Does Aeropostale Have Further To Fall?

With stocks of once high-flying retailers such as Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO  ) trading at new 52-week lows, it can be awfully tempting to swoop in and grab what appears to be a bargain. Instead of catching a falling knife, consider the real bargain retailers. Companies such as Burlington Stores (NYSE: BURL  ) and Ross Stores (NASDAQ: ROST  )  make money off of discounted brand names, and they won't leave you with bloody fingers.

Aeropostale's results
Aeropostale reported third-quarter results on Dec. 4. Net sales got slammed 15% to $514.6 million. Same-store sales also got crushed 15%. Adjusted net loss was $22.9 million or $0.29 per share.

CEO Thomas Johnson said that Aeropostale was "more promotional than anticipated." In other words, price slashes. Things have been bad, but they're getting worse as the company overstocked on inventory it couldn't sell. He went on to say, "We were disappointed in our overall performance as customer adoption is occurring more slowly than we would like against the backdrop of a challenging teen retail environment."

For the holiday quarter, Aeropostale guided for adjusted earnings per share of between $0.24-$0.32 compared to $0.24 last year. Johnson said that the company was encouraged by the increase in sales trends during the Black Friday weekend compared to the quarter. Of course, the problem with that is just about any retailer, short of one that sells water-ski equipment, saw a spike in sales during the Black Friday weekend compared to the summer quarter. It's a given that sales increased during that weekend.

Johnson described the company's outlook as cautious due to "heightened promotional levels and inconsistent mall traffic trends." The good news is he took responsibility for improving results when he stated, "The entire organization is working diligently and with a sense of urgency on transforming our brand and our business."

During the conference call, Johnson explained that there's been a shift in teen tastes, the company has conducted "countless independent focus groups," and it plans to make aggressive changes to adapt, survive, and hopefully thrive.

It sounds like Aeropostale has spent a lot of time and resources to address its problems and develop plans and solutions. However, it's going to take some time. During that time, shareholders may not be rewarded. Meanwhile, companies such as Burlington Stores and Ross Stores are already thriving and bringing value to their shareholders here and now.

Burlington Stores
Last quarter, Burlington Stores saw revenue rise 10.5%, same-store sales rise 3.9%, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or EBITDA, rise 28.3%. The company is far from finished with its growth plans.

Burlington Stores currently has 521 stores and plans to double that number. Each new store adds on average $7 million to $8 million in sales and $1 million in EBITDA. Burlington Stores sees ample room to expand its offerings in each store and drive up same-store sales significantly.

Ross Stores
Meanwhile, Ross Stores also last reported strong results. Sales jumped 6%, same-store sales rose 2%, and earnings per share climbed 11%. In contrast to Aeropostale, Ross Stores CEO Michael Balmut said the earnings were better than the company expected. Ross Stores is so confident about its operations that it bought back $421 million worth of stock in the first three quarters of the year. Ross Stores isn't done there. The company plans to buy back another $129 million worth of stock during the holiday quarter. What a nice stocking stuffer for shareholders!

Foolish final thoughts
With tax-loss season upon us, cautious Fools may want to consider staying on the sidelines and avoiding Aeropostale. For those who want to speculate on a turnaround for the long term, the price may get cheaper before it goes back as my successful turnaround evidence is likely months away. Those Fools who wait for more solid evidence of a turnaround may have to pay a bit more of a premium, but they can avoid potentially catching a falling knife. As always Foolish investors should do their own research before making any investment decisions. 

Maybe it's time to forget all brick and mortar retail
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