When I last looked at women's specialty retailer Christopher & Banks
C&B came through in the third quarter. Since profitability, or lack thereof, was the big red flag a period ago, let's start there. Last quarter, operating margins were on the retreat, but in the latest quarter this metric stabilized to 10.6%, up from 10.2% in the year-ago period.
The company attributed the increased profitability to better margins from its merchandise. Its cost of goods as a percentage of revenues declined to 59.8% from last year's 62.3%. C&B didn't elaborate further, but the increase in merchandise margins often results from fewer markdowns. Businesses can afford to have fewer price reductions when inventories are kept in check. Last quarter, I noted that C&B was doing just that; the tighter inventories likely helped the company mark down fewer items and improve its margins in the most recent quarter.
Even beyond margins, C&B looks healthy. Merchandise inventories remain stable, cash and marketable securities increased 68.5% year over year to $69.6 million, and share dilution is minimal. True, C&B's third-quarter sales growth of 8.2% won't remind you of Chico's
Analysts estimate that Christopher & Banks will earn $0.80 per share this fiscal year. That sounds conservative, actually, when you consider that it's already earned $0.66 per share, with a seasonally strong fourth quarter still to come. Next year's projections have the company earning $0.99 per share.
A stock trading at roughly 18 times next year's earnings is reasonable, given the aforementioned positives and the expectation that C&B will grow faster than the industry as a whole. Investors have many women's retailers to choose from, but an improving Christopher & Banks definitely stands out in the crowd.
Well-dressed further Foolishness:
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Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.