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August 13, 2010

With all the major department stores having reported 2Q earnings, it’s clear that inventory positions are heading south.  A look at the SIGMA overlay sums it up.





With all the major department stores having reported 2Q earnings, we overlayed their SIGMA charts to see what the state of the industry looks like.  Without exception, all four companies saw EBIT expansion and inventory management erode sequentially.  Very simply put, inventory management (as defined by the spread between sales growth and inventory growth) has hit the wall.  JCP is faring the worst on this metric, as the company sets up for a slowing top-line against growing inventory. KSS still appears to be managing its business with the most discipline, but SG&A investments leave the P&L with little room for error (and leverage on sales, at least for the next two quarters).

While we have been cautious on those that are reliant on mall traffic to drive top-line (vs. those that can drive sales via product innovation or fashion), we believe this is further confirmation that tough compares, lackluster demand, and building inventories could and should lead to earnings risk over the back half.  In the near-term, we expect promotional cadence to pick up as retailers have become accustomed to managing risk on a very short time frame.  Additionally, we expect to see increased volatility in both sentiment and fundamentals as the Street looks to grasp onto every data point trying to gage promotional activity, tax-free holiday impact, and overall traffic levels.  The bottom line is that inventories look heavier than we’ve seen in over a year relative to expected demand.

R3: Heading South - JCP KSS JWN M 8 10

- Eric Levine, Director


  • Kohl’s noted that its private and exclusive brands outperformed significantly during 2Q with overall penetration increasing by 300 bps year over year to 49.1%. The company’s three largest brands Apt 9, Croft & Barrow, and Sonoma combined for a 20% increase. Major exlcusive brands including Vera Wang, Food Network, and Elle were up over 30%.
  • Keep an eye out for a collaboration between two iconic brands, Peanuts and Lacoste. The two are joining forces in the fall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip with an apparel offering. We suspect this is just the beginning of a big year for Peanuts, with both new ownership and the birthday celebration underway.
  • After declaring intentions to be the largest specialty apparel retailer in the world and signing one of the most expensive 5th Avenue leases in history, UNIQLO is on the prowl for additional Manhattan sites. Word has it the Japanese value priced retailer has signed a lease for a 34th St location. New York remains the only domestic market for the brand.


More Footwear Production Shifts to the Indonesia As Labor Cost Rise Elsewhere - A number of athletic footwear brands have shifted part of their production to Indonesia this year as production costs in other parts of the world has been increasing, according to the Indonesian Footwear Association. These brands include Asics, Mizuno and New Balance. Indonesia exported $1.8 bn worth of goods in 2009 and he expected the figure will increase to $2 bn this year. Meanwhile, Adidas, which has also been aggressively expanding production in Indonesia, said the country, its third-biggest supplier, offered “abundant labor availability, good quality, competitive prices and political stability.” Although production here is growing rapidly, the company said the expansion will not happen at the expense of its top suppliers, China and Vietnam.  <fashionnetasia.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:   Indonesia continues to be the single biggest beneficiary of rising costs in China and Vietnam for its footwear manufacturing base.  Expect to see this shift continue until capacity maxes out and wage inflation begins to creep into this manufacturing base as well.


US International Trade Commission To Clear Tariffs on Woven Ribbon Imports from China and Taiwan - The U.S. International Trade Commission voted Thursday to clear the way for punitive tariffs to be imposed on woven ribbons imported from China and Taiwan, in the first trade remedy case involving textile products from China since quotas were lifted at the end of 2008. The vote concluded an investigation that determined China illegally subsidized and dumped “narrow woven ribbon with woven selvage” into the U.S. market. Taiwan was found to have dumped woven ribbon into the U.S. market. The products covered by the ruling include certain woven ribbon used for embellishing apparel and footwear or for decorative uses like gift wrapping. <wwd.com/business-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Sounds like we may see more gifts wrapped with ribbon this year than ever.


Talbots Continues to Change it Up - “They’ve become a bit of a hindrance for attracting new customers. They see the red door — they think it’s their grandmother’s store,” said Trudy F. Sullivan, president and CEO of Talbots, who for three years has been leading a turnaround of the chain, long a predictable mainstay in malls and on main streets across America. There’s been little left untouched aside from keeping the classic appeal aimed at women 40 and older. Talbots’ major shareholder switched from Aeon in Japan to BPW Acquisition in the U.S. through a merger completed in April, changing the board and ownership and deleveraging the company with $420 million in debt paid down. The chain also established a $200 million credit facility with G.E. and has doubled the capital expenditure budget to $40 million this year for upgrading stores, information technologies and the Web site. Earlier, the store count and corporate staff were reduced; the J. Jill division was sold, and the kids’ and men’s categories were discontinued. In addition, the two big annual clearances were dropped in favor of taking less dramatic markdowns monthly to keep inventories cleaner and to sustain a steadier flow of merchandise. The apparel sourcing switched to an exclusive partnership with Li & Fung, saving costs and speeding product development, though Talbots still does all its own design and recruited a chief creative officer, Michael Smaldone, to focus the fashion and sharpen the image. The result: Styles are chicer, with shapelier fits such as sleeker pants with lower rises for a younger look, though the collection is still considered classic and traditional but with added twists and embellishments. <wwd.com/retail-news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:   If successful, this strategy to lower the average age of the core Talbots customer will go down as one of the more impressive brand positioning in specialty retail.  All eyes are on the fall, which will offer the best read to-date on whether merchandising and marketing changes are taking hold.


Texas Gets A Boost From Better Beaches than Oil Filled Louisianna and Mississippi - Texas beach towns are getting a boost from the BP Plc oil spill as Gulf Coast vacationers head west because of concerns about crude-contaminated beaches in Louisiana and Mississippi.  Room rentals at beach hotels in Galveston, Corpus Christi and South Padre rose 5.2 percent in the second quarter from the same period last year, according to the tourism division at the governor’s office in Austin, Texas. “If anything, we have benefitted from the disaster,” said Edith Fischer, director of tourism at the Brazosport Chamber of Commerce. The Gulf region could lose $22.7 billion in tourism dollars over three years from effects of the spill, a study commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association found. Florida would be the hardest hit because it’s so dependent on beach tourism, the study said.  <bloomberg.com/news>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Not a bad trade off for retailers with a heavy TX presence. 


Levi's Introduces Curve ID - Levi's introduced a new women's jeans line this week, Curve ID, via a campaign from Wieden + Kennedy that pitches the product with ads that declare, "All asses were not created equal." The campaign, says the agency, is a rallying cry to women everywhere that, as the ad copy notes, "hotness really does come in all shapes and sizes." A gatefold ad that features three women in different cuts, Slight Curve, Demi Curve and Bold Curve, tells women that "we should be able to go into stores and find jeans that fit us instead of having to fit into the jeans." The line was created as a result of research that included more than 60,000 body scans of women around the world and designed to fit three universal body types. "Since we created our first women's jeans 75 years ago, no one has changed the formula for finding the perfect fit," said You Nguyen, svp, women's merchandising and design for Levi's. "Our revolutionary approach looks beyond waist size to address the true curves of a women's entire body." Levi's global survey found that more than half of women, 54 percent, try on at least 10 pairs of jeans to find one pair they would buy; most women, 87 percent, wish they could find jeans that fit better than the ones they own; most women, 67 percent, believe that jeans are designed for women with "ideal" figures; and few women, 28 percent, believe that jeans are designed to fit their bodies. <brandweek.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Leave it to Levi’s to come up with a buzzworthy marketing campaign about once every three to four years.  This one certainly has the chance to be a head turner. 


Marks & Spencer Opens Vital Lines of Credit for Suppliers - M&S is working with high street banks HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to open up vital lines of credit for its suppliers after extending its settlement terms. The UK’s largest clothing retailer has used its clout and established relationships with the banks to negotiate preferential lending rates for its 860 general merchandise suppliers who want to borrow against their M&S sales invoices to ease their cash flow. Landed or full-service vendors (FSV), those which manufacture stock and deliver it to the UK for the retailer, have had payment terms increased from four to five weeks. The payment term changes will have a negative impact on suppliers’ cash flow at a time when there is a general lack of trade credit insurance availability on supplier orders. However, M&S’s Vendor Financing Scheme with the banks will offset this when it comes into effect on new orders on September 1.The decision to extend the settlement terms will also bring in millions of pounds in liquidity for M&S. <drapersonline.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:   Financial engineering of the supplier/retailer inventory pipeline sounds risky at best.  Yes, this might be the only alternative, but perhaps cutting inventories and managing risk against a small topline is the safer way to go.


UK Plus-Sized Womenswear Grows - Sales of plus-sized womenswear have soared 45% in the UK over the past five years, putting the market on track to reach £3.8bn this year. Research by consumer research firm Mintel showed that almost a quarter of UK women wear clothes in a size 18 or over. Plus-sized womenswear chain Evans is the latest retailer to cash in on the growing market. The 260-store retailer, which is part of Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, is poised to target overweight teens with the introduction of exclusive ranges from around five young fashion obrands in selected stores and online. The retailer is expected to roll out an ecommerce site for the offer under a standalone name, although the name and launch date have yet to be decided. <drapersonline.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Sounds like a mirror image of the US.  Unfortunately, domestic retailers have yet to profitably capitalize on the obesity trend in a meaningful way.


Consumers Slow to Use Mobile For Shopping? - More than a third of all U.S. mobile consumers, about 80 million consumers, will use their mobile phones to help them shop this holiday season, but many won’t complete the purchase through the mobile channel, according to a new PriceGrabber.com survey.The survey of more than 1,100 consumers with web-enabled phones found that 32% felt the purchase process on their smartphone took too much time; 26% indicated transactions were too difficult to complete; 19% said products were too difficult to find; and 10% said their phones didn’t support secure credit card transactions. For others (16%), the roadblock was that they didn’t know how to make a purchase via mobile. However, many of those obstacles can be overcome, according to e-commerce technology provider MarketLive Inc. In its report, “Mobile Marketing for the Holidays,” MarketLive suggests retailers create a mobile gift guide with a streamlined selection of popular products, including gift cards.  <internetretailer.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Enter the Ipad. 


Akami Helps Retailers Nab Higher Online Conversion Rates - Akamai Technologies Inc. compared the retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide using its services versus those that do not and found Akamai customers experienced a 33% higher conversion rate on average. Akamai says it works with 260 retailers on the Internet Retailer Top 500 list. The HomeDepot.com, No. 39 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, says it has experienced a 30% increase in conversion rates since it began using Akamai’s Dynamic Site Accelerator service. Dynamic acceleration delivers changing, non-cacheable content such as inventory more quickly to retail web sites by serving it to web site visitors who request it via a nearby Akamai portal. <internetretailer.com>

Hedgeye Retail’s Take:  Yet another reason why e-commerce continues to experience solid, above average growth.  Technological innovations today have even the playing field where at one time e-commerce leaders such as Amazon had a substantial competitive advantage based on technology alone.