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Finish Line revealed cause for recent weakness in an 8K out Friday confirming a disappointing launch of its new website platform on November 16th and has migrated back to its legacy site for the balance of the holiday shopping season. Sales disruptions are never a positive development, particularly this time of year compounding investor concerns over slowing industry sales trends in the first two weeks of December headed into year-end. But the financial implications of this change are less relevant to us as management credibility is.  FINL is already a company that lacked credibility over how it reversed course in early 2012 noting how it would all of a sudden be an ‘investment year’. And now the fact that the stock is down 12% in a flat market in the two weeks since website problems have presumably arisen is the icing on the cake. We still like so much of what FINL is doing, but at this point, we think that it is cheap and built to stay that way until earnings dictate otherwise.

Some Other Thoughts To Consider...

We expect the impact of these site disruptions on November sales and upcoming Q3 EPS to be modest simply due to the fact that its FINL’s seasonally lightest quarter, but near-term implications to consider for 4Q and beyond include:

  • As with most retailers, December is the most significant revenue month of the year typically accounting for more than October and November combined. As seen in the chart below, December accounts for nearly 13% of annual footwear sales.
  • FINL confirmed that it had migrated back to its legacy platform on December 6th suggesting online sales underperformance was isolated to the first week assuming no additional disruptions transitioning back. December accounts for roughly 45% of FINL’s 4Q. For perspective, if we assume ALL online sales were lost during this first week and that the first week accounts for 12-15% of FINL’s 4Q with online at ~11% of total sales at higher profitability, then we’re looking at a $4-$8mm hit to sales, or $0.01-$0.03 in EPS.
  • We also have to take the costs related to this initiative into consideration relative to FINL’s $90mm capital spending plan. Up to $30mm was spent on upgrading IT infrastructure including various supply chain and merchandise systems as well as technology to support digital growth. While it’s unclear how much was allocated to Demandware and its new website, there is no indication that the ‘plug has been pulled’ altogether on the new platform.
  • The launch of the platform just 7-days prior to the busiest shopping day of the year gave both parties little time to work through typical transition adjustments. There’s no indication of when or if FINL plans to migrate back to the new platform. However, in an 8K released by Demandware Friday the company noted that FINL “concluded that it would suspend operation of the site” suggesting the move back to the legacy platform is not permanent. As such, related investments should not be considered sunk costs unless otherwise noted.
  • Lastly, the potential impact on FINL’s recently announced partnership with Macy’s. We think the risk is modest given that this is a front-end consumer interface issue with FINL’s site and the Macy’s deal is more of a back-end inventory and assortment management agreement. The two are largely if not completely unrelated. We think the concern is more one of operational reputation risk. In all likelihood, management made the move to transition again at a less critical time to avoid any such issue. As a reminder, the deal with Macy’s is slated to start April 1st.

We have adjusted our estimates to reflect the loss in higher profit online sales taking FINL EPS down a penny to $0.10 in 3Q and $0.03 to $0.82 in 4Q. While FINL is trading at a modest 9x our $1.97 FY13 estimate, the absence of positive catalysts over the near-term suggests a meaningful move higher before year-end is unlikely. In fact, we’re not convinced FINL’s 3Q earnings call scheduled for January 3rd is going to be much of a catalyst given the that the name is in a ‘show me’ mode. In addition, management will be absent at ICR in mid-January due to annual board meeting scheduling conflicts. To that end, with 4Q results and the Macy’s launch slated right around the same time (April 1st), we expect FINL to be largely range-bound over the next two months.

Citing Thursday’s note, we remain positive on NKE and FL here.

FINL: Knock to FINL’s Credibility - FW Monthly Dist