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RETAIL FIRST LOOK: HEAD SCRATCHING 101

07 AUGUST 2009

TODAY’S CALL OUT

 

Ok, chain store sales are out, and they showed ‘no sudden movements’ vs. the trends we’d been seeing in prior months. Now we’re in the thick of summer, earnings season is nearly over (we still have retailers – but we already know top line for many), and we’re third inning of the much anticipated ‘back half earnings growth acceleration’ period. The primary call out for me is that when stacking SSS (losing relevance due to fewer companies reporting) against Retail Sales and PCE, there’s no doubt things are getting better on a trend-line basis (see 1, 2 and 3-year trends in charts below).  Now with a solid employment report this morning, it prolongs hope that this will continue (though when an investment process includes ‘hope,’ it gets pretty thin).  

So add on bullet proof momentum in the group, and it all adds up to a whole lot of head scratching. My point is that it has been a long long time since I recall such a massive lack of fresh ideas in the eyes of who I consider to be the best, most successful, and process-driven investors.  If I were to boil down consensus right now, I’d say it sounds something like this… “I’m long-term negative on the Consumer – the story does not end well. But things are getting better on the margin and growth expectations are heading higher. Yeah, the whole planet knows that and the group has gone parabolic since March. But with 14% of the float in retail held short, and investors that were down big last year risking extinction if they miss out on too much of the group’s outperformance, it is very tough to make a negative bet on Consumer Discretionary now."

The solution? Focus on the massive earnings outliers (RL, CROX, PSS, etc…). Importantly, we’re going to see volatility return starting in 2010 as we see the bifurcation between quality (the companies that are investing today to proactively drive results next year) and the junk (those that are cutting too much today and are borrowing from next year).  There will be some big calls (both ways) emerging from the ashes over the next few months.

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: HEAD SCRATCHING 101 - chart1

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: HEAD SCRATCHING 101 - chart2

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: HEAD SCRATCHING 101 - chart3

LEVINE’S LOW DOWN

  • In one of the more detailed characterizations of footwear product costs out of China, the K-Swiss CEO explained that prices for both labor and raw materials have come down dramatically. Interestingly, leather prices recently hit historical lows as a result of slowing auto demand and a recent draught in Argentina. If you’re confused on the draught comment, it basically led to abnormally high levels of slaughters and ultimately a glut of cattle hides. Adding to pricing pressure is the fact that the auto industry accounts for 40% of worldwide leather demand. KSWS and PSS are two of the companies with the highest concentration of footwear manufacturing centered in China. Both will benefit greatly from this dramatic reduction in costs.
  • Flat panel televisions remain one of the most elastic product categories in all of retail. With prices down north of 40% year over year, unit sales at Costco were up 32% in the month. Given the success of “cash for clunkers” and the shear amount of hdtv’s being sold, some might question whether the consumer is really in a slump. On the flip side, food stamp utilization, coupon redemption, and “trading down” all remain key issues facing retailers of consumer staples.
  • In looking at the product categories that stand out for July, trends were essentially unchanged from the prior month. Dresses remain a key positive category across all retail channels. Additionally, casual attire continues to outperform career/dress attire. This should come as no surprise with unemployment at 9.5%. The teen retailers with exposure to earlier back-to-school markets cited strength in denim, although the majority of the selling season is just about to begin. Similar to last month, home related products were mixed, with some retailers reporting strength while others are still seeing weakness.
  • One of the byproducts of tight inventory control is the potential for missed sales. With increasing frequency, retailers are citing negative impact on revenues resulting from substantial declines in year over year clearance inventory. While this dynamic bodes well for margins and profits, we suspect this creates some unwanted noise for those who “play” the comps each month.

MORNING NEWS 

-33% of Russian retailers may close up shop before 2010 - 33% of 42,000 retailers in Russia will probably be forced to close down business by year-end, according to the Chief of the European Fashion and Textile Export Council Reinhard Doepfer. It is due to continuous shrinking of consumer spending in the wake of the country's economic was hit by the global financial crisis last year, which has impacted the clothing suppliers in Europe. However, the industry said Doepfer's prediction is too severe and expected the closure figure will be only 10-15%. Germany has seen sales of clothing to Russia taking a dip by 6% in Q1 of 2009 and expects sales to drop further 30% in the forthcoming F/W collection to the country whose GDP decreased 9.8% in Q1 2009. <fashionnetasia.com>

-The Indian government is offering subsidies amounted to $532.5 million to the textile sector for technology upgrade - Textile minister Dayanidhi Maran said it is the first time that such a large amount of subsidies comes from the government, which is part of the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (TUFS), which provides preferential loans to help companies invest in new technology. Maran also mentioned a committee has been set up to devise a national fibre policy and will submit its recommendations in three months. In July, India lifted the TUFS fund from $229 million to $661 million as part of the country's budget. <fashionnetasia.com>

-Cambodia expects exports of garments to drop 30% - Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce has estimated that exports of garments will tumble as much as 30% in 2009 which is much higher than the 5% dip anticipated at the beginning of the year. This due to its main market the US of which the clothing market has undergone a recession. Shipments of apparels in the first five months of 2009 amounted to $909 million down by 20% from the same period of the previous year. Close to 80 apparel companies in Cambodia have shut down and another 30 leading manufacturers are also at the edge of closing down. <fashionnetasia.com>

-Coach Inc. has dropped a patent infringement lawsuit it brought against Brown Shoe Co. earlier this year - The suit, filed May 29 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, accused the retailer’s Naturalizer chain of selling an “exact copy” of the Coach Ergo Pleat handbag, the design of which was patented in 2008. According to a notice filed with the court Tuesday, Coach agreed to a voluntary dismissal. A company spokeswoman confirmed Coach had entered into a settlement agreement with Brown Shoe but said the terms were confidential. <wwd.com/business-news>

-Stein Mart hires former CFO of Kellwood as new CFO - Gregory Kleffner, former chief financial officer of Kellwood Co., has joined Stein Mart Inc. as cfo, effective Aug. 10. He succeeds James Delfs, who is retiring. Prior to joining Kellwood in 2002, Kleffner spent 25 years with Arthur Andersen LLP, most recently as audit and advisory partner in its St. Louis office. “Greg’s strong financial and strategic experience with industry-leading manufacturers and retailers makes him a great addition to our team,” said David Stovall, president and chief executive officer of the Jacksonville, Fla.-based retailer, which operated 273 off-price department stores as of July 4. <wwd.com/business-news>

-France passes Sunday trading bill - More stores in France will be allowed to trade on Sunday after the country’s Constitutional Council gave the green light to a controversial bill Thursday evening. The council deemed the bill, which was ratified by a narrow majority in the Senate last month, was constitutional, but rejected the part that gave Paris’ prefect, not the mayor, the authority to designate areas that should be allowed to trade on Sundays. Instead of allowing all French stores to open on a Sunday, the law restricts the right to a limited number of commercial zones in three cities — Paris, Marseilles and Lille — and a number of tourist areas across the country. <wwd.com/business-news>

-Puma Reports 16% Decline in Profit on Discount Sales of Shoes and Jerseys - Puma AG, Europe’s second-largest sporting goods maker, reported a 16 percent drop in second- quarter profit because of increased discounting and said sales may start to fall in the second half. Puma AG, the world’s third-largest sporting equipment company, reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings on Friday, but remained cautious about the second half of 2009. Puma, whose main competitors are Nike Inc. and German rival Adidas AG, earlier this year stepped up its ongoing savings program in response to the downturn. The program is targeting savings of 150 million euros, or $215.8 million, in 2010. <wwd.com/business-news>

-CEO Jill Granoff was bullish on the incremental relaunch of Kenneth Cole New York’s ladies’ footwear, which will roll out five styles today. -  KCP is expecting to sell through the entire initial deliveries at full price. The new shoes employ patented 9-2-5 technology borrowed from the Gentle Souls brand, which was acquired by Kenneth Cole four years ago. The first collection using the technology will be sold exclusively in the brand’s own retail stores to “build momentum and drive traffic to our stores before we expand into wholesale distribution next year,” said Granoff. “Our goal [with this line] is ‘no markdown, no promotion.’” However, the CEO said the company does plan to expand price points on the lower end of the spectrum.  <wwd.com/footwear-news>

-Perry Ellis International has signed a licensing agreement with SG Footwea - Perry Ellis International has signed a licensing agreement with SG Footwear for the design, manufacture and distribution of men’s slippers under the Perry Ellis and Perry Ellis Portfolio names. The debut fall ’09 line will be available in the U.S. and Canada and will be sold through department stores that include Macy’s, Dillard’s and Belk.  In a company release, Bernard Leifer, president and CEO of Hackensack, N.J.-based SG Footwear, said, “We are very excited about partnering with a great brand such as Perry Ellis, one of the most iconic brands in menswear.” He added that the deal offers the company a chance to grow its portfolio of licensed brands in the department store channel. <wwd.com/footwear-news>

-New Balance is targeting tweens with its new NB Fierce Trax collection, built around its new kids’ 900 running shoe model - Inspired by the cheetah, the 900 features the Boston-based brand’s kids-only N-Grip outsole technology, an aggressive, paw-inspired turf outsole that supplies slip-resistant footing and enhanced traction. In addition, New Balance’s patented N-ergy responsive cushioning technology in the heel provides for a smooth transition and delivers impact force distribution, reducing the number of hot spots in the shoe. The offering is composed of four styles, two boys’ colorways and two girls’ colorways. The girls’ models are detailed with a cheetah print on the upper. Slated to hit stores in January, the NB Fierce Trax shoes, to be packaged in custom shoe boxes, will retail for $55. Going forward, additional shoe models will be added to the collection. <wwd.com/footwear-news>

-Steven Madden Ltd. has dropped a trademark lawsuit it filed against eBay Inc. two weeks ago - According to court records, the footwear and accessories firm agreed to a voluntary dismissal of the suit Wednesday. Steven Madden had brought the complaint against the online auction house in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on July 21. It accused the e-commerce giant of trademark infringement because unauthorized watches made by former licensee Vestal were allegedly for sale on the site. Steven Madden did not return calls inquiring about the nature of the dismissal. <wwd.com/footwear-news>

-Sales drop for Blue Nile in the second quarter, but not as fast - Compared to previous quarters, sales didn’t fall as far for online jeweler Blue Nile Inc. in the second quarter. Sales dropped 5.2% in Q2 as net income fell by 12.5%. <internetretailer.com>

-Burberry scouts for new partner for fresh Indian partner - Burberry Group, the iconic UK-based luxury retailer, is on the verge of ending its tie-up with the UAE-based Jashanmal Group in India and is instead looking to rope in Indian retailers for a possible tie up, a person close to the development said. Burberry has three stores in the country at Delhi and Bangalore. It had set up its first store in September 2008. Burberry is looking for a new partner for faster roll-outs in the country and, with a new arrangement, Burberry plans to open 20-30 stores across the country in the next couple of years, sources said. The increased focus of the Burberry group on emerging markets like India stems from the fact that, in 2008-09, Burberry achieved 50 per cent of its growth from emerging markets such as the West Asia, China and India. Emerging markets contribute 9 per cent of its sales, up from 6 per cent in 2007-08, the company said in its annual report. Burberry has shown interest in Genesis Colors, the parent of designer labels such as Satya Paul, Deepika Gehani and Samsaara, as the latter moved swiftly in luxury space at a time when others like Murjanis exited the luxury business. Genesis Colors had bought the rights of Bottega Veneta & Jimmy Choo from Murjani group and now have 15 luxury stores in the country. <indiaretailing.com>

-Jewelry retailer Zale Corp. said Thursday that it closed 118 retail locations in the fiscal fourth quarter due to underperformance - The company has closed 191 locations in the calendar year, including 160 retail stores and 31 kiosks. Zale will also settle some rent obligations for 34 Bailey, Banks & Biddle locations. It is still trying to negotiate agreements for the 11 remaining locations. The closings and Bailey, Banks & Biddle liabilities will result in a fourth-quarter charge of $50 million. Zale has 1,931 retail locations excluding the announced closures. <www.google.com/hostednews>

-Small apparel maker files lawsuit against CIT - A small clothing maker called Scherr Inc filed a lawsuit last week against CIT Group, saying that the lender's financial problems and possible bankruptcy are threatening its business. Scherr, based in Livingston, N.J., said in court documents that CIT has not been able to give it the assurances it needs that it will hold up its end of the "factoring agreement" it signed earlier this year. Scherr asked the court to terminate that agreement. In a factoring agreement, the lender buys a client's accounts receivables at a discount, with the discounted amount of each account receivable payable to the client when the full amount is paid by the client's customer. In some cases, if the customer does not pay by a certain date, the lender is committed to paying the client.  <reuters.com>

RESEARCH EDGE PORTFOLIO: (Comments by Keith McCullough): XLY

08/06/2009 03:06 PM

COVERING XLY $25.68

I'll take my medicine and cover this position for a loss on a down day. I'm too early shorting these consumer stocks. Inflation won't be here until Q4. KM

INSIDER TRADING ACTIVITY:

WWW: James Zwiers, Sr VP & President, Outdoor Group, sold 7,000shs ($172k) roughly 12% of total common holdings.

SHOO: John Madden, Director, sold 10,000shs ($332k) after exercising the right to convert options representing a token share of a 2mm share (11%) ownership stake.

MACRO SECTOR VIEW AND TRADING CALL OUTS

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: HEAD SCRATCHING 101 - chart4