Though the thick of earnings season is behind us, several more key companies are still worth a look. We'll examine some of those earnings releases below, specifically focusing on retailers. And, as has been my M.O. for the last few weeks, I'm just as interested in what these companies didn't say as much as what they did.

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Perry Ellis International Inc
Upscale fashion label Perry Ellis topped estimates for a 54 ceents per share loss by "only" losing 42 cents per share despite a 7.9% dip in the top line last quarter. Still, the company said to expect a profit of 70 to 85 cents next year; analysts were only looking for 68 cents worth of per-share income next year.

Encouraging? You bet, and the outlook was bolstered by specific comments like "Although our top line remains challenged for next quarter as retailers had already committed to conservative fall 2009 plans, we expect to pick up momentum during the month of October and return to solid growth for the fourth quarter of this year," from COO Oscar Feldenkreis.

What wasn't explained, however, are a couple of opposing realities. First, what's the plausible reason demand would pick up in Q4 if it was weak in Q3 (which it was)? Second, if demand does actually pick up in Q4, won't the 22% reduction in Perry Ellis' inventory leave it unprepared to deliver any goods? (Learn more on methods of calculating this component of the balance sheet, and how the choice affects the bottom line, read Inventory Valuation For Investors: FIFO And LIFO.)

BJ's Wholesale Club (NYSE:BJ)
The analysts underestimated BJ's Wholesale Club as well. The discount warehouse retailer had earnings per share of 64 cents last quarter versus estimates of 62 cents. The quarter was still better than the same quarter a year earlier, in which the company would have earned 58 cents per share had it not been for an income tax settlement. Sales were down 5% last quarter, and same store sales were down 7.7%.

So how were profits so much better this time around? Expense control and lower food prices were the main culprits, which doesn't necessarily have to hurt margins.

That 'deflated price' theme might prompt a ho-hum response, since it's likely an issue all grocers are dealing with. To BJ Wholesale Club's credit though, not all the players in the grocery space made lemonade out of lemons.

For example, Supervalu, Inc. (NYSE:SVU) saw its income sink 30.2% last quarter on a comparable 4.5% dip in revenue. Translation: BJ's is properly managing expenses and promotion for their food lines as well as their hard line and soft line goods.

More than that, BJ's results may be even more encouraging if one reads the finer print. Removing the effect of lower prices at the gas pump, same-store sales would have been up 2.9%.

Tween Brands Inc. (NYSE:TWB)
Tween Brands is yet another retailer that analysts underestimated. The company, which specializes in apparel and accessories for seven to 14 year old girls, still lost 11 cents per share in Q2 of its fiscal 2009, but that was better than last year's 27 cent loss and the 37 cent loss analysts were planning on. Take out the impairment charge, and last quarter's income improves to only a 16 cent per share loss. (Learn more in The Industry Handbook: The Retailing Industry.)

So all is well, or at least promising? Not quite. Though the impending merger with Dress Barn Inc. (Nasdaq:DBRN) will mask this quite a bit, if analysts' current expectations for Tween Brands were anything close to right, then TWB's forward-looking (2010) price multiple is a hefty 67.

Given how inconsistent and unpredictable - and unprofitable - Tween Brands has been on the earnings front, I wonder if Dress Barn has made an expensive decision.

Bottom Line
Though the retailers above - as well as most so far - have beat estimates, take it all with a grain of salt, as last year's comps are still mostly unrivaled. Simultaneously, bear in mind the recession may have started in late 2007, but didn't kick into high gear until late 2008. So, even the current quarter's comparisons to last year could be unimpressive.

In Q4 of this year though, these companies will be comparing results to the fourth quarter of last year, when the economy was all but shut down. Those should be easy numbers to top, and therefore set up some upside moves from these names.

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