Creative Destruction at Talbots

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If you've been investing long, you've probably noticed the short-term absurdity that can show up in day-to-day stock moves. Witness Talbots (NYS: TLB) shares' 17% rise yesterday, fueled by the company's search for a new chief creative officer. Granted, Talbots' shares trade for only a couple of bucks each, making big price moves less meaningful. I just can't believe anyone still bids on these shares at all.

Talbots will bid departing Chief Creative Officer Michael Smaldone farewell. Reinvigorating this perpetually withering brand will be a challenge for anyone who takes on his role. Once a brand gets tarnished, it's difficult to restore its luster, and Talbots has been struggling to pull off a turnaround for years.

The reality of Talbots' quarterly results should have sent investors running for safety. The retailer posted a wider-than-expected fiscal second quarter loss of $37.3 million, or $0.54 per share. Total revenue plunged 9.9% to $271.1 million, and same-store sales fell 11.1%. Inventory rose 26%, and the company expects to keep on marking down its merchandise in the fiscal third quarter. No one wants to hear these kinds of numbers, especially from a company that has waged a long, fruitless fight to turn around its fortunes for far too long now.

If you're craving bargain retail stocks, consider Aeropostale (NYS: ARO) or Urban Outfitters (NAS: URBN) . Both these retailers' shares have suffered major beatdowns amid recent stumbles, but I doubt either faces insurmountable odds. Indeed, it would take considerable effort for either retailer to match Talbot's seemingly endless list of problems.

Even as Talbots treads water, plenty of other retailers have shown considerable strength in tough economic times. Teen retailer Buckle (NYS: BKE) notably grew sales 13% last quarter, and racked up an impressive 8.5% surge in same-store sales. Better still, Buckle shares trade at just 12 times forward earnings.

Talbots doesn't need a new creative director. It needs a miracle worker. Unless you enjoy taking big, risky bets on wrecked companies, don't even think about trying this retailer on for size.

At the time this article was published

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