The Saks Turnaround is Worth Watching

Followers of Peridot Capital are well aware that I am a big fan of turnaround stories in the retail industry. Historically poorly run retailers can be revitalized if the right management team is brought in to oversee the turnaround. Not every instance will result in the 1,200 percent return Kmart shareholders have earned since the company came out of bankruptcy and merged with Sears (SHLD). However, RadioShack (RSH) was the best performing stock in the S&P 500 during the first quarter, and other retailers like Eddie Bauer (EBHI) and Pier One (PIR) have been run into the ground in recent years, so there is a lot of upside potential if the right people are hired to run the business.

One other retail stock I think warrants value investors’ attention is Saks (SKS). The company unloaded its lower end department store brands last year to focus more on its upscale luxury offerings. A new management team is trying to boost merchandising in order to get margins up to the level of competitors such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom (JWN).

The early results have been positive. Investors were slightly disappointed with the company’s March same store sales growth of 10% (expectations were for a few percentage points more), but after a dismal performance in recent memory, comps at Saks are accelerating. When you focus on the high end of the market, as Saks does, you have far more pricing power, so margin expansion is highly likely if management continues to do a good job merchandising.

After trading down to $19 after releasing March sales this morning, SKS shares have rebounded to more than $20 each. I think they are interesting in the teens. Despite a rally lately as the turnaround has taken shape, the stock still trades at less than one times sales. The P/E looks high due to depressed margins, but the leverage there could result in exploding earnings in coming years. If you look at what type of price Neiman Marcus was able to garner when it went private, you can see that Saks is a prime comparison and trades at a very attractive level. Shares could easily fetch a price in the mid to high 20’s if the turnaround continues to be successful.

Full Disclosure: Author was long shares of Eddie Bauer, RadioShack, and Sears Holdings at time of writing