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July19, 2010

Mall owners are cutting one year deals to keep vacancy rates from rising.  Retailers are taking the deals to keep volumes up and closures low.  Something may have to give if demand dries up, but for now this may be a win/win for both landlord and the tenant.


We spent some time late last week speaking with FinishLine’s CFO discussing amongst many things, rent.  With Finish Line operating 667 stores, almost all of them in malls, we found the insights telling. CFO, Ed Wilheim, highlighted that landlords are becoming more amenable to re-up 1-year deals at locations that were on the cusp of being closed.  The net effect here is not necessarily more openings, but meaningfully less closures and of course a shortening of lease duration.  While some may be delaying inevitable closures, the reality is this also gives retailers the opportunity to keep volumes at a fairly low cost.  If the environment turns decidedly worse, then we would expect these one year deals to expire with closings. 

Wilheim also noted that the offset to the short-term deals is a less substantial concession on rents themselves, although the costs are generally below pre-recession levels.  Bottom line here is the option to live another day (year) for retailers and mall owners is a win/win for the near-term as long as the demand equation remains status quo.  Clearly the attempt to stem increasing vacancy rates appears to be priority #1 for property owners, especially in light of recent data which suggests vacancies are now at ten year highs.

R3: View From a Mall Tenant - regional mall real estate trends


-A study by Pew Research suggests consumers remain frugal, with 62% of Americans saying they cut back on spending since the recession began in December ’07. Just 6% are spending more over the same time frame. Interestingly, 31% of respondents said they plan to spend less than when the recession began while 12% plan to spend more.


-According to the BrandIndex report, a survey which tracks the most “buzzed” about brands, Lowe’s and Crocs are on the list for the most improved (over the April-June timeframe). The index which measures brand perception, placed Lowes at spot #7 and Crocs at #10 for improvement vs. the prior three months. There were the only two retail or footwear brands on the list. Toyota, Dairy Queen, and SeaWorld rounded out the top three.


- After three years of lackluster air conditioner sales, this summer is shaping up to be one of the best selling seasons in years. While no widespread shortages are reported yet, retailers are expected to sell through inventories this year with very little, if any clearance product. While the heat has created substantial demand, it’s interesting to note that supply, as measured by shipments was down 5.7% going into the season versus a 36% decline in the prior year.


Taubmans Offers Insights on Malls and Real Estate - The Taubmans have a positive outlook on luxury and consumers and contend the draw of a mall, even in the age of the Internet, is still strong. Robert Taubman, chairman, president and ceo said, “We see people with pent-up demand. We have really seen fundamental growth for the first time in a number of years in our fashion category apparel.” Apparel is still the core of the regional mall, he said, adding that luxury concepts are starting to expand again. “There’s clearly been some downward pressure on rents,” he said. “As sales recover, rents will recover as well, though there’s always some lag. There are currently more vacancies, but not materially. There is no permanent disruption to the fundamentals. Women’s retailing represents north of 30% of the Taubman portfolio. Fashion, including women’s, men’s and kids, is about 50%. Is the percentage shifting? Not materially. You see a little more electronics in the mall because of the growth of Apple and Microsoft rolling out. You have more food in the malls. On the other hand, books, records and toys have fallen. Home has also fallen, but not a lot.”  <wwd.com/business-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  A very optimistic view here that fails to mention that mall vacancies overall are at decade high levels, at about 9%.  For reference, this is just about double the historical run rate we saw  over the past 10 years.

Kantar Retail Report Sentiment Declines on the Margin - Consumers' plans to increase spending during the next four weeks declined by 1% while plans to decrease spending increased by the same percentage, reports Kantar Retail. The consumer tracking service attributes the pull back to the Gulf oil spill and stalled job market. Kantar Retail's poll found that 56% of consumers feel affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the reporting service says its month-to-month comparisons show signs of waning in credit-card debt, long-term debt and worth of investments. For the upcoming back-to-school season, Kantar Retail reports that 23% of consumers plan to shop versus 30% who did in July 2009. The majority of shoppers surveyed said they will focus their BTS spending for supplies at Walmart (64%) and Target (47%), while apparel purchases will span a wider range of retailers, including Walmart (37%), Target (33%), Kohl's (32%) and JCPenney (27%). <licensemag.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Interesting point on the Gulf region, which has yet to show up in the numbers.  We do expect however, the negative impact in the region from the spill to begin to catch up with retail results in the coming months. 

London Retail Sales See Strongest Growth Since 2006 in June - Retail sales in central London in June were 14.4% higher on a like-for-like basis than a year ago, when sales had risen 3.5%. <brc.org.uk>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Certainly counter to the overall trends in the UK which remain weak. Perhaps World Cup kits coupled with optimism for the national team were enough to actually move the needle.  Unfortunately, the Cup only takes place once every four years.

Middle East Retail Pulse - Fashion brands point to positive trends in the region, including the return of tourists, particularly in Dubai. Wealthy Chinese are streaming in — picking up the slack from fewer Russian visitors — shoring up a fast-growing destination for Europe’s luxury players even though business isn’t near pre-recession levels. Hermès, which operates five stores in the region, is to open in Beirut, Lebanon, on July 30, with three more stores on the way over the next two years in Kuwait. De la Renta will open three boutiques in the next 18 months. Van Cleef & Arpels, which owns stores in Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait, is to open a shop in Kuwait this month. Last week, Christian Louboutin was in Beirut to mark the opening of a 1,000-square-foot store and autograph his red-soled styles. Also last week, Louis Vuitton opened its first store in Beirut. Giorgio Armani put his stamp on the Dubai skyline in April, opening a 160-room hotel in the Burj Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest building.  <wwd.com/business-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Let’s not forget the Middle East is also a destination for US teen apparel as well.  Recall that American Eagle recently entered the region with stores in Kuwait and Dubai.

Burberry Push in China - Burberry is preparing a vigorous move on the Chinese market after sealing a deal to purchase its retail operations there for 70 million pounds in cash. “This is the biggest deal we’ll do this year, and we’ve been in heavy dialogue about it for the past six months,” Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “Over the past 18 months, we have acquired control of our operations in the world’s four biggest emerging markets: the Middle East, India, Brazil and now China,” she said, adding that 10 new stores are in the pipeline for China this year. “And we are motoring ahead in all of them.” Burberry plans to double its store base from 50 stores to 100 in the medium-term. <wwd.com/retail-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Sounds like a race between Coach to see which brand can open stores the fastest.  With that said, taking direct control over the brand’s distribution is clearly the right move in an effort to grow the brand in one of the most promising emerging (luxury) markets.

NRF Calls Passage of Landmark Swipe Fee Fix Major Victory - Provisions in the financial services reform bill passed by the Senate Thursday requiring reasonable debit card swipe fees and making it easier for merchants to give discounts to customers who don't use credit cards represent a major victory for retailers and consumers in their fight against card fees. <sportsonesource.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  The real question now is where the savings show up.  We’re leaning towards reinvestment in price, although the basis point savings is unlikely to be large enough to drive price elasticity.

Wal-Mart Launches Sleepwear Line in October - Norma Kamali will launch her first line of sleepwear on walmart.com Oct. 10. The sleepwear, which eventually will be sold in stores, joins other apparel and accessories categories such as dresses, outerwear, sweaters and skirts that Kamali has been designing as a lifestyle brand for Wal-Mart since 2007 under her name. The capsule collection of eight styles, rendered in a butter-soft blend of cotton and Modal, is sized for both the contemporary misses’ customer in sizes XS to XXL and a modern plus-size line in 1X to 3X. Suggested retail for the average-size line is $8 to $12, and the plus-size group is $9 to $14. <wwd.com/retail-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Nothing wrong with line extensions, but with the merchant organization in flux we suspect there are changes on the way as it pertains to exclusive vs. national brands.  Norma Kamali sleepwear is certainly something that is not a game changer, either way.

Sports Authority Selects Allurent to Boost Ecommerce - Sports Authority has selected Allurent on Demand to add interactive shopping experiences to their core ecommerce website (www.SportsAuthority.com) and other related brand sites. <sportsonesource.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  In advance of an IPO, sprucing up the website makes sense.  Unfortunately, a true “bricks and clicks” strategy is still elusive as long as GSI still runs the platform.

UK Brands Primark, Tesco and H&M To Investigate Alleged Unethical Factory Practices - Primark, Tesco and H&M have been lambasted after an investigation by the Daily Mail claimed that factories contracted by the high street retailers were exploiting its workers, in sweat shop conditions. <drapersonline.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Social responsibility continues to be top of mind for consumers, and something that can really crush a brand’s image if not addressed properly.  Bottom line, less sweatshops=inflation.

Victoria's Secret Reports Bedbugs at Lex and 58th Street Shop - The Manhattan bedbug infestation that recently forced units of Abercrombie & Fitch and its Hollister sister division to temporarily close their doors interrupted operations at another Columbus, Ohio-based retailer last week when the Victoria’s Secret store at Lexington Avenue and 58th Street was forced to shutter for several hours last Wednesday. VS parent Limited Brands Inc. would only say that it “immediately took action to resolve the situation” and a sales associate at the store declined to provide additional details. Media reports indicated that other Manhattan locations were tested for the problem, but no additional stores were closed. <wwd.com/retail-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Must be something in the Limited DNA.

Ebay, M-Commerce, and Fashion - Internet giant eBay Inc. has been making giant strides in m-commerce for a couple of years. Its strategy of late is to introduce an increasing number of mobile apps for specific product categories. Now it has debuted eBay Fashion, an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Shoppers can use the app to browse, search and buy items from a massive selection of new, designer, branded and vintage merchandise. The eBay Fashion iPhone app offers multiple features to help shoppers find a look and discover new styles, including:

  • A “personalized closet” allowing users to add, store and curate fashion finds in one place.
  • An outfit builder enabling users to mix and match items from their personalized closet.
  • Social media sharing functions so users can share fashion finds via Facebook, Twitter and e-mail.
  • The eBay Fashion Vault, which offers instant access to new, fixed-price clothing, shoes and accessories through exclusive, limited-time discounts on designer brands.
  • A virtual gallery showcasing the latest trends and fashions on the home screen in a slideshow format. Users tap the picture of an item they like to search for similar items available on eBay’s Marketplace.
  • A customized eBay account view from the fashion perspective through My eBay (Fashion), only displaying fashion listings to help users plan their wardrobes.

With more than 10 mm downloads of eBay’s core iPhone application, the company expects to generate $1.5 bn in sales through m-commerce in 2010. Apparel is eBay’s No. 1 mobile category in terms of items sold. <internetretailer.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:    Aside from m-commerce in general, the most interesting point here is Ebay’s continued efforts to sell “new” goods.  As the marketplace in the core business model is beginning to max out, Ebay is beginning to morph more and more into traditional first-cost retail.  Keep an eye on further strategic brand partnerships in which Ebay serves as a key distribution point for fashion apparel.