February is a critical month for retail stocks, since that's when many of the country's biggest players announce their results for the key holiday shopping period. But there are more important drivers for long-term investor returns than any given fourth-quarter performance.
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool contributors to highlight a few attractive stocks in the industry that look like they have what it takes to soak up market share through a wide range of selling conditions. Read on to find out why Amazon.com (AMZN -1.17%), TJX Companies (TJX -0.46%), and DSW (DBI -2.92%) topped that list.
Amazon's best sale could be its stock
Jamal Carnette, CFA (Amazon): After briefly surpassing the $2,000-per-share level, shares of Amazon have taken a 20% haircut. The most recent reason was the company's fourth-quarter earnings report. Although the company beat on both the top and bottom lines, setting company records in the process, investors were spooked on account of lower-than-expected revenue guidance for the current first-quarter period.
However, the long-term growth story remains intact: Even in the developed market of the United States, e-commerce is only approximately 10% of total retail spending but is growing approximately 14% annually. Amazon's higher-margin divisions flourished -- its AWS cloud-computing division grew 45% over the prior year, and its "other" division (primarily digital advertising) grew 97% (ex-foreign exchange). All three of these businesses have ample room for long-term growth.
Although Amazon guided for first-quarter revenue to increase approximately 14% over the prior year's quarter at the midpoint, the company expects operating income to grow nearly 50%. Much of this will float down the income statement to the bottom line.
Amazon boasts a short-term driver in the form of increased profitability paired with long-term growth opportunities in e-commerce, cloud computing, and digital advertising. Long-term investors should take advantage of temporary bearishness and buy shares on sale.
Betting on a bright season
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (TJX Companies): Investors won't know how well TJX Companies fared over the key holiday shopping season until the retailer posts its full results sometime in late February or early March. Recent trends suggest it was a strong outing, though, that could provide solid momentum for the off-price leader heading into 2019.
Take the fact that sales gains sped up in the most recent quarter, even though CEO Ernie Herrman and his team had predicted a slowdown. Positive customer traffic helped sales at existing locations jump 7%, in fact, while an added 100 store locations pushed overall revenue higher by 9%. Inventory levels were light, and the company entered the holiday period with plenty of cash it could use to engage in opportunistic buying across its apparel and home goods categories.
Assuming TJX Companies just meets its full-year target, sales growth will have landed at 5% in 2018 to mark a big improvement over the 1% to 2% range that executives issued at the start of the year. Its flexible selling model should continue to support more market-share gains from there. And in the meantime, investors can look forward to the company likely raising its dividend in its next earnings report -- to notch its 22nd consecutive year of payout hikes.
A high-growth footwear retailer
Leo Sun (DSW): Footwear retailer DSW once struggled to counter better-diversified retailers and direct-to-consumer channels from top footwear brands. It tried to fight back with acquisitions, but that strategy failed to generate consistent returns.
However, DSW has been streamlining its business over the past two years by abandoning weaker subsidiaries like its e-commerce site Ebuys, the footwear chain Gordmans, and its Canadian retailer Town Shoes' namesake brand.
DSW also renovated its stores, expanded its selection of shoes, and tested out shoe-repair, manicure, and pedicure services at certain locations. It started selling cannabis-infused products at nearly 100 of its U.S. stores and expanded its loyalty program, which topped 25 million members last year.
All those improvements enabled DSW to report its strongest comps growth in seven years over the past two quarters. Its gross margins also expanded, indicating that it wasn't using markdowns to win back shoppers. DSW expects its revenue to rise 12% to 14% for the full year and its adjusted EPS to climb 12% to 22%.
Analysts expect DSW's revenue and earnings to rise 14% and 11%, respectively, next year. Those are solid growth rates for a stock that trades at 14 times forward earnings while paying a forward dividend yield of 3.7%.
DSW will report its fourth-quarter earnings in March. The retailer's solid streak of double-digit comps growth and expanding margins should continue and attract new investors to the stock -- so it might be wise to buy it ahead of that earnings report.