"Against a backdrop of accelerating momentum seen in holiday spending trends via our proprietary survey work and in the counsel of various industry updates over the Black Friday weekend, we are moving our investment rating on both GPS and LB," the firm wrote in an analyst note.
Piper remains concerned about market share losses at the core Gap division and L Brands' increasing dependence on strength in the Victoria's Secret PINK line to drive comparable-store sales growth in 2017. But the firm believes "broad-based relief is on the horizon for consumer discretionary spending, of which each GPS and LB could participate in by the rising tide."
The firm's survey findings indicated the strongest Black Friday participation in five years. Thirty-nine percent of respondents hit the stores and the web this year vs. 31% a year ago and a prior peak of 34% in 2014. Sixty-six percent of those that shopped this holiday weekend made a purchase in store, which is a 6% improvement from last year.
"This coupled with strong spending intentions in our first holiday survey a week ago, we believe the holiday is off to a decent start and GPS and LB should benefit," Piper contended.
Gap shares are likely pricing in fundamental underperformance in the next quarter, according to the firm. "That said, with shares having pulled back 17% since the company's (Q3) report compared with the 1% increase of the S&P 500-- we believe GPS is appropriately reflecting concerns on fundamentals," Piper added.
L Brands' valuation indicates that shares are already suggesting fundamental disappointment in the near-term. "In view of the accelerating momentum seen in holiday spending trends via our proprietary survey work which likely bodes well for LB, we believe a Neutral rating is more prudent at this time," the firm noted.
L Brands' Victoria's Secret brand and PINK line both offered significantly more promotions year-over-year, while Gap and American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) - Get Report stood out as "slightly less promotional," according to the firm.
"Despite very limited promotions, we noted heavy traffic at UGG retail stores, as well as strong conversion in the UGG section at Nordstrom (JWN) - Get Report , where it was by far the busiest area of the shoe floor. Gap was also driving heavy conversion with its 50% off store-wide offer," Jefferies wrote in an analyst note.
Gap and Urban Outfitters (URBN) - Get Report remain Jefferies' top picks for the holiday season. The firm sees momentum continuing to build at Gap's Old Navy brand and stabilizing results at its core Gap brand. Jefferies believes Urban Outfitters should benefit from an improved fashion cycle at its namesake brand, partially offset by some weakness at Anthropologie.
Overall, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday online sales jumped 17.7% to $5.27 billion year-over-year, according to data from Adobe. Black Friday set a new record with $3.34 billion in sales, up 21.6% from last year. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day totaled $1.93 billion. Adobe's report is based on aggregated and anonymous data from 22.6 billion visits to retail websites.