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Gap Still a Trap

Another quarter, another round of excuses from Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) . This Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation didn't exactly disappoint investors with last week's earnings, but that's only because investors are so used to disappointment from this over-the-hill brand.

The Fool by Numbers tells enough of the story. Sales down 5%. Same store sales down more like 9%. No surprise then that profits were down too, with net earnings dropping 16.8% and earnings per share down 11% to $0.28 per stub.

If you listened in on the conference call or checked out the transcript, it will look familiar. Very familiar. Same kinds of promises about the turnaround that's on the way. Lots of blabber about a big new TV advertising campaign to begin July 20. (There were no Gap ads on the tube last quarter. Honestly, did any of you miss them?) But it all sounds like catch-up ball. Denim and hoodies? Dudes, you have been seriously outmaneuvered on that turf. You think you can sneak your way back by following the leaders like Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) and American Eagle Outfitters (Nasdaq: AEOS  ) ?

Listen, folks, Gap's price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 15 might look tempting, but there are companies out there actually growing earnings that trade at similar multiples. Consider that the two abovementioned competitors pounding the tar out of Gap trade at earnings multiples of just less than 17. Pacific Sunwear (Nasdaq: PSUN  ) is trading a bit cheaper than Gap these days, and although it's not without its problems and is far from my favorite in this space, it is, at least, able to string together some sales growth.

How much do you want to spend on a proven loser like Gap in hopes of a turnaround? Do you believe Gap can actually slug it out with like likes of Ann Taylor (NYSE: ANN  ) and Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) with its new women's concept?

If you do, that's perfectly fine. But wait for a better price. A real value. By my cipherin', Gap needs to enlarge the old free cash flow (FCF) at a rate of 10% a year for the next five years to live up to today's share price. The actual direction of FCF has been decidedly to the downside for three years. Why do the shares float so nicely in this range? I think what you see today is a persistent hope bubble, Gap investors being too much like Gap's fashions: mired a few years back in time. In my opinion, if (I say when) Gap continues its trend and whiffs this summer, you may finally see that price go poof.

Seth Jaysonis part of the extended family atMotley Fool Inside Value, where contrary opinions are part of the package. A free trial will get you access to current recommendations, as well a lively discussion among savvy stock pickers.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had shares of American Eagle Outfitters, but no positions in any other firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.

Gap and Pacific Sunwear are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations.

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