An Overshadowed Luxury Retailer

Among some of my biking friends, there is a constant one-upmanship about the things that are going to be done to, or that have been done to, their bikes. It seems like high-end retailers are in a similar place these days. Just having the neon wheels -- I have no idea why -- is no longer enough. If you want to stay ahead of the crowd, you need to announce the neon wheels before the other guy. Last week, Michael Kors (NYS: KORS) skidded out to the front of the fashion peloton with an updated guidance, but does all that noise make it the best pick?

What Kors said
Kors updated investors last Thursday, indicating that it was just kidding about that earlier guidance for the second quarter. It may have seemed like it meant $0.33 to $0.35 per share, but now it's realized that it really meant to say $0.38 to $0.40 per share. That's about a 15% jump in expectations, and investors got all excited, pushing the shares up 5%. Kors' reasoning for the increase falls largely on the company's strong quarter-to-date sales. Same-store sales were up 45% in the middle of September, with the company's quarter ending this Friday.

If that 45% comes through for the full quarter, it will push up the year-to-date result, as same-store sales grew a mere -- ha! -- 37% in the first quarter. While we're throwing good news onto the pile, keep in mind that these are the pre-Christmas-season results as well. If Kors really keeps the pedal pressed to the floor, it might see an even larger gain over the holidays, when consumers become more trend-focused.

Others in the group
While Kors is wearing the yellow jersey, there are a few companies in the pack just looking for an opportunity to break out. lululemon athletica (NAS: LULU) is the company that's generated the most talk among investors. While it doesn't compete with Kors directly, both companies are vying for disposable income from high-end consumers. It's not hard to imagine a Christmas gift coming from either store being decided on at the last minute by what a buyer has heard more about in the weeks leading up to the holidays. To its credit, Lululemon had its own day in the sun earlier this month when it announced second-quarter earnings and boosted its full-year outlook.

In more direct competition with Kors, but falling behind, is Coach (NYS: COH) . I'm still watching to see if it can make something of its expanded men's line. The company had a promising start to 2012, with the stock climbing over 20% in the first three months of the year. But since then, things have been rocky. On the year-end conference call at the end of July, Coach predicted weak consumer confidence, which knocked the shares sharply.

Coach still has a strong brand, and investors who buy in now could be rewarded if the men's line pays off over the holiday season. But the risk is that Coach has simply fallen behind Kors, and if it can't pull itself back together over the holidays, 2013 is going to be a rough ride.

The bottom line
While Kors is making the most noise right now, Lululemon is just a press release away from jumping in front of it. But all that noise is making my head throb. Yes, both companies are doing great things with their brands, and both are keeping up the overall pace of the pack, but I need more. I like that Coach has fallen out of favor, and I think that it's going to surprise investors as the year goes on. While 2012 had a high-end slump in the early summer, all the signs I'm seeing are pointing to a strong Christmas for everyone -- including Coach.

If investors are looking for a high-end retailer, Coach is a decent bet -- especially as the stock is trading at only 13 times forward earnings, while Lululemon and Kors are both over 30. I'm sure they'll do well, but that pricing pushes the companies out of my comfort zone. Coach is going to stay strong for a while, and with its relatively low valuation, I can afford to wait things out. If you're looking for more companies like Coach, check out the Fool's special report "3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail." It's free for Fool readers, so get your copy today.

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Fool contributorAndrew Marderdoes not own any of the shares mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Coach and lululemon athletica.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Coach and lululemon athletica. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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