American Eagle Outfitters: Earnings Preview

American Eagle Outfitters: Earnings Preview

American Eagle Outfitters is set to report its third quarter results on Dec. 6. Last year's third quarter showed positive results, but the companies most recently completed quarter disappointed. This year's third quarter has proved rough for competitor Abercrombie & Fitch as well.

The company operates two brands: American Eagle Outfitters, which primarily focuses on casual wear basics, and and intimate apparel brand Aerie. Both brands target a teen to young adult demographic. American Eagle has more than 1,000 domestic stores and about 70 overseas franchises. Soft retail sales this year have struck the company, but not as hard as its competitors. Abercrombie has suffered double-digit comps drops as young shoppers seem to turn away from its preppy designs that often clearly bear the company's logo..

Will American Eagle Outfitters follow Abercrombie's path downhill? Here's what to watch in the earnings press release.

Quarter estimates and results to beat
Analysts predict third quarter revenues of $844 million and EPS of $0.15. American Eagle Outfitters has beat or met revenue estimates for the past five quarters, but it missed EPS estimates for two of those quarters. Early last month, the company updated its EPS forecast from between $0.14 and $0.16 to $0.19.

Friday's results will need to beat both the analyst estimates and last year's quarter. American Eagle Outfitters reported revenues of $910 million (a year-over-year growth of 11$) and EPS of $0.41 in the third quarter of 2012. Gross profits were up 21% and comps were up 10%.

Improving on the last reported quarter would boost investor confidence in the company. Second quarter results this year included revenues of $727 million (a 2% drop year-over-year) and a loss per share of $0.10. Comps were down 7% compared to the prior year's 8% growth. Management blamed the weak quarter on weakness in the women's segment and the competitive promotional environment.

Abercrombie's weak quarter
Abercrombie's recently reported third quarter fell short with a net loss of $0.20 and revenues of $1 billion. Analysts had estimated revenues of $1.1 billion and EPS of $0.42. Comps were down 14% overall, which broke down into a 13% drop in the Abercrombie stores and a 16% drop for Hollister stores. There was also a 4% drop for the namesake brand's kids spinoff stores.

Competitor Aeropostale also hasn't had the best year. Comps were down 15% in the second quarter as retail traffic was weak. The double-digit comps drops for both Aeropostale and Abercrombie suggest that teens shoppers are turning away from the preppy, brand-name emblazoned styles offered in the stores.

Will American Eagle Outfitters experience the same fate? Comps were down in the high single digits in the second quarter, and that's certainly not a good sign. The company can best its competitors if that number doesn't drop any further, though.

American Eagle could also benefit from the diversity that the Aerie brand offers. Aerie stands more in competition with L Brands' Victoria's Secret stores than with Abercrombie and Aeropostale.

Foolish final thoughts
American Eagle's inventory resembles Aeropostale, Victoria's Secret, and a dash of Urban Outfitters all smashed together. This straddling between trends and basics could continue to provide softer comps falls than those experienced by Abercrombie and Aeropostale. The third quarter has proved weak overall, though, and American Eagle's results aren't likely to dazzle.

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