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R3: Three for Friday

R3: REQUIRED RETAIL READING

March 12, 2010

 

This morning we highlight three earnings reports from three totally different businesses that reported over the past 24 hours. Yes they were all positive relative to expectations, but underlying the results are some interesting callouts.

 

 

TODAY’S CALL OUT

 

This morning we highlight three earnings reports from three totally different businesses that reported over the past 24 hours. Yes they were all positive relative to expectations, but underlying the results are some interesting callouts.

 

ZQK- Clearly on track here toward a recovery in margins, driven primarily by very tight inventory management. Inventories ended the quarter down 21%, with about two-thirds of the decline coming from the company’s domestic segment. This is a dramatic decline in light of what was only a 2% decline in revenues. Additionally, management now expects to see about $75 million in free cash flow this year vs. prior expectations for $50 million. While it is clear that the risk profile of ZQK has been substantially improved over the past year, the key question here will be if the reduction in inventory may now actually inhibit sales recovery in the near term.

 

R3: Three for Friday - ZQK SIGMA

 

ARO- Another slight beat for Aeropostale after earnings moved higher throughout the quarter. No surprise here. What is more interesting is the company’s focus on driving AUR’s higher over the course of 2010. This is clearly a key focus because it will be absolutely necessary if the company is going to drive same store sales higher on top of very difficult comparisons throughout much of this year. Management believes it can drive AUR’s higher in two ways- adding more fashion product to the mix at higher price points and through more effective use of technology which will reduce markdown exposure. Both strategies appear to be slightly more risky than the traffic driven gains that have been a dominant factor in the company’s outsized growth over the past year.

 

R3: Three for Friday - ARO SIGMA

 

HIBB- This morning’s strong 4Q results from HIBB are not exactly a surprise given recent positive sales read-throughs out of both FL and DKS, as well as the anticipated boost from a couple of one-time benefits (i.e. Alabama and New Orleans football championships). That said, there are some notable callouts. Comps up 9.6% reflects a massive acceleration on both a 1Yr and 2Yr basis – a statement that holds true even when considering core comps were roughly +6% (ex the 1x events). Inventories continue to improve as evidenced by the first positive sales/inventory spread in the last four quarters. Despite some speculation about whether or not the company was going to give guidance, an initial fiscal 2011 outlook of $1.12-$1.30 was provided (Street at $1.18). Similar to Foot Locker, with a portfolio over indexed towards NKE product (50%+), we believe the company is well-positioned to benefit from the impending improvement in the product cycle which will be beginning over the next 3 to 6 months.

 

R3: Three for Friday - HIBB S 3 10

 

 

LEVINE’S LOW DOWN  

  • Quicksilver noted that its strongest performing region was the West Coast in its company owned retail stores. However, unlike most retailers, its business in Florida has not shown a sustained pick-up yet. 
  • PacSun management noted that efforts to re-enter the footwear business during the holiday were limited by small assortments available only in select stores. By March, the company expects to have a broader assortment available in 200 doors, with a ramp in product depth and store penetration building into back-to-school. 
  • Williams Sonoma remains focused on increasing the productivity of its ecommerce business and believes there is still a great opportunity to increase conversion on its sites. A 30 bps improvement in conversion would yield an additional $100 million in revenues. The company is currently testing technology to serve personalized or tailored content to its customers in an effort to boost purchase behavior. 
  • After a brief test phase, Google rolled out a new search feature which allows consumers searching for a specific product to see if the item may be in stock at a local retailer. The initial launch includes local in-store inventory information for retailers including Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and West Elm. While this technology has existed for individual retailers on their respective sites, this is one of the first efforts to aggregate local inventory data on a real time basis. 

 

MORNING NEWS

 

Abercrombie Will Keep Discounting - Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said Wednesday that it will continue its uncharacteristically high levels of discounting through the spring in order to boost store sales. Jonathan Ramsden, chief financial officer of the New Albany, Ohio, teen clothing retailer, said it is willing to sacrifice margins if necessary to improve sales. Average unit prices, which were down 14% in February on higher discounting, will continue to be "down quite significantly" for the first half of the year, Mr. Ramsden said. The company accept some "gross margin erosion for the season" so long as it is "effective in increasing productivity," Mr. Ramsden said at a Bank of America investors' conference. Abercrombie, which also operates the Hollister and Gilly Hicks brands, reported sales at stores open at least a year declined dramatically in 2009. After a string of double-digit monthly decreases, the company is focused on posting sales increases this year. Mr. Ramsden said it hopes to report same-store sales increases for the entire year, as well as on a monthly basis, but warned the road to recovery could be choppy. The company is also in the process of examining its real estate portfolio and has identified more than 200 underperforming stores. About half of those are locations with leases that come due in the next three years, Mr. Ramsden said, at which point the company will vacate the space. The bulk of the store closures will be in its namesake brand. The company hopes cutting back their ubiquity will help restore Abercrombie & Fitch's reputation as a premium brand. <wsj.com>

 

H&M Plans 240 New Stores This Year - Karl-Johan Persson, H&M's chief executive officer, has said the company plans to open 240 new stores this year and that the economy will be "a little better" than in 2009. Persson was in Tel Aviv, where H&M's first store is just opening. Another seven are planned for Israel. He added that H&M doesn't plan to exit any markets and that it is pushing ahead with investment plans in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The Swedish retailer (Europe's second-largest clothing retailer) reported sales in January rose 11 percent, while sales at shops open at least a year increased 1 percent. <licensemag.com>

 

Warehouse Plans NZ$100 Million, Five-Year Expansion - Warehouse Group Ltd. plans to spend as much as NZ$100 million ($70 million) the next five years opening new stores and expanding its product range to grab a bigger share of New Zealand’s retail market. The company, 10 percent-owned by Australia’s Woolworths Ltd., will build as many as eight general merchandise stores to add new locations and increase floor space as much as 5 percent, Warehouse said in a presentation today. It will build as many as 10 stationery outlets to increase sales, improve national coverage and almost double the division’s margins by 2014. Warehouse, the nation’s largest discount retailer, is expanding after quitting its unprofitable Australian unit in 2005 and last year halting a shift into groceries and liquor that failed to meet targets. New stores, of the most-profitable size, will help the company lift earnings and recover market share lost to new clothing and hardware stores, Chief Executive Officer Ian Morricesaid today. <bloomberg.com>

 

Della Valle Adds to Holdings in Saks - Having more than doubled his money on his earlier investments in Saks Inc., Diego Della Valle has boosted his bet on the recovery of the luxury retailer. Through his personal investment vehicle, Diego Della Valle & C. S.A.P.A., the chairman and chief executive officer of Italy’s Tod’s SpA this week spent $22.3 million for an additional 2.9 million shares of the luxe retailer, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The investment comes on top of the 8.48 million shares of Saks that Della Valle acquired last year for $30.3 million. He now controls 11.38 million shares of Saks’ common stock, or 7.1 percent of those outstanding. Among noninstitutional investors, only Mexican telecommunications billionaire and the world’s richest man Carlos Slim Helú has more, with 25.62 million shares of the firm, or 16.1 percent of those outstanding. Saks has proven to be a very good investment for Della Valle. He bought 8.48 million shares of the firm between Feb. 20 and May 7 last year for $30.3 million, an average price of $3.57 a share. As of Thursday’s closing price, that portion of his holdings was worth $67.7 million, making for a $37.4 million gain. <wwd.com>

 

Ullman, Penney's Break Away From NRF - Myron E. “Mike” Ullman 3rd, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney Co. Inc., has resigned his seat on the board of the National Retail Federation and will not renew the company’s membership with the trade and lobbying group. Ullman, a recent chairman of NRF, sent a letter Wednesday to current chairman Terry J. Lundgren, who is also president and ceo of Macy’s Inc., to tell him of the decision, according to Tracy Mullin, president and ceo of NRF. Penney’s membership with NRF expires on April 1. A Penney’s spokesman said nine of 10 of the largest retailers, inluding Penney’s, are represented on the board of the Retail Industry Leaders Association and “given the gravity of all of the issues facing large employers, specifically in the retail industry, we made the decision to focus all of our industry advocacy through RILA.” RILA and the NRF called off a merger last June after announcing they were combining their groups in April, but declined to provide details. Ullman also sits on the RILA board. “It appears that he [Ullman] is really more interested in working with big box companies,” said Mullin, referring to RILA, the other key retail trade and lobbying group in Washington. “Clearly he feels a greater affinity there than here. That is the conclusion I draw from this.”  <wwd.com>

 

Apax, Private-Equity Firms Say Retail LBOs Return With Recovery - Private-equity firms looking to buy retail and consumer companies said they’re now able to finance deals and pay reasonable prices after the credit crisis and global recession triggered a buyout slump. “It feels like it’s a little bit of Goldilocks now,” Alex Pellegrini, a New York-based partner with Apax Partners LLP, said yesterday. “It feels just right.” Buyout managers are getting back to business after the global credit crisis that began in 2007 froze them out of buying companies or selling what they owned. About $12.9 billion worth of private-equity deals have been announced in the past three months, compared with $2.5 billion in the same period a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “The last couple months would suggest that people are getting active again,” said John Howard, chief executive officer of New York-based Irving Place Capital Management LP, noting his firm hasn’t made a retail investment in four years. “We’re seeing more real opportunities.” Financing from Wall Street banks is returning for some deals after financial institutions suffered losses of $1.7 trillion since the onset of the credit crisis. Howard said deals require investors to contribute more of their own cash and less borrowed money, which means he and other managers are most interested in targets they think will boost sales and profits. U.S. comparable-stores sales climbed 4.1 percent in February, topping the 3 percent growth estimate by researcher Retail Metrics. It was the sixth-straight monthly gain and the biggest in more than two years. <bloomberg.com>

 

Obama Outlines Export Growth Push - President Obama provided a blueprint Thursday for the administration’s strategy to grow U.S. exports to help drive job creation and economic recovery. The initiatives were outlined on the same day a Commerce Department report showed U.S. imports of textiles and apparel rose in January. The export push will include greater access to trade financing — including another $2 billion annually to help small and medium-size businesses — and a new Export Promotion Cabinet to coordinate the government’s efforts. “We’re going to increase financing, advocacy and assistance for American businesses to locate, set up shop and win new markets,” Obama said in a speech to the Export-Import Bank’s annual conference. As part of the plan, more than 40 trade missions intended to promote U.S.-made products have been scheduled for this year — the first went to India this week. There will be more money for promoting exports and Obama said federal agencies would establish public-private partnerships with companies to tap into their expertise about overseas markets and aid firms looking to expand. Obama said the administration also will focus on enforcement of existing trade agreements to give companies a level playing field, and will seek to open more markets through new and pending trade pacts. The President reiterated his call for China to move to a market-oriented exchange rate to help correct global trading imbalances. The National Export Initiative, announced in the State of the Union address, will “substantially increase” companies’ access to trade financing through the Export-Import Bank, Obama said.  <wwd.com


THE M3: COD EXPECTS MORE VISITORS, FEWER IMPORTED WORKERS

The Macau Metro Monitor, March 12th, 2010

 

CITY OF DREAMS EXPECTS MORE VISITORS  macaubusiness.com 

City of Dreams' CEO Greg Hawkins predicts a 20-25% increase in demand over the next 6-7 months. He believes the opening of several new services and infrastructures this year, e.g. "Kids' City" and "The House of Dancing Water," would translate into 40,000-45,000 visitors a day.

 

FEWER AND FEWER IMPORTED WORKERS IN MACAU Macau Daily Times

According to the Labour Affairs Bureau (DSAL), at the end of January 2010, there were 476 (or .6%) fewer non-local workers in Macau than there were in December 2009. In 2009 there was a 17.5% decline in the the number of imported workers.

 Since October 2008, the numbers of imported workers have been dropping month-after-month from 101,752 to 74,429 in January 2010.  The hospitality and food and beverage sector hired the most imported workers. The entertainment and gaming sector currently has 9,979 foreign workers while the construction industry has 7,168.  The composition of non-local workers includes 41,264 from mainland China, followed by 10,817 from Philippines, 6,591 from Vietnam and 5,481 from Hong Kong. The SAR government remained committed to retaining local workers.


Inflation Taxation

“Inflation is taxation without legislation.”

-Milton Friedman

 

This week we have focused our Hedgeyes on lying. Markets don’t lie; people do. We get it. But does America’s brain-trust of “smart money” who accuses China of making up their numbers get that we make up ours too? It’s an interesting question for interconnected times…

 

This morning, we are waking up to Anton Valukas (bankruptcy examiner for Lehman Brothers) accusing ex-Lehman CEO, tricky Dick Fuld, of “being at least grossly negligent.” Ok. When I read that, it seems to make sense. But is it true?

 

What if we were waking up to the headlines of the Bank of China’s executives being accused of the same? Well, sadly, we know the answer to that question too. Some people in the hedge fund community who are currently short China, would be forwarding the email – “did you see this?”

 

That’s what people in this business do. Do they see themselves in the mirror? Sometimes. Do they, collectively, understand the hypocrisy of some of their narrative fallacies? Sometimes. I think David Einhorn called this “fooling some of the people all of the time.”

 

Let’s shift gears to a more actionable matter that considers the umbrella of the same theme – lying about inflation. As my defense partner Daryl Jones pointed out in yesterday’s note, the most obvious problem about reported inflation is that governments report the numbers.

 

Let’s set aside that problem for a minute and simply consider that even if China and the US are making up the numbers, that the last reported monthly Made-off number is at least apples-to-apples against the current one. Then, lets back that data series up… chart it…  and, for another minute, consider that even if these are Made-up numbers, that they have intermediate TRENDS to discern, relative to themselves.

 

Now let’s take this a step further and consider both the interconnectedness of global price inflation and two countries that are, for the sake of our standing argument, lying about inflation:

  1. China’s year-over-year Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) – deflation bottomed in July of 2009 at -1.8%; went positive y/y in Q4 of 2009; and is currently running up +2.7% as of January.
  2. USA’s year-over-year Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) – deflation bottomed in July of 2009 at -2.1%; went positive y/y in Q4 of 2009; and is currently running up +2.6% as of January.

Wow. Maybe these guys are in cahoots with one another and making up the numbers together!

 

At a bare minimum, no matter what your definition of truth, you can’t tell me that China or the USA is experiencing year-over-year DEFLATION in prices. Sure, you can ex-out things that normal people buy, like say gas and food, and say what you will about prices on Park Avenue – that’s fine. But the truth is that, even on your compromised and conflicted calculation, CPI is running up +450 and +470 basis points in China and the USA, respectively, in the last 9-months.

 

Since March 9th of 2009, the SP500 is up +70.1%. Is that deflationary? Or were Americans so bubbled up on this side of the ocean that we can’t stop lying to ourselves that the 2006-2007 price comparison that Groupthink Inc. will have you believe is the next “great depression” is nothing but just that – another lie?

 

Depending on how one’s portfolio is positioned this morning, they could well argue that I am making up the numbers to fit my thesis here too. That’s fine. I’ll one up you and suggest then that I am making up numbers about Made-off numbers…

 

If you want to take the authority on everything that really has scared the life out of people in the last 6-weeks (Sovereign Debt), take Reinhart & Rogoff’s word for it rather than mine. Chapter 12 of “This Time Its Different” is called ‘Inflation and Modern Currency Crashes’ and there’s a great chart on page 181 that shows the median inflation rate (5 year-moving average) for all countries from the year 1500 to 2007.

 

I know. It’s funny how politicians and liars alike have left out this part of the Piling Debt, Upon Debt, Upon Debt story out of their recent narrative fallacies. This, unfortunately, is how the story always ends – with inflation.

 

Milton Friedman was right when he said that “inflation is taxation without legislation.” And Mr. Macro Market is right on the pin with this again this morning. Global bond yields have done nothing but go up since the Chinese CPI report from last night. Next week, prepare for India and the USA to make up more of the same trends in their CPI numbers. They’ll be inflationary again too.

 

My immediate term support and resistance in the SP500 is now 1132 and 1156, respectively.

 

Have a nice weekend and best of luck out there today,

KM

 

LONG ETFS

 

CAF – Morgan Stanley A Share — Now that all of the inflation data we have been calling for is on the tape, China's stock market looks like it wants to tell us the news is now baked into the expectations cake. Buying China low.

 

XLV – SPDR Healthcare — Healthcare was down again on 3/9/10 in the face of “Obamacare” inspired fear. While we fear we may be early here, it’s better than fearing fear itself.

 

UUP – PowerShares US Dollar Index Fund — We bought the USD Fund on 1/4/10 as an explicit way to represent our Q1 2010 Macro Theme that we have labeled Buck Breakout (we were bearish on the USD in ’09).

CYB - WisdomTree Dreyfus Chinese Yuan — The Yuan is a managed floating currency that trades inside a 0.5% band around the official PBOC mark versus a FX basket. Not quite pegged, not truly floating; the speculative interest in the Yuan/USD forward market has increased dramatically in recent years. We trade the ETN CYB to take exposure to this managed currency in a managed economy hoping to manage our risk as the stimulus led recovery in China dominates global trade.

TIP - iShares TIPS — The iShares etf, TIP, which is 90% invested in the inflation protected sector of the US Treasury Market currently offers a compelling yield. We believe that future inflation expectations are mispriced and that TIPS are a efficient way to own yield on an inflation protected basis.
 

SHORT ETFS

 

SPY – SPDR S&P500We moved to neutral (from bearish) on the S&P500 on the week of February 22. At 1139, for the immediate term TRADE, we’ll go back to bearish. This market is finally overbought. We shorted SPY on 3/5/10.

 

EWP – iShares SpainThe etf bounced on 3/3/10 in part from a strong day from Banco Santander, the fund’s largest holding in the Financials-heavy (43.8%) etf. We shorted Spain for a TRADE again on 3/5 as every sovereign debt risk has a time and price to be short of. We have a bearish bias on the country; massive unemployment, public and private debt leverage, and a failed housing market remain fundamental concerns.

 

IWM – iShares Russell 2000With the Russell 2000 finally overbought from an immediate term TRADE perspective on 3/1/10 and added to it on 3/2; we got the entry price that the risk manager makes a sale on strength.

 

GLD – SPDR Gold We re-shorted Gold on this dead cat bounce on 2/11/10. We remain bullish on a Buck Breakout and bearish on Gold for Q1 of 2010, as a result.

    

IEF – iShares 7-10 Year TreasuryOne of our Macro Themes for Q1 of 2010 is "Rate Run-up". Our bearish view on US Treasuries is implied.


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US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE

The S&P 500 finished higher on another day of very light trading.  While the index was up 0.4% on the day, volume declined 14% day-over-day and breadth of the market deteriorated significantly.  The S&P 500 finished at its highest level since October 2008.

 

On the MACRO calendar the only meaningful statistic was initial jobless claims and the data was mixed.  While claims dropped 6,000 week over week to 462,000 from 468,000, the 4-week rolling average figure actually rose by 5,000 to 475,000 from 470,000. Yesterday’s number was a clear disappointment, but there is real optimism that jobless numbers will have a tailwind, as census hiring begins to have a positive influence on the data - lasting through May/June. 

 

Day-over-day, the positive divergence in sector performance yesterday was in Healthcare (XLV).  Within the XLV, the managed care index was up 1.6% on speculation that reconciliation will be difficult to pass.  Republicans declared a parliamentary victory as they challenge the Democrats’ efforts to pass Healthcare legislation.  CVH and AET were the two best performing stocks in the XLV

 

The Financials continue to take center stage, as the XLF has been one of the top three performing sectors all week.  The banks finished higher for a sixth straight day, with the large-cap regional’s providing the upside leadership for the group; C continues to be the standout in the group. 

 

Rounding out the top three performing sectors was Consumer Discretionary (XLY).  Yesterday, retail continued to outperform the broader market with the S&P Retail Index +0.8%.  The notable weakness in the sector was centered in the homebuilders; LEN, TOL and DHI were among the laggards. 

 

Volatility lost 2.7% yesterday and continues to be broken on TRADE, TREND and TAIL.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have levels for the volatility Index (VIX) at:  buy Trade (17.29) and sell Trade (21.54). 

 

As we wake up today, equity futures are trading modestly above fair value following yesterday’s outperformance.   As we look at today’s set up the range for the S&P 500 is 24 points or 0.5% (1,132) downside and 1.6% (1,156) upside.

 

Today's MACRO highlights will be:

  • Feb Retail Sales
  • March prelim U. of Michigan
  • Jan Business Inventories 

Copper is heading for a weekly loss on concerns that China may raise interest rates, slowing demand.  The Hedgeye Risk Management Quant models have the following levels for COPPER – Buy Trade (3.34) and Sell Trade (3.44).

 

Gold is lower on speculation that governments around the world could pare economic stimulus measures, therefore dampening demand.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for GOLD – Buy Trade (1,106) and Sell Trade (1,122).

 

According to Street Account, the IEA increased its estimate for world demand in 2010 by 70,000 barrels a day to 86.6M barrels a day. That would mean a gain of 1.6M barrels a day, or 1.8%, from 2009 levels. The International Energy Agency raised its forecast for global oil demand this year for a second month as fuel consumption in Asia rises more than expected.  The Hedgeye Risk Management models have the following levels for OIL – Buy Trade (81.02) and Sell Trade (83.42).

 

Howard Penney

Managing Director

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - sp1

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - usd2

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - vix3

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - oil4

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - gold5

 

US STRATEGY - WASHINGTON DRIVEN PERFORMANCE - copper6

 


Long China?

I am getting a lot of questions on this, which either means a lot of people are still short China and/or people want me to clarify the shift.

 

Taking a step back, after being bullish on Chinese equities for all of 2009, our call on China for Q1 of 2010 has been Chinese Ox In A Box. That call has been that the Chinese economy is white hot and the Chinese will start to both proactively tighten and raise the value of the Yuan as they see inflation data roll in. The Chinese are doing exactly what they told us they were going to do. State Capitalism doesn’t require Barney Frank signing off on monetary tightening.

 

For the last 3 months, China’s inflation data has rolled in and that, combined with monetary tightening, has Chinese stocks down -7% YTD. Yesterday’s news is now today’s CPI report of +2.7%.

 

On the bullish side (ie. China is less likely to crash today than yesterday), money supply growth (m2) dropped again, sequentially, to 25.5% in February (from its November 2009 peak of +29.7%), and domestic consumption in China continues to prove to be a lot like America’s was in the 1920’s.

 

This generational urban migration of a lot of people has a lot more to consume no matter how many YouTube videos of empty Chinese cities get forwarded around the hedge fund community. We timed the short call on China as well as anyone. We get the short case.

 

In markets, timing is everything. We covered our short position in China (CAF) during the Lunar Year break, and this morning I went long it for an immediate term TRADE.

 

Mr. Macro Market has my back here. Or maybe I am following his…

 

Either way, I’m cool with being on the long side of Chinese currency and equities, for now…

KM


R3: The Wall

R3: REQUIRED RETAIL READING

March 11, 2010

 

With the earnings season nearly complete (approximately 90% of retailers have now reported), we thought we’d take a look at how the industry performance stacks up from a historical perspective. Importantly, what does this unprecedented run of inventory reduction, gross margin expansion, and earnings acceleration suggest for the back half of 2010 and the first half of 2011?

 

 

TODAY’S CALL OUT

 

With the earnings season nearly complete (approximately 90% of retailers have now reported), we thought we’d take a look at how the industry performance stacks up from a historical perspective. Importantly, what does this unprecedented run of inventory reduction, gross margin expansion, and earnings acceleration suggest for the back half of 2010 and the first half of 2011? The charts below speak a thousand words. The bottom line is the hurdles are high, as we are now less than two quarters away from unprecedented, peak level comparisons. We are coming off of a four quarters in a row in which the number of retailers missing earnings expectations is at historical lows.

 

With management teams now unanimously expressing caution over cost inflation in the back half, there is a small but growing list of factors that are likely to keep margins from moving higher. If you consider the risk embedded in missing sales due to low inventory levels vs. increasing inventories to drive incremental sales, there is yet another reason to be slightly more cautious on the likelihood of margins moving beyond peak. Of course, if sales remain robust (as we have noted in recent weeks) then difficult profit comparisons will not be as big a factor- at least for now. With that said, it’s hard to ignore the “wall” ahead that represents the lapping of the best period in modern retail profitability.

 

R3: The Wall - Retail Beat Miss History Chart

 

R3: The Wall - IndSIGMA 3 10

 

R3: The Wall - Long Term Background SIGMA

 

R3: The Wall - Historical Industry SIGMA

 

 

LEVINE’S LOW DOWN 

  • In an effort to drive traffic and ultimately revenues, American Eagle Outfitters is flowing new goods every four weeks in women’s versus six weeks last year at this time. Men’s will also see an acceleration in “newness” as management looks to improve its business. Success in women’s knit tops remains a key focus as well. Management believes in improvement in this category is key to driving gross margins higher. 
  • The Children’s Place continues to pursue growth, despite already having 950 stores in all types of real estate. Management believes there is an opportunity to open stores in smaller markets, primarily in “value” or strip centers. The company currently only operates 65 such locations and expect to focus growth in this area in the future. For 2010, the company’s square footage growth is expected to be about 5%. 
  • Footlocker noted its enthusiasm for growth in mobile commerce at its recent analyst meeting. While the mobile platform is immaterial at this point it is interesting to note the year over year growth in the channel. In 2009, Foot Locker recorded 4 million product views on its mobile site up from only 60,000 in 2008. Management remains focused on building fully functional, mobile commerce as part of its multi-channel selling proposition. 

 

MORNING NEWS

 

PUMA Acquires Cobra Golf - Puma signed an agreement to acquire 100% of the golf equipment brand Cobra Golf from Acushnet Company, the golf business of Fortune Brands, Inc. The acquisition includes the Cobra brand as well as related inventory, intellectual property and endorsement contracts and is subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. "Through the acquisition of Cobra Golf, we reinforce PUMA's commitment to our sports performance business by strengthening our growing and successful Golf category," said Jochen Zeitz, Chairman and Chief Executive of PUMA. "Cobra Golf has a history of innovative performance products fused with an edge and is therefore a perfect fit for PUMA, reinforcing our overall mission of becoming the most desirable Sportlifestyle company. With Cobra Golf, PUMA will capitalize on the many opportunities in the Golf category and upside potential ahead of us." In a separate statement, Acushnet announced plans to continue to provide services for an agreed upon period of time beyond the closing of the sale to facilitate a seamless transition.  Services such as production, distribution, field sales and customer service will ensure that Acushnet Company's Cobra trade accounts and golfers continue to receive industry-leading service during this transition period.   <sportsonesource.com>

 

Men's Wearhouse Sets 100-Plus Tux Store Closures - The Men’s Wearhouse will close more than 100 tuxedo rental stores as customers have proven that they prefer to shop in a Men’s Wearhouse store. In a conference call Wednesday following its report of a fourth-quarter loss, George Zimmer, founder and chief executive officer of the Houston-based men’s wear retailer, said: “What we’ve been experiencing since the acquisition [of After Hours] over three years ago is that customers would rather shop in a regular Men’s Wearhouse store than a Men’s Wearhouse and Tux store when given the choice.”  So when the stores are located within close proximity — about a mile or less — the tuxedo rental store will close. “There are hundreds of these stores that are very close to each other and there are about 145 stores that we have right now that we think should probably close when their leases expire or before,” Zimmer said. About 35 such stores have already been shuttered, he noted, stressing that the closures are “going to strengthen our business as opposed to weaken it because we have such a high rate of recapture. Most of those customers are just going to the nearest Men’s Wearhouse store.” And when they get there, he said, it “will provide us the opportunity to sell additional product to those rental customers.” <wwd.com>

 

Wal-Mart Restores 300 Items After Store Visits Fall - Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, returned about 300 items to its U.S. stores after their removal last year hurt shopper traffic. Wal-Mart restored some flavors and package sizes of food products and other consumable goods, even though they didn’t sell well when they were previously on the shelves, Bill Simon, chief operating officer of U.S. stores, said today. The items accounted for a small percentage of the merchandise varieties the retailer removed last year, he said. Narrowing the selections of products such as brown rice disappointed customers who could no longer find the size they were accustomed to buying, Simon told analysts at a conference sponsored by Bank of America in New York. As a result, some customers didn’t shop as often, he said. “What we did discontinue were things that didn’t sell well and were only bought infrequently but cost us a trip,” Simon said. “We disappointed them by taking them out, and we put them back in.” U.S. store remodelings also hurt traffic, he said. <bloomberg.com>

 

Rosenthal to Succeed Newsome as Hibbett's CEO - Hibbett Sports' long-time Chairman and CEO Mickey Newsome will give up the CEO's job and be replaced by the chain's Chief Operating Officer Jeffry O. Rosenthal. Newsome will become executive chairman. Both moves are effective March 15, 2010. Newsome stated, "I am pleased to announce Jeff Rosenthal has been named Chief Executive Officer of the company. I have worked closely with Jeff over the last 12 years; first in his role as vice president of merchandising and marketing, and most recently as president and COO. His extraordinary leadership and 29 years experience in the sporting goods industry have been key contributors to the success and growth of Hibbett Sports. As Executive Chairman, I look forward to working with Jeff as we continue to add value for both our shareholders and our associates." <sportsonesource.com>

 

Gilt's Growth Model - Gilt works because it’s creating a new model, one that is only possible online, believes Gilt chief executive officer Susan Lyne. That’s a useful lesson for any company, not only those in private sales, she said. The company in the past has projected it will do sales of $500 million in 2010. Meanwhile, it has more than 2 million members, has sold 700 brands to date and employs more than 350 people. The company puts up new stores each day, which could not happen in the brick-and-mortar world. Because quantities are limited, stock sells out fast. “That urgency and sense of competition has been a big factor in our success,” said Lyne. “It’s part shopping, but also part gaming, part entertainment.” While not all retailers can get into online private sales, they can all benefit from newness and think about appointment and event shopping, she said. In a typical week, Gilt processes 46,000 orders and speaks directly to 9,000 customers. Forty-eight percent of sales occur within the first hour of any sale. The fastest time any sale sold out was one hour and 12 minutes. About 100,000 people visit Gilt from noon to 1 p.m. each weekday. The store started with women’s ready-to-wear and quickly branched into men’s, children’s, home and travel, and it recently added art. Gilt Noir targets the top 10 percent of Gilt customers with ultraexclusive merchandise. Gilt might go into more mass-oriented sales, but not under the Gilt name, she said. <wwd.com>

 

EBay Ramps Up Fashion Offering - Fashion is moving into a brighter spotlight at eBay. During her forum presentation, Sandra Lin, general manager of eBay Inc.’s clothing, shoes and accessories category, outlined how the online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers is looking to offer its client base more exclusive fashions in the future. She also disclosed how the online giant identifies the different types of shoppers among the 20 million active buyers who regularly connect with some 6 million sellers on the site. Those interactions, she said, offer the company useful insights into consumer trends — from the categories being searched to the type of products and brands consumers are responding to. “We are really looking forward to leveraging the assets that we have in order to capture what we think are additional opportunities in this space and grow those opportunities,” Lin said. “To get there, we always start with the customer, trying to understand who the customer is, who the online buyer is and how is it that we can really tap into their needs.” Lin pointed to the week prior, when eBay registered 80,000 searches for Coach, 58,000 for Ralph Lauren, 18,000 for Tory Burch and 19,000 for Puma. The company can also analyze the types of items that are in demand, typically ranging from handbags to shoes and vintage clothes, but, depending on the climate, can see a rise in rain boots, for instance.  <wwd.com>

 

Dealing with Cross Channeling - How can e-commerce help traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and vice versa? A panel — moderated by Julian Chu, general manager, online retailing for Puma North America, and consisting of Ken Weil, Camuto Group’s senior vice president, e-commerce, and Ronit Weinberg, Diane von Furstenberg’s vice president, e-commerce and online marketing — tackled the idea of cross-channeling, and how online and offline retail can complement each other and enhance the brand experience. For traditional wholesale companies, moving into direct retail through their Web sites can be an adjustment. Camuto Group manufactures shoes for labels like Tory Burch, Lucky Brand and BCBG, holds the master license for Jessica Simpson and owns the Vince Camuto brand, named for its founder. In addition to wholesaling several lines, the company retails the Jessica Simpson and Vince Camuto brands online. Weinberg cited cross-channeling and cross-technology as key challenges today, which includes “working with our off-line stores and having them embrace the technology out there to grow their customer base,” she said.  <wwd.com>

 

IT Holding Plans More Layoffs - IT Holding SpA has reached an agreement with unions to cut about 450 jobs as part of the restructuring of the group. “It was a painful but necessary decision, and a significant step to clearly define the structure of the group in view of a sale,” said Andrea Ciccoli, one of the three state-appointed administrators. IT Holding, parent company of the Gianfranco Ferré, Malo and Exté brands and of manufacturing arm Ittierre SpA, has been in government-backed bankruptcy protection since February 2009. In October, IT Holding was granted temporary and partial state-funded support for about 220 employees. “We have moved from a temporary measure to a structural redesign of the group,” said Ciccoli. In addition to those 220 workers, who have already exited the company, another 230 will leave in the next four to eight weeks. IT Holding is eligible for the state-financed support because it employs more than 15 people and because its bankruptcy is backed by the government. Some employees could be rehired if conditions improve, but that is not often the case.  <wwd.co>

 

Tracking the Spenders - The economy has stabilized, but we are not in expansion mode. What was down is up and what was up is down now versus in late 2008 when the economy halted after Lehman Brothers collapsed. That’s good news for women’s apparel and luxury. This is the view from MasterCard’s SpendingPulse, a controlled panel of retail activity in the U.S. that is available as a reporting service. The reports are based on credit card transactions and other data. In late 2008, people stopped buying anything that cost more than $500, said Michael McNamara, vice president of MasterCard SpendingPulse. Furniture alone contracted about 20 percent. At the end of the first quarter last year, the economy stabilized. Now sales are generally positive, and the areas that are doing best are those that were previously hard-hit. A few relevant statistics: 

• Apparel sales were up 0.6 percent in January. 

• Luxury goods — defined as the top 10 percent of average ticket size in a category — were up 8.1 percent in January. 

• Department stores were down 2.7 percent. 

• Jewelry was up 3.5 percent. 

• Electronics was up 9 percent. 

• Furniture was up 1.5 percent. 

Meanwhile, previously strong categories such as gasoline, tires, auto repair and fast food are down.  <wwd.com


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