What a difference seven days can make in retailer Chico's FAS's
August 26 : "In addition, we are very pleased with our current August same-store sales results and the strong reaction we are seeing to the introduction of our Fall merchandise."
September 2 : "Several factors impacted our August sales results. The Labor Day holiday shift, a mailing delay in the delivery of our September catalog, and Hurricane Charley all impacted sales during the last few weeks of August with particular impact on the final weekend."
Let's start with Hurricane Charley, which struck on August 13 near Chico's home base of Fort Myers, Fla. The company was "very pleased" with sales 10 days after Charley.
Then there is the matter of Labor Day's "shift." Does anyone buy that it was a surprise and, when realized, paralyzed shoppers on the last weekend of August?
So that leaves the mailing delay. Look at the calendar. Chico's August reporting period ended Saturday, Aug. 28. So in two days, the company went from "very pleased" to being "impacted"?
What is known is this. The company missed expectations with August same-stores sales growth of 3.6%. Quite frankly, that's very good growth, although well below the double-digit results the company had been delivering.
How good were Chico's results? Competitors Ann Taylor Stores
With Hurricane Frances now bearing down on the Labor Day weekend, aren't the company's expectations of a September same-store sales increase in the mid-to-high single digits worthy of a cautionary note? Can't the same be said for any retailers with a heavy exposure to Hurricane Frances (which, in size, is larger than Charley)?
Chico's, with strong free cash flow and truly outstanding 22.3% operating margins, deserves to sell for a premium price. But at 28 times earnings, it sells for a slightly higher multiple than cash-rich American Eagle Outfitters
Chico's is doing well. But the company is missing expectations, issuing confusing press releases (at least for me), and has Hurricane Frances targeting the Labor Day weekend. All this uncertainty probably explains why this hot retailer has fallen 21% from the all-time high it reached in March.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.