I'm a bull by nature, but I turn into a bear for this weekly column.
There's no time to hibernate as I find a stock that I believe is heading lower, explain my reasons, and give it a good clawing. I'm no grizzly, though. I don't even begin to rip into a stock unless I have three companies that I think would be superior replacements.
I'm a bearish hunter, but this week I think I'll go hunting for bear.
Who gets tossed out this week? Come on down, Build-A-Bear Workshop
Build-A-Bear was once on top of the retail world. Young faces would glow at the sight of customized bears being singled out, stuffed, and then dressed up. The store was a mall magnet. It was where young kids wanted to have their birthday parties.
Well, the chain just hasn't been the same since 2004.
After posting slightly negative comps in 2005, things really began to fall apart. Same-store sales slipped by 6.5% in 2006, followed by a deeper 9.9% whack in 2007. Would there be relief after that? Hardly. North American comps suffered a 16.8% dive in 2008, followed by a 16.7% slide last year.
With so many consecutive years of declining comps, often you eventually set the bar low enough so that years of freefalling sales are easy to clear. However, after five years of declining store-level production, it's safe to say that Build-A-Bear isn't coming back.
If you think I'm beating a stock while it's down, pull up a chart. Somehow, some way, shares of Build-A-Bear hit a fresh 52-week high yesterday.
I don't get it. There's little reason to think that consumers will flock to the stuffed-animal birthing experience again. Analysts see a loss this year, and this same crew of Wall Street watchers has historically overestimated Build-A-Bear's earnings power.
A passing craze doesn't have to be permanent. Shares of Crocs
Build-A-Bear is still in plush quicksand. Knowing this, it irks me that its CEO received 60% more in compensation last year -- as the result of stock and option awards.
I don't think Build-A-Bear is heading to zero. It has an immaculate balance sheet with a healthy sum of cash. However, the company is running out time to be relevant again.
One of its latest moves was to roll out Zhu Zhu pets in its stores last month. Really? The battery-operated hamsters were a hot holiday item when they were hard to find back in November, but they're everywhere now. I've seen them at local toy stores and pharmacies these days. This isn't something that will set Build-A-Bear apart.
As usual, Build-A-Bear is late to the passing craze.
As I do every week, I don't talk down a stock unless I have three alternatives that I believe will outperform the company getting the heave-ho. Let's go over the three fill-ins.
(NYSE: RUE): If shoppers aren't at Build-A-Bear, surely they must be hanging out somewhere else in the mall. Apparel retailer rue21 went public just five months ago, but it's already a winner. It had a solid holiday quarter, with sales soaring by 31% on the heels of an 8.6% spike in comps. Earnings grew even faster, with profit of $0.32 a share improving nicely on the previous holiday quarter's $0.20-per-share showing. The 535-store chain sees same-store sales and net income continuing to improve in the near term.
(Nasdaq: LULU): High-end fitness apparel isn't supposed to thrive during an economic downturn, so the fast-growing chain of yoga clothing was derailed when the recession gripped pocketbooks. However, lululemon turned around with a vengeance two quarters ago, as revenue, comps, and earnings climbed by 30%, 10%, and 60%, respectively. All three line items accelerated in last month's fiscal fourth-quarter report, with revenue, comps, and earnings climbing 55%, 29%, and 161%, respectively. Yes, comps rose by a whopping 29%. Consumer sentiment has warmed to big-ticket performance apparel. We saw this on Monday, when Piper Jaffray upgraded shares of the mostly male-centric Under Armour (NYSE: UA).
(NYSE: HAS): Approaching Build-A-Bear as a toy maker, which it technically is, also finds me favoring Hasbro. Rival Mattel (NYSE: MAT)is larger, but it has also battled toy recalls and lumpy financials. Hasbro, on the other hand, has struck gold with its Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises. Big-screen blockbusters have breathed new life into Hasbro's toys. Hasbro has topped Wall Street's profit targets in 10 of the past dozen quarters.
Sorry Build-A-Bear, but I can't bear to watch.