Burlington is "firing on all cylinders," according to comments from Morgan Stanley analysts last week, and is poised to take the year by storm as it works to pay down debt and execute a turnaround aimed at grabbing market share in home and apparel.
For investors, its turn-around mode represents a bit more risk than rivals like TJX Cos. and Ross Stores, with potentially more reward, according to the note emailed to Retail Dive.
The off-price retailer last week announced that its Q4 total sales, on a 14-week basis, rose 14.9% to $1.94 billion, while on a 13-week basis sales rose 10% to $1.86 million and same-store sales rose 5.9%. Gross margin on a 13-week basis expanded by 20 basis points over last year's levels to 42%, driven primarily by increased merchandise margin, the company said in a press release. At the same time, Burlington reduced its 91-day and older inventory by 26% over the prior year.
The ongoing expansion of many off-price retailers, which have mostly ignored e-commerce and grown their physical footprints, threatens to usher in a more challenging time as the market gets more crowded. Ross Stores on Monday said it will open another 100 stores this year, adding to similar annual growth in recent years. In January, Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow warned that TJX would likely be particularly hard hit by that this year, but that Burlington and Ross could also suffer.
Top players in the space, including TJX , Burlington and Ross Stores,continue to rely on (and grow) physical stores. In the process, they foment the treasure hunt atmosphere, which JPMorgan in September noted is helping them to a great extent. JPMorgan analysts saw solid fundamentals like a robust merchandise pipeline, a healthy consumer base and plenty of runway for brick-and-mortar expansion all translating to $18 billion to $19 billion of incremental sales for off-price stores by 2021.
Already ambitious expansion, particularly on the part of TJX, could dilute that growth, but the main players are seeing increased competition, too. Macy's new off-price unit, Backstage, is in expansion mode, for example. The department store has shifted much of its focus to that effort, playing catchup to the likes of Nordstrom Rack in an attempt to join in on the stellar performance of off-price retailers.
Morgan Stanley analysts in December had also maintained their cheery outlook for the space, saying they expect off-price sales to keep growing, mainly at the expense of department stores. After a few stumbles, TJX and Ross have shown that optimism is warranted. Morgan Stanley analysts in particular last week recorded what they see as an upside for Burlington because it has more room for progress. In their note last week, they noted that Home and Beauty have been the retailer's top performers amid its turnaround, and that cold-weather inventory was prudently managed.
"Burlington is a combined turnaround and debt paydown story. Its transformation is still in the early to middle innings, but has already shown strong results," according to the note. "We think [it] can grow underlying EPS mid-teens moving forward. Its ongoing transformation should help it sustain solid top-line momentum while expanding margins and paying down debt."
"With the business firing on all cylinders, we feel confident the beat and raise story can continue in 2018," Morgan Stanley also said.