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Ann Taylor May Lose Flair

Veteran Wall Streeters know that when it comes to investing, past performance holds no guarantees for the future. That said, those contemplating buying shares of a streaky retail chain like Ann Taylor (ANN) would do well to consider a little history.

Over the course of the last year, new Chief Executive Kay Krill has rescued Ann Taylor from a debilitating fashion whiff and transformed it back into one of the hottest clothing destinations for women. While a number of other specialty chains, like Gap (GPS) and Limited Brands (LTD), struggle to fix their own merchandise problems, Krill's performance has won plaudits on Wall Street and shares of Ann Taylor are reaching all-time highs.

Now, the question is whether investors who missed the company's turnaround should buy the stock while Ann Taylor is at the top of its game. At current levels, the shares look priced for perfection. And, while the company will probably continue to perform well in the near future, it has a long history of ups and downs.

While the stock market tanked on interest-rate worries this spring, Ann Taylor could do no wrong. Its shares climbed as the retailer extended its streak of positive same-store sales gains to eight months straight. On Wednesday, it closed up 59 cents, or 1.4%, to $43.66, after reaching a new high of $43.88 in intraday trading.

The stock is up 90% from October, which is when Krill, a company veteran, took the helm. At the time, Ann Taylor was suffering from a long string of monthly comps declines as shoppers reacted coolly to its fashions. As a merchandise guru who had been president of all three of the company's divisions, Krill was able to erase past mistakes by offering customers the types of clothes they were previously accustomed to finding at the stores.

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