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UA said all the right things at its analyst meeting – and it wasn’t smoke in mirrors. But growth isn’t linear, and we think that investment capital flows take the stock lower before it takes its next tear upward (as much as we disagree with Wall Street’s rational for doing so).

DETAILS

I’m sitting on an Amtrak from UA’s analyst meeting in Baltimore back up to New Haven, and have a mixed analytical read to say the least.  I’m trying to ignore the fact that I am sitting next to Ray Lewis…No joke.  The dude is completely decked out in UA from head to toe…and he wears it well. (Note to self…I gotta start working out). We’re sitting here eating our Caesar Salads, and I have the screen brightness on my mac as low as possible so he can’t see what I’m typing. If he sees me write anything negative about the brand he knows and loves, I am mildly concerned that he’ll snap my left arm like a pencil.  Heck, maybe I’ll roll the dice let him read this when I’m done.

The punchline out of the UA meeting was very poignant. These guys are going to grow, grow, grow. The reality is that this is not exactly a change from the plan all along. Remember that UA could have been printing an operating margin double its 10-11% over the past 8 years if it desired to do so. But instead, it has reinvested in growth. That’s why it’s growing organically today at 20-30%. It’s also why they’ll keep doing that for the next 5 years at a minimum.

The only new target thrown out today was that the company would double sales in 3 years – that’s a 28% top line CAGR. What I like here is that it is not just coming from US apparel. Consumer direct going from 6% of sales, to 10% (now)  to 23% by 2013 and ultimately 2030 is a massively ambitious goal. But that will help UA achieve these consumer-direct ratios that are double that of other brands.

It’s interesting to think about it, actually. Being such a young brand is a double edged sword. On one hand, they still have a lot of money to spend to get the size and scale to compete on a global cross-gender multi-sport basis with its rivals. But on the flip side, it is not hostage to the legacy processes that the traditional brands are married  to as it relates to building a business from scratch. They can shake the Etch a Sketch clean, and literally start fresh. This is particularly an opportunity for Gene McCarthy in building the footwear business, which we think already has a turn time that rivals Nike, and will only get better on the margin.

Despite the hyper top line, however, management made it clear that it will not be afraid to spend money to achieve its goals. That’s fine with me. This is a business where you need to spend money to make money. Also, despite what doubters may think, this company has proven to be an ardent steward of capital in recent years.

All that said, capital investment and realization of financial rewards are not simultaneous nor are they linear. Unfortunately, the former needs to come first.

We continue to contend that UA is in an investment period today – in SG&A (Tom Brady, Cam Newton – current charges plus off balance sheet liabilities), cape (building store count to 80 by end of year), and working capital (building a footwear business and filling retail stores with product.)

People focus on sales momentum and EPS growth with this name, but another key stock driver is the cadence of SG&A combined with Capex and Working Capital. When all are headed in the same direction, the stock almost always goes the other way.

Again, to say this brand is killer would be a massive understatement.  To say that the management  team has grown in breadth, depth and maturity is as well. My confidence level walking out of the meeting into the 100 degree Baltimore sun was quite high that this is one of those unique Consumer companies that will defy growth projections time and time again and will threaten Adidas as the #2 global athletic brand.

But we know that this is a punitive market. As working capital squeezes, our sense is that the stock will trade down on the margin.

The sentiment on the name is close to all time highs (78x), the stock is still peaky, and management stock sales have accelerated. (See our sentiment chart below).

When we put on our TAIL duration hat (3 years or less), we absolutely want to own this name. But holding true to our risk management framework, the TREND and TRADE don’t look compelling. We’ll hold on and look to buy this great company at a better price.

(I’ll leave it up to you to guess if Lewis read this note).

UA: What Would Ray Lewis Do? - 1

UA: What Would Ray Lewis Do? - 2