As we head into the key holiday selling season in the absence of real broad-based consumer-driven demand, it’s important to note the product trends that are helping to drive relative outperformance. One such trend has been women’s fashion boots as highlighted in our 11/09 post “The Boot Heat Map.” The other (though arguably less publicized) trend has been in what has been dubbed the “wellness/toning” category, comprised of product’s including SKX’s Shape-Ups and Reebok’s Easy Tones. With retailers beginning to recognize the contribution of wellness product in 3Q, it will play in increasingly more important role in 4Q performance and beyond for retailers and SKX alike.
Strong demand for wellness shoes was one of the keys to our view ahead of SKX’s 3Q results. Since then, the Street has increased FY10 estimates by 50% to $1.50. While we remain meaningfully above current expectations by nearly 25% at $1.85, we are mindful that the gap has narrowed considerably over the last month as expectations have clearly risen. So the question remains – is the Shape-Ups trend more Crocs-like, or Ugg-like in duration?
I’m leaning towards the latter given the view that “function” is less fickle than fashion. While SKX is busy at work trying to introduce some level of creativity into the category in the form of different uppers (boots, sandals, leather, shearling, etc..) for next year, the wellness benefits are not to be overlooked. Whether you buy into the true technical benefits of the curved sole which is said to promote better posture, toned legs, and ease joint pressure the reality is that the perceived benefits are driving demand and product awareness. The category is expected to see a substantial influx of marketing dollars being spent on the category across all brands and SKX is well positioned with its current market leading position. Other brands in the category include the original MBT and Reebok.
In an effort to size the opportunity for wellness I incorporated DSW’s recent commentary that this category could represent 2%-3% of total revenues. Assuming that same share of revenue for other footwear retailers like SCVL and BWS (Famous Footwear) and then 1%-2% for others including DKS, TSA, HIBB, FINL, and FL one can derive a $135-$215mm opportunity. Add to that the sell-through at department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s (SKX is back at JWN for the first time in three years) and you can add an additional 50% in revenues getting arriving at a market size of ~$200-$300mm domestically. Note, that doesn’t include smaller chains and independent retailers. Given tests thus far, simply doubling the domestic opportunity to account for international market potential is likely to prove conservative. Taking this approach, we get to an estimated ~$400-$600mm global opportunity for wellness shoes. Given Shape-Ups dominant position in the category, it is evident that not only is this trend at its early stages, but also that it also has legs.
For better perspective on the wellness category, we took at look at the commentary of several footwear retailers from Q3. Like boots, wellness/toning is one of the few product trends that is being called out and is still likely to drive upside in 4Q:
DSW: The position we've taken is we started with our key partner, Sketchers, and everybody has the Shape-ups program and we tested that late in Q2, early in Q3 and saw some very very promising results and positioned ourselves to be in a very strong position for 4Q going into 1Q so that is where we've taken the majority stake in the toning product. We are, however, testing product from other athletic resources in a good, better, best, price point so we'll test everything from a 39 all the way up to $79 price point in addition to the $100 Sketchers shape-up that's out there right now. Some of the early results from these test items have proved very promising…even having said that, I think you're really looking at two, maybe 3% of your total business, the total DSW business being in this toning product.
BWS: We anticipate consumer purchasing patterning will be similar to those that we saw in the third quarter…as such, we ramped up our 4Q receipts of key categories and brands, most notably boots and wellness product, which we think will be the key drivers through holiday and into spring lead by Sketcher Shapeups and Reeboks Easy Tone.
SCVL: We anticipate continued strength in the athletic category and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to have two new significant product lines in the wellness category with Skechers Shape-Ups and Reebok Easy Tone Shoes…to take full advantage of this hot selling category we have taken a strong inventory position in Wellness. Therefore, inventories are up 2.4% on a per door basis with boots and Wellness accounting for all of this increase. With the expected continued strength in boots and Wellness footwear, we currently expect our comparable store sales in Q4 to increase in the range of 3 to 5%.
We had a few stores with Wellness product in August. Actually we delivered that product early in the second quarter, and then as we saw the product selling through early in the second quarter and in August, we bought for additional stores for September. Then we bought for more stores in October and as we move through fourth quarter all stores actually within the next one week, all stores would have. So the inventory built during the quarter and as the inventory built product reap the benefits of the sale.
We have no way of telling whether or not we are bringing in a new customer. We do know, we have a unique concept. As we get product in and refill of this product has been selling out and we've been filling it back in…so we actually believe that our customers are stepping up for this product, and they've been looking for it.
We saw the trend early, and we tested those shoes in about 25 stores in early spring as soon as we can get them. And when we saw the sell through, very aggressively went after it and as the sell through continues, the more stores we put them in, we got even more aggressive. So I'm feeling very confident that we are well covered in Wellness as we go through spring.
HIBB: We actually have the toning…and we'll see that grow into our next year as well and build upon it. As long as we see good marketing around, supporting the programs now, we'll be able to support it from our end as well.
GCO: We are not involved in the wellness business. We know it's very important for a lot of footwear guys. We don't think it hits our customer. We're really much more of a fashion retailer…It's an older demographic so we've chosen thus far not the play.
After meeting with COO/CFO David Weinberg last week at FFANY, we came away from the meeting with a few key takeaways: business is currently strong, Shape-Ups is still in its infancy, and that the opportunities to exceed earnings estimates in the near-term appear to be high. This sentiment is illustrated (and supported) in the follow charts. Note that while unit volume at retail declined in October according to NPD data, Shape-Ups as a % of SKX revenues continues to grow reflecting typical seasonality (see Figure 1).
Research Edge Position: Short UK (EWU)
From our seat we’ve watched European fundamentals slow sequentially over the last months while unemployment (9.8%) and inflation (est. +0.6% in Nov. Y/Y) have accelerated moderately across the region. Although we’ve seen little rhetorical movement in monetary policy from the ECB to raise rates, the bank’s recent announcement to withdraw its emergency stimulus measures has accelerated investment risk for countries with levered balance sheets. In particular, and combined with the news from Dubai World, countries like Greece and Turkey (and even some Eastern European countries that remain levered to Western European banks and foreign currency) have seen manic swings in their equity markets over the last two weeks, while other markets like Russia (RTSI) have corrected from frothy YTD highs.
As the largest economy in the Eurozone, the German economy remains an important proxy for regional health. As the graph below depicts, Factory Orders have slowed sequentially over the last months and although rising on an annual basis, they are still well off historical levels. We attribute this trend in particular to the expiration of country’s cash-for-clunkers program, a strong Euro, and increased fears associated with future joblessness.
While we’re on balance bullish on the German economy over the intermediate to long term, our stance on the UK remains bearish and we’re short the etf EWU in our virtual portfolio.
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No slowdown post Golden Week. SJM steals the show yet again.
We expected November to be strong, but 63% y-o-y growth was better than almost anyone's projection. Not only did business not decelerate post-Golden Week but it actually accelerated. Adjusted for higher sequential hold in the month, y-o-y growth would still have been close to 50%. Easy comps, the strong stock market recovery, lax visa restriction enforcement, the new CE, and new supply were probably all contributing factors to the furious recovery in Macau. For all the reasons noted, and the coming visit of the Chinese Premier, the pace of growth could continue to exceed expectations through the first quarter of 2010.
While the rising tide lifted most all ships (well almost all - sorry, Altira), SJM continued to outpace its competitors. LVS lost share due to weaker relative performance at Venetian but Four Seasons showed huge growth once again. If Four Seasons stabilizes at these levels the property may be able to earn close to $50MM of EBITDA, way ahead of consensus projections.
Y-o-Y Table Revenue Observations:
LVS table revenues up 38% with almost all the growth coming from a 62% increase in VIP revenues
- Sands was up 63%, driven by a 120% increase in VIP and 4% growth in Mass
- VIP growth was largely driven by easy hold comparisons. Sands suffered weak hold in November 2008 of around 1.6%, assuming 10% direct play. If we assume 12% of total VIP play was direct in Nov '09, this implies hold 3.3% this year.
- Junket VIP RC increased 11%
- Venetian was up 14% with VIP increasing almost 18% and Mass increasing 8%
- Junket VIP RC increased 3.7% and hold appears to be roughly 50 bps better y-o-y
- Four Seasons was up 248% y-o-y driven entirely by VIP growth
- Junket VIP RC increased almost six-fold to $881MM vs $133MM. In 3Q09 FS also derived 50% of its RC from direct play versus having almost no direct play in 4Q08. Therefore, if the direct play is material, volumes could be up even more y-o-y than the junket numbers imply
- However, FS's very strong growth in VIP will be somewhat masked by low hold that we estimate to be in the 2.0%-2.2% range, assuming direct play was between $250-350MM
Wynn table revenues were up 34%
- Mass was up 19% and VIP increased 38%
- Junket RC increased a massive 66% which was somewhat offset by weaker hold
- Assuming 9% of total VIP play was direct in Nov '08 and 12% was direct in Nov '09, we estimate hold declined 50 bps to 2.5% in Nov '09
Crown table revenues grew 92%
- Altira was down 21% (the only property in Macau with lower November revenues)
- VIP roll was down 25% and hold was in the normal 2.85%-2.9% range
- CoD table revenue was up 16% sequentially, benefiting from better hold than October m-o-m
- Mass continued to ramp growing 18% m-o-m to $26MM
- Junket VIP RC fell 13% sequentially. It appears that CoD's junket play is stabilizing in the $2.4-3BN monthly range
- Despite what the company said on its 3Q09 conference call, we saw that there was 10.3% direct VIP play as a % of total VIP roll. If we assume that the direct play as a % of total VIP play is closer to 12% these last 2 months, it appears that hold was around 3% in November and 2.3% in October
SJM continued its hot streak, with table revenues up 114%
- Mass was up 38% and VIP was up 191%
Galaxy table revenue was up 44%, driven by a 45% increase in VIP win and a 39% increase in Mass
- Starworld continued to perform well with table revenue up 53%, driven by 54% growth in VIP revenues and 38% growth in Mass win
MGM table revenue was up 38%
- Mass revenue growth was very strong at 53%, while VIP grew 35%
- Junket rolling chip was up 36%
LVS share decreased to 20.8% from 23.7% in October, but higher than September's 19.6%
- Sands' share decreased by 1% to 7.5% sequentially
- Venetian & FS share decreased to 13.3% from 15.3% in October
WYNN's share at 12.1% increased slightly from a low of 11.9% in October
Crown's market share increased to 12.9% from 11.9% in October
- Altira was one of the only properties to experience revenue declines y-o-y in the month of November
SJM's share increased to 33.1% from 31.6% in October
Galaxy's share decreased slightly to 12.3% from 12.8% last month
- Starworld's market share grew to 9.9% from 9.4% in the previous month
MGM's share increase to 8.9%, from 8.0% in October, was mostly hold driven
At the close on Friday I noticed a common thread among several of the days’ top outperformers (i.e. TLB, CHRS, LIZ, & DDS) – we had highlighted them a month ago (“Bill Critical for Ailing Retailers” on 11/08) as key beneficiaries of the Business Assistance Act of 2009. While talk of the benefit has crept into late 3Q earnings calls (e.g. CHRS last week), the benefit of this legislation is still flying under the radar of most investors and will provide meaningful relief to some of the smaller undercapitalized retailers.
After speaking with several companies on the topic, there are a few considerations helpful in trying to quantify the materiality of this benefit:
1) The bill only applies to domestic losses
2) Re timing of cash receipt:
- if claiming ’08 losses, process can be underway now but can take 2-3 months to get paperwork in order from start to finish.
- if claiming ’09 losses, have to wait until taxes are filed for the year (some companies could realize in Q1, but not until 2Q for most).
3) There are restrictions re eligibility of losses
- Has to be a valid deduction (e.g. a pure reserve on the books that has not been realized is NOT valid).
4) A company can recoup up to ~35% of eligible losses
So why revisit this topic now? With TLB reporting tomorrow morning, it’s worth noting given that short interest is at 38% second only to October 15th when it had reached 42% and the stock was 60% higher. While this legislation is hardly the catalyst to send shares back to recent peak levels, it’s important to note the cash infusion – particularly with TLB’s revolver expiring in the 1Q of 2010 that could result in a near-term reprieve.
President Obama’s approval rating has continued to bounce around low levels on the Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll. As of this morning, President Obama was ranked -11 on the poll, which is the difference between Strongly Approve and Strongly Disapprove. While this is above his lowest ranking of -15 on November 25th, his approval rating is showing no sign of bouncing meaningfully. In the Real Clear Politics poll aggregate, which is a rolling average of all major Presidential approval polls, President Obama now has virtually the worst approval rating of his Presidency at 49.3.
The rationale for this continued sinking popularity appears to be the popularity of President Obama’s primary landmark policies on healthcare and Afghanistan. According to Rasmussen, only 41% of those polled favor the plan proposed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats. As it relates to Afghanistan, only 37% of the American voters polled favor the new plan for Afghanistan. Obviously, President Obama can only be as popular as those issues or platforms that he is trying to aggressively advance, at least in the short term. Longer term, as it relates to his and the Democratic party’s popularity, there are other factors at play.
We have contended in the past that President Obama does have a shockingly high approval rating given the state of the economy and, in particular, unemployment. We’ve posted below a chart that graphs Presidential approval versus approval going back to the 1970s. There is a clear correlation between high unemployment and low approval. Interestingly though, the last time that unemployment was this high, that President, Ronald Reagan, had a broad approval rating that was in the mid-30s, which is well below Obama’s current rating.
Employment of course is but one factor relating to the economy. While declining unemployment will surely have some positive impact on President Obama’s approval rating, Professor Ray Fair, of Yale’s economics department, has done a great deal of working on predicting Presidential and Congressional elections and postulates that the two most important factors are: inflation and economic growth. Specifically, he looks at the growth rate of the GDP deflator as a sign of inflation and the number of quarters of GDP growth over 3.2% as a positive sign of growth.
Professor Fair has had very good success historically predicting elections, both mid-terms and Presidential, though has had some big misses as well, including President Clinton’s first victory over President George H.W. Bush. Accordingly, Professor Fair adjusted his model and realized that the economic memory of voters goes back more than one year, and that President Bush was hurt by a weak economy early in his term. Professor Fair’s models and work over the past four decades does tell us a little though about thinking about the future popularity of a President. Namely, both growth and inflation are key factors to consider and that stagflation, high inflation and low growth, is likely the worst economic scenario for an incumbent.
From an economic perspective, the Democrats will be faced with accelerating inflation if the fiscal policy remains loose domestically (and with it the dollar weak) and the potential that GDP comparisons are challenging in the back half of next year leading up to midterms. The worst case scenario is, obviously, that the growth we are seeing is not sustained, and the inflation environment for those goods prices in U.S. dollars – houses, commodities, agriculture goods, etc—continue to inflate because of the weak dollar.
Daryl G. Jones
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