I always dread the Friday night press releases. They are usually the desperate handiwork of companies looking to bury bad news, long after traders and financial reporters have headed home for the weekend. That's why when retailer Books-A-Million
In short: Friday + night + release = bad.
Hurricane Katrina's brutal assault on the Southeast makes you almost feel guilty for approaching the Alabama-based company's weekend warning with a fair degree of cynicism. After all, the company will miss its third-quarter target in part because Katrina caused the temporary closure of 15 of the chain's 207 stores. The company is now looking to post a loss between $0.06 and $0.09 a share, instead of its original guidance calling for a deficit of no more than $0.03 per share.
That got me curious. I used the company's online locator to see how many Books-A-Million stores are located in New Orleans. There were none. The nearest location was more than 30 miles away, in Covington. In fact, the release indicated that the stores suffered only temporary closures of between two and 10 days, and the phrasing suggests that all of the stores are open again.
Last year, Books-A-Million had to deal with the four Florida-focused hurricanes that forced temporary closures at 35 of its stores. Some of those were shuttered for as long as a week. But having more than twice as many stores closed forced Books-A-Million to shave its forecast by just two pennies a share. The irony is that a few months later, Books-A-Million announced that it was set to book a one-time gain of as much as a nickel per share because of its insurance recoveries. That gain is being booked this year, and that double-dipping is something that growth investors need to consider when analyzing this year's bottom line over last fiscal year's showing.
Comps were already coming off last year's storm-depressed levels. Now the retailer may lose more than the $0.07 per share it surrendered during last year's third quarter, despite what should have been some decent momentum coming off a strong July quarter with the release of the new Harry Potter book.
Katrina's sting is there, but you have to wonder whether there's more to the story, after hearing last week's conference call from Ruth's Chris Steak House
Well, there is more to the Books-A-Million story. The company even concedes that comps at its stores that have remained open have suffered a drop. However, that important morsel is tacked on after the Katrina excuse, with a throwaway "in addition" segue bent on tripping up the shareholders with short attention spans.
That's the smell test worth inhaling. If larger rivals like Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million has been performing well enough over the past few quarters to wind up on the Motley Fool Hidden Gems Tiny Gems nominee list. However, if it stands out as the one laggard in the bookselling sector, maybe it's time the bulls throw the book at Books-A-Million.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has gone through a few hurricanes in his Florida tenure. He has also been to Books-A-Million a few times and is generally pleased with those experiences. However, he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. 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.