Investor Alert: Are These 11 Back-to-School Stocks Making Big Moves?

The end of summer and the onset of fall usually mean one thing in the United States — it’s time to replenish supplies and head back to school. This also translates to wardrobe refreshes and gadget upgrades. The average planned back-to-school spending per household in the United States has gradually increased year-over-year to $848.9 in 2021, with electronics or computer-related equipment emerging as the biggest category.

While stressed American consumers have been forced to go bargain hunting to squeeze out the maximum possible value from money for bare essentials so that more of it can be set aside in favor of outdoor experiences instead of manufactured goods, the trend is unlikely to be significantly impacted even by the seismic shifts in the consumption ecosystem.

In fact, since the supply chain disruptions in the aftermath of the pandemic, concern for stockouts has only pulled back-to-school sales have increasingly been pulled forward to the end of July, compared to the conventional peak during the beginning of August. Prime Week by, Inc. (AMZN) has also done its fair bit to catalyze that shift.

Given the above, we have shortlisted a few relevant apparel/fashion/luxury, grocery, and technology stocks below that are expected to benefit from back-to-school sales to determine if they are worth buying in the aftermath of the sales event and ahead of the holiday season.

Apple Inc. (AAPL)

The technology and consumer electronics giant, which has a history of revolutionizing products like the personal computer, smartphone, and tablet, has begun scripting the next key chapter in its success story with the announcement of its first product in the AR/VR market, the Apple Vision headset, which will sell for $3,499 when it is released early next year.

Despite its 7.9% dip during the past month, AAPL’s stock has gained 22.2% over the past six months. While the business boasts excellent profitability, in view of its stretched valuation in the face of frigid trade relations between the U.S. and China, AAPL’s manufacturing hub and key market, investors should wait for a better entry point.

Walmart Inc. (WMT)

Sam Walton, founder of the largest grocer in the world, built the company on a no-frills approach aimed at making groceries and other products more affordable. With 60% of its revenue in the U.S. coming from the grocery segment, the retail giant’s focus on value through “everyday low prices” has helped it become relatively immune to the seismic shifts in the consumption ecosystem.

WMT’s stock has dipped slightly over the past month but has gained 11.7% over the past six months. With core PCE at 4.3%, indicating stretched budgets and high borrowing costs in the foreseeable future, WMT is best positioned to capture the upside from “modest improvement” in sales of big-ticket and discretionary items like electronics during the Back-to-School season.

Target Corporation (TGT)

TGT sells an assortment of general merchandise and food items to its guests through its stores and digital channels. With product categories such as apparel and accessories, beauty and household essentials, food and beverage, and home furnishing and décor, the budget retailer has converted its 1900+ stores into mini-malls offering a range of “cheap chic” items.

Due to the recent miss in revenue and a not-so-optimistic outlook for the holiday season, TGT’s stock has lost 9.5% over the past month. However, the slump has also brought the stock to a more attractive valuation, which could protect investors from downside risks and a potential upside from a mid-term recovery in consumer confidence and market sentiment.

Ross Stores, Inc. (ROST)

ROST operates two brands of off-price retail apparel and home fashion stores, Ross Dress for Less (Ross) and dd’s DISCOUNTS, with the latter offering in-season, name-brand apparel, accessories, footwear, and home fashions for the entire family at savings of 20% to 70% off department and discount store regular prices every day.

ROST’s shares have gained about 5% over the past month and 8.5% over the past six months. Given its healthy profitability, investors could consider buying the stock to capitalize on a rally during Back to School and the holiday season.

Dollar General Corporation (DG)

As a discount retailer, DG offers merchandise, including consumable items, seasonal items, home products, and apparel.

DG’s stock has plummeted 7.4% over the past month and 27.6% over the past six months. In view of its bleak prospects, investors are advised to stand by until sentiments improve before investing in the stock.

Logitech International S.A. (LOGI)

Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, LOGI designs, manufactures, and markets products that connect people to working, creating, gaming, and streaming worldwide. The company offers accessories, such as mice, keyboards, webcams, and other accessories for mobile devices. The company sells its products under the Logitech, Logitech G, ASTRO Gaming, Streamlabs, Blue Microphones, and Ultimate Ears brands.

Despite a 4.3% dip in the past month, LOGI’s shares have gained 24.2% over the past six months. While the business boasts excellent profitability, investors could wait for the pendulum of personal consumption to swing from services back in favor of high-ticket discretionary goods before buying into it.

Crocs, Inc. (CROX)

CROX designs, develops, and markets casual lifestyle footwear and accessories for women, men, and children, containing Croslite material, a proprietary, molded footwear technology. The company’s segments include North America; Asia Pacific; Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America (EMEALA); and the HEYDUDE Brand.

CROX’s stock has lost 7.8% over the past month. While the decently profitable business is well-positioned to benefit from increased expenditure on outdoor expenses, investors could wait for further valuation comfort before taking a long position in the stock.

Dillard's, Inc. (DDS)

DDS is a fashion apparel, home furnishings, and cosmetics retailer. The company’s operating segments include its retail department stores and a general contracting construction company.

DDS’ stock has gained 5.6% over the past month. Despite the recent price gains, its excellent profitability at a decent valuation means that investors could benefit from further upside in the stock.

Levi Strauss & Co. (LEVI)

The well-known apparel company designs and markets jeans, casual wear, and related accessories for men, women, and children under the Levi's, Signature by Levi Strauss & Co., Denizen, Dockers, and Beyond Yoga brands.

LEVI’s stock has lost 5.9% over the past month and 22.4% over the past six months. While the sentiment has been improving lately, investors would be wise to wait for its valuation to improve before deciding to add the stock to their portfolio.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (ANF)

As an omnichannel specialty retailer of apparel, personal care products, and accessories for men, women, and kids, ANF sells its offerings primarily through its digital channels, company-owned stores, and various third-party arrangements.

ANF’s stock has surged 26.3% over the past month and 68.3% over the past six months. Given its excellent track record and profitability, investors could consider investing in the stock.

Shoe Carnival, Inc. (SCVL)

SCVL is an omnichannel family footwear retailer that offers customers an assortment of dress, casual, and athletic footwear for men, women, and children.
SCVL’s stock has plummeted 15.9% over the past month. While valuations have become more attractive, investors are advised to wait for the outlook to improve before acquiring a stake in the business.

Analyzing the Future of Retail Stocks and How Investors Can Stay Ahead

After registering 0.2% and 1% declines for two consecutive months, on May 16, the advance sales report showed a recovery of 0.4% in retail sales for April. However, this modest rebound missed the Dow Jones estimate of a 0.8% increase.

This muted outlook has also been reflected in the first quarter earnings of Macy's, Inc. (M). Although the mid-tier retailer surpassed the earnings estimates for the quarter, a spring pullback has caused it to miss its revenue estimates and slash its top- and bottom-line guidance for the entire year.
Given the prevailing demand softness in the unfavorable macroeconomic environment, M expects sales of $22.8 billion to $23.2 billion for the year, down from the previous expectations of $23.7 billion to $24.2 billion. The company now expects earnings per share of $2.70 to $3.20, significantly down from the previous guidance of $3.67 to $4.11.

With M joining its peers, such as Nordstrom, Inc. (JWN) and Dollar General Corporation (DG), in reporting lackluster performances, let’s explore what this means for the prospects of retail businesses relative to another sector that has been claiming a greater share of consumers’ budget lately.

U.S. domestic consumption has been on a roller coaster ride over the past three years. People have gone from not being free enough to spend practically-free money to spending like there’s no tomorrow.

That, in turn, led to a not-so-transitory inflation, the hottest since the 1980s, forcing the Federal Reserve to implement ten successive interest-rate hikes in a little over a year to take the Fed funds rate to a target range of 5% to 5.25%.

With consumer debt pushing past $17 trillion to come in at an all-time high during the previous quarter, average American consumers have been forced to rein in their urge to splurge to prevent inflation from biting harder. The Survey of Consumer Expectations for April carried out by the New York Fed showed that the outlook for spending fell by half a percentage point to an annual rate of 5.2%, the lowest since September 2021.

As a result, the middle-income and aspirational consumers have been forced to go bargain hunting to squeeze out the maximum possible value from money which has gotten dearer, as has been witnessed in other periods of economic slowdown throughout history.

Hence, they have been forced to trade down to budget-friendly retailers, such as Walmart Inc. (WMT), which usually cater to low-income consumers leaving the businesses that offer something in between being wrong-footed and stranded.

Although budget retailers have lost sales from low-income consumers, that loss has been offset by increased business from the middle-income consumer segment, who have been frequenting such stores to shop for groceries and other non-discretionary products, contributing to most of the sales.

Consequently, weaker sales have cut across Macy’s brands, including higher-end Bloomingdale’s and beauty chain Bluemercury. According to CEO Jeff Gennette, the “aspirational customer” who shopped more luxury brands has dropped off as stimulus money has dried up.

Likewise, warehouse club Costco Wholesale Corporation (COST) found its famous $1.50 hot dog and soda combo back in the headlines as inflation bit harder to squeeze pockets further. The hot dog combo and its rotisserie chicken, whose price has been pegged at $4.99 since 2009, are the retailer’s loss leaders that lure in customers who are likely to buy other items as well.

This could be helpful, especially in times like these in which, according to CFO Richard Galanti, even COST’s relatively well-to-do members are ditching pricier beef products for cheaper meats such as pork and chicken, while others are bypassing the fresh meat aisle entirely and opting for cheaper canned meat and fish products with longer shelf life.

However, a decline of 0.3 percentage points in the overall outlook for inflation over the next year suggests that things could improve, but probably not before they worsen.

Despite current economic uncertainties and hardships, high-income segments have been relatively unaffected, with affluent patrons queueing up for finer things in life on offer from the likes of Tiffany & Co. and LVMH.

Another sector that’s seemingly unaffected by the mundane hardships of the retail businesses is the colorful world of leisure travel. While the pandemic is firmly in the rearview mirror, there is enough pent-up demand from consumers ever keener to redeem their pile of airline miles and other travel rewards on their credit cards through revenge travel.

Moreover, with a jump of 0.8% in spending in April, with personal consumption expenditure beating estimates to rise 0.4% for the month despite ten consecutive interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, it isn’t difficult to connect the dots and understand why airlines, such as American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) have turned to bigger airplanes, even on shorter routes, to help ease airport congestion and find their way around pilot shortages.

As a result of this tailwind, AAL’s revenue surpassed the airline’s cost to help it report a $10 million profit during the first quarter of the fiscal year. Moreover, with fuel prices yet to rise significantly due to a stuttering recovery of the Chinese economy and Memorial Day travel topping 2019 levels, the operator has raised its adjusted earnings outlook for the second quarter.

Down at sea, cruise liners such as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) have also found it smooth sailing, with the cumulative booked position for 2023 coming in higher than 2019 levels and occupancy of 101.5% during the first quarter also exceeding the company’s expectations.

The increased demand for, and consequently expenditure on, services and experiences are also evident in the recent employment data, with leisure and hospitality adding 208,000 positions out of the expectation-beating private sector employment increase of 278,000 for the month of May. The sector was also a notable contributor to the increase of 339,000 in non-farm payrolls for the month.

The altered priorities of consumers are also reflected in the stock price action. While M’s stock slumped by more than 19% YTD, AAL and NCLH gained around 19% and 43% over the same period.

Looking Ahead

While it would be an understatement to say that the momentum is firm in the travel and hospitality sector, it might be wise to consider certain things before indulging in the willful suspension of disbelief and extrapolating beyond the foreseeable future.

Since the rise of remote work and virtual teams, facilitated by contemporary collaboration and productivity tools, seems to have become an immune and immutable remanent of the cultural sea-change our work and lives had to adopt and adapt to during the pandemic, new reports give us reasons to doubt whether business travel is ever going back to normal.

In such a situation, with traveling for leisure being an occasional indulgence in most of our lives, there are risks that the pent-up demand might not be enough to sustain the momentum that is propelling the growth performance of travel and hospitality businesses.

Moreover, since technology companies such as Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Meta Platforms, Inc. (META) are finding increasingly innovative ways to immerse people in experiences without needing them to leave their homes, long-term investors with significant leisure and travel sector could find themselves looking nervously over their shoulders over time.

However, businesses in the retail sector, especially the non-discretionary variety, should be able to help their stakeholders sleep easily, knowing that while wants and desires are temporary, needs are permanent, and technology can’t single-handedly fulfill them (yet).