J. Crew’s potential IPO says more about capital markets than clothes

Is Drexler taking the markets’ call?
Is Drexler taking the markets’ call?
Image: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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One of Michelle Obama’s favorite stores could soon be going public.

J. Crew Group, the clothing retailer described by people who know more about this than us as “fashion forward, but still classic” has been talking to investment banks about a potential IPO later this year, Bloomberg says. Similar reports surfaced in late 2013 so it looks like this could be on.

The retailer was taken private by TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners in 2011 in a deal worth $2.6 billion, and Bloomberg says its owners will be seeking a valuation of up to $5 billion in what looks like an old school flipping exercise.

In a difficult market for specialty retailers, J. Crew’s performance has been OK, but hardly spectacular. Sales last year rose 9% to $2.43 billion and its profits were up slightly. By comparison, Gap, which owns the Banana Republic label, generated revenue growth of 7% in the first nine months of 2013 (we will have a clearer picture after it reports fourth-quarter results tomorrow) Ralph Lauren, whose fiscal year ends in May posted revenue growth of 4.4% in the nine months to December 2013.

Since it went private, J. Crew has ramped up its marketing and expanded into the UK. But its self-described micromanager CEO Mickey Drexler even admitted that it might have “strayed too far from the classics” with its latest collections, and there is a growing perception that the store has become more expensive.

An IPO would be more of a reflection of buoyant equity markets than a recovery in retail.