There's nothing like spending a few minutes in a book superstore to remind us that we all have different tastes and interests. Some people feel compelled to browse the mystery section, while others might drift over to science fiction, flip through romance, or peruse military history. Investing is no different: Some may favor the exciting potential of hypergrowth micro-cap stocks, while others seek out the relative safety of dividend-paying large-cap companies.
The year-end numbers that bookseller Barnes & Noble
The remaining book business is seldom flashy and never eye-popping, but it does offer stable -- albeit modest -- growth rates, with little risk of a major downside surprise. This quarter was no exception. Sales at the company's namesake stores rose 5% to $1.4 billion, driven by a 1.7% gain in same-store sales. That rate trailed the 2.7% improvement that Books-A-Million
B&N's growth was partially offset by weakness at the B. Dalton chain, whose sales fell 24% during the quarter and dropped 20% for the year to $176.5 million. Rampant store closures caused much of the weakness, but same-store sales declines of 3.2% and 2.2% didn't help, either. With more superstores sprouting up, these units, much like Borders' Waldenbooks, are being gradually phased out. They now contribute less than 5% of B&N's total revenues and seemingly haven't posted a quarterly gain since Gutenberg was still perfecting the printing press.
On the other hand, the erstwhile money-losing online operations at barnesandnoble.com managed to turn a profit -- just a penny per share, but a profit nonetheless. The division shipped $152 million of merchandise during the quarter, a 14% improvement from last year, but it still has a long way to go before becoming a worthy adversary for Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Amazon.com
Many investors will walk right past Barnes and Noble, with its low margins and slow-moving inventory, but those who prefer moderately priced companies with a history of stable earnings growth may be interested in reading further.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.