Buyer beware? Eaton Vance warns that these stocks are 'heading to zero'

Retail could be one of the best contrarian plays out there, as long as investors steer clear of the nation's department stores.

Eaton Vance chief equity investment officer Eddie Perkin is making that call.

"You have to be careful with the department stores. They're struggling, and they'll continue to struggle under the threat of Amazon and just general softness in retail," Perkin said Wednesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation."

Earlier in the day, Perkin told CNBC that "department stores are heading to zero eventually."

"The challenge is they have debt. They have a lot of assets that are losing money," he added.

His comments come as some major names close more stores.

Nordstrom announced on Friday the closure a full-line store in a Washington, D.C., suburb. It was opened less than 15 years ago.

And, J.C. Penney and Macy's have been closing dozens of locations across the country.

Not all of Wall Street shares Perkin's view.

According to FactSet, five retail analysts have a buy or overweight rating on Macy's stock, three are positive on Penney and four are bullish on Nordstrom. Those grades come in a sea of hold ratings with a few sells sprinkled into the mix.

Retail analyst Dana Telsey has mostly hold ratings on the department stores in her coverage universe, and remains hopeful.

"Department stores are diligently working to reinvigorate the traditional retail model with enhanced in-store experiences, seamless multi-channel shopping and product exclusives," Telsey said in a statement to CNBC. "Those who make the necessary investments have a better shot at returning to growth."

Perkin isn't downbeat on the whole group. In fact, he argues shopping mall REITs that own class A properties could give investors solid upside in an "expensive" market.

"There is still plenty of traffic at the good quality malls," he said. "That's a place to find value."

He likes Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties.

Perkin is also recommending specialty retail as a contrarian way to make money.

"If you can find companies where either going to the store is an interesting experience, where you need advice or you need the product quickly, those are the areas of retail which are relatively immune from the threat from Amazon," Perkin said.

CNBC's "Trading Nation" reached out to department stores Macy's, Nordstrom and JCPenney for a statement. The only department store that replied to our request was J.C. Penney, which said it does not comment on market speculation.

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Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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