With the holidays just around the corner, investors have an opportunity to stock their portfolios with leading retail brands. Holiday retail sales are set to increase more than 3% this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Wage growth and lower prices at the pump are also expected to contribute to higher spending this holiday season. Therefore, to help investors discern the retail winners from the losers, three Motley Fool contributors explain why Hasbro (NASDAQ:HAS), Sony (NYSE:SNE), and L Brands (NYSE:LB) are three big brand stocks to own ahead of the holidays.
Beth McKenna (Hasbro): I'd suggest that investors consider putting Hasbro stock on their holiday shopping list. Not only is the giant toy and game maker currently firing on all cylinders, but it's also well positioned to be the long-term winner in what's largely a two-company industry. The maker of such iconic brands as Monopoly, Nerf, and Play-Doh has been knocking the socks off Barbie and her parent, rival Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT).
Hasbro recently gifted investors with third-quarter adjusted earnings that rose 7.5% from the year-ago period, handily beating analysts' expectations. Its business' underlying performance was better than this number suggests since results were significantly affected by the strength of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies. Excluding currency effects, revenue increased a solid 9%.
The company has beat earnings estimates in all three quarters this year. This momentum bodes well for the fourth quarter, which includes the much-anticipated release of Star Wars IV: The Force Awakens. The Disney (NYSE:DIS) film is slated to roll out to theaters on Dec. 18. Hasbro's starring role as the exclusive Star Wars' toy licensee should put some force in its financial results for some time. The upcoming film is the first in a trilogy, plus Disney plans to release two additional stand-alone Star Wars movies within the next few years.
Hasbro's far from a one-trick partner pony. In addition to Star Wars, its powerful partner brand lineup includes Jurassic World and Disney's Marvel. A notable catalyst for growth is the transitioning from Mattel to Hasbro in 2016 of the global rights to develop dolls based on Disney Princess characters and the immensely popular Frozen.
Hasbro's stock has been playing Santa all year, returning 41% to investors over the one-year period, while Mattel's total return is a Scrooge-like negative 11%. Despite the stock's resultant valuation run-up, there are enough catalysts for growth on the horizon to suggest that it should continue its portfolio delighting ways over the long term.
Daniel B. Kline (Sony): While the celebrated company has had its problems in recent years Sony's video game division has been a bright spot. The company heads into the holiday season having its PlayStation 4 having steadily outsold Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One for the past five consecutive months, according to data from NPD. The company has sold more consoles in the U.S. than Microsoft for every month in 2015, with the exception of April.
"It was also a very strong month for PlayStation Network, with September being the highest grossing month in PlayStation Store history," a Sony Computer Entertainment America representative told GeekWire.
As it enters the holiday season, Sony appears ready to maintain that lead by matching its rivals' price cuts. Last year, Microsoft had a strong holiday season because it offered bundles for as low as $299. These packages included a top game and, in some cases, an accessory. Soy offered bundles but almost certainly lost sales because it kept the price at $349.
This year, however, early reports suggest that Sony will meet the $299 price with some PS4 bundles. Microsoft may go even lower, or at least offer more in its bundles at that price, but being below $200 should be enough for Sony to keep its sales momentum going. That should help solidify the company's comeback and set it up for success in the new year.
Gaming is only a part of the Sony business, of course, but it's an important catalyst. In addition, every console sold becomes a mini-annuity for the company, producing revenue for years to come from sales in the company's digital store, accessories, apps, movies and television, and games.
Tamara Walsh (L Brands): You may not be familiar with the moniker L Brands, but you certainly know the brands within their brand portfolio, including Victoria's Secret, Henri Bendel, and Bath & Body Works. Unlike other retailers today, L Brands operates in a less crowded corner of retail. Its Victoria's Secret business dominates the intimate-apparel space, whereas Bath & Body Works is a leader in the beauty arena.
L Brands recently raised its third-quarter guidance and now expects to post a profit in the range of $0.51 to $0.53 per share, up from its prior forecast of earnings per share of between $0.40 and $0.45 in the period. The company also impressed investors recently with three consecutive months of comparable sales growth -- a key metric in the retail business. L Brands stock is up more than 12% year to date as a result.
However, there could be more upside for investors if L Brands is able to hit it big with consumers during the all-important holiday shopping season. The annual Victoria's Secret fashion show will spark plenty of media attention when it airs next month, which could further spur sales at the lingerie chain heading into the holidays. The nationally televised event draws millions of viewers every year. Victoria's Secret also has a strong presence in the "athleisure wear" category -- a niche that could outperform apparel during the holidays, given its recent rise to fame.
These catalysts, together with limited-time offerings from both Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, should help L Brands dominate the holidays.
Beth McKenna has no position in any stocks mentioned. Daniel Kline owns shares of Microsoft. Tamara Rutter owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Hasbro. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. 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.