What happened

Ulta Beauty (ULTA 0.50%) stock outperformed a rising market last month. Shares jumped 15% in February compared to a 2.6% gain in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The rally helped push the makeup retailer just ahead of the market, leaving it up roughly 30% in the past full year.

A young woman applying eye makeup.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Investors had some reasons to boost their optimism for Ulta's business last month. Industry peer e.l.f Beauty, for example, reported strong sales growth thanks to improving demand for its cosmetics. The bigger factor was a promising vaccine rollout, though, and declining COVID-19 case counts that suggested an approaching return to more normal shopping trends.

Now what

Ulta Beauty will detail those updated trends when it reports fourth-quarter earnings results on March 11. Executives back in December warned that sales might fall by as much as 14% during the holiday period due to gathering outbreaks and increased social-distancing efforts.

Ulta might outperform that conservative target in a few days. But investors will be just as interested in learning whether the retailer is expecting a quick return to growth in 2021 even as parts of the makeup industry stay pressured by social distancing.