Skip to main content

BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- There's perhaps no better example of America's consumer culture than the apparel business. Fueled by discretionary spending, apparel stocks rallied hard just a few years ago as free-flowing credit spurred new high-priced clothing purchases, and sales dollars poured into companies' wide profit margins.

But that was then.

In the years since, the country has faced a massive recession, a cutback in consumer spending, and a seizing of the credit market. As a result, one of the hardest-hit businesses was apparel makers. In 2010, though, an uptick in consumer spending and a renewed focus on emerging markets is helping spark growth in apparel firms once again. With short-side bets still standing against clothing companies right now, that's just the recipe investors need to trigger a short squeeze in a handful of stocks.

>>>Automotive Stock Short Squeezes

A short squeeze is the buying frenzy that ensues when a heavily shorted stock starts to look attractive again to investors, causing short-sellers to cover their positions -- and share price to skyrocket. One of the best indicators of just how high a short-squeezed stock could go is the short interest ratio, which divides shares short by average daily trading volume in order to get a ballpark estimate of the number of days it would take for short-sellers to cover their positions. The higher the short ratio, the higher the potential profits when the shorts get squeezed.

Here's a look at

a handful of apparel plays

that have the potential to see a short squeeze in the mid-term.

Under Armour

(UA) - Get Under Armour, Inc. Class C Report

has been a darling of the apparel industry for the last few years, with shares have rallying more than 74% since their 2005 IPO -- despite the major pullback the stock experienced in 2008.

That's exactly why Under Armour is a short target. The company currently sports a short ratio of 10.1, a number that suggests it would take a full two weeks for short-sellers to close out their positions at current volume levels.

To be sure, Under Armour is no deep-value play. With a P/E ratio of nearly 43, this stock currently sells at a pretty substantial premium to most peers' multiples. The question, though, is whether or not that premium is justified.

>>>Also see: Fantasy Football Stocks for the 2010 Season

The company is one of the most innovative brands in athletic apparel, competing against stalwarts like


TheStreet Recommends

(NKE) - Get NIKE, Inc. Class B Report

-- and finding success. Growth has been swift in the highly profitable performance apparel market, and it should continue to score in the double-digits for the next few years. Ultimately, fundamentals should catch up with the valuation Wall Street is putting on this stock. When they do, the short sellers should avoid this Baltimore-based company like the plague.


Gildan Activewear

(GIL) - Get Gildan Activewear Inc. Report

doesn't benefit from the same innovation (or high margin performance gear) that Under Armour does, this T-shirt and sweatshirt manufacturer should have strong sales to look forward to. The company has a lucrative business manufacturing private-label clothing for major big-box brands like


(WMT) - Get Walmart Inc. Report



(TGT) - Get Target Corporation Report

-- a sales channel that competitors would kill for.

As a result, Gildan has enjoyed top-line growth of more than 15% for the trailing five years. The rub with this company sits with its internal structure: The company owns capital-intense manufacturing plants and deals with fluctuations in commodity input costs. The firm is countering those black clouds by shoring up its financials during the good times, paying down around 90% of its outstanding debt last year.

>>>Top-Rated Apparel Stocks

While economic headwinds and stiff competition have threatened Gildan's ability to perform financially, the company has seen its revenues and net income expand at a steady clip over the years. I wouldn't expect that pace to slow in the coming years. With a short interest ratio of 10.9, this company presents investors with moderate short-squeeze potential.

Continuing the trend of sports apparel is

Columbia Sportswear

(COLM) - Get Columbia Sportswear Company Report

, a Portland, Ore.-based outdoor apparel company that manufactures and markets a handful of well-known brands (including namesake Columbia).

While business pressures have squeezed the company's margins of late, pushing the firm to a net loss in the most recent quarter, investors are making a mistake in eschewing this stock solely for its fleeting detractors. Indeed, with a short interest ratio of 16.5, bets are being made against this stock in a big way.

But there's quite a bit going in Columbia's favor right now. Despite incredibly stiff competition in the outdoor apparel business, Columbia benefits from some of the best-regarded brands and an impeccable balance sheet. Right now, Columbia is debt-free and had net cash of nearly $167 million on hand at the end of June.

>>>Cramer's 3 Retailers to Watch

That financial cushion should serve the company well as it works to expand its own retail store footprint, lean up its costs, and maintain its dividend payouts through the slower times. The company reports its third-quarter numbers on Oct. 21.For the rest of this week's short-squeeze opportunities, including

Iconix Brand Group

(ICON) - Get Iconix Brand Group, Inc. Report


True Religion Apparel


, check out the

Apparel Stock Short-Squeeze portfolio

at Stockpickr.


>>5 Window-Dressing Stocks That Could Surge

>>Must-See Charts of the Week

>>9 Companies Sitting on Piles of Cash

Follow Stockpickr on


and become a fan on


And to find short-squeeze plays of your own, be sure to check out the

Stockpickr Answers

community for insights and investment ideas.

At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Jonas Elmerraji is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on