Whether you realize it or not, we're less than two months away from the holiday season. For retailers it's the most important time of the year, but it's also a critical quarter for the U.S. economy since consumption is the driving force behind GDP growth.
The 2015 holiday season is going to be a bit more challenging than the past couple of holiday seasons, according to most analyst estimates. That means investors will need to be pickier than normal. With this in mind, we asked three of our Foolish contributors to name a company they believe has the tools necessary to outperform this holiday season. Here's what they had to say:
One company that's positioned to have a solid holiday season is FedEx (NYSE:FDX). As a premiere delivery enterprise, it serves as a critical part of the exploding e-commerce trend. Just how explosively is e-commerce growing? Well, the eMarketer research firm estimates that e-commerce will rise from 7.3% of global retail sales in 2015 to 12.4% by 2019, topping $3.5 trillion in value within five years. Forrester research projects 10% average annual growth of U.S. e-commerce over the next five years.
Most of those online orders will require delivery of goods, and that's where FedEx can shine. Its profit margins have been growing in recent years, while annual revenue approaches $50 billion. The company is free-cash-flow positive, while investing heavily in its business. There have been delivery snafus in past years due to delivery companies grappling with bad weather and insufficient infrastructure, but FedEx has been updating and expanding its fleet and upping the number of seasonal workers it plans to hire. It is also hiking its rates, as it does just about every year, with most rates rising by close to 5%.
FedEx is expected, per Capital IQ, to increase its earnings by about 13.5% annually over the coming five years, and it was recently trading with a forward-looking P/E ratio of 14, well below its five-year average of 20. Its dividend is relatively puny, recently yielding just 0.66%, but it's also growing briskly, having roughly doubled over the past four years. FedEx stock is likely to reward long-term investors.
To put it plainly, Overstock's history of growth has been lumpy at best. Overstock has struggled while competing against the likes of eBay and Amazon.com, and a consistent base of short-sellers has kept its stock from running very far. It also doesn't help that just a single analyst is currently covering the $400 million company, meaning its EPS results and Wall Street's lone estimate are often miles apart.
However, we could be witnessing a true long-term turnaround in Overstock's business. In recent years the company has delivered substantial revenue growth, modest margin expansion, and improved positive cash flow. In its second quarter results, Overstock announced that orders rose 15% compared to the same period last year, and average order size jumped by 5% to $185.
What makes me believe that Overstock could see a revival this holiday season is consumers' heightened focus on value. Sales growth is expected to slow this holiday season according to analysts, meaning cost-conscious websites like Overstock, which focus on providing a variety of items at a discount and rewards consumers for remaining loyal, should be a prime focus by shoppers. Additionally, Overstock's push into international markets could help boost its bottom-line over the long run.
Overstock isn't exactly a "cheap" stock by traditional fundamental metrics, but I believe it has a decent shot of surprising investors this holiday season.
Sometimes, stocks are interesting plays not because their businesses are completely sound but rather because expectations are so low that even tepid performance could be enough to give investors a solid return. That's the case for retail stalwart J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), which has been under pressure for years to navigate a turnaround from the 2008 recession and a series of strategic miscues that jeopardized its traditional customer base. Investors come into the current holiday season expecting losses not just this year but also through fiscal 2017 as well, so just about any positive news could send the struggling stock heading skyward.
J.C. Penney hopes that a combination of boosting the retailer's omnichannel presence, bulking up its private brand offerings, and making the most of in-store shops like its Sephora boutiques could help drive comparable-store sales upward this holiday season, making up some of the ground lost in past years. Overall, economists seem optimistic that U.S. consumers are in a good position to spend more to close out the year, with higher discretionary spending and some pent-up demand helping to drive upward sales. Penney has a long way to go before CEO Marvin Ellison and his management team can declare victory, but all it might take is a solid holiday season to get shares moving more aggressively upward.