In a time when investors fear earnings warnings the way kittens fear rocking chairs, you'd think a steady Freddy like Bed Bath & Beyond
The stock was as soggy as a dropped bathrobe today, down a bit more than 3%. The early headlines said that a sales slowdown was responsible for that rude awakening, but Foolish investors should put that into context.
Most managers out there would give up their executive parking privileges for misses of this kind. Remember that in our current "soft spot," powerhouse retailers like Wal-Mart
In this light, Bed Bath & Beyond's mere 4.6% increase is still better than most, and the 15% overall sales expansion looks as slick as a new brass towel rod. Better yet, there was a 0.8% improvement in operating margins. Clearly this firm is not over the hill, much as low-margin rival Linens 'n Things
Of course, stocks and companies are different beasts, and solid firms can still be overpriced, or look that way. That's the problem today. With Bed Bath & Beyond's price-to-earnings ratio of 26 -- exceeding the rate of earnings growth -- investors are going to be easily spooked by any perceived slowdown. The enterprise trades at a heady 24 times last year's free cash flow, which lags last year's total, so shares don't look like they have much of a margin of safety, despite the quality of the goods. Treat them like a wet tile floor: probably OK, but dangerous in a slip.
OK, so Bed Bath & Beyond is no longer a growth star. Find fresh prospects in David Gardner's Rule Breakers newsletter.
Seth Jayson is thinking he might need to upgrade from the burlap rags that pass for towels at his place. But at the time of publication, he had no position in any company mentioned.