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Takeaway: Revenue engine revving hotter than people expect, and it will last far longer as well. But whether GM% could approach 50% is key = $8 EPS.

Every once in a while Nike comes along and reminds the Street of one thing…that once its revenue engine gets turned on, it revs hotter than most people think possible, and sustains that heat far beyond a time frame that most people in the investment community would consider reasonable – or even possible. This quarter was definitely one of those events. We were expecting a blowout – with an estimate of $0.97 vs the Street at $0.88. But Nike beat even our estimate and came in at $1.04 (GAAP was $1.09 including a tax benefit). Futures looked outstanding at 11%, with a 400bp sequential turn higher in North America to +15%, at a time when it should probably have otherwise have dipped into the single digits. We’re taking up our estimate to $3.83 for the year – above Nike’s guidance (and presumably the consensus) of $3.58. At the current multiple of 21x our ’15 estimate, this company absolutely has to beat numbers. We think that’s the case this year, and to an even greater degree in FY(May)16.

The growth here is staggering. We should be looking at the law of large numbers, but we’re not. Growth is accelerating, and when all is said and done at the end of this year, Nike will have added enough revenue to equal the size of two Lululemons or 1½ UnderArmours.  Nike’s success is a huge factor threatening job security for Adidas’ Herbert Hainer, who is looking on as Nike extends its lead in a seemingly unwinnable race.

But we think that there’s a bigger question to consider. Nike is tracking to put up a 46% Gross Margin this year. With increased growth in higher-margin e-commerce, which was up 70% this quarter (on an admittedly minute base of 4% of sales), growth in Nike retail (it has about 875 stores versus Adidas at 2,800), and manufacturing technology like FlyKnit that lowers manufacturing and excess materials costs, it is absolutely not unreasonable to ask the question as to when (not if) Nike’s Gross Margin will hit 50%.  Keep in mind one thing…Nike accounts for warehousing and logistics costs in COGS, while most other brands book this in SG&A. This is a 5-point margin shift from SG&A to COGS. That means that on an apples to apples basis, Nike should put up a 51% gross margin this year – impressive by any stretch. That’s getting closer to ‘luxury’ than ‘athletic’.

All in, a 50% margin for Nike on $45bn in revenue -- where it is likely to be after the 5-years it would take to get there – gets to $8 in earnings power. Could there be added SG&A against that earnings number? Yes, you could never rule that out with Nike.  But what kind of multiple is a 25% earnings CAGR and $8 in earnings worth for a blue chip name that is the dominant player in a global duopoly with 30% return on invested capital and a pristine balance sheet that could buy back $4bn in stock annually? It had a 24x p/e recently on financial characteristics that weren’t even close to what a 50% GM would bring. 25x? 30x? That’s $200-$240. Clearly, this is something of a ‘what if’ scenario, and it’s one that we would not see for another 4-5 years. That’s an eternity in this market. But we think that anyone seriously looking to invest in Nike today needs to be asking this question.  

There are definitely risks here.

Nike itself is its own biggest obstacle. Every single time – without fail – that Nike has stumbled in the past, it’s been due to its own complacency. The organization does not seem complacent today. Quite the opposite, actually. But we keep this one on our front burner.

Another risk would be if Don Blair (CFO) were to step down. We have no reason to think that is on the near horizon, but Blair has been at Nike for about 15 years as CFO. We think that people underestimate how important he is inside the company, and how involved his organization is in the day-to-day operation of Nike. With the exception of certain talent in the design side of the organization, Blair may be the only person that is simply not replaceable. 

NKE - Could Gross Margin Hit 50%? - nketable