So far this earnings season, sector peers TJX Companies (TJX) - Get Report and Ross Stores (ROST) - Get Report have reinforced my generally positive views on the space. Both companies reported all-around beats and guidance raises in November, with comps looking solid across the board on the back of robust foot traffic and increased ticket size.
Should Burlington Stores ride the same industry-wide tailwinds and build up on its second quarter momentum, the retailer has a good chance of delivering yet another consensus-beating quarter on Nov. 26.
What To Expect This Quarter
Analysts project that revenues will land at $1.79 billion, a solid 9% above 2018 levels. On the bottom line, the expected EPS of $1.40 would represent an increase of 16% year-over-year, a highly unusual growth rate in the primarily brick-and-mortar retail space.
Sales should be propelled once again by an increase in store count, the result of Burlington Stores' aggressive physical network expansion. Comparable store sales growth should hover around the low-single digit rate, with a competitive pricing environment and softness in the women's department (representing about one-fourth of Burlington's total revenues) serving as a bit of a drag. On the other hand, men's, children's and hardlines should once again perform above average, supported by robust consumer spending in the U.S. Meanwhile, investment in store remodeling could manifest itself in the form of higher comps.
Perhaps more important than top-line results will be margins. Lately, Burlington Stores' profitability has been under mild pressure that is unlikely to subside in the near term. Among the key factors are higher wage costs and the newly-introduced tariff hikes. Although the company managed to keep margins flat last quarter, due in part to lower markdowns and inventory shortage, lack of significant margin deterioration will probably be enough to please investors this time.
Looking Beyond Earnings
As is usually the case, making bets ahead of earnings releases can prove to be highly speculative. Therefore, investing in Burlington Stores requires a bit of foresight that extends beyond the results of the third quarter. Paying close attention to the management team's narrative about the holiday season, the most important period of sales for the New Jersey-based retailer, will be crucial.
But at a more fundamental level, Burlington Stores continues to look like a compelling buy at current levels. In the retail space, the gap between winners and losers seems to be widening. On one side, companies in the discount and off-price space along with those with strong brands and robust direct-to-consumer channels have proven most likely to thrive. On the other end, mall and department stores like Kohl's (KSS) - Get Report and Macy's (M) - Get Report will probably have a harder time getting back on track.
Burlington Stores seems to belong in the former group. The company is a rare case of high growth in the industry, and the stock's forward P/E of 25x seems at least consistent with a story of rapidly-increasing sales and earnings. In addition, shares of off-price retailers will probably fare better than most other names in the market during periods of distress and macroeconomic softness, which is a great diversification feature of a stock like Burlington Stores.
The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned in this article.