Consumer stocks are as risky as they've ever been now. Unemployment is at historic highs, consumers are spooked, and subpar earnings abound as companies pay the price for lost competitive advantage or fiscal irresponsibility. But tough times can offer investors the best chance to buy stocks.

Even if stock prices are low, investors still need to be careful. Many companies simply won't survive the recession. However, thinning the herd of weaker competitors should lead to big winners in the consumer space when the economy recovers. In this article, I've highlighted two reasons to love The Buckle (NYSE:BKE).

Performance!
You may have never heard of The Buckle. You may have never even seen one of its stores. But somehow, it's blowing many of its retail peers away when it comes to business performance, and it has been doing so for a long time running.

Let's look at its quarterly financial results for the past year.

The Buckle

Q3 (November 2008)

Q4 (January 2009)

Q1 (May 2009)

Q2 (August 2009)

Earnings (Loss) Per Share

$0.62

$0.74

$0.58

$0.54

Sales Increase/Decrease

26%

22%

25%

14%

Same-Store Sales

19%

14%

18%

9%

As I'm sure you're aware, the past year or so hasn't been easy for many retailers. Yet somehow The Buckle has been going like gangbusters, reporting amazing increases in earnings and sales.

To compare, let's take a look at teen retailers Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) and American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO).

Abercrombie & Fitch

Q3 (November 2008)

Q4 (January 2009)

Q1 (May 2009)

Q2 (August 2009)

Earnings (Loss) Per Share

$0.72

$0.78

($0.68)

($0.30)

Sales Increase/Decrease

(8%)

(19%)

(24%)

(23%)

Same-Store Sales

(14%)

(25%)

(30%)

(30%)

American Eagle Outfitters

Q3 (November 2008)

Q4 (January 2009)

Q1 (May 2009)

Q2 (August 2009)

Earnings (Loss) Per Share

$0.21

$0.16

$0.11

$0.14

Sales Increase/Decrease

1%

(9%)

(4%)

(5%)

Same-Store Sales

(7%)

(16%)

(10%)

(10%)

From company press releases.

As you can see, The Buckle has done quite a bit better than two comparable teen retailers, despite the difficult environment. Clearly this company is doing something right.

Bargain!
Despite all that impressive performance, The Buckle trades at just 11 times trailing earnings. Lackluster American Eagle Outfitters is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 24, and Abercrombie has a nosebleed P/E ratio of 59.

A stock like The Buckle, trading at a low multiple and exhibiting strong performance, looks a lot less risky than a lot of the companies in the consumer-facing universe these days. I recently warned investors away from J. Crew (NYSE:JCG), pointing to its high P/E (48). Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), a stock I own, looks pricy trading at 56 times earnings. And what about stocks like long-struggling Borders (NYSE:BGP)? That company's still reporting losses and bleeding sales. That's way too risky for my blood.

Meanwhile, The Buckle has a clean balance sheet, with $163 million in cash (that's about $3.50 per share) and no debt. It also pays a 3% dividend. In this day and age, that sounds like a dream come true.

What do you think?
I've made my Foolish case on The Buckle -- now it's your turn. Do you love The Buckle as a stock idea? Loathe it? Share your comments below. And check back next week, when I'll take the bear side and outline two big reasons to loathe The Buckle.

Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and an Inside Value pick. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.