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We recently upgraded our long-term recommendation on the mall-based specialty retailer Hot Topic Inc. ( HOTT - Analyst Report ) based on the company’s robust first-quarter 2012 results. We also remain encouraged by the company’s history of delivering consistent operating performance, its solid niche market position, strong brand portfolio, ongoing cost cutting initiatives, ability to tweak merchandise in line with the rapidly changing trends and debt-free balance sheet.
Hot Topic’s first-quarter 2012 earnings of 9 cents per share came ahead of its prior-year period break-even earnings, beating its own guidance range of 7 cents – 8 cents per share. The company registered a year-over-year growth of 6.4% in net sales. The company’s ongoing cost-cutting initiatives further helped to deliver a robust year-over-year expansion in the company’s gross and operating margins. Looking ahead, the company expects losses in the range of 4 cents to 6 cents in the second quarter, much lower than the prior-year period loss of 14 cents.
Hot Topic’s core business strategy focuses on music/pop culture related merchandise, based on the foundation of pop culture and mainly targets customers in the teenage group. With this strategy, Hot Topic has successfully carved a niche for itself amid a highly competitive specialty retailing space. The company competes head-to-head with other teenage focused specialty retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch Company ( ANF - Analyst Report ) and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. ( AEO - Analyst Report ) .
Moreover, as the icing on the cake, Hot Topic’s stores are strategically located in shopping malls and lifestyle centers, which are frequented by teenagers, the company’s primary target segment. The company also regularly monitors store sales and takes prudent steps to align merchandise mix in accordance with the rapidly changing preferences of its target customers. On the other hand, the company periodically evaluates its stores and remodels or relocates them in accordance with the latest trends and hip-hop happenings.
To conclude, Hot Topic maintains a healthy debt-free balance sheet, with cash and cash equivalents and short-term investments of $69.6 million at the end of first-quarter 2012. This offers Hot Topic the financial flexibility to drive future growth.
However, the company has a Zacks #3 Rank, implying a short-term ‘Hold’ rating, due to the macroeconomic headwinds, intense competition and seasonal nature of the business that undermine the company’s future growth prospects.
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