We think that KATE’s risk/reward on the long side is simply too great to pass up with the stock in the mid-$20s. KATE is down -17.1% since the start of the year (over a whopping 9 trading sessions), vs -1.1% for the XRT due to factors that we think largely have no merit. We think that the brand is extremely healthy, business trends are strong, and the growth trajectory is squarely in-tact. In short, based on the earnings ramp we’re expecting to be evident over the next year, we think that KATE is looking at 50% base case upside from today’s $26.80. That’s $13.50 upside with what we think is about $5 downside – a risk reward we’re more than prepared to take given our view that KATE probably has the best likelihood of doubling out of any US retail name this year.
OUR ANSWERS TO NINE DAYS OF INVESTOR CONCERNS
- Shhhh…. We’ll start with the concern that is the most valid, and that’s the Wall of Silence that emanates from the company. KATE’s quiet period started on Thanksgiving, and it might not report its fourth quarter until the first week of March. That’s about 15 weeks of sheer silence. Seriously, we’re going to see retailers on a January fiscal year report 4Q before KATE does. At this rate, nothing would make us happier than if KATE preannounced. It did so last year at this time – though that was before a series of investor meetings that are not happening this year. With no information coming from the company, investors are taking negative anecdotes and trading the stock down with nobody to answer the many questions that are swirling around. We can give it our best shot, but what we want is a press release out of KATE.
- ‘Excessive Discounting’ in the Department Store Channel. This was what set the stock into its initial spiral. Analyst reports talked about excessive discounting, without a) adding the context of the fact that wholesale handbags account for only 15% of KATE’s sales, b) looking at a balance of discounts for a representative sample of wholesalers over the course of the entire quarter/holiday season, and most importantly, c) without looking at the discounting cadence versus last year. Looking at sequential changes in pricing without considering velocity, inventory, and what trends were a year ago is an otherwise useless exercise. In sum, we did not find anything in any of the reports that struck as valid or concerning.
- Promotions Are NOT Greater Than Last Year. The graphic below shows the promotions in 2013 versus 2014. While there are some variances vs last year, one major point we can make is that there was NOT a more promotional cadence this year online. Rest assured that if KATE’s wholesale sales or store sales were suffering, there would be unexpected sales that would pop up online. That definitely did not happen. Some subtleties…
- In 2014 KATE moved the October surprise sale back a week into Nov. Online traffic started to pick up immediately thereafter (see below).
- Mid November 25% off offer was 2 days longer this year.
- This year the Black Friday sales was shorter, but cyber Monday sale was longer.
- Surprise sale in mid-December was a one day 75% off sale last year, this year it was a 2 day sale but it didn’t advertise any specific discount (gifts $99and under), as KATE shifts away from 70%+ ‘Flash’ Sales.
- The 25% off sale items started earlier this year, will end up being 20 days vs 11 last year.
4. KATE On-Line Presence. We measure traffic trends for about 250 brands and retailers by triangulating many different sources. The reality is that no one source is accurate anything more than 2/3 of the time. But this approach has proven to be a very strong gauge of a company’s business. Could it be that there are excessive promotions driving traffic? No – as we already outlined in point #3 above. If we saw excessive emails promos and accelerating traffic we’d be concerned. No need to be concerned here.
- Exhibit 3 is the Indexed traffic rank for katespade.com. We re-indexed in June 2014 (blue line) when we hit the YY mark. Not the way we typically look at this metric, but it does a good job accentuating the ramp we’ve seen in traffic rank since mid-October. You can see the divergence in performance compared to last year from July-September which coincided with the comp slowdown we saw in 3Q. Since it is a 90-day moving average the best reflection of the quarter in aggregate is the 12/28 reading – on that date Traffic Rank was up 55% YY.
EXHIBIT 3: KATE INDEXED TRAFFIC RANK
- Exhibit 4 looks at the year over year change in traffic for both katespade.com and michaelkors.com. There is a meaningful divergence between the two starting in Week 22, which, because of the way we indexed, equates to 11/4/14. Week 30 marks the quarter end and as in the earlier chart is the best reflection of the quarter in aggregate because it is a 90-day moving average. The reading on that day was +55%. This is big for KATE with online accounting for about 20% of revenue compared to KORS who set a 2-3yr target to hit 10%. Overall demand in that channel looked very healthy throughout the quarter and especially so during the Holiday selling period.
EXHIBIT 4: Y/Y TRAFFIC RANK – KATE VS KORS
- Exhibit 5 shows the YY reach spread for KATE, KORS, and COH – which captures the change in total reach online versus a year ago. Anything above the x-axis is positve, anything below = negative. Trend here is the same as in previous charts though you can see the relative outperformance around Black Friday/Cyber Monday through the holiday in more detail when compared to KORS and COH.
EXHIBIT 5: KATE, KORS, COH REACH