Abercrombie's June Swoon

Retail hasn't been an easy industry for investors lately, and Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) shared some of the pain last week. Its stock has recovered nicely, which is good, since we don't like to see too much undue emphasis placed on same-store sales. Investors do need to keep the historical context in mind, and Abercrombie certainly has an interesting history.

Abercrombie said last week that its same-store sales fell 4% in June, while analysts were expecting a small increase of 0.3% for the month. Abercrombie's total sales, meanwhile, rose 10% to $243 million. Industrywide, same-store-sales data for June looks like a mixed bag, with some retailers doing just fine and others disappointing. Many of the underperforming retailers cited storms in the Northeast as a contributor to their woes.

I recently wrote a commentary about how same-store sales, or comps, are just one piece of a bigger puzzle in making long-term investing decisions. It seemed timely, since some retailers such as Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) have recently decided to reduce or ditch the metric. Along those same lines, Abercrombie's slumping June probably shouldn't have been a huge surprise. Early in the year, Abercrombie told investors that it wouldn't be able to drum up as much growth in 2006 as it has recently, although same-store sales would remain in the modestly positive territory. (Last quarter, though, Abercrombie upped its earnings forecast for 2006.) Maybe that's why Abercrombie shares sustained a hit in Thursday's early-morning trading, but regained ground later that day.

As long as we're talking history, though, let's note that Abercrombie's been on a tear for a while now, giving it difficult comparisons this year. If you visit Abercrombie's investor-relations section on its website (be careful -- the flashy site might burn your retinas), you'll see that Abercrombie's June 2005 sales increased 52%, and its overall same-store sales grew by 38%.

On the other hand, last winter I looked at Abercrombie's history of running a bit hot and cold over the years, which made me wonder at what point the retailer might revisit the "down" side of the cycle once more.

After all, fashion has been undergoing a major shift into '80s-inspired clothing, which has made Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN  ) look a bit uncool lately. Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) has struggled with its fashion sense for ages, and that definitely might make one wonder how it's doing with major wardrobe changes under way. Thus far, Abercrombie seems to have weathered the storm pretty well -- although, as I've noted, its inventories stacked up during the winter.

In closing, Abercrombie's June comps might not be too surprising. However, given some of the elements at hand, it's not difficult to imagine that the chain may face some difficult times ahead. There's a choppy outlook for retail at present, plus macroeconomic concerns that may curtail consumer spending. In any event, retail watchers will surely be watching Abercrombie's situation closely, given its recent strong performance and a changing fashion landscape.

Gap has been recommended by bothMotley Fool Inside ValueandMotley Fool Stock Advisor. Give any of our newsletter services a try free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Urban Outfitters but of none of the other companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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