It looks like Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) will continue playing its role as a failing company for the foreseeable future. The clothing retailer just announced a depressing third-quarter update, sending the stock down 16% in one day. That puts the business down 10% over the last year, as its brand of teen retail continues to lose relevancy.
If you're holding on to Abercrombie, I'm sorry. However, don't look at this as just another piece of bad news -- instead, it's an opportunity. Now is the perfect time to say goodbye to failure and speculation and to say hello to established quality. Here are three better businesses to consider.
Gap is still the mainstay
If you like your apparel trendy, your stores in malls, and your branding well known, Gap (NYSE:GPS) is a good place for you. Gap is also weathering the current retailer storm with much less damage than Abercrombie & Fitch. With comparable sales projected to fall 2% in the third quarter, Gap beat its projected gross and operating margin predictions.
At Abercrombie, comparable sales dropped 10% in the third quarter as teens fled from the brand. Abercrombie's continuing weakness was magnified by a difficult market, which has shoppers cutting back across the board. That has left the weaker brands struggling to keep up, as illustrated by Abercrombie's quarter.
Gap's relative success has allowed it to keep generating increases in earnings per share, which are forecast to rise even as sales weaken. Abercrombie simply hasn't figured out what people want, and has continued to rely on its name brand to drive customers into the store. Gap, on the other hand, is developing new lines, working to bring products to market faster, and building on its established strengths to keep its brand in line.
Diversify with VF
Maybe you want to get away from the tween fashion scene altogether. In that case, you'd be well served by VF (NYSE:VFC). The company owns outdoor outfitter North Face, Vans shoes, and Wrangler jeans, among many other brands. Over the last quarter, revenue increased 7% across the business, with direct-to-customer sales up 16%. VF has also been generating cash hand over fist.
In the first three quarters of the year, VF had free cash flow of $195 million. Through Abercrombie's first two quarters, the retailer held negative free cash flow of $105 million, with more damage likely to come in the third quarter. VF is well established, cash generating, and comes with a nice little dividend that pays out 1.8% annually. If you're looking for a nonteen stalwart, VF might be the place for you.
Going big with Nike
The last option is my pick of the litter. With sales on the rise, cash coming in, and an opportunity for more expansion, Nike (NYSE:NKE) looks like an all-around winner. Over the last 12 months, Nike's stock has risen 23% to outperform the S&P 500 and Abercrombie. The shoe giant increased revenue in its last fiscal year by 10%, up to $27.8 billion. That produced an 11% increase in earnings per share, along with $2.1 billion in free cash flow.
Nike has embraced everything that Abercrombie & Fitch has feared -- new technology, new media, and new audiences. Nike's growth has been driven by new products such as its Dri-Fit products and the FuelBand workout tracking line. Contrast that with Abercrombie, which has held on to the same tried-and-failed branded lines even as the company's brand falls out of favor.
Clearly, the Abercrombie & Fitch ship is still taking on water. If you're ready to grab a life jacket and find some terra firma, these three brands all offer something -- or everything -- that Abercrombie has failed to give investors. When looking at the long game, one can't help but wonder if Abercrombie will be a going concern in 10 years -- something we would never question with Gap, VF, or Nike. That alone speaks volumes.
Andrew Marder has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.