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All Dressed Up at Children's Place

With consumer spending dragging, retailers are finding it tough to meet Wall Street's expectations. But Children's Place Retail Stores (PLCE), which sells private-label clothes for kids, may pull a surprise: Although it had guided analysts on Apr. 12 to trim first-quarter earnings estimates from 44 cents a share to 38 cents, management will probably post 48 cents, even though the consensus estimate is 38 cents. One reason: April sales exceeded estimates by a lot.

"The company has been expanding aggressively and has broad appeal" in the $22 billion children's apparel market, says Larry Leeds Jr., chairman of Buckingham Capital Management. Its high-quality, fashionably styled kids' wear--priced way below rivals'--has made Children's a big winner, he adds. Based on its growth, "the stock should double during the next two to three years," says Leeds. The stock is cheap--trading at 24, or 12 times 2001 consensus estimate of $1.80, he notes.

CEO Ezra Dabah, who says Children's Place earnings have grown at a compounded annual growth rate of 77% in the past three years, expects to beat the 2001 consensus estimate. One brokerage analyst foresees earnings of $1.93 a share in 2001 and $2.43 in 2002. The company has twice as many stores as it did two years ago: 437 outlets in 43 cities. This year, 120 new stores will be added. By Gene G. Marcial

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