16 December, 2008

Electronics a tough sell yet Best Buy stands by forecast

Oh to be a Electronics Retailer during a recession, roughly as sought-after a profession as 'Big 3 personal flight crew', after that first trip to Washington. But Best Buy (BBY) is holding on in the midst of turbulence while its main competitor has all but bowed out. With Circuit City Stores (CCTYQ) trading OTC and trying to stay afloat, BBY would seem to be serving for the match. If only customers would come to the stores and buy that is.

With profits down 77% year over year in the latest quarter it appears on the surface Best Buy is facing some troubles of its own. But the company is being run effectively despite consumer spending reports that are on record as the worst since the early 30s.

So to the numbers: Quarterly profits of $0.13/share ($0.35/share excluding special items) were better than expected. Analysts had the numbers pinned at $0.24/share excluding special items. Revenue also topped expectations at $11.5Billion vs. $11Billion estimated. For retailers the all important same-store-sales metric was watched closely and Best Buy numbers fell about 6% for stores open longer than 1 year. Now in this environment, a 6% drop has to be put in perspective and seen as a slight positive. Overseas sales rose slightly, fueled by growth in mobile phones. So, somewhere, somethings, have people buying. Nonetheless Best Buy is taking a cost cutting approach to share price appreciation, offering buyouts to thousands of employees and slowing store growth in North America and China. Best Buy hopes to cut capital costs by 50% over next year. Certainly ambitious!

For those workers who don't accept the buyouts, there will certainly be job cuts ahead at Best Buy Corporate. The outlook is much brighter for shareholders though, as cost cuts will certainly help profitability in a tough 2009 and the fact that Best Buy kept its lowered profit forecast in tact over the Christmas helped matters as well.

The company expects to meet its range of $2.30-$2.90 (a wide range to be sure for the year through February) and falls in line with analyst estimates of $2.47 for the year. The positives in this report propelled shares higher by $2.50 at the end, and the Fed rate-cut fueled shares to close higher by 18% ($4.21/share). This also notched the BBY P/E ratio to near 9, which is reasonable in most respects but perhaps not in this climate.

Nonetheless, the retailer should trade in a P/E range of high single-low double digits going into 2009, so while today's rise (and its recent climb from $17) makes Best Buy a less attractive on a valuation basis, the competitive landscape clearly leans heavily towards BBY, making it an attractive hold for when America rises from the consumer spending blues.

Those on the fence, it will likely be available for the mid 20s soon, which makes it a steal for the next year and a half.

Disclosure: Author is long BBY

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