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RETAIL FIRST LOOK

 November 25, 2009

TODAY’S CALL OUT

As earnings season draws to a close, there are some notable callouts from our sentiment chart. The group’s total short interest continues to decrease, but at a lower rate than we have observed in some time.  Key individual callouts are also noted.

As the group’s total short interest continues to decrease, but at a lower rate, there are some notable callouts.  Our sentiment chart highlight’s some key individual moves, most of which are positive.  The chart below focuses on the outliers from the sell-side (weighted buy, sell, hold ratings), the buy-side (short interest as a percent of float), and the inside (recent insider transaction movement).  Here are the most notable changes over the last two months:

                Stocks that are more loved: COLM, GAP, DDS, LIZ, PLCE, NTRI, M, AAP, and LAZ

                Stocks that are more disliked: BKS, CONN, TBL, GIL, KBH, ELY, VFC

In looking specifically at short interest, there are some recent developments worth noting.  As a group, the apparel, retail, and footwear space has seen short interest continue to decline. As always,  there are some meaningful outliers:

                Stocks with decreasing short interest: JOSB, CBK, VLCM, COLM, RL, CROX, PSS, UA, DKS, HBI, ANF,

                GYMB, and HOTT

                Stocks with increasing short interest: CHRS, LIZ, BONT, DDS, SKS, GCO

Enjoy your Thanksgiving with your family and friends.

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: Sentiment Shake Up - 1

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: Sentiment Shake Up - 2

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: Sentiment Shake Up - 3

RETAIL FIRST LOOK: Sentiment Shake Up - 4

LEVINE’S LOW DOWN

  • On heels of a reduced outlook mainly due to incremental spending on Barnes & Noble’s e-reader launch, the company’s CEO believes digital content can be a multi-billion dollar business for the retailer. Management also believes that given large barriers to entry, digital content distribution has the potential to be a more concentrated business than physical bookselling. Barriers to entry cited include content aggregation on a massive scale, content formatting (i.e multiple platforms, multiple devices), digital rights management, and content synchronization. I’m not sure I agree, as it seems digital content distribution changes the players for which BKS will be competing with (i.e Google) rather than limiting the number such competitors.
  • On the subject of heavy discounting by discounters of best sellers, BKS management reminded investors that this topic has been discussed for 10 years now. As it stands currently, best sellers account for 5% of BKS’ sales, with the very top sellers accounting for 1%. Approximately 50% of all books are sold in channels other than dedicated booksellers.
  • In an effort to drive incremental traffic and maintain a competitive position in the marketplace, FRED stepped up its marketing and promotional activity in 3Q. However, the net result of the increased promos and ad spend was not incremental traffic gains or rub-off sales. Instead, Fred’s customers cherry-picked promotional items, causing a negative impact on gross margins. Management also noted that the competitive environment is expected to remain aggressive in 4Q, as media spend by retailers is anticipated to increase 45%-100% on average.
  • Even with substantially better than expected 3Q EPS results, management of DLTR noted that the majority of upside on gross margins was due to improved freight and fuel costs. Offsetting these y/y improvements was the continued margin drag from increases in consumables as a percentage of the product mix. With substantial freight and fuel cost savings now behind us, we will not be surprised to see more and more retailers talking about challenging compares on these line items as we get into Spring.
  • Genesco continues to lead the pack on cost savings from real estate renewals and negotiations. The company noted that is seeing on average a 10% reductions in rent as a result of its efforts. It’s also important to note that 50% of GCO’s store base is up for some renewal or kick-out clause over the next 3 years.
  • At DSW, women’s boots comped up 50% for the quarter! Yes, that’s 50%. Boots represented about 20% of sales in 3Q and are expected to grow to 30% of sales in 4Q. Year over year penetration of the category is up about 500bps.
  • E-commerce continues to be a relative outperformer when compared to the performance of the bricks and mortar. Both AEO and BKS cited positive sales growth in e-commerce, while both reported sales declines. Overall, e-commerce has been a big positive standout almost across the board for retailers with online sales capabilities.
  • Despite a still challenging retail backdrop, J Crew reported its highest operating margin the company’s history in 3Q. While sales trends were strong, the company’s ability to flow fresh goods frequently, manage inventories tightly (down 17% per foot), and keep promotional activity to minimum were all key drivers to the standout results. While there was definitely some business left on the table as a result of the tight inventory control, management is content with selling out of items that work in effort to boost a “buy now” mentality on the part of its customers.

MORNING NEWS 

Consumer Confidence Rises - Consumer confidence rose for November as fewer shoppers said they expected business conditions or the labor market to worsen over the next six months, according to The Conference Board. The research group’s Consumer Confidence Index rose to 49.5 this month from 48.7 in October. A year ago, the index stood at 44.7. The Expectations Index increased to 68.5 this month from 67 in October and the Present Situation Index dipped to 21 from 21.1. “The moderate improvement in the short-term outlook was the result of a decrease in the percent of consumers expecting business and labor market conditions to worsen,” said Lynn Franco, director of the group’s Consumer Research Center. “Income expectations remain very pessimistic and consumers are entering the holiday season in a very frugal mood.” <wwd.com>

PPR chief expands on plans for sales and acquisitions - PPR chief executive François Pinault has revealed that he plans to sell the retail arms of the French group “the sooner, the better” but said he hadn’t created a deadline for the planned divestments. News broke on Monday that PPR, which owns the Gucci Group and Puma, is looking to sell its retail businesses, which include Redcats, the mail order firm that owns the La Redoute catalogue, as well as book and music retailer Fnac and furniture chain Conforma. Pinault told the Wall Street Journal yesterday: “We have a major weakness - retail. It is a business that cannot develop quickly abroad.” He added that this was because it takes consumers a long time to accept an unfamiliar name. In the interview, Pinault added that with global stock markets stabilising, PPR is reviving its strategy to focus on brands over retail - a strategy he began with the sale of the Printemps department store group in 2006. <drapersonline.com>

Schumer Calls Foul on Adidas for its Plans to Move NBA Jersey Production to Thailand from Upstate NY - Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) on Tuesday urged Adidas to keep production of NBA and WNBA uniforms and apparel in the U.S. after the activewear firm’s contract manufacturer in upstate New York said production was moving to Thailand. Adidas has an exclusive contract with the NBA to supply the league’s teams with their official uniforms. “It’s flat wrong for Adidas to move the production of jerseys worn by NBA players outside the United States when there are U.S. companies that have done this work so well and for so long,” Schumer said. “And to do it in this economic climate adds insult to injury.” He called on the company to reverse its decision and continue producing jerseys in the U.S. Adidas said it was moving production “to facilities located closer to the source of uniform materials.”  <wwd.com>

Saks Renegotiates $500M Credit Agreement - After months of work, Saks Inc. successfully negotiated a two-year extension and amendment for its $500 million revolving credit facility, which now expires in November 2013. “This year we undertook a series of important actions that strengthened our capital structure and will provide considerable flexibility going forward,” said Kevin Wills, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “In addition to the extension and amendment of the revolving credit facility, we issued $120 million of convertible notes in May, and we completed a $100 million common stock offering last month. Proceeds of those transactions were used to reduce borrowings on our revolving credit facility.” <wwd.com>

Will Pent-up Demand Drive Sales? - The positive effects of perceived pent-up consumer demand could be lost in the Great Tradedown. Analysts and economists agree shoppers are getting tired of reining in spending. But even with their self-control weakening, a budget-breaking spree seems unlikely. Consumers are more likely to shop the off-price channel, snatch up discounted goods or treat themselves to a special gift. “We do see demand increasing,” said Christine Day, chief executive officer of Lululemon Athletica Inc. “It is driven by less inventory and choices — a higher sense of urgency to buy and careful investment in a few good pieces for the woman that has not bought for herself in quite a while.” Like others retailers, Day isn’t looking for consumers to return to a credit card-propeled shopping existence anytime soon. “I hear more conversation about saving for a carefully thought-out purchase, and I think that will stay with us for a while,” she said. The total amount of outstanding consumer credit fell at an annual rate of 7.2 percent in September and has dropped for eight consecutive months — the longest string of declines since 1943, when the Federal Reserve began keeping records.  <wwd.com>

Fed Officials Cut Forecasts for Unemployment Rate - Federal Reserve officials trimmed their forecasts earlier this month for the U.S. jobless rate in 2010 and 2011 as the economy rebounded while keeping their outlooks “broadly similar” to previous projections. Fed governors and regional-bank presidents predicted the unemployment rate will range from 9.3 percent to 9.7 percent in next year’s fourth quarter, down from the June projection of 9.5 percent to 9.8 percent, according to minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s Nov. 3-4 meeting released today. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and other policy makers on Nov. 4 said they would keep interest rates “exceptionally low” for an “extended period.” The statement by the FOMC suggested a decision to raise rates will hinge on changes in the labor market, inflation and inflation expectations. <bloomberg.com>

U.S. Consumer Spending, Incomes Probably Improved in October - Consumer spending probably rebounded in October, an indication that mounting unemployment has yet to stifle Americans’ willingness to buy. Purchases increased 0.5 percent after dropping by the same amount in September, according to the median estimate of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Other figures may show orders for durable goods and home sales climbed. Uneven gains in spending signal consumers are unlikely to provide sustained support to the U.S. economy as it emerges from the worst recession since the 1930s. A jobless rate that is projected to exceed 10 percent through the first half of next year means households will contribute less to growth.  <bloomberg.com>

China: Excess capacity intensifies in textile sector - According to the " report of follow-up investigation on questionnaires among Chinese enterprise managers in 2009, the industries of textile, papermaking and chemical fibers how the situation of relatively serious overcapacity. Survey results show that more than 60 percent (63.4 percent) of business operators consider that their business sectors exist excess capacity, among them, 44.8 percent believe their sectors exist "some surplus capacity" 18.6 percent say that their sectors exist "serious surplus capacity"; 27.5 percent believe their sectors are "normal"; 9.1 percent think their sectors exist insufficient capacity, 8.4 percent feel their sectors exist "some shortage in capacity", 0.7 percent say their sectors exist "seriously inadequate capacity." <fashionnetasia.com>

Zappos.com Partners with Overlay.TV - Zappos.com has partnered with interactive video firm Overlay.TV to bring its catalog of products to life through video and to transform the way customers interact with the online store. The clickable videos are fully integrated with the site's e-commerce back-end and reflect inventory events such as out-of-stock and discontinued items as well as promotions and special offerings. The solution enables viewers to shop directly from videos that can be shared across the web on blogs and social network profiles. "The ability to see a product in action, to click on it for more information, to share it on Facebook, and add it to your cart without even leaving the page is a major change for this industry," says Rob Lane, CEO and Co-Founder of Overlay.TV. "Our approach is 100% about improving the customer experience, and giving them the tools to share that experience with their networks, which makes what we're doing a perfect fit for Zappos." <sportsonesource.com>

Japan Exports Fall Least in a Year on Global Stimulus - Japan’s exports fell at the slowest pace in a year in October as worldwide government spending boosted demand, sustaining the economic recovery. Shipments abroad slid 23.2 percent from a year earlier, compared with a 30.6 percent decline in September, the Finance Ministry said today in Tokyo. The median estimate of 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 26.8 percent drop.  <bloomberg.com>

Italy Consumer Confidence Rose in November on Economic Outlook - Consumer confidence in Italy unexpectedly rose in November after the economy emerged from its worst recession since World War II. The Isae Institute’s consumer confidence index climbed to 112.8 from 111.7 in October, the Rome-based research center Isae said today in an e-mailed statement. Economists had forecast a drop to 111.5 for this month, the median of 13 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey showed. Italy’s economy emerged from its fourth recession since 2001 in the third quarter as the recovery in Europe boosted exports, and growth may accelerate to more than 1 percent in 2010, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti said yesterday.  <bloomberg.com>

China's One-Child Generation Clamors for Luxury Goods - The X factor in China’s burgeoning luxury consumption is the country’s one-child generation — a group of people who tend to be highly individualistic and perceive luxury goods as a way to set themselves apart. The population policy, in place in China’s cities for 30 years, has created a value system among these millions of only-children that is “more self-indulgent and self-interested” than the more communal ways of their predecessors, said Patti Pao, president and founder of strategic consultant Pao Principle and author of a new “China Luxury Panel” report. The rising tide of young adults [are] clamoring for the fast-fashion, designer one-offs of stores such as H&M and Zara, and the cheap chic of players like Uniqlo.  <wwd.com>

Luxury Outlook Brightens - Down but not out, the luxury market is looking to new categories - plus female and older consumers - to boost its bottom line in 2010. That was one of the messages at the “Luxury Beyond The Crisis,” a conference organized by The International Luxury Business Association and held at the Hotel Westin in Paris Tuesday. New luxury categories - including technology, furniture, travel and spas - will help the sector register a 4 percent revenues increase next year, according to Jean-Marc Bellaïche, partner at Boston Consulting Group in Paris. Minus such categories, a 3 percent dip is projected for the sector, he noted. While luxury fashion brands are already rallying in Far East, Bellaïche said he is also optimistic about growth prospects in the U.S., where recent surveys suggest the awareness of luxury brands is less pervasive. “The U.S. is a growth market, but we still have to find the key,” he said. <wwd.com>

Recession-era Black Friday Filled With Challenges - After more than a year of recession fallout that made holiday 2008 a retail Waterloo, stores will put their austerity strategies to the stiffest test when the season moves into high gear on Black Friday. But the mood of shoppers is a stiff challenge, although after a year of tightened wallets and economic hardship, there is a perception of some pent-up demand among consumers that could benefit stores. (See story, opposite page). Lew Frankfort, chief executive officer of Coach, said consumers have been trained to wait for sales, and the response of retailers to that face-off will dictate the tone of the holiday. <wwd.com>

Free shipping remains the best bait for luring online shoppers, survey says - Online shoppers are cutting back on their spending and looking for free shipping offers and exclusive online deals, says a survey from The Conference Board and TNS. Another survey shows nearly a third of consumers plan to shop from work next Monday, and a third suggests many consumers remain concerned about using their credit card online, but will shop on the web anyway. Consumers who plan to shop online are being a bit more frugal, according to the survey from The Conference Board, a nonprofit management organization, and research organization TNS. The survey of 3,946 adults conducted Nov. 2-8 found: <internetretailer.com>

Sears.com begins shipping to 90 countries - Sears.com has begun shipping to consumers in 90 countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, Spain China, India, Japan, Argentina and Brazil. "We are excited to offer this new international shipping option to our customers," says Imran Jooma, senior vice president for online at Sears Holdings Corp. "With our large product assortment and the capability to ship products internationally, we hope to make shopping easier and more convenient, both for customers in the U.S. with friends and family overseas, and for international customers who would like to purchase products from Sears.com." <internetretailer.com>