When an entire industry blows up, is the lone exception really that much better? Usually not. And as this column pointed out last week in connection with the death industry, claiming to be so is often a red flag.
Which brings us to
Hibbett Sporting Goods
. It has nothing to do with funeral homes but everything to do with exceptions. Never mind that its stock has been halved in less than three months.
A comparison with other sporting goods retailers, which have been clobbered, tells a very different story: Hibbett trades at 2.69 times its book value, while
is at a price-to-book multiple of 0.48,
, 0.83, and
(Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, Kids Foot Locker, Champs Sports), 0.73.
Why the discrepancy? Good question, especially considering that three weeks ago the company warned that fourth-quarter earnings won't meet analyst estimates thanks to a lousy Christmas. CFO Susan Fitzgibbon, however, says the company is better than the others because it operates in small towns in the southeast where costs -- and competition -- are lower.
Adds fan Roger Lipton of
Lipton Financial Services
in New York, who has been quoted here on numerous retailers, "Their stores are well run. And I satisfied myself that the sales trends that hurt the fourth quarter were truly one-time in nature," the result of an abnormally warm winter followed by an icy Christmas week. He adds that "sales are bouncing back in January." To back up his work, Lipton says he recently drove 350 miles in seven hours to visit four of the company's stores in Georgia.
Still, there's that discrepancy, which is why at least one short-seller hasn't bailed out even after the stock's recent swoon. "You're in a business where all your peers blew up and you're saying that Christmas will be half what you expected," says the skeptic.
What's more, he adds, inventories stretch out around six months and the company is running low on cash. (Actually, cash flow from operations is a negative $5.3 million, roughly triple what it was a year ago.) "And just because they operate in backwater towns where they use this 'no competition' story," the short-seller says, "doesn't make them different."
A report is making the online rounds suggesting that
(BOSTQ:OTC BB) stock, now traded on the OTC Bulletin Board, may still once again fly. It doesn't say whether it's referring to the current stock or a new stock. Before you buy, consider that last quarter, the Chicken's CFO warned, "The Creditor Committee, consisting primarily of bondholders, has indicated it is willing to exchange the convertible subordinated debentures and other unsecured debt for all of the equity of the reorganized company. Although the company is exploring opportunities to preserve some value for existing stockholders, there can be no assurance that existing stockholders will retain any value.''
Put another way: Even though it's boilerplate, there's a real possibility the current stock may not be worth enough for a chicken dinner.
Overheard last night aboard the 5:22 Bergen County Express, which is loaded with Wall Streeters:
"It's just getting harder, no matter whether you win or lose."
Ditto for the folks who write about this stuff.
Herb Greenberg writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with the editorial policy of TSC, he does not own or short individual stocks. He also does not invest in hedge funds or any other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Greenberg writes a monthly column for Fortune and provides daily commentary for CNBC.