My first day working in New York City included a ferry ride across the Hudson River and then a shuttle to the office. Despite the early hour, the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan was intense.
When the shuttle approached my stop, I saw a long line of teenagers and adults behind red velvet ropes; the line extended around the corner of a wide block. I thought they were probably waiting for some celebrity meet-and-greet or rock concert, but then I noticed the line was in front of a clothing store that I had seen in a local mall but never paid much attention to.
The next day, I noticed the same hubbub in front of the same store, and over the next few weeks, I became used to the daily red-velvet rope lineup. Clearly, this wasn't a one-time sale or special event -- customers were willing to stand in line every single day!
Imagine operating a clothing store and seeing hundreds of eager customers line up and wait each day for a chance to get inside and shop. I thought: "What a great investment opportunity this retailer must offer! Clearly any company with the marketing skills to draw such attention is doing something right."
If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF), a New Albany, Ohio-based retailer of casual clothing. The company's marketing deftly combines wholesome Americana with an edgy, sexy vibe from the live models who attract teenage locals and tourists from around the globe to its flagship Fifth Avenue store.
Founded in 1893, Abercrombie currently operates 912 stores in the United States and 139 international locations. The company also sells clothes under the lower-priced Hollister brand. Based on the pseudo-history of fictional adventurer John M. Hollister, the Hollister line appeals to international customers with its theme and lower price point.
The company posted its full-year 2012 results in February, and overall, things are looking bullish. Net sales increased 8%, with international sales adding 36% and direct-to-consumer sales jumping 27%. However, U.S. sales slipped 1% on the year.
Here's why I'm bullish on Abercrombie:
1. A strong 2013 outlook
The company expects earnings per share (EPS) in the range of $3.35 to $3.45, which would represent growth of 15%.
2. Expansion plans
Abercrombie is going where the action is to increase business. It plans on opening two additional flagship stores in Seoul and Shanghai in addition to opening 20 international Hollister stores within the year. Over the next five years, the Hollister store count could climb to 70, and with international markets operating at higher productivity than the traditional U.S. stores, growth is nearly guaranteed.
3. Powerful marketing
Marketing is what drives business. Abercrombie's flagship Fifth Avenue store is a testament to its marketing savvy. Taking the company's product to clients in Asia and the United Arab Emirates is a brilliant move. While many in the United States and Europe may be burned out on this type of marketing, it remains new and edgy in the parts of the world where Abercrombie has expansion plans.
Despite the strong 2012 performance and solid outlook for 2013, Abercrombie's stock has been trading in a tight range between $46 and $52. Waiting for a breakout close above $52 makes technical sense.
Risks to Consider: Weakness in Europe and the slowing of sales in the United States have created headwinds for Abercrombie. This type of business is extremely connected to consumer sentiment and spending capacity. While the company is making smart moves into international markets, the European situation will continue to loom over performance and investor perception for the foreseeable future.
Action to Take --> Although I am bullish on Abercrombie overall, I would wait until the current price range is broken on the top end before entering the investment. As always, be sure to use stops and position size properly when investing.
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