financial
financial

Aéropostale Inc.: The Year Ahead

Change of guard coming for 2009's teen value leader.

Talk to retail experts about the flight to value and one is likely to hear not only of off-pricers like The TJX Cos. Inc. and midtier standout Kohl’s Corp, but also of Aéropostale Inc., which has been able to steal market share from its competitors during the recession and gain relevance among its target audience for more than just competitive pricing.

Aéropostale will be under scrutiny as it attempts to build on what’s been an impressive winning streak, and the retailer will have to do so without the full-time attention of the executive who’s brought it this far. For the first time since it was spun off from Macy’s in 1998, Aéropostale will be led by someone other than chief executive officer Julian Geiger, who retires at the end of the month but will continue as chairman. Few expect the specialty chain to miss a step as the ceo duties are split between Mindy Meads, currently president and chief merchandising officer, and Thomas Johnson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York-based chain.

Much of the emphasis in the post-Geiger era will be on Meads, a former senior executive of Lands’ End and Victoria’s Secret direct before she joined Aéropostale in 2007. Emphasizing fashion and product differentiation, she’s helped the firm edge out competitors like American Eagle Outfitters Inc. as the “fashion at a price leader.”

“I think the transition will be quite smooth,” said RBC Capital Markets retail analyst Howard Tubin, who believes the team of Geiger, Meads, Johnson and chief financial officer Michael Cunningham has been “running the show for the last few years. Aéropostale is going to continue to be the promotional leader in the teen space in 2010,” he said.

The company has only had one negative month of same-store sales in the last 29 months, and it capped off December with a 10 percent comp rise, on par with the best off-pricer’s results.

Although the company earlier abandoned its test of Jimmy’Z concept stores, it’s now treading on ground many of its competitors have found perilous as it looks to build a spin-off and grow its new kids’ concept, P.S., which the firm launched in June, by about 25 to 30 stores in 2010. The company is also expected to add 25 more stores to its namesake chain’s fleet.

The retailer expects to report earnings per share of $1.33 to $1.34 for the current quarter versus $1.01 in the prior-year period. This would put full-year EPS at $3.31 to $3.32, and analysts expect to see it build EPS in the upcoming year to $3.57.

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