New York to Grow by Contracting

From fashion misses to inventory shortages, investors in women's clothing retailer New York & Co. (NYSE: NWY  ) have seen their stock suffer its share of pulls, pills, and runs. Shares have fallen from a springtime high of $16 to the discount racks of just more than $6 a stub. Even at those lows, though, New York hasn't looked like any great bargain.

Until now, that is. The fashion retailer announced that it was closing its JasmineSola line, a bitter disappointment from the moment it acquired the 23-store chain several years ago. Sales growth never materialized at the high-end retailer, and management soon came under legal attack from female employees who charged the founder with harassment.

Sure, competitors like Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN  ) and bebe (Nasdaq: BEBE  ) were also suffering from slack sales -- in fact, much of retail seemed to be in go-slow mode -- but operations at JasmineSola dragged New York down even further. Last quarter, it cost the company $0.03 a share.

After the last quarter's conference call, where management was pretty blunt -- "we will not take losses," they said -- it was pretty clear that JasmineSola's time was up. Now the company plans to have the stores closed by the end of the year. Apparently there's no sense in dragging out the inevitable.

That's what makes the Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation potentially attractive now, though it might take a quarter or two for it to show up on the financial statements. The retailer will be far more focused on its core brand, its eponymous stores. Gone will be the distractions of having to carry a damaged product.

At 10 times trailing earnings and only 11 times forward estimates, New York & Co. is cheap when compared to Ann Taylor, bebe, Limited Brands (NYSE: LTD  ) , and Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) . On a price-to-sales basis, New York sports a minuscule 0.30 ratio that's unequaled by any other.

Simply shedding JasmineSola will not cure all of New York's ills. Earlier this year, an analyst seemed to chide the retailer for having a lack of yellow in its wardrobe, as well as inventory issues, though getting those resolved can always come back to haunt it. Missing more fashion trends won't endear the company to shoppers, either.

Yet, with the important Christmas season approaching, it seems smart to start cleaning house. The company's Internet operations have been running ahead of expectations, net sales were up 11% last quarter, and it offered a surprise 4.7% increase in comps. And with management guiding expectations lower throughout the year, many of the negative associations are already priced into the stock.

Since management seems committed to turning the retailer around -- and getting rid of JasmineSola is indeed key -- I find myself in a New York state of mind.

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