NEW YORK CITY-Drugstore and off-mall broadline retailers are the most attractive investment opportunities in the industry, said Goldman Sachs retail analysts at their firm’s Global Retail Conference at the Hilton New York. Conversely, food and on-mall broadline chains are their least favorite picks.

Top stock picks by the analysts are Coach Inc., Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and Walgreen Co. Barnes & Noble, Dillard’s, Gap Inc. and Jones Apparel Group were at the bottom of the heap. This week Sachs analysts also downgraded the specialty retail sector from neutral to cautious.

Overall, the retail industry faces a wide range of challenges, they said, including increased energy prices, fallout from Hurricane Katrina, insurance premiums and employee benefit costs. “The risks, broadly speaking, outweigh the benefits here,” said Matthew Fassler, a Sachs retail analyst, during a breakfast session. “Energy prices pose the most potent near-term risk.”

But the industry’s woes are not real estate issues, said Daniel Hurwitz, senior executive vice president and chief investment officer at Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty, the owner of about 470 North American shopping centers. “I don’t think we’re saturated at all,” he said during an afternoon session. “I think we’re, in many cases, understored.”

For its part, Developers Diversified’s development pipeline is larger than it has ever been, Hurwitz said. Retailers who were very picky a year ago about what store formats they wanted to open in certain markets are customizing their units more for particular centers. “We’ve seen unparalleled flexibility by retailers in he last 12 months,” Hurwitz said.

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