A retailer that many figured would be extinct by now was one of last week's biggest winners. Shares of Barnes & Noble (BKS) soared 24% last week -- moving yet another 6% higher Monday -- after posting mixed quarterly results.
The last giant book superstore chain left standing posted fresh financials last week that may seem disappointing at first glance. Retail sales slipped 1.2% to $1.4 billion since the prior year's holiday quarter, but the decline was fueled by store closures and a dip in online sales.
Yes, Barnes & Noble is that rare retailer where online sales are holding back the production at the physical storefront. It probably isn't hard to realize why Barnes & Noble isn't a dot-com darling. It's competing against Amazon.com (AMZN -0.77%), where Barnes & Noble was its first target when it launched as an online bookstore in the mid-1990s. It's hard for Barnes & Noble's website to compete with Amazon's pricing, and it would be problematic if the chain began charging higher prices offline than it does online to compete with Amazon and other e-based discounters. Barnes & Noble fares a lot better in its more inviting retail climate where it can offer instant gratification and reasonably shield itself from comparison shopping.
This isn't the first time that Barnes & Noble has suffered a year-over-year decline in website sales. It's actually the norm. Thankfully the more important bricks-and-mortar locations are holding up better. Comps rose 0.2% during the quarter. If you back out the NOOK -- the chain's fading e-book reader platform that experienced another double-digit plunge in sales during the period -- comparable-store sales increased by 1.3% for the quarter.
Barnes & Noble scored a profit of $1.04 a share for the seasonally potent quarter, comfortably ahead of the $0.96 a share it rang up a year earlier but short of analyst expectations of $1.08 a share. This is the third quarter in a row that Barnes & Noble falls short of Wall Street's profit targets, but the real takeaway here -- and the reason why the stock moved higher -- is that Barnes & Noble is holding its own.
Barnes & Noble is in no rush to follow former rival Borders into extinction. It's holding steady at the retail level, and last year's decision to spin off its 736 campus bookstores as Barnes & Noble Education (BNED -0.78%) finds it leaning more on its namesake superstores.
That's not a bad place to be at the moment. It sees flat comps in the year ahead, up 1% if we ignore NOOK product sales. Barnes & Noble Education offered stability, relying on consistent campus book purchases over hit novels, but separating Barnes & Noble from Barnes & Noble Education gives investors the flexibility to choose their own adventure.
Patience is a virtue for readers, but the same can now be said of owning Barnes & Noble stock since it began paying quarterly dividends last year. It's a generous rate, amounting to a yield of 4.9% as of Monday's close. It remains to be seen if catalysts will help deliver growth, but it's ultimately comforting to see that the e-book and e-tail revolutions haven't crushed Barnes & Noble just yet.