If you were fooled once by whispers that specialty retailer The Gap (NYSE:GPS) was back in fashion, don't make the mistake of falling for that again. Last night's holiday quarter report was at best a tap on the snooze bar after another three months of sleepy performance.

Earnings were up to $0.40 a share, from $0.37 a year earlier, while a 3% dip in comps found sales coming in flat at $4.9 billion. Nothing flashy, right? It's pretty much what one would expect given that results through the first three quarters of the year had been, dare we say, flattish.

For all of 2004, earnings per share rose by 10% for a $1.20 showing while sales were up a paltry 3%. Same-store sales were flat for the year and that's worth noting. Back in 2003, when the market was falling back into a romantic groove with the company behind Old Navy, Banana Republic, and its namesake concepts, it had grown sales at the store level by 7%.

CEO Paul Pressler, who came to the company from Disney (NYSE:DIS), was seen as a savior for the tired retailer because of that favorable 2003 blip, but it was really just perfect timing on his part. The company had suffered three straight years of declines in same-store sales, simply sandbagging results for whoever would be hired at the helm. Comps would have to rise by 22% to get to 1999's store performance level, and over Pressler's first two years the company is only a third of the way there. Adjust those figures for inflation and the real picture gets even worse.

While former Disney executives have gone on to run successful companies like eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and DreamWorks Animation (NYSE:DWA), they did it by taking those companies to new heights. Pressler will be given the benefit of time -- the company is slowly inching forward -- but until we get back to how things were on the friendlier side of the millennium, color me unconvinced.

If you think that I'm going to gush over Gap's January quarterly figures, please excuse me while I try to scalp some tickets to the You've Got to Be Kidding Me Festival.

Gap's report is filled with other investor-friendly nuggets that aren't that meaty. Doubling its annual dividend? Income investors aren't going to come running to Gap just because it yields a few basis points above 1% now.

Gap bought back 48 million shares in 2004? That's cool -- until you realize that shares outstanding over the past year have been reduced by less than 30 million. That means the company spent $1 billion of its shareholder money to partly mask a generous stock option attack strategy of dilution.

Am I being too hard on the company? Perhaps. I'll tell you what. The company is guiding investors to expect earnings this year to come in between $1.41 and $1.45. Since it will be growing its selling space by just 2% in 2005, that means that the company is likely to either come through with another spurt in same-store sales or really work some margin magic to get earnings to grow so nicely. If Gap does that, come this time next year, I'll be the one gushing. I'll praise Gap. I'll join the Paul Pressler Fan Club. Heck, I'll even stay home during the You've Got to Be Kidding Me Festival.

More Gap poetry?

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that the company should combine its two non-Gap concepts into one -- Old Banana. He's just kidding. Really. He owns shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.