They say that the mall's dying, and that most retailers are bleeding out. The power of e-commerce -- whether it's internet retailers taking advantage of streamlined overhead, or entrepreneurs and artisans making the most of consumer-direct marketplaces -- is too strong.
There aren't too many retailers faring well these days, but this doesn't mean that the industry is free of investing advantages. Five Below (FIVE -1.10%) is thriving in the current climate. Francesca's Holdings (FRAN) and Rite Aid (RAD 4.54%) have fallen too hard in 2017. And all three chains should beat the market in 2018.
Let's start with a concept that's clicking with young shoppers. Five Below is a rapidly expanding deep discounter, offering trendy merchandise priced at $5 or less. From fidget spinners to yoga mats to basketballs, five bucks can go a long way for penny-pinching millennials at Five Below.
Growth is on a tear. Net sales surged 29% in the latest quarter, fueled by new store openings and a head-turning 8.5% spike in comps. There is still a lot of ground to cover for the discounter that's making dollar stores cool. The stock isn't cheap by most measuring sticks, but it's hard to bet against momentum for one of the few retailers that can take advantage of empty retail space to expand quickly on the cheap.
Sinking share prices are often no match for cascading earnings, but this boutique operator commands one of the industry's lowest earnings multiples. Francesca's trades for a little more than 10 times trailing earnings, and 9.5 times its upcoming fiscal year's profit target.
Francesca's is in a funk. The stock has taken a hit in each of its past three quarterly reports, shedding a whopping 60% of its value year to date. Comps plummeted 18% in its latest quarter, but it appears to be bottoming out here. Francesca's concedes that it lost focus on its core target market in offering unique items at compelling prices. The chain is working on that, and it says comps improved in November, the first month of its seasonally potent fiscal fourth quarter.
Did you hear the one about a Francesca's shareholder bellyaching about a 60% drop? "Hold my prescription bottle," counters a Rite Aid investor suffering a 76% plunge in 2017. Rite Aid stock has been one of this year's biggest losers, as the drugstore chain that was ready to be acquired had to settle for unloading less than half of its stores in a watered-down $4.375 billion deal.
Rite Aid isn't the company it was before it agreed to be acquired in 2015, and spending the last two years as a lame-duck drugstore operator is only making things worse. However, it's receiving cash from selling 1,932 of its stores and the termination fee it scored earlier this year, and it made a long-term deal to nab cut-rate generics at cost from its former suitor. These factors will result in a much leaner Rite Aid with a healthier balance sheet.