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The year 2013 was not a good year for American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO ) . Its stock is near 52-week lows on much lower sales and profits even while the rest of the market hits new highs. While investors have plenty of reason to be disappointed, various hints offer hope for 2014 and beyond. Look at fashion-industry names that are doing well such as Express (NYSE: EXPR ) and Ascena Retail Group (NASDAQ: ASNA ) for further clues.
American Eagle's results
American Eagle Outfitters reported fiscal third-quarter results on Dec. 6. Total revenue slipped 6% to $910 million. Same-store sales fell 5% though results were up against a 10% gain last year. Adjusted earnings per share dropped 54% to $0.19. It certainly wasn't anything to write home about, but American Eagle at least solidly kept its head above water.
For the holiday quarter, the company forecasts a mid-single-digit decline in same-store sales with adjusted earnings per share getting sliced roughly in half to between $0.26 and $0.30. CEO Robert Hanson blamed the continued comparable weakness on "an intensely promotional North American retail landscape." He stated that the plan is to "invest in important areas of growth including omni-channel, global expansion and factory stores." These areas tend to have much higher profit margins and will help diversify American Eagle Outfitters' operations. He expects the company to see future growth and success.
During the call, Hanson further blamed "tepid consumer spending ... weak store traffic and a high level of promotional activity." Then he detailed a number of successes American Eagle has seen.
First, direct business grew 17% on top of 26% growth last year. Its omnichannel business gained strength, but its mobile sales really impressed by more than doubling versus last year. Next, both its domestic factory stores and its international locations saw same-store sales increases of mid-single-digit percentages. Finally, the company's e-commerce sales are starting to explode. On both Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday they leaped 45% above the previous record peak. The company plans to double capacity for its e-commerce sales in 2014.
Other retailers doing well
Though girls' and women's fashion is in a tough spot lately, there are some pockets of strength among the chains that provide further hope for American Eagle Outfitters. Take Express, for example. Last quarter, Express reported sales that jumped 7%, same-store sales that climbed 5%, and earnings per share that zoomed up 15% to $0.23. Its e-commerce sales exploded 29%.
Like American Eagle executives, Express CEO Michael Weiss commented on the "extremely challenging and promotional retail environment." Still, the company has been able to overcome it through inventory and marketing initiatives as well as successful e-commerce sales.
Meanwhile, Ascena Retail Group (owner of the Justice and maurices brand, among others) also should give American Eagle hope. Last quarter, the company reported that its sales increased 5%, same-store sales bumped up 4%, and its e-commerce division soared 27%. This is despite what CEO David Jaffe described as an environment that is "challenging for the foreseeable future." Ascena Retail Group has been able to grow despite this and saw the trend continuing in November along with Black Friday. Ascena Retail Group was "cautiously optimistic" about the rest of the holiday shopping season.
Foolish final thoughts
While fashion retail is struggling to show gains, the weak environment won't last forever. Meanwhile, it's still possible for companies to grow in this space, as evidenced by Express and Ascena Retail Group. American Eagle Outfitters itself is showing several strong areas of its business that are growing, which lends further credence to the theory that its merchandise is still popular, but the times are tough. Fools may want to consider taking a flyer on American Eagle Outfitters as a turnaround play for 2014 and beyond.
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