But even 5% looks good when the past two years have shown 2.5% and 0.6%. Of course, as Target's sales growth for fiscal 2004-08 shows, retailers don't do business in Lake Wobegon, where all the stores are above average. Even if this holiday season is going to be surprisingly strong, some retailers are going to be (or continue to be) unsurprisingly weak. J.C. Penney (JCP, news), for example, is expected to grow same-store sales just 2% in the fiscal year that ends in January 2011, according to S & P. It shouldn't be surprising that Penney will lag Target in fiscal 2011. Penney has been a retail laggard for quite a while. Five-year average annual sales growth at the company is a negative 0.6%. For department stores, the 2004-09 average is 8.3%.

Same goes on the upside. Coach (COH, news), which operates in luxury goods, a different retail segment than Penney or Target, has averaged 16.9% annual sales growth during the past five years, according to Thomson Reuters. That beats the category (apparel, footwear and accessories) average of 11.9% quite handily.

5 to put in your shopping basket

Let's say we want to design a retail portfolio of five stocks. A good mix would include some high-growth momentum retailers like Coach.

These stocks aren't especially cheap, but to investors looking for earnings growth and earnings momentum, these are the stocks to own. You'd also want to add a few lower-price stocks that come with less risk but are well-managed and have a history of finding a way to take advantage of an improved retail climate.

My growth-momentum picks, no surprise, start with Coach. Here's what I like most about the quarterly earnings the company reported Oct. 26. Yes, the 19% revenue growth for the quarter was great, and the international story is just cooking along with eight new stores in China (total now 49) in the quarter.

But what was best was the way the company trounced Wall Street projections in the supposedly slow-growth U.S. market. Analysts were expecting 5% same-store-sales growth in North America for the quarter. That's not exactly a low hurdle in this economy. But the company delivered 8.5% same-store-sales growth. Shares aren't cheap at a price to earnings ratio of 19.8 times trailing 12-month earnings, but at a projected earnings growth of 21% in the fiscal year that ends in June 2011, they're not expensive either, especially not for a momentum stock.

You may not think of my second pick as a retailer, but one of Apple (AAPL, news) strengths as a technology company is that it thinks of itself that way. Apple stores are designed to create buzz. Its products share with fashion retailers an understanding of the need to generate not just excitement but also an image of cool. Just contrast the iPad to any of the competing products. Apple sold a mind-bending 14.1 million iPhones during the recently completed quarter. And that's while dragging the weight of the AT & T wireless network behind it like a ball and chain. If money were no object, what piece of electronics would you give as a gift (or want to receive) at the holidays? And what would you buy even if you had to scrimp and do without to find the money? The pullback in Apple shares since Oct. 18 is just 5% (from $318 a share to $301 on Oct. 29), but it does give investors a good entry point. And if you can get past the $300-plus share price to look at the numbers, you'll see that Apple shares aren't especially expensive at a price-to-earnings ratio of 20 on trailing 12-month earnings and 14 on forward earnings projections.

My first retail value stock is actually another play on Apple. Retailer Best Buy (BBY, news) is, to me, stunningly cheap at a trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio of 13 and a forward P/E ratio of 11. In recent years, electronics have become "the" gift for the holiday season. (I think it's got something to do with falling prices and increasing capabilities, but I'm not sure how closely they're related.) Analysts are projecting just 12.7% earnings growth in the quarter that ends in February 2011. That seems low.

My second retail value stock is clearly a value stock: Family Dollar Stores (FDO, news). Operating in the intensely competitive discount retail segment at a time when its customer base was feeling the brunt of the slow recovery, Family Dollar managed to grow same-store sales 4.8% in fiscal 2010, with a 5% to 7% increase projected for fiscal 2011 and to improve its market position by shifting its merchandise mix and moving into urban neighborhoods. The stock trades at about 18 times trailing 12-month earnings per share and just about 13 times forward projected earnings. Wall Street analysts are looking for 23.6% earnings growth in the quarter that ends in February 2011.

My last pick is Saks (SKS, news). I'd call this an extreme value play. The department store company didn't come through the recession in good shape -- it lost 42 cents per share in the fiscal year that ended in January 2010 -- and it's not exactly going gangbusters now. Earnings for fiscal 2011 are projected at 5 cents a share.

But Saks seems to be in play. Diego Della Valle, the founder of Tod's, disclosed Oct. 2 that he had increased his holdings to 19% of Saks. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim owns 16%.

There are persistent rumors that private-equity investment companies from the United States and the United Kingdom are circling. It's not too far-fetched to imagine an offer for more than the current stock price of about $11.

It's the season for visions of sugarplums, after all.

At the time of publication, Jim Jubak's personal portfolio did not include shares of any company mentioned in this column. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not own positions in stocks mentioned in this column. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of the most recent quarter, see the fund's portfolio here.

Jim Jubak's column has run on MSN Money since 1997. He is the author of the book "The Jubak Picks," based on his market-beating Jubak's Picks portfolio; the writer of the Jubak's Picks blog; and the senior markets editor at MoneyShow.com. Get a free 60-day trial subscription to JAM, his premium investment letter, by using this code: MSN60 when you register at the Jubak Asset Management website.

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