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How to Play Retail Stocks in 2010

If you doubt consumers overall will return to their old spending habits: Sure, many Americans will remain on the hunt for bargains well into the new year.

But this could be a good time to place your bets on some of retail's luxury players. Many analysts believe that high-end consumers, at least, will go back to their former ways in 2010.

"These shoppers have both the ability and willingness to spend," UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer said. "Last year they still had the funds to spend, but [they] turned off the willingness due to fear. Now there is a pent-up demand," she added.

Names like Coach (COH), Tiffany (TIF), J.Crew (JCG) and Urban Outfitters (URBN) have already begun to show some positive signs.

Tiffany's direct link to the performance of the stock market and its high exposure to New York is an advantage for the jeweler.

"Our regression analysis indicates about 40% of the variance in Tiffany's U.S. comparable sales can be explained by moves in the S&P 500 six months prior, as we believe increasing stock market wealth drives net worth and greater consumer spending on luxury goods," Citigroup analyst Kimberly Greenberger explained in a note.

Sales in New York account for about 35% of Tiffany's total U.S. sales, and Greenberger foresees its sales in the region improving as the financial sector gains momentum and jobs and compensation recover.

Coach, J.Crew and Urban Outfitters all cater to customers with an average household income of about $100,000 or more; stock market gains could benefit these retailers as well.

"We expect a recovery at the high-end in 2010," Greenberger went on, "as high-income consumers benefit from the positive wealth effect created by rising equity markets, combined with relatively low unemployment among these consumers and improving confidence."

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.


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