- Sales TrendsSales trends are horrific - rarely do you see a restaurant company with double digit declines in same store sales. It would appear that the company's remodeling effort and new, upscale look alienated some lower-end customers. In its most recent quarter, same-store sales declined 12.7% (-12.5% in December, -14.2% in January and -11.5% in February). These declines are much more severe than the casual dining segment's average 1.8% decline for that same time period, according to Knapp-Track data. The company has completed 600 remodels in the past 12 months so despite the tough casual dining environment, I would attribute at least half of these declines to the remodels, which represent a change in strategy for the company as it attempted to enter the more upscale restaurant market (some of the company's former loyal customers have obviously not accepted these changes). However, the remodel program, despite the cost, was a must. The reimaged restaurants will take time to attract new customers; it always does in casual dining! Just ask Red Lobster
- Margin TrendsAt Ruby Tuesday's current level of AUVs, EBIT margins should begin to stabilize in the 5-6% range. Double-digit declines in same-store sales coupled with significantly higher D&A have hurt margins and earnings. It appears that there is one more quarter of difficult comparisons, as D&A has stabilized around $80 million (if the company holds its D&A expense steady, it should be able to get some sales leverage beginning in 1Q09). Of course, the big wild card to margin trends will be whether same-store trends stabilize.
- Capital EfficiencyRT's appetite for debt over the past three years has put the company in a precarious financial position, but it appears management has to come to terms with the banks over its debt covenants. RT ended 3Q08 with total debt-to-EBITDA, including operating leases, guarantees to franchisees and letters of credit, at 4.6x times up from 4.1x in 2Q08. The excessive leverage has forced the company to stop growing, which now plans to open only two new restaurants in fiscal 2009. Including these two restaurants, capital expenditures for fiscal 2009 will be approximately $20 million. If the company can keep EBITDA at a $150 million run rate, deleveraging will have a positive impact on the equity value. A key metric for us is the net CFFO/net income ratio, which looks at the proportion of earnings yielding cash. Unfortunately, although headed in the right direction, Ruby Tuesday's can't turn off the development schedule fast enough. This creates incremental volatility in our earnings yielding cash ratio, at least in the near-term.
- U.S. - Continues to struggleI have been saying for some time now that U.S. sales results could lose some momentum in 2008 due to the absence of any real incremental sales layers being introduced into the system. The specialty coffee launch, which although it is receiving much media attention now, is more of a late 2009 event and, I think, may even be pushed out further. Looking at the chart, it is clear that 2-year trends are coming down (outside of February which included a 4% benefit from an extra day due to leap year). MCD's U.S. segment is facing its most difficult comparison year-to-date in May (up 7.4% last year). In March, when the company was lapping its second toughest comparison year-to-date of up 6.2%, it posted a negative same-store sales number (down 0.8%).
- Europe - Starting to follow U.S.'s lead Although MCD's same-store results in Europe have been consistently strong (primarily up in the 5%-plus range), 2-year trends have come down rather significantly in the last couple of months. Based on the Eurozone Retail Sales report released last night that showed European retail sales declined 2.9% in April, more than three times as much as economists forecast, as soaring fuel and food prices undermined consumer spending (and other signs of slowing consumer spending in Europe - refer to my News from Europe post from 5/30), MCD's 2-year European same-store sales trends could get worse before they get better. Although MCD typically outperforms other restaurant companies in a tough consumer environment as people trade down , no company is completely immune (as we have seen even with MCD in the U.S.). Making matters worse, the company is facing more difficult comparisons in May and June (up 8.9% and 11.1% last year, respectively). It is important to note that Europe represented 38% of MCD's consolidated 2007 operating income
- APMEA - How far behind is Asia?Although APMEA's same-store sales trends look great with comparable sales consistently up 8%-plus, the year-over-year comparisons only get more difficult going forward in 2008. Add to that our view that growth is slowing in Asia (please refer to Keith McCullough's portal for his views on that), and MCD could face declining trends in each of its three major geographic segments.
Sales trends are still looking healthy, and I saw nothing in the data to challenge any themes I've been working. A few nuggets...
1) Dollar sales were only up about 1%, but average selling price is up closer to 2%. No one's knocking the cover off the ball with dollars, because there's not enough inventory to do so. I'll take that.
2) Low Performance sales were down 12%. The recent shift I've been discussing continues. Good for FL, bad for SKX.
3) Nike share accelerated for the week by another 50bps, while unit share stayed flat vs last week (+3pts yy). Price points are up 5% -- an uptick from last week.
4) Under Armour business remains healthy. Share in cross training decelerated by a full 10 points to 25%. But price points remain constant. Either inventory is building (which I do not believe to be the case) or UA is simply selling through.
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I'm obsessed these days with the follow through implications of a rebound in the athletic footwear business. I've posted on it plenty (i.e. bullish on Foot Locker). But who loses? I think it is Skechers.
This story is not without its hair - everything from the historical linkages to LA Gear, to massive quarter to quarter sales and margin volatility, and the recent spotty track record in forecasting both fixed and discretionary SG&A costs. This stock is usually a short-term proposition for most, based on some 'perceived' edge on near term info flow. That's one of the reasons I've stayed away from it in the past.
But with operating margins currently hovering at around 9%, my view is that it is time not to wonder if they're going to be plus/minus 50bps in a year - but whether they can hold the line and resist being cut in half. I'm starting to think that the latter is increasingly likely. Some additional points to consider...
- Perhaps the biggest factor is the F word -- fashion. I've been pretty vocal about the shift away from low-profile and non-performance shoes, but when I mapped out the historical relationship this evening with SKX sales I nearly fell out of my chair. It is spot-on. (SKX is all fashion - when's the last time you saw a Skechers add of someone competing in an athletic event?) The performance/fashion footwear ratio (number of performance/fashion pairs sold) has been favoring fashion for 4 years. Not only has it flattened out, but now it's going up. Is it any wonder that the sales peak coincides with industry trends hitting a multi-year inflection point? I don't think so.
- Keep in mind as well that almost all Skechers' shoes are made in China. I'm not going to elaborate much more on this one. Simple punchline - not good given that inflation is rising faster than wages, growth is slowing, and capacity growth has gone from +4-5% 5-years ago to flat at best today. Prices are going up and margins are coming down.
- While I could go down the list of the things that SKX talks about as it relates to margin and growth initiatives, I wonder if it even matters given the sheer headwinds SKX is about to face from both a fashion trend AND a macro cost standpoint. Before the rise of low-profile shoes, SKX's margins were 4-5% at a time when it had the benefit of meaningful input cost deflation. Now sales should roll while margins compress. Initially I was concerned that 6 days short interest was high-ish. Now I'm starting to wonder why it's so low.
- Looking more closely at a sample set of casual dining companies; I realized that CAKE's comment was sad but true. The projected year-over-year EPS declines are pretty ugly for some of the companies (CPKI and RT). However, there are a select few other than CAKE (RRGB and TXRH) that are guiding to double-digit growth (only at the top end of their ranges). That being said, it is tough out there.
- Driving that point home was another statistic quoted by Mr. Dixon that 50% of casual dining operators are offering promotions or daily specials on their websites, which brings us back to the question around value (driving traffic) versus protecting margins. CAKE management chooses the margin side, saying We believe these types of promotions can have some short-term sale benefits, but usually at the expense of margins. More importantly, they can potentially have a long-term negative impact on a brand.
- Although there needs to be a balance between offering value and protecting margins, getting people in the restaurant is necessary. Thus far, CAKE can afford to favor margins because relative to its competition, same-store sales growth and traffic trends have been favorable. Going forward, this focus on margins should be beneficial as the company stated today that current spot prices on many of its commodities are above existing 2008 contract prices.
The SBUX free WiFi comes with a catch. SBUX is offering two hours of free WiFi each day to holders of a Starbucks card. What's the catch? The card has to have a balance on it and you have to use or reload it every 30 days.
Chances are SBUX will be making changes to its WiFi strategy!
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