A Retailer of Many Names Might Have Found Its Niche

Fifth & Pacific  (NYSE: KATE  ) was formerly known as Liz Claiborne. As of last week, Fifth & Pacific will officially change its name to Kate Spade as it transitions to a one-brand company. It also has a new CEO to match--former Fifth & Pacific CEO William McComb has stepped aside to allow the head of Kate Spade, Craig Leavitt, to take over.

At one point, Fifth & Pacific had major brands Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand jeans. Now it plans to focus on the high-growth handbag and accessory market. Thus, Fifth & Pacific will now be going head-to-head with the likes of Coach (NYSE: COH  ) and Michael Kors (NYSE: KORS  ) . In November, Fifth & Pacific sold off Juicy Couture and in December it sold off Lucky Brand. The idea is to use these proceeds to pay down debt.

By all accounts, handbags were big sellers this holiday season. Fifth & Pacific's recent move has put it in an advantageous spot to capture market share in the handbag and accessory market because it can focus all of its resources on the Kate Spade brand.

Beyond that, Fifth & Pacific now has a number of other growth initiatives that could propel it higher. This includes its Jack Spade men's merchandise line. It has also continued to renew its brand, which includes the recent launch of kate spade Saturday. This new brand includes lifestyle and ready-to-wear items for the home. The company's brand remains underpenetrated in the U.S. Kate Spade has been Fifth & Pacific's top performer. For the the third quarter, Kate Spade sales increased 76% year-over-year which included a 31% comps gain. 

As for Coach, it appears to be struggling to hold market share. This has been especially true since Kors went public back in 2011. Since then, Kors has grown like gangbusters. In fact, since its December 2011 IPO the stock has risen 230%, while Coach has declined 10% over the period.

Coach's biggest hiccup has been North America. During the fiscal first quarter, Coach's North American same-store sales declined the most in five years. Despite the fact that Coach believes the entire handbag market was up during the quarter, its traffic was down.

What has been so great about Kors is that it has branded itself as the affordable luxury brand. But it's not just handbags that Kors is doing so well with, the company's also offering clothes and footwear.  

All in all, Kate Spade has now become super-focused. Kate Spade is the company's sole brand and it has a number of key initiatives that could help drive the stock higher. Fifth & Pacific trades at 2.3 times sales. However, Coach and Michael Kors trade at 3.1 times sales and 6.1 times sales, respectively. You may want to invest in the newest handbag/accessory company after its recent transformation and name change.


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