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August 02, 2010

I think that the ‘RL vs. COH’ argument is more interesting now than ever. With both companies reporting earnings this week, there are some important financial and sentiment considerations.


Lew vs. Ralph

My inbox has had more inquiries than usual lately about the merit of owning RL vs. COH, with more people leaning towards COH. I don’t get it. There are a few considerations…

1)      To start, an important note from a sentiment perspective. General interest in RL has cooled off dramatically over 6-months. One of the reasons, I think, is that with the consolidation of licenses (China, etc…) and the shift in mix towards Int’l shop-in-shop, retail, and dot.com, the model has become so dang complex. Seriously…people are losing interest.

2)      Second, the reality on RL is that as it takes control of its distribution globally, and shifts from a wholesale/licensed model to a global direct-to-consumer model over multiple categories and price points, gross margin has a natural tailwind. Take dot.com for example. It is only $200mm in revenue today, but with a 75% gross margin. RL has not yet even turned on its dot.com platform in Europe or Asia, which could add another $200-$300mm in revenue and $150mm-$225mm in EBIT over 3 years. Yes, that’s $1.00-$1.50 per share alone.

3)      As it relates to Coach, I won’t debate that it’s a good brand. We all know that it is, and that the company executed flawlessly over the 10-years subsequent to its spin out of Sara Lee.  But keep in mind that this was, in large part, driven by increased unit purchases by the core consumer while Coach consistently traded her up in price point. People look at recent Gross Margin performance and think that GM% is bottoming out. But the reality is that before the ‘trade up effect’ took place, Coach’s Gross Margin rate was in the mid-50s. Now it is 72% and continues to roll-over.  Moreover, Coach is trading down in key areas to fuel its top line, and although they appear to be doing so in a way that is not hurting the brand, the reality is that when price point goes down, unit sale requirements go up to keep the top line even. In this global economy, that’s a challenge.

4)      Are margins going back to the mid-50s for COH? No. I don’t think so. But are they headed to the mid-60s? My sense is Yes.   Regardless, as long as the chart below exists, the ‘Coach is cheap’ argument doesn’t hold much water.

5)      With RL, will it’s margins ever converge with those of COH? No. The reality is that even with its geographic, channel, and product expansion, it still is primarily an apparel company, which cannot sustain 60%+ margins. But what I can say is that a) margins are headed higher over the near term, b) revenue should reaccelerate in 2011 (Mar), and ultimately, consensus estimates for RL are way too low for the quarter and the year. (I’m at $1.12 for the quarter and $5.70 for the year vs. the consensus at $0.89 and $4.68, respectively). Is it possible that RL hides some EPS this quarter in its model as a buffer for its Asia business as the year progresses? Yes. But even if it does that, we’re looking at a 1Q11 EPS number above a buck (12% above consensus).

R3: Lew vs. Ralph - RL image



The New Norm of Consumer Behavior? - Several recent research reports on consumer sentiment and shopping behavior show that Americans are not ready to open their wallets any wider this year than last. Nearly half of the people polled by BIGresearch disagreed or strongly disagreed that a financial recovery is under way. Two-thirds of the 6,648 consumer polled said they had cut back on their credit card usage and 72.9% said they didn’t plan to return to how they used credit cards before the recession. AlixPartners found even gloomier sentiments: 70% of Americans said their economic situations were the same or worse than a year ago, and 83% expect to spend the same or less on non-essential purchases in the next 12 months. Almost two-thirds (63%) do not expect an economic recovery until 2012—or later. That percentage is strikingly higher than the firm’s previous surveys. To cope, consumers are resetting their spending behaviors and focusing on value. For example, they shop at more stores but realize they can leave without buying something. They have also widened their brand considerations.  <emarketer.com>

R3: Lew vs. Ralph - 2 

China Manufacturing Faces Slowdown, Not Meltdown - China’s July manufacturing data were the weakest in more than a year as the government clamped down on property speculation and investment in polluting and energy- intensive factories. A purchasing managers’ index released today by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics slid to 49.4 from 50.4 in June. A separate, government-backed PMI fell to 51.2 from 52.1, the Federation of Logistics and Purchasing reported yesterday. Fifty is the dividing line between expansion and contraction. Officials may delay raising interest rates from crisis levels as austerity measures and unemployment in advanced economies dim the outlook for exports.  <bloomberg.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: From a retail perspective, we’re looking at the relative spread between import costs from China and other Non-Japan Asia countries. These other countries know where their bread is buttered. They can’t set the tone in Asia. But those who arb the spread in costs vis/vis China will gain the most share. Translation = if you hear about China slowing (which our Macro team called 9 months ago) don’t discount other nations that will pick up the slack and pump product into our stores. 

Sports Participation Rankings of 2009

  • 1 Basketball, '09 PARTICIPATION 24 million, CHANGE FROM ’08: -8.6%
  • 2 Baseball, '09 PARTICIPATION 13.8 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -7.9%
  • 3 Outdoor Soccer, '09 PARTICIPATION 13.7 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -3.7%
  • 4 Touch Football, '09 PARTICIPATION 9 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -14.6%
  • 5 Slow-Pitch Softball, '09 PARTICIPATION 8.5 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -13.3%
  • 6 Court Volleyball, '09 PARTICIPATION 7.3 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -11.1%
  • 7 Tackle Football, '09 PARTICIPATION 6.8 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -11.7%
  • 8 Flag Football, '09 PARTICIPATION 6.6 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -10.4%
  • 9 Indoor Soccer, '09 PARTICIPATION 4.9 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: 3.7%
  • 10 Grass Volleyball, '09 PARTICIPATION 4.9 million, % CHANGE FROM ’08: -4.6%
  • Hedgeye Retail’s Take: These numbers are a year-old, but quite sad in that 9 of the top 10 sports in the US showed a meaningful decline in participation rates last year. I guess these statistics don’t count time played on a Wii.

Visa Steps Up Online Shopping Service With Rightcliq - Starting today, Visa Inc. gets serious in its battle with online giants like Google and PayPal for the loyalty of web shoppers. The world’s leading credit and debit card brand is launching a major marketing push for Rightcliq, the online shopping service it announced in March and has been testing ever since. Rightcliq provides an electronic wallet where consumers can store their payment card numbers—including those from Visa competitors like MasterCard and American Express. Visa is adding several other components as it tries to distinguish itself from competing online payment systems. They include:

  • Discount offers from participating merchants, some of them retailers that already work with the Visa Incentive Network, a targeted marketing system Visa introduced in 2005. About a third of the top 100 Internet retailers will be making offers at the outset, Visa says.
  • The ability to track in one place the delivery status of pending purchases, initially with the U.S. Postal Service, as well as to store online purchase history.
  • A browser plug in that will fill in personal and payment information on checkout pages.
  • A social component that allows consumers to drag images of products they’re considering from retailers’ web sites into a section of their Rightcliq accounts Visa calls My Wishspace and then to seek advice from their friends on those products via Facebook or e-mail.  <internetretailer.com>
  • Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Makes perfect sense.

Sears To Begin Home Delivery Services - Sears Holdings Corp., which earlier this month began offering to parts of the Chicago area home delivery of groceries, prescriptions and other items from its mygofer.com e-commerce site, plans to announce Tuesday that it will expand that home delivery option to merchandise sold in its marketplace. The option will initially be available to consumers in the Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C. and New York City areas. The service will also allow consumers to buy online at Sears.com but pick up the order directly from either the marketplace merchant's Store or Sears stores.  <internetretailer.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Great… the retailer that is more levered to the Housing Cycle than any other (yes, including Home Depot) is strengthening this bond further.

Hanes Can’t Get Enough of Michael Jordan - The basketball pro is yet again the star of new ads in an ongoing campaign for men's underwear, dubbed "Hanes Flight 23." The TV spots, breaking this week, mark phase two of a Hanes campaign—via The Martin Agency—that kicked off in May. The ads highlight new underwear with Comfort Flex waistbands, which are more stretchable waistbands now included in all Hanes men's briefs, boxers and boxer briefs. <brandweek.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: MJ’s relevance to the urban consumer with Nike’s Jordan brand is unquestionable. But I gotta wonder how long MJ’s pitchman status is a positive ROI for underwear.

Callaway Restructures Manufacturing/Distribution Processes - Callaway Golf Company announced a restructuring of its global operations to occur over the next 18 months. The initiative encompasses the reorganization of manufacturing and distribution centers located in Carlsbad, CA and Toronto, Canada; the creation of third-party logistics sites in Dallas, Texas, and Toronto; and the establishment of a new production facility in Monterrey, Mexico. <sportsonesource.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: ELY is taking down cost of manufacturing, as well as asset intensity of warehousing and delivery. If the quality of the clubs holds up throughout this, then this could be a massive event for ELY.

Footwear Firm Aetrex Worldwide Making Serious Waves - For Aetrex Worldwide, the next year will be one of many firsts. With sales already on the upswing, the roughly 60-year-old family business is planning a string of new initiatives, including its first concept store, a TV campaign and a line of toning shoes. CEO Larry Schwartz said 2010 has been encouraging. The Teaneck, N.J.-based company, known for its comfort footwear and accessories, experienced only single-digit growth in 2009 over 2008, but in June, business was up 20% from last year. And Schwartz said he expects similar growth through the year’s end. The company, whose warehouse can stock up to 300,000 pairs of shoes during peak periods, routinely fills orders for one or two pairs of shoes, as well as orthotics.  <wwd.com/footwear-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take: Great example of how toning is helping little brands redirect newfound capital into R&D.