Retail

Black is normally associated with negative events. Like the Panic of 1869 when a couple of ‘up-and-at-em’ financiers conspired to corner the gold market; or the white-lipped 1987 crash when the Dow got handed it, tumbling more than 20% one quiet Monday. Black Friday today though, is very different. A day to kow-tow to modern consumerism that kicks off the Christmas spending spree and a day when retailers supposedly breathe a sigh of relief that the accounts are no longer mired in red ink. Like many events, Black Friday 2020 is likely to be different, as sweeping restrictions keep consumers slumped on their sofas at home. For retailers, the online offer had better be a good one. Despite loose talk that the retail sector is finished, those who have fast-evolved a multi-channel offer and pared the physical footprint to those outlets that offer decent returns, the outlook is more pecan pie than a dried out turkey. Data this week showed that consumer spending on ‘durables’ –things like cars and furniture hit a new high; so too did ‘non-durables’, such as groceries and clothing. Consumer confidence might have slipped lower, but that is likely more in step with too much watching of CNN, less about the feel-good effect of buying stuff online. One company that has successfully made this digital pivot is the teen retailer American Eagle, a company that recently reported a solid set of numbers that spoke of a management team that are properly on it. The numbers suggested a strong grip on inventory management is likely to flour profitability for the core business, post pandemic, whenever that may come. The real story at American Eagle though, is in a brand called Aerie; a purveyor of intimates and, increasingly, lifestyle ware. Whilst the core business of American Eagle provides a solid cash generating asset, the potential long-term upside is all Aerie. In the last quarter revenues accelerated sharply driven by online. The brand saw record margins, lending more heft to the group’s earnings. Analysts write that they believe that Aerie could triple in five years and those margins can continue to be juiced higher. An investor day in January is likely to cast some light on this hidden asset, and could catch the gaze of investors looking to play the fast-moving, ‘normalisation’ trade.