Five Stocks for Your Holiday Shopping List

11/02/2010 9:36 am EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Retail hasn't exactly shone brightly over the past few years. Though expectations are low, these companies are poised to outperform during the fourth quarter.

Should you be getting your portfolio ready for Christmas?

If you're like a lot of us, you've noticed that the stocks to own in this rally were things: Commodity producers and the companies that made machinery for commodity producers.

Brazilian iron ore miner Vale (NYSE: VALE) was up 23% from its August 26 low to its October 29 close of $32.14. Copper and gold producer Freeport McMoRan (NYSE: FCX) was up 41% in the same period. Mining-equipment-maker Joy Global (Nasdaq: JOYG) was up 32%.

I'm not urging you to dump those stocks out of your portfolio now. I think they should continue to do well in the fourth quarter as growth in the world's developing economies drives demand for commodities and as a declining US dollar and rising fears of US inflation drive demand for commodity stocks.

But I do think it's time to see how far your portfolio has drifted (like Mae West: "I was Snow White, but I drifted") toward an excessive allocation to a sector that is, whatever its prospects, more expensive than it was two months ago. And to add a few positions in a sector that has been largely overlooked in this rally and that's likely to do surprisingly well this quarter.

I mean retail.

Best of Times, Worst of Times

This is retail's time of year for lots and lots of volatility. The holiday shopping season is the time when retail stocks do really, really badly—if expectations are high and the results are disappointing. And it's the time when retail stocks do really, really well— if expectations are low and the results are surprisingly strong.

And that's where I think we are this year. Expectations for the holiday season among investors are really low. Many of them have written off consumers completely, saying they'll never open their wallets again.

But this year's holiday shopping season looks like it will be decent. Sales during the 2009 holiday season rose just 0.4% from the previous year. The current forecast is for 2.3% growth this year over 2009. And the forecast might have some room to run slightly higher.

At the beginning of October, the forecast from the optimists was for a 2% increase this holiday shopping season. (See my post "Growth in retail sales doesn't sound like much, until you compare it to last Christmas.") The third-quarter report of gross domestic product (released October 28) showed consumer spending growing at a 2.6% rate. (See my post "Third-quarter GDP comes in on projection, unlikely to change Fed's decision next week.") Nothing here to knock your socks off, but 2% is sure better than 1%, and 2.3% is better than 2%, and 2.6% is . . . well, you know.

Why a Little Goes a Long Way

Let me flesh out the argument for adding a retail stock or five to your portfolio this holiday season and give you five names to put under your tree.

I'll start with a little more detailed look at why 2.3% retail sales growth this holiday season is likely to be enough to make holding retail stocks profitable.

I'm going to use Target (NYSE: TGT) as my example, because for most of the past decade, it turned in revenue growth that was consistently ahead of the average US retailer. According to Standard & Poor's, from fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2008 (which ended in January 2008), the company showed a compound annual growth rate of 10.6%. That came to a crashing halt in fiscal 2009, when revenue climbed just 2.5%, and in fiscal 2010 (which ended in January 2010), when revenue climbed by a tiny 0.6%.

If you're looking for a return to the glory days of 2004-2008 in the fiscal year that ends in January 2011—well, forget about it. Standard & Poor's projects sales growth in the single digits for the year.

But even 5% looks good when the past two years have shown 2.5% and 0.6%.

Of course, as Target's sales growth for fiscal 2004-2008 shows, retailers don't do business in Lake Wobegon, where all the stores are above average. Even if this holiday season is going to be surprisingly strong, some retailers are going to be (or continue to be) unsurprisingly weak. J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP), for example, is expected to grow same-store sales just 2% in the fiscal year that ends in January 2011, according to S&P. It shouldn't be surprising that Penney will lag Target in fiscal 2011. Penney has been a retail laggard for quite a while. Five-year average annual sales growth at the company is a negative 0.6%. For department stores, the 2004-2009 average is 8.3%.

Same goes on the upside. Coach (NYSE: COH), which operates in luxury goods, a different retail segment than Penney or Target, has averaged 16.9% annual sales growth during the past five years, according to Thomson Reuters. That beats the category (apparel, footwear, and accessories) average of 11.9% quite handily.

NEXT: Five Stocks to Buy This Holiday Season


Five to Put in Your Shopping Basket

Let's say we want to design a retail portfolio of five stocks. A good mix would include some high-growth momentum retailers like Coach. These stocks aren't especially cheap, but to investors looking for earnings growth and earnings momentum, these are the stocks to own. You'd also want to add a few lower-price stocks that come with less risk but are well-managed and have a history of finding a way to take advantage of an improved retail climate.

My growth-momentum picks, no surprise, start with Coach. Here's what I like most about the quarterly earnings the company reported October 26. Yes, the 19% revenue growth for the quarter was great, and the international story is just cooking along with eight new stores in China (total now 49) in the quarter.

But what was best was the way the company trounced Wall Street projections in the supposedly slow-growth US market. Analysts were expecting 5% same-store-sales growth in North America for the quarter. That's not exactly a low hurdle in this economy. But the company delivered 8.5% same-store-sales growth. Shares aren't cheap at a price-to-earnings ratio of 19.8 times trailing 12-month earnings, but at a projected earnings growth of 21% in the fiscal year that ends in June 2011, they're not expensive either, especially not for a momentum stock.

You may not think of my second pick as a retailer, but one of Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) strengths as a technology company is that it thinks of itself that way. Apple stores are designed to create buzz. Its products share with fashion retailers an understanding of the need to generate not just excitement but also an image of cool. Just contrast the iPad to any of the competing products. Apple sold a mind-bending 14.1 million iPhones during the recently completed quarter. And that's while dragging the weight of the AT&T (NYSE: T) wireless network behind it like a ball and chain.

If money were no object, what piece of electronics would you give as a gift (or want to receive) at the holidays? And what would you buy even if you had to scrimp and do without to find the money? The pullback in Apple shares since October 18 is just 5% (from $318 a share to $301 on October 29), but it does give investors a good entry point. And if you can get past the $300-plus share price to look at the numbers, you'll see that Apple shares aren't especially expensive at a price-to-earnings ratio of 20 on trailing 12-month earnings and 14 on forward earnings projections.

My first retail value stock is actually another play on Apple. Retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) is, to me, stunningly cheap at a trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio of 13 and a forward P/E ratio of 11. In recent years, electronics have become "the" gift for the holiday season. (I think it's got something to do with falling prices and increasing capabilities, but I'm not sure how closely they're related.) Analysts are projecting just 12.7% earnings growth in the quarter that ends in February 2011. That seems low.

My second retail value stock is clearly a value stock: Family Dollar Stores (NYSE: FDO). Operating in the intensely competitive discount retail segment at a time when its customer base was feeling the brunt of the slow recovery, Family Dollar managed to grow same-store sales 4.8% in fiscal 2010, with a 5% to 7% increase projected for fiscal 2011 and to improve its market position by shifting its merchandise mix and moving into urban neighborhoods. The stock trades at about 18 times trailing 12-month earnings per share and just about 13 times forward projected earnings. Wall Street analysts are looking for 23.6% earnings growth in the quarter that ends in February 2011.

My last pick is Saks (NYSE: SKS). I'd call this an extreme value play. The department store company didn't come through the recession in good shape—it lost 42 cents per share in the fiscal year that ended in January 2010—and it's not exactly going gangbusters now. Earnings for fiscal 2011 are projected at five cents a share. But Saks seems to be in play. Diego Della Valle, the founder of Tod's, disclosed on October 2 that he had increased his holdings to 19% of Saks. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim owns 16%. There are persistent rumors that private-equity investment companies from the United States and the United Kingdom are circling.

It's not too far-fetched to imagine an offer for more than the current stock price of about $11.

It's the season for visions of sugarplums, after all.

At the time of publication, Jim Jubak's personal portfolio did not include shares of any company mentioned in this column. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not own positions in stocks mentioned in this column. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of the most recent quarter, see the fund's portfolio here.

Jim Jubak has been writing "Jubak's Journal" and tracking the performance of his market-beating Jubak's Picks portfolio since 1997 on MSN Money. He is the author of a new book, The Jubak Picks, and he writes the Jubak Picks blog. He is also the senior markets editor at

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