Investors looking to play the consumer comeback would do better to look at higher-end retail stocks instead of the dollar stores, or even Wal-Mart Stores, JPMorgan retail analyst Matthew Boss told CNBC on Wednesday, after data showed the largest retail sales increase in five months.
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That February sales boost came despite higher taxes and rising gasoline prices, and Boss said in a "Squawk Box" interview that it shows an "underlying" stability.
"I do think as you get into late March, April, May — which were actually poor retail months last year — I actually think the data could get better," he said.
But Boss warned that the lower-end consumer is still in a "fragile" state: "Further down the spectrum, at the low-end … I think you're seeing a much greater pressure than you are as you trend toward the high-end."
To capitalize on that, Boss said he likes Saks in the luxury department store space because it's addressing the integration of online and in-store inventory in what could be a "powerful" way. "At the same time, they've revamped the credit rewards," he said.
"Saks also has the highest correlation to the wealth-effect," he explained, adding that the retailer would benefit greatly if the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 continued higher in the "back half of the year."
In the mid-tier, a company like Macy's, Boss argued, has been successful at "broadening the customer base" — not relying on only one type of consumer. "If you walked to a Macy's tomorrow you'd see a low-end, a middle income, as well as a higher-income shopper," he said.
Another factor benefiting Macy's is "[the] J.C. Penney disruption — over $3 billion in revenues lost," he observed. "I think they have a long and tough road ahead."
But Boss doesn't think J.C. Penney will file for bankruptcy protection or become a takeover target. "The reality is this turnaround is going to take a lot longer than the CEO [Ron Johnson] initially thought," he said.
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As for the future, he concluded that J.C. Penney won't go back to the old strategy of heavy discounting, but operate under a "somewhat promotional" model. "They're trying to upscale some of their merchandise, and do the best in terms of driving traffic back into the stores," he said.
Disclosure information wasn't immediately available.