As we’ve done with a host of other companies recently, here’s our ‘3 Key Questions’ that we’d ask WWW’s CEO if we had a 5-minute one-on-one. The company is reporting its 1Q14 earnings on Tuesday, April 29th, so timing is key here.
1. Revenue? Please justify your 4-6% top line guidance this year and explain why this is not the ‘year of revenue growth’. If the following narrative is wrong, please tell us why.
- 2012 was the year of the PLG deal. It was big, and painful initially – no EBIT, just interest from $1.2bn in debt.
- 2013 was the year of integration. In 1H people moved around, brands were repositioned, and management realigned. Then in 2H the chessboard was largely set, but they had to seal the deal with an SAP implementation, which went without a hitch.
- Then comes 2014 – which should be all about revenue growth. Your global salesforce, which is the most efficient footwear distribution operation on the planet, has four new major tools (brands) in its toolbox. You’ve been lining up international distribution arrangements over the past 18 months. And while you strike new ones every day (we know it takes time), each of them is cumulative (i.e. signing three per month means that by now there should now be over 40). Aside from each of those arrangements getting more productive, there’s still another 150 that could be added by our estimates.
So, with Merrell reaccelerating under Gene McCarthy’s leadership (the guy is money), Keds on its way to becoming one of the top 5 brands in the portfolio ($110mm today on its way to $400mm), Sperry not pulling a face-plant this Spring like so many seem to be hoping for, and international finally being a driver for the new brands – at a time when Europe is undeniably strengthening for most Consumer companies, how can this year NOT be a year of significant revenue growth? Your guidance of 4-6% revenue growth seems ridiculous (see point below on your inability to give good guidance).
2. Why do you give guidance? You stink at it. Sorry to sound harsh, but the reality is that you guide down nearly every quarter, and then come back 13 weeks later and print earnings above where the consensus was in the first place. In theory, earnings growth will ultimately drive the stock price, but all too often your ‘earnings beat’ is never appreciated by the market because you’re simultaneously trying to set a low hurdle for the next quarterly report. Even your long-term guidance is flawed. You gave 5-year revenue and profit projections that suggest $3.70 in EPS. But your EPS figure is $2.90. And what about that $1bn in free cash flow you should generate over that time period? That alone should pay down nearly all your debt, and save $0.30 per share in interest expense (that’s 21% EPS accretion). Add all that up and we get to EPS that’s 45% above your guidance. So the question is why not either a) give guidance in the ballpark of what you know you can really hit or b) get out of the guidance game – one that you so rarely win.
3. Why do you allow the conversation around the WWW story to revolve around Sperry? You have a $2.7bn revenue base, and less than $500mm of that is Sperry. Yet it is impossible to find a Wall Street research note (except ours) where Sperry is not discussed in the first bullet point. We know Wall Street can be short-sighted and myopic, but seriously, you have to control the conversation. Our math suggests that there’s $80mm at risk if the boat-shoe trend in the US rolls over (which is not happening this Spring as some feared), but another $300mm opportunity outside the US as the brand finally taps markets it’s been absent from pretty much forever. Anything wrong with our logic? If not, please take ownership of this debate, because certain parties on Wall Street that love to hate you are having a field day with it.
OUR LONG TERM THESIS
This is the most global footwear company in the world (legacy WWW). It sells about 65% of its units outside the US, and has seamless and sophisticated systems (SAP) such that all distributors speak the same language. The PLG brands, which we think are better quality overall, sell only 5% overseas, and that's simply because its former owner (Collective Brands) spent capital first on Sperry, then on US Payless stores, and did not have anything left in the kitty for international distribution of PLG brands. So now WWW can scale this superior content over its existing lean/mean infrastructure. We think it will drive an incremental $2bn in revenue over 5-years and an extra 400bp of margin. In the end, we get to earnings power of about $4.20, which is 45% ahead of what management guided at its recent analyst meeting. We're the first to admit that WWW probably won't make you rich here, as it will likely take a good 3-4 years to double. But in the meantime you're paying less than 12x next year’s earnings for a 22% EPS grower -- and this company has one of the best track records of anything in consumer.