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3 Top Retail Stocks to Watch in February

By Billy Duberstein – Feb 6, 2020 at 9:00AM

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These best-in-class retailers may sell off because of the coronavirus, but their long-term futures remain bright.

The recent coronavirus outbreak in China is certainly cause for concern. Many in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, as well as the surrounding province of Hubei, are staying indoors. And given the high contagiousness of the virus, traffic in public places in all major Chinese cities is bound to be muted for some time.

That will probably affect many retailers, and not only those based in China. Many U.S., European, and global retailers have a significant customer bases in China, whose rapid growth has driven global consumption ever since the global financial crisis.

Thus, the traffic slowdown could very well dent the results of the following top retailers, at least in the near term. However, any short-term sell-off is likely to prove a huge buying opportunity for Foolish long-term investors. Keep a watch on these three best-in-class names in February for further buying opportunities. 

A very busy and crowded street in a Chinese city with signs crowding overhead above the people.

Keep a watch on these retailers affected by coronavirus. Image source: Getty Images.

JD.com

While foot traffic is likely to dent overall Chinese economic growth, it may ironically help the already booming e-commerce sector in the country. Think about it -- if you can't go out of your apartment, you're still going to need food, clothes, electronics, and other items. Out of necessity, Chinese citizens are probably on their phones, perusing top e-commerce sites right now. 

That could greatly benefit a name like JD.com (JD -3.17%).

Unlike its pure platform competitors, JD's model has been to own its entire logistics chain and all of its own inventory. That has historically given the company lower margins than competitor Alibaba (BABA -2.38%), and also required huge investments to build out JD's warehouse footprint and technology capabilities. However, last quarter, JD's margins grew, as the company may now be reaping the fruits of all that prior investment. And in these troubled times, consumers are likely to flock to the high-quality goods and speedy delivery times JD is known for.

JD.com also has plenty going on in 2020, from the potential IPO of JD Logistics, the recent launch of group discount-buying site Jingxi, and the launch other technology services.

Though the coronavirus may dent physical retail traffic, JD.com recently reported a big surge in online orders during the outbreak in Wuhan and is using technology and best-in-class capabilities to satisfy the surge. If JD can perform amid difficult conditions, it may win over even more additional customers on top of last quarter's impressive 9.6% year-over-year customer growth.

Starbucks

An American retailer that may be rather exposed to a coronavirus slowdown is Starbucks (SBUX -0.62%). Starbucks has had a great 18-month run in its stock but has leveled off more recently.

China is Starbucks' other key market besides the United States. In fact, under new CEO Kevin Johnson, the company has basically sold off most of its non-core markets to franchisees and doubled down on China, the market with the most growth potential. Obviously, coronavirus puts Starbucks at risk in the near term because its core value proposition is its "third place" community coffee house and meeting ground.

In response to the crisis, Starbucks decided to temporarily close more than 2,000 stores in China, or about half its 4,292-store Chinese footprint. To get a sense of how much Starbucks is investing in China, that store count alone was up 16% year over year last quarter.

As was the case with JD, however, Starbucks' delivery capabilities may bail it out of the coronavirus blues. The company inked a partnership with Alibaba's Ele.me delivery unit last year to capitalize on the strong demand for coffee delivery in the country. However, last quarter, delivery made up only 9% of Starbucks' revenue, and it covers only 80% of Starbucks' store footprint. Therefore, delivery alone probably won't completely make up for lost store sales.

Nevertheless, on the recent conference call with analysts, management reaffirmed that the outbreak effect will be temporary and also reiterated its long-term forecast for double-digit growth in China. Management also said it would have raised full-year 2020 guidance if not for the outbreak, based on strong results last quarter. While Starbucks shares haven't been too badly dinged, should shares meaningfully drop in February, shareholders may wish to pick up some marked-down Starbucks stock for the long term.

LVMH Moet Hennessy

Over the past decade, the rise of affluent consumers in China has made up a significant portion of growth in luxury goods market. Thus, coronavirus also has the potential to hurt sales of luxury retailers in the country. For investors looking for opportunity, one of the highest-quality, most diversified luxury retailers around is LVMH Moet Hennessy (LVMUY -0.74%).

LVMH is a conglomerate of luxury brands, from its trademark Louis Vuitton handbags to Dom Perignon champagne and Hennessy cognac, Christian Dior perfume, Bvlgari and Tag Heuer watches, and cosmetics retailer Sephora, among others. Though it doesn't break out China revenue specifically, LVMH derived 30% of its revenue from Asia, ex-Japan, in 2019. However, Asia was also the highest-growth geography in 2019, up 14% ex-currency on the year.

At the end of last year, LVMH also agreed to buy Tiffany (TIF) in December, and Tiffany shareholders voted in favor of the acquisition Feb. 4. Though the acquisition was seemingly expensive, investors cheered the buy anyway, as Tiffany certainly makes a great strategic fit in LVMH's portfolio.

LVMH tends to garner high multiples in the market, as its brands cater to a very rich client base and tend to be insulated from economic downturns. Moreover, pricing power tends to enable LVMH's brands to grow revenue most of the time. In 2019, LVMH grew revenue 15% overall, though 3% was from favorable currency.

Any large retailer growing at that rate is very impressive, and the recent addition of Tiffany should add another leg of growth to LVMH's future. LVMH is down about 5% since the coronavirus scare began, but as was the case with Starbucks, investors should be at the ready to pounce on any further sell-off.

Billy Duberstein owns shares of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., JD.com, and Starbucks. His clients may own shares of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends JD.com and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Starbucks Corporation Stock Quote
Starbucks Corporation
SBUX
$86.57 (-0.62%) $0.54
LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne Stock Quote
LVMH Moët Hennessy - Louis Vuitton, Société Européenne
LVMUY
$119.20 (-0.74%) $0.89
JD.com, Inc. Stock Quote
JD.com, Inc.
JD
$51.25 (-3.17%) $-1.68
Tiffany & Co. Stock Quote
Tiffany & Co.
TIF
Alibaba Group Holding Limited Stock Quote
Alibaba Group Holding Limited
BABA
$79.06 (-2.38%) $-1.93

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