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The Gap Inc. (GPS): The Best Apparel Retailer Is….

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Its stock is up 55% in the last year. It beat sales expectations and has announced plans to expand globally. What company am I talking about? No, it’s not a tech anomaly, it’s The Gap Inc.(NYSE:GPS). A model of a clothing retailer turnaround, the Boston Globe reported that Gap continued to sell above expectations in May and only 2 weeks ago, the company announced plans to have a presence in eight latin American countries by the end of 2013.

The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS), however, is an anomaly. Apparel Retailers are in an extremely competitive environment. Selling a commodity, companies like American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) or Urban Outfitters, Inc. (NASDAQ:URBN) are at the mercy of constantly changing fashion trends and material prices that threaten to squeeze them out of a profit through both revenue and costs. Unlike The Gap, American Eagle is facing problems keeping its sales up as sales from stores open at least one year fell 5% in the most recent quarter due to what CEO Robert Hanson called “a tough macro environment.” Urban Outfitters, on the other hand, is only making the news for having to pull a line of coffee mugs from shelves because they could easily be confused with prescription drug bottles.

Luxury apparel is no different

The Gap Inc.One might think that in this environment higher end clothing retailers might spin a different, more positive tale. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc (NASDAQ:JOSB)’s most recent quarter’s EPS was in line with expectations, but same store sales were down 8.5%. Their gross margin has decreased in the last year, and their net profit margin, according to thestreet.com, is trailing the industry average. The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW), which trades at a slightly lower earnings multiple than Jos A Bank Clothiers grew earnings per share and gross margins; however, the company is plagued by new management troubles as they’ve fired Founder and Executive Chairman George Zimmer, who owns 3.5% of the company.

The truth is in the numbers

With the tough macro environment and the troubles these retailers are going through, it may seem daft to be looking at retail for investments at all. However, contrarian battlegrounds like these can often be the areas of the most impressive market mispricings. While, The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS)’s performance is certainly remarkable, I believe the numbers show that American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) is truly the more impressive company and is currently being fundamentally mispriced.

Gross Margin Net Profit Margin Inventory Turnover Return on Equity
The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) 42.9% 7.77% 5.5 39.98%
American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) 40% 6.39% 5.8 18.53%
Urban Outfitters, Inc. (NASDAQ:URBN) 41.4% 8.71% 5.4 19.73%
Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc (NASDAQ:JOSB) 60.6% 6.99% 1.2 11.44%
The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) 49.5% 5.48% 2.1 13.01%

Source: Yahoo Finance and The Motley Fool

Based on Return on Equity, The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) is clearly far into its turnaround, achieving high returns on its equity. Of the three casual apparel retailers, it has the highest gross margin as well. However, American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) has a higher inventory turnover, and Urban Outfitters, Inc. (NASDAQ:URBN) has a higher net profit margin, even if only by a percentage point.

The difference in business models between these three casual clothing stores and the more upscale The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) and Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc (NASDAQ:JOSB) is made extremely clear, however, in these numbers. Their gross margins of the are significantly higher and their inventory turnover is higher as well, which makes sense. Interestingly even within the luxury segment, Men’s Wearhouse’s lower margins compared to Jos A Bank is accompanied by higher turnover than Jos A Bank Clothiers. However, even with these significant business model changes, all of these net profit margins end up at around the same 5.5%-8.5% range.

To truly compare these companies we need to go further than those generic quantitative metrics. Instead, we should use more industry specific metrics like Revenue per Employee and Sales per Square Foot. I’ll also use Gross Profit/Total Assets to see how well, net of pricing, these companies are using their assets. These metrics reveal more insight into these companies and their efficiency, which is important in such a competitive industry.

Gross Profit/Total Assets Revenue/Employee Sales/Square Ft.
The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) .826 116,860 $424
American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) .792 492,369 $489
Urban Outfitters, Inc. (NASDAQ:URBN) .570 357,751 NA
Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc (NASDAQ:JOSB) .680 225,197 $388
The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) .741 203,084 $415*

SOURCE: The Motley Fool, Personal Calculations, Company 10-K Filings

*Weighted average of 3 store brands (Men’s Warehouse, Moores, K&G)

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