Whether you're measuring by the latest economic data or just by the pickup in traffic at your local mall, it's apparent the consumer is back in a big way -- and that's opening up a new way for investors to profit.
After the lingering economic downturn that followed the financial crisis, consumers are finally feeling confident enough to ramp up spending. This improvement started in earnest during the final quarter of 2012, which marked the end of household deleveraging, according to the chief U.S. economist for Italian banking giant UniCredit.
During this quarter of change, the net worth of U.S. households rose 1.8%, marking the highest level since the first quarter of 2007. In fact, the net worth of U.S. households rocketed 29% between the first quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2012, fueled by the soaring stock market and growth in housing.
The stock market has continued its bullish ways throughout 2013, further boosting the consumer's rebirth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal consumption expenditures grew 0.2%, or nearly $25 billion, in September.
Long considered the most popular shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday because it is the day whose sales supposedly carry retailers into profitability (or into "the black") for the year. This year, consumers are not expected to be spend significantly more on Black Friday than in years past, but the percentage spent online is expected to be substantially higher than in previous years. Combined with the sting of the not-so-distant recession, the growth in online shopping is evidence of a new type of consumer -- and a new way for investors to profit.
This type of consumer is indeed spending, but not in the devil-may-care style of the early 2000s. Both Web- and price-savvy, this new consumer is focused on getting the most bang for the buck. Not satisfied to passively wait for their favorite merchants to offer discounts, these consumers actively hunt for the lowest prices. These consumers are driven by an almost fanatical focus on price instead of loyalty to any single retailer, and these traits have led to the proliferation of discount and coupon shopping sites.
A variety of these companies has sprung up to serve the new breed of price-savvy consumer, with the best known being Groupon (Nasdaq GRPN). However, a relatively new player in the space, RetailMeNot (Nasdaq: SALE), which went public in July, has quickly become the largest digital coupon market in the world.
|RetailMeNot has quickly become the largest digital coupon market in the world.|
Formerly known as Whaleshark Media, this Austin, Texas-based company provides a portal for discount-seeking consumers to save when shopping at a wide variety of retailers and brands. There are literally hundreds of thousands of digital coupons available on the RetailMeNot family of international websites. Over the past year, the $1.5 billion company had more than 500 million visits to its online properties.
RetailMeNot just reported stellar third-quarter results, beating estimates. Net revenue grew 39%, to more than $47 million, and gross margins came in at an incredible 93%, indicating an exceedingly profitable company. The company projects revenue of between $66 million and $69 million during the fourth quarter. In addition, RetailMeNot boasts nearly 14 million subscribers to a newsletter and store alert, a year-over-year increase of 80%.
Most interesting for the future is RetailMeNot's geo-targeting expansion. This geo-targeting presently covers a blend of more than 3,000 malls and shopping centers. In addition, the acquisition of ZenDeals to obtain its proprietary digital coupon-verification technology will add an advanced layer of security. With more than $136 million of cash and equivalents on hand at the end of the third quarter, RetailMeNot has the means to make additional acquisitions to help it maintain its market-leading position.
I think RetailMeNot has a much more sustainable business model than Groupon. RetailMeNot focuses on well-known brands and stores, in contrast to Groupon's focus on local retailers. Perhaps most critically -- and also in contrast to Groupon -- RetailMeNot does not charge consumers upfront to use its services. This makes a huge difference in the minds of the majority of consumers.
A technical look at RetailMeNot's chart since its IPO shows a slow climb from its opening-day price of between $26 and $28 to a high just above $38, leading to a drop and consolidation to the $35 range and a further drop to support at $30. However, in my view, the price action does not reflect the company's growth and prospects.
Risks to Consider: The consumer is a fickle and forever changing target. A hot website can quickly grow cold as something new and better is introduced. The best companies in this space are forever morphing to stay one step ahead of the consumer as well as the competition. RetailMeNot's management team has an impressive pedigree in the consumer and Internet space, but anything can happen in this rapidly changing world.
Action to Take --> I like this stock in the $30 to $32 range. There is solid technical support at the $30 area, and shares are far from being overpriced. Entering here with a 36-month target of $76 is my forecast. Initial stops at $24 make for a strong risk/reward investment.