BERNSTEIN: These 5 stocks have 'compelling value opportunities' despite the retail slump

Investors are looking for places they can eke out a profit amid the looming “retail apocalypse” — and AllianceBernstein thinks it’s found some.

The $US517 billion money manager is initiating research coverage of 10 retail stocks, with a bullish outlook for many specialty shops.

“We initiate coverage with a bullish outlook on apparel, which feels controversial in a time when investors assume Amazon will take over the world,” according to analyst Jamie Merriman. “Simply, we believe that worries that consumers just don’t buy clothing anymore are overdone and that strong brands and a few channel winners are not only investable, but given the current scepticism in the market, are also very attractively valued … We believe there are compelling value opportunities in specialty retail.”

Specifically, Merriman rates TJX, Ross, Nike, L Brands and Coach as outperform, with an eye towards consumers looking for discounts and solid brand-names.

“Within the apparel sector, there have been major share shifts across retail channels over the last decade, with department stores the biggest share donors and e-commerce and off-price retail (gaining 4pts of share) being the biggest beneficiaries,” Merriman wrote. “We believe consumers have sought out off-price retailers for their value credentials and see nothing in the current environment that suggests the chaos or share loss in department stores has or will change in the medium term.”

Most of the so-called retail apocalypse fears are fuelled by Amazon’s rapid ascension and subsequent acquisition of many retail brands, but the Seattle e-commerce giant still only accounts for 15% of the total US apparel market.

AllianceBernstein estimates this market share will increase to 40% by 2040.

“Compared to other categories, consumers are much more likely to go to a specific branded apparel website compared to a third party website or Amazon, suggesting that strong brands will see direct traffic to their own websites,” according to the firm.

Walmart, which is locked in an online arms race with Amazon, seems to realise this point as well. The retail mammoth has snapped up many niche brands recently, like Modcloth, Bonobos, and Moosejaw. Amazon, on the other hand, had a big get with Zappos in 2009.

To be sure, however, brands are having a tougher time gaining traction with consumers than retailers. Convenience is trumping brand-recognition so much that a startup selling “brandless” household goods has raised $US50 million in venture capital funding so far.

“There is nothing in the data to suggest that sales of apparel are declining on an absolute basis,” AllianceBernstein wrote. “Recent data actually suggests apparel sales may be at an inflection point after slowing since 2014.”

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