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Last year, back-to-school sales were worse than market expectations due to debt-ceiling concerns punching consumers in the head, 2012 should be better. Retailers have begun to bring in merchandise for "back to college" already, specifically promoting it on their websites. This year, instead of occurring at the last minute, sales may be a little bit more spread out and scared retailers may start by offering the lowest prices possible. However, investors should not let that fool them into thinking the season will be gangbusters. Consumer confidence is on a downtrend and, as the last employment report showed, hourly wage growth is weak. Moreover, I believe the May and June same-store sales reports from retailers showed consumers are saving their gas savings instead of hitting the malls hard as some economists had pontificated.

So, in a competitive environment laced with uncertainty, how do investors win? I am using the following three criteria to plan a winning portfolio, which includes three stocks and why I like them -- notice that none of them are not teen apparel retailers....443 more words left in this article. To read them, just click below and try Real Money FREE for 14 days.

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