Earnings Never Go Out of Style

Stocks & Bonds

Earnings Never Go Out of Style

Wall Street can't seem to figure out Jos. A. Bank. But business is good and the stock is cheap.

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers seems to have a lot going against it. There's growing concern that strained consumers will buy fewer suits in an economy that is almost certainly in recession. The Hampstead, Md., men's clothing retailer has more than twice as many days of inventory as its main rival, Men's Wearhouse. Add to that Bank's investor-unfriendly communications policies. Unlike most retailers, the chain doesn't report monthly same-store sales, which track sales at stores that have been open for a year or more. It doesn't make earnings projections, and it also skips the customary question-and-answer sessions with analysts on its quarterly conference calls.

Many investors are down on the stock. At the end of April, an astounding 93% of Bank's outstanding shares had been sold short (short-sellers make money if a stock falls in value). The stock (symbol JOSB) plunged nearly 60% between June 2007 and last March 31. But it then rebounded nearly 50% to its mid-June level of $28. Even after the recovery, it trades for just nine times the $2.95 per share that analysts expect the company to earn in the fiscal year that ends January 31.

Look past Bank's reticence and you'll see a company in solid financial shape. Bank has grown rapidly under chief executive Robert Wildrick, who took control of the 103-year-old retailer in 1999. Sales have tripled, from $194 million in fiscal 1999 to $604 million in fiscal 2007. Net profits have climbed every year, from $3 million in 1999 to $50 million in 2007. In 1999, Bank had fewer than 100 stores in the U.S. Now, it has more than 430 locations.

The inventory issue is overblown, says Vitaliy Katsenelson, research director at Investment Management Associates, a Denver money manager. Apparel retailers always run a risk that inventory will go out of fashion. But Bank's classic mix of shirts, slacks and suits are timeless, says Katsenelson, who personally holds the stock. And because most men shop only a few times a year, Bank stores need to keep wide selections on hand. Beyond the inventory matter, Bank's balance sheet is as pristine as a starched white shirt. The company has no debt and holds $54 million in cash. That money will help the company weather a recession and makes Bank tempting as a buyout candidate, Katsenelson says. He thinks the stock is worth $37.


So far, the sluggish economy hasn't hurt results. Bank reported that net sales rose 12%, to $145 million, and that earnings jumped 18%, to 53 cents a share, in the quarter that ended May 3. "To some degree, Jos. A. Bank sells needs, not wants, because men need suits for work or to find a job," says Richard Lane, manager of FMI Focus, which holds the stock.