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    MARKET EDGES

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Yeah...we know...VFC is one of the best managed companies in this industry. But one thing the company cannot manage is the share price. With a 10.8% move off the 1/28 near-term bottom, Keith got yet another shot at this one in the Hedgeye Portfolio,

Here’s our sense on VFC over three different durations:

Long-term:  It’s hard for anyone to call VFC a bad company. This is not management’s first rodeo. They are pretty darn good at making the right business decisions to manage their portfolio, and then managing expectations accordingly.

The fact of the matter is that over the course of 10 years, VFC has…

  • transformed from a vertically owned/operated capital intensive commodity-based apparel company (ie…underwear, denim) to an outsourced and offshored  portfolio of lifestyle brands that carry significant weight the consumer (ie The North Face, Vans). 
  • printed a growth algorithm of 3-5% sales, 5-6% EBIT, and 9-10% EPS. When you layer on the fact that almost all of the incremental growth came from less capital intensive businesses, we see that RNOA went from 9% to 16% over that same period. That’s not half bad. In fact, it’s clearly above average relative to peers.

I’d argue that we’re at the point of the ROI decision tree where the business will slow organically at the same time we’re seeing severe cost inflation -- -and that’s exactly when VFC will step on the accelerator with acquisitions. We’re already modeling stock repo in our model, so we may have to redistribute the cash to above the line if a deal happens. We also will not give the company a free pass that any deal will be a good one. The industry is at peak margins right now, and valuations do not represent that. VFC knows how to vet a deal, and even they have had their share of disasters (7 for All Mankind). Also, let's not forget that this company's long-term transformation happened when the industry had the biggest milti-year tailwind that it experienced -- ever. 

Intermediate Term

  • Ultimately, with such a diverse portfolio of brands, consumers and channels of distribution, VFC is really a double edged sword. The mix protects them from some downside, but it precludes the company from fully capturing upside in the event of a rebound.
  • In the end, it’s hard to outperform the industry meaningfully when you ARE the industry. Unfortunately, 2011 will be a dark dark year for the apparel industry in the US. VFC may well be able to steer its pricing and inventories better than most, but the biggest risk is what they can’t predict – which is the irrational behavior on the part of competitors as margin is literally sucked out of the supply chain.
  • Bottom line – numbers need to come down for 2011. The Street is at $6.80 for next year vs. $6.30 in 2010. The $6.30 is very doable this year, but this company should consider itself lucky to earn that level again in 2011. Numbers are off by $0.50.

  

Short Term

  • 4Q10 is the last ‘easy quarter’ revenue and margin compares – which is largely due to growth in company retail (2x the usual revenue recognition) and strength in TNF.
  • This is going to come down to earnings catalysts.
  • Will VFC ‘lower the boom’? on its conference call in a few weeks? I think that there’s a 75% chance of some official guide down, and 25% chance of a BIG one (ie calling for a flat year).
  • Is it in the stock already? With an EBITDA multiple of 8.6x, my vote is No. RL is trading at the same multiple – but the difference is that the Street is LOW by 15% on RL.