By Noel Randewich
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The holiday shopping rush that kicked off on Friday is unlikely to bring much cheer to investors looking for a revival in retail stocks.
After months of uninspiring sales growth & recent disappointments from Macy's <M.N> & Nordstrom <JWN.N>, shareholders of apparel sellers have had little to be thankful for & face a challenging holiday season.
p>Those stocks have reflected a shift by consumers away from discretionary items like designer-label clothes & cosmetics toward smartphones, televisions, home goods & travel, as well as an ongoing migration to online spending.
Early indications suggested this year's holiday season was off to a slow start. Crowds were thin at U.S. stores & shopping malls in the early hours of Black Friday & on Thanksgiving evening, as shoppers responded to early holiday discounts with caution.
Macy's stock has plummeted 39 percent this year while Nordstrom is down 22 percent & Tiffany & Co <TIF.N> is 23 percent lower – all far worse than the benchmark S&P 500 index's 1-percent gain.
Shoppers take part in Black Friday Shopping at a Target store in Chicago, Illinois, United States, N …
On the other hand, Home Depot <HD.N> has surged 29 percent in 2015 & discount store Dollar Tree <DLTR.O> is up 6 percent.
The S&P 500 retail index <.SPXRT> has risen 27 percent this year, with much of that gain driven by its largest component, Amazon.com <AMZN.O>, which continues to undercut brick-and-mortar rivals & has seen its stock more than double this year.
Earnings expectations vary for the holiday shopping quarter; Lowe's <LOW.N> on average is expected to grow its earnings by 29 percent from a year ago while videogame store GameStop <GME.N> is seen growing earnings by 9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Gap Inc <GPS.N>, which warned this month approximately weak sales & a strong dollar, is seen posting a 24 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings.
"You really have to bifurcate between the largely apparel retailers & hard-goods retailers," said Anthony Chukumba, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets.
Shoppers enter the Herald Square Subway station after early morning Black Friday Shopping in New Yor …
His top picks include discount retailer Big Lots <BIG.N> as well as Best Buy <BBY.N>, which specializes in the electronic goods consumers are buying these days & moreover has a compelling valuation at 12 times expected earnings. By comparison, Nordstrom trades around 17 times earnings & Target <TGT.N> has a price-earnings ratio of 15.
Polls going into holiday season have been mixed: A Reuters/Ipsos survey found more people planned to cut holiday spending than to boost it, while Gallup reported Americans plan to spend an average of $830 each on gifts this season, up from $720 a year ago at this time.
U.S. retail sales edged up a meager 0.1 percent last month after staying unchanged in both September & August, according to the Commerce Department.
FBR technology analyst Daniel Ives & his team planned to visit at least 25 Best Buys & other big-box stores over the weekend in New York & other major cities to gauge consumer appetite for Microsoft's <MSFT.O> Xbox One game console & Apple's <AAPL.O> smartwatch, launched in April.
"It's not quantitative, yet it gives you anecdotal data points that become part of the mosaic of your thesis approximately whether to be bullish or bearish on trends, names & products," Ives said.
Shoppers leave with check out with their purchases from the Best Buy store in Westbury, New York No …
Since 2008, early sales estimates following Black Friday & Cyber Monday have had little or no bearing on retail stock performance for the holiday quarter, according to a report by LPL financial.
The short-term performance of stocks in the week after Thanksgiving has moreover been similarly inconsistent.
For the past three years, Wal-Mart Stores <WMT.N> has lost as much as 3.9 percent or gained as much as 2.6 percent in the week following Black Friday, according to Thomson Reuters data.
By comparison, the S&P 500 has been flat to up 0.5 percent in the week following Black Friday for the past three years.
Amazon.com's <AMZN.O> stock performance in the week following Thanksgiving has been even more erratic. It lost 8 percent last year, lost 2 percent in 2013 & jumped 5 percent in 2012.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)