Teen-oriented king o' bling Claire's Stores
As ever-fashionable colleague Seth Jayson pointed out previously, these sorts of declines in otherwise solid stocks sometimes produce buying opportunities. I have to agree, with the caveat that anybody expecting a quick buck is likely to be disappointed.
Growth does appear to be slowing at Claire's right now, thanks mostly to a confluence of spotty mall traffic and difficult year-ago comparisons. Fourth-quarter sales were up about 9%, with same-store sales rising 5%. The good news/bad news is that the company doesn't believe it missed any particular trends or categories -- rather, business as a whole was just not as strong as it's been in the past.
Guidance for 2005 isn't exactly bright and shiny, either. Taking the midpoints of the company's guidance, management seems to be expecting about 6% revenue growth, 3% same-store sales, and 10% earnings growth.
But look out beyond 2005, where the year-over-year sales comps are tough, and the future begins to sparkle again. The company has worked hard to turn around its Icing by Claire's store concept, and that's starting to pay off. The company is also planning on refurbishing many of its European stores and continues to believe that Europe is an underpenetrated market for its concept -- consider, for instance, that the company hasn't even tapped Eastern Europe yet.
Compared with other retailers, Claire's produces strong sales per square foot, and the company has almost unparalleled brand recognition amongst its target market. Better still, management handles the inventory in such a way that the company remains "trend-neutral."
In other words, if a particular style or product gets hot, the company can respond quickly, but the stores in general cater to a wide range of fashion tastes. If the importance of that concept isn't immediately apparent, look at what happened to same-store sales at teen retailers like Hot Topic
With a healthy chunk of cash on the balance sheet, strong return on equity (above 20%), and moderate valuation -- about 15 times trailing earnings and a similar ratio for enterprise value to free cash flow -- Claire's could be an appealing bargain in a sector that's generally gotten a bit too hot lately. While the appearance of flagging growth may take the luster off these shares for the next few quarters, more long-term-oriented investors may see this as "the pause that refreshes" and an opportunity to buy into a very good business.
For more on Claire's and the other names in the retail world, check out the following stories:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.