Bed Bath & Beyond: Short-Term Blip or Disrupted Retailer?

Home-goods giant Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ: BBBY  ) was slammed in this week's trading after delivering an earnings report that came in underneath expectations and guided lower than previously thought. There are two ways to look at the report. On one hand, the company didn't perform terribly -- it just wasn't in line with the Street's expectations. With long-term tailwinds in the housing sector and an improving economy, Bed Bath & Beyond's substantial position in the sector should only benefit. Naysayers could use this quarter as proof that the company is feeling the sting of e-commerce, similar to nearly every other brick-and-mortar retailer. The truth is, both sides have valid points. Here's what investors need to know.

Earnings recap
For the company's fiscal 2013 third quarter, Bed Bath & Beyond earned a 6% net sales increase to $2.87 billion. Same-store sales grew slightly, up 1.3%, but trended down slightly from last year's gain, 1.7%.

The bottom line came in at $1.12 per share -- up nearly 9% from 2012's $1.03 per share. For a $15 billion home-goods store, 9% growth is by no means dismal, though the market was looking for more. Analysts had the number pegged at $1.15 per share on net sales of $2.88 billion.

Looking ahead, the numbers deteriorated as management guided for fourth-quarter earnings of $1.60 to $1.67 per share -- down from earlier guidance of $1.70 to $1.77 per share. Analysts were expecting a number above the previously issued high end. Full-year 2013 guidance came down in line to $4.79 to $4.86 per share, from $4.88 to $5.01.

Bed Bath & Beyond stock traded down more than 12% as a result of the all-around disappointing figures.

Temporary?
The sell-off presents an interesting question, as the company's current stock price is the lowest it's been since last July. Throughout 2013, Bed Bath & Beyond shares rallied on the back of the housing recovery and an increasingly confident macroeconomic landscape.

Are the third- and fourth-quarter results a matter of calendar shift and a dip in transaction count, as management noted, or is it evidence of a weakening competitive advantage?

Investors should keep in mind that Bed Bath & Beyond goes well beyond its namesake brand. The company owns World Market, Linen Holdings, Cost Plus, Buy Buy Baby, andThat!, and Christmas Tree Shops. Store-by-store breakdowns were not available to dissect which stores are dragging more than others, but it may not be the namesake brand that is causing the most problems.

Even though shares are trading down today, the best option here is to wait and see. We don't really know if this is a temporary blip or a sign of a disrupted business model. Bed Bath & Beyond's 1,000-plus store imprint is tremendous and, at the lower end of the market, few can compete. At the same time, though, there could be a more material issue beyond short-term weakness. As the economy continues to improve, management will not be able to use the "tepidity" argument as cause for sales weakness. Then we will have a clearer picture as to what's happening behind the curtains.

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