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Tickers in this Article: M, ROST, SPY , FDO, XRT
Last Friday, official retail sales numbers were reported, and the results were better than expected. Analysts had expected a fall in sales of 0.2% into February on account of severe snow storms that hit the East Coast that month. But retailers grew sales over the period by a 0.3% rate, showing rises in a full 10 of 13 retail categories. The overall retail sector (as measured by the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (NYSE:XRT)) is up almost 13% year to date, while the broad market (SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY)) is up a mere 3%.

The best of the retail bunch are still trading at, or close to, their 52-week highs, and only a small percentage have failed to show gains for the year. Here are the best three performers from the retail sector year to date, along with some key valuation readings.

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A Parade of Earnings
Macy's, Inc. (NYSE:M) is a New York retail institution, with nearly 850 department stores operating under the Macy's and Bloomingdale's brands. Since the new year arrived, the stock has gained a shade less than 30%, and for the year it's up more than 150%. The shares pay no dividend and trade with a trailing one-year earnings multiple of 26.

Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO) stock is up over 12% for the year and 27% since January 1. FDO's board of directors recently raised the annual dividend by nearly 15% to pay a current 1.75% yield. P/E on the shares is 16.50. The company's 6,600 discount stores operate in 44 states and are even more more heavily owned by instituions. An outsized 92% of the float is in professional hands.

Dividend Hiker
Ross Stores Inc. (Nasdaq:ROST) has also had a successful year and YTD. For the last 12 months the stock has climbed 60%, and since the New Year it's up almost 25%. ROST pays a nominal 1.2% dividend and trades with P/E of 16.8.

Ross offers designer-label apparel at discount prices and has an enviable five-year record of growth. Sales growth for the period is 10.59%, while EPS and dividend growth come in at 9.66% and 25.13% respectively. In February, the company's board announced a $750 million stock buyback program along with a 45% hike in its annual dividend.

The Wrap
Retail numbers point toward continued economic expansion. In normal times, this usually leads to more retail spending. The above three names are well positioned to capitalize on that theme. (To learn more, see Analyzing Retail Stocks.)

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