Maybe there is a safe bank

Jos. A Bank just seems to have done everything correctly during the recession.

By Jim Van Meerten Dec 1, 2009 12:10PM
Retail has always been fascinating to me. Whenever I see a new store open, I always go in and look at the inventory and try to decide if it will make it. I'm more often wrong than I am right, but I keep doing it anyway.

Back in business school, we had guest speakers, and Pop Essermann, who owned the local department store, was my favorite. He played the same lame joke on each class of freshmen. He'd say, "When things get rough, I always sell the socks that cost me a dollar for 75 cents." And always a first-year accounting major would ask, "But aren't you losing 25 cents a pair?" Pops always answered," Yes, but I make it up on volume."

Jos. A Bank (JOSB) almost seems to be following Pop's business plan. This morning it advertised that if you buy a sport coat at regular price it will throw in two pairs of pants and two sport shirts for free. Is the store losing money on every sale but making it up in volume like Pops?

Most companies make the same fatal mistake: When things get rough they cut back on advertising to save cash flow. JOSB seems to have done just the opposite. I can't turn on CNBC for 30 minutes without seeing one of its adds. Has that strategy got it noticed?

If you had purchased JOSB last year, you would have seen a 93.21% price appreciation vs. the S&P 500 return of 26.77%. Clearly its strategy has helped it get noticed and beat the market. But what about the bottom line?

Since 2004 sales have grown from $186.5 million to $502.5 million, profit margins from 5.53% to 8.75% and EPS from 95 cents per share to $3.46 per share.

It looks like Pops was right: Don't worry if you're selling at a loss. Make it up on volume.

The stock has also been noticed by the Motley Fool CAPS members, who think the stock will outperform the market by a vote of 355 to 59 and the All Stars voted 95 to 20. The Wall Street consensus was 6 to 1.

Now if I could just buy five shares for the price of one, that would be a bargain I couldn't pass up.

Jim Van Meerten is an investor who writes about financial matters here and on Financial Tides. Please leave a comment below or email FinancialTides@gmail.com

Disclosure: No positions in JOSB
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