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Takeaway: Stocks don't go up when sales slow, costs increase, capex goes up materially and the stock is at 20x EPS. A textbook 'investing year.'

This note was originally published May 23, 2013 at 22:51 in Retail

Conclusion: We like what RL is doing, but the near-term financial implications will not be pretty and EBIT growth trajectory and RNOA will suffer. Even though this impact will likely be temporary, investors will need to wait until near the end of this calendar year until the risk profile improves. Until then, valuation matters.

DETAILS

We're surprised that RL was not down more on its 4Q print. Yes, the company overdelivered -- in typical RL fashion.  But there are enough factors that are changing negatively on the margin that we think will make  RL a good candidate for multiple compression in the sloppy quarters that lie ahead in the upcoming fiscal year.

We like this company as much as we ever have. It continually reinvests in its intellectual property to elevate the retail experience and gain share -- something that has worked for RL without fail.


Case in point…we kept a little scorecard of all the times that retailers and brands mentioned the words 'omni-channel' in press releases and earnings calls this earnings season. We stopped count at 100, and no, it did not take us long to get there. This has officially become the biggest cliché buzzword since 'supply chain' made it on to the scene 15 years ago. We swear that half of the execs talking about omni-channel don't even know what it means (if there even is a universally-understood definition). They're just following the cool kids.

Ralph is one of the cool kids.  It did not discuss 'omni-channel' once on its call or press release. Why? The reality is that it has been implementing a true omni-channel strategy for much of the past five-years…at a time when no one knew what it even was. Now RL is implementing retail and e-commerce models that others will be trying to implement in another five years. Simply put, we think that RL will continue to be a winner.  

But this is one of those years where the negatives to the story are likely to outweigh the positives. Specifically…

  1. FX will be a meaningful headwind in FY14 -- especially given RL's significant exposure to Japan.  Check out the Yen's move over the past six weeks. Not good.  FX is a $75mm hit to EBIT for the year.
  2. RL's Global SAP implementation, Korean e-commerce rollout, acceleration of retail rollout -- including NY flagship. There's another $75mm hit to EBIT this year.
  3. Capex is going from $276mm last year to up to $450mm in FY14 -- that's one of the biggest capex increases we're seeing out of anyone in retail.

In fairness to RL, it has proven to be an exceptional steward of capital in the past, and we have no reason to think that will change this year.  But the reality is that the $150mm in extra costs puts RL in a hole for 13% EBIT growth. This would be ok if we could justify solid double-digit top line growth as an offset -- but the reality is that we cannot (even if partially due to FX). So we've got slowing sales, eroding margins, and a step-up in capex. Any way we cut it, we can't justify the combination of these factors leading to any form of multiple expansion.