plenty of room to grow further in 2014 and beyond.

Gap still faces challenges, though. International expansion efforts are an important part of Gap's potential growth strategy, but Europe, in particular, has been a challenging environment for the company. Some also believe that Gap still has an outdated fashion sense, although attempts to update its image have started to bring in the key teen demographic that's so important to ensuring Gap's success for another generation.

In the Gap earnings report, look for more color on the company's plans for the future. In particular, with the holiday season upon us, early signs of how Gap is faring in the current quarter could have huge ramifications for the stock both now and in the long run as it fights to grab share from Lululemon and pick up teen shoppers from American Eagle Outfitters and its rivals.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends lululemon athletica. 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.