Charlotte Russe Disappoints

Charlotte Russe (Nasdaq: CHIC  ) may have bucked the trend in January, but it looks like the trend has caught up with it after all. The retailer lowered its third-quarter guidance as a calendar shift and slower consumer spending tripped up its recent progress.

It wasn't Charlotte Russe's second-quarter guidance that disappointed; it reaffirmed its expectation that it will report per-share earnings between $0.12 and $0.15. That figure excludes a favorable tax adjustment in the quarter, which will result in $0.03 per share more in earnings for the quarter.

It was management's lower third-quarter guidance that disappointed investors, sending the stock down 13.5% at my last check. The calendar shifted this year, placing Easter and many spring breaks into the second quarter. CEO Mark Hoffman also acknowledged declining transactions and lower consumer spending over the last seven weeks, which isn't very surprising considering the current economic climate.

The retailer now expects third-quarter same-store sales to range from flat to negative single digits, and earnings to be $0.27 per share to $0.30 per share in the quarter. Analysts were expecting a much higher $0.41.

Of course, temporarily bucking the trend and then reversing isn't exactly unheard of. Last fall, Zumiez (Nasdaq: ZUMZ  ) made an example of itself by briefly showing unusual strength in the face of overall retail adversity, then weakening just like almost everybody else. Who's next among the retailers that have seemed to buck the recent downtrends? Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO  ) ? Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) ?

Who knows? All I know is it's no time to panic. There's no doubt many American consumers are strapped for cash, and many retailers are going to have a hard time luring people to shop in their stores in the near term. But for the strongest of retailers that have plenty of cash and no debt, these difficult times are presenting bargain stock prices for long-term investors.

Personally, I think Charlotte Russe has some advantages in the current environment, since it offers discount fashions, like rivals Forever 21 and Sweden's H&M, and since discount retailers in general seem like safe havens during the current consumer cash crunch. And while I have long thought Charlotte Russe was a bargain-priced retail stock, its shares had increased 26% in the last three months, so investor reaction today isn't too surprising. However, these types of situations are good for investors to watch for, since they can present lower-priced opportunities to buy stocks on their wish lists.


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