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The following is a list of retail stocks that have seen significant institutional buying over the last three months.

To give more perspective on investor sentiment, we'll also include data on short float and performance.

We're not going to go into detailed analysis for each company. The goal here is to give you a starting point for your own analysis.

Institutional data sourced from Reuters, short float data sourced from Finviz.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the top six stocks mentioned below. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research. Note: The numbers on top of items represent the forward P/E ratio, if available.
The list has been sorted by the change in institutional ownership over the last three months.

1. Carter's, Inc. (NYSE:CRI): Apparel Clothing Industry. Market cap of $1.69B. Institutional investors currently own 63,084,918 shares vs. 55,855,424 shares held three months ago (12.94% change). Short float at 7.92%, which implies a short ratio of 4.17 days. The stock has gained 14.88% over the last year.

2. 99 Cents Only Stores (NYSE:NDN):
Discount, Variety Stores Industry. Market cap of $1.08B. Institutional investors currently own 57,461,535 shares vs. 54,191,164 shares held three months ago (6.03% change). Short float at 9.37%, which implies a short ratio of 5.58 days. The stock has gained 13.68% over the last year.

3. J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP): Department Stores Industry. Market cap of $7.25B. Institutional investors currently own 266,984,541 shares vs. 252,266,392 shares held three months ago (5.83% change). Short float at 9.98%, which implies a short ratio of 4.92 days. The stock has gained 21.81% over the last year.

4. Maidenform Brands, Inc. (NYSE:MFB): Apparel Clothing Industry. Market cap of $624.88M. Institutional investors currently own 24,539,803 shares vs. 23,201,320 shares held three months ago (5.77% change). Short float at 4.96%, which implies a short ratio of 4.52 days. The stock has gained 57.91% over the last year.

5. Skechers USA Inc. (NYSE:SKX): Apparel Footwear & Accessories Industry. Market cap of $995.94M. Institutional investors currently own 39,777,277 shares vs. 37,664,784 shares held three months ago (5.61% change). Short float at 18.16%, which implies a short ratio of 3.31 days. The stock has lost -26.45% over the last year.

6. The Children's Place Retail Stores, Inc. (NASDAQ:PLCE): Apparel Stores Industry. Market cap of $1.21B. Institutional investors currently own 31,600,487 shares vs. 29,968,904 shares held three months ago (5.44% change). Short float at 21.86%, which implies a short ratio of 5.46 days. The stock has gained 35.52% over the last year.

7. Charming Shoppes Inc. (NASDAQ:CHRS): Apparel Stores Industry. Market cap of $386.82M. Institutional investors currently own 116,183,103 shares vs. 110,186,905 shares held three months ago (5.44% change). Short float at 4.04%, which implies a short ratio of 3.25 days. The stock has lost -42.93% over the last year.

8. J. Crew Group, Inc. (JCG):
Apparel Stores Industry. Market cap of $2.82B. Institutional investors currently own 72,045,214 shares vs. 68,514,252 shares held three months ago (5.15% change). Short float at 6.53%, which implies a short ratio of 1.21 days. The stock has lost -0.29% over the last year.

9. Oxford Industries Inc. (NYSE:OXM): Apparel Clothing Industry. Market cap of $402.8M. Institutional investors currently own 12,754,282 shares vs. 12,503,280 shares held three months ago (2.01% change). Short float at 9.72%, which implies a short ratio of 7.24 days. The stock has gained 22.49% over the last year.

10. Inergy, L.P. (NRGY): Specialty Retail Industry. Market cap of $4.99B. Institutional investors currently own 30,146,659 shares vs. 29,590,641 shares held three months ago (1.88% change). Short float at 0.3%, which implies a short ratio of 0.91 days. The stock has gained 23.33% over the last year.

11. Jos. A Bank Clothiers Inc. (NASDAQ:JOSB):
Apparel Stores Industry. Market cap of $1.15B. Institutional investors currently own 28,487,011 shares vs. 27,988,839 shares held three months ago (1.78% change). Short float at 16.08%, which implies a short ratio of 9.92 days. The stock has gained 39.05% over the last year.

12. Volcom Inc. (NASDAQ:VLCM):
Apparel Footwear & Accessories Industry. Market cap of $419.36M. Institutional investors currently own 18,118,611 shares vs. 17,803,091 shares held three months ago (1.77% change). Short float at 11.7%, which implies a short ratio of 13.58 days. The stock has lost -1.83% over the last year.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Source: The Smart Money's Top Retail Picks