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Beware the Headwinds Facing Casual Dining, Gyms, and Teen Retail Stocks

Qualities such as brand recognition and leadership can often separate two companies competing in the same industry. But other times, macroeconomic effects can outweigh the strategies of individual companies. Let's look at three industries facing significant headwinds today.

Casual dining
Over the past decade, the fast-casual segment of the restaurant industry has boomed, making market darlings out of stocks such as Chipotle and Panera Bread while full-service casual-dining restaurants have faced bad news.

Perhaps no company exhibits this better than the world's largest full-service restaurant group, Darden Restaurants  (NYSE: DRI  ) , the parent of Olive Garden and, until recently, Red Lobster. Over the last three to four years, Darden stock has been flat while the broad market has boomed. In its fiscal year ended May 25, 2014, adjusted earnings per share fell 21% amid a sharp decline in comparable sales, which dropped 3.5% at Olive Garden locations and 5.6% at Red Lobster in the most recent quarter. The company's struggles forced it to sell off Red Lobster, and Darden CEO Clarence Otis on Monday said he would step down amid battles with activist hedge funds.

Some recent data have shown that visits to casual-dining locations by millennials has fallen by double digits over the past several years, a foreboding sign for the future as demographic patterns shift.  

Like casual dining restaurants, fitness centers have also faced rising competition from alternatives to traditional gyms. Yoga studios have proliferated in cities across the country, and new forms of exercise such as CrossFit have also become popular. Minnesota-based Life Time Fitness  (NYSE: LTM  ) , which operates over 100 gyms across North America, has seen profits decline this year amid what CEO Bahram Akradi in an earnings press release called an "unexpected erosion in membership levels at some centers." Overall membership increased just 1.2% year over year despite growth in its gym base by at least 5%. Life Time also lowered its guidance for the full year and shares are trading near a 52-week low.

Peer Town Sports  (NASDAQ: CLUB  ) saw its stock plummet this week after it released its latest quarterly earnings report. The parent of "New York Sports Club" and other "Sports Clubs" said membership decreased by 1.6% and comparable-club revenue fell 4.5% on an overall decrease in sales of 3.7%. Bottom-line results fell from a $0.25 profit per share to a loss of $0.04 per share. Town Sports stock is now down nearly 70% since the beginning of the year. Town Sports operated 162 fitness clubs as of Dec. 31, 2013.

Both companies promised to make changes to adapt to the competitive environment, but the headwinds in the industry remain strong.

Teen retail
The teen apparel retail industry has imploded over the past year. Aeropostale  (NYSE: ARO  ) has seen its stock plummeted by 80%, and other mall staples have also been hit hard. Teens no longer favor the logo-emblazoned gear popular at retailers such as American Eagle Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch. Fast fashion retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M have grabbed share, and technology has changed the nature of shopping, especially among teenagers, as trends move more quickly than they once did.  

Aeropostale's troubles perhaps best sum up the struggles of the industry, as the company saw comps tumble 13% in its most recent quarter. Aeropostale finished the quarter with just $24 million in cash. While Aeropostale is in a weaker position than its two publicly traded rivals, its troubles are representative of the risks facing fashion retailers. Other companies focused on young shoppers are struggling as well, including American Apparel and Express, further examples of the broad trend. 

Foolish takeaway
Macroeconomic trends and consumer tastes often determine the performance of a certain industry independent from the actions of individual companies. Investors should be on the lookout for broad trends affecting their investments, as well as hidden developments that can push some stocks higher.

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Jeremy Bowman

Fool since 2011. I write about consumer goods, the big picture, and whatever else piques my interest. Follow me on Twitter to see my latest articles, and for commentary on hot topics in retail and the broad market.

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