Ann's Anti-Fashion Statement

The struggles continue for Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN  ) , one of my favorite stocks to watch seeing how its Loft division is one of my favorite stores to frequent. Last Friday, the retailer said it will report a much steeper loss than expected for the fourth quarter. What's up with Ann?

The company said that its fourth-quarter loss will be $0.14 per share to $0.18 per share, much worse than analysts' consensus estimates at breakeven to a loss of a mere $0.04 per share. As much as we here at the Fool don't always put great stock in analysts' estimates, it's still a far cry from the $0.65 per share that Ann Taylor reported in the fourth quarter of last year.

Of course, Friday's bad fashion day for Ann Taylor comes as little surprise. The holidays were admittedly a tough time for the company, especially its namesake Ann Taylor division, as compared with its sassier component, Ann Taylor Loft. Back in December, I took a close look at Ann Taylor and suggested some ways in which the retailer might get back on its feet.

Indeed, the Ann Taylor division is in the midst of a makeover, and I've definitely gotten the impression that over the course of recent months, the company understands that it needs to rethink the concept and attempt to emulate Loft's success.

However, bearing that in mind, is it time to look at Ann Taylor as a turnaround play? With a P/E of 15, the stock may sound cheap compared with hot retailers such as Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) or Chico's (NYSE: CHS  ) , which tend to have premium price tags given their sales and earnings growth.

On the other hand, though, there are obvious risks involved in taking stock in Ann Taylor now. After all, our own Seth Jayson recently pointed out that investors inadvertently provided a discount on Chico's shares for hardly any reason at all last autumn.

Unfortunately, there are reasons why Ann Taylor's stock price has stumbled over recent months. The namesake division's wares just haven't been connecting with shoppers, its Christmas season wasn't too cheerful, and there's plenty of competition out there for the female shopper's dollars -- not just the names above but also other retailers such as J. Jill (Nasdaq: JILL  ) and Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) , which also have their own reasons to be aggressive in their hunt for sales.

Although there are times when it's perfectly acceptable -- and even savvy -- to make a bet on a stock that's had a tough quarter, it seems to me that Ann Taylor needs to provide glimmers of hope that it can make its namesake division fashion forward with shoppers, instead of taking steps back. As I've said in the past, it can't rest on Loft's laurels forever.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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