VF’s Quarter; Outdoor and Action Sports Continue to Lead, But…

There are, to my way of thinking, three main points to be made about VF’s September 30 quarter. The first is that the Outdoor & Action Sports (OAS) segment revenues as reported rose 6.43%. Excluding a $32 million foreign exchange gain, the increase was 4.7%. Jeanswear was up 3.89% as reported and the other segments (Imagewear, Sportswear, Contemporary Brands, and Other) were basically flat for the quarter.  Excluding foreign currency changes, OAS reported an operating loss of $1.7 million.  There are good, even positive, reasons why, and I’ll discuss them below.  But I still don’t like it.

OAS includes, as you know, Vans, The North Face, Timberland and Reef. Don’t forget it also includes Jansport, Kipling, Smartwool, Eastpak, Eagle Creek, Lucy and Napapijri. I’d suggest you take a minute to check out VF’s web site and see where those other brands are positioned. I found it kind of interesting as I continue to think about the junction of action sports, youth culture, outdoor and fashion.
 
The second point is the wonderfulness of a strong balance sheet. VF spends some time in their conference call discussing some additional investments they are going to make. As CEO Eric Wiseman puts it, “…we think a challenging environment is the ideal time to upshift and hit the gas pedal a bit harder on marketing and product initiatives, supporting and helping to drive traffic to our wholesale partners, and of course, our own Direct-to-Consumer business by strengthening our connection with consumers, and creating even more meaningful engagement with our brands is key to our long-term success.”
 
He goes on to discuss how they’ve done this before, and that they are going to spend an additional $30 million in the fourth quarter and a total of $40 million extra in the second half, 80% on OAS and most of that focused on Vans, The North Face and Timberland. It’s also “…about 70% positioned outside the U.S. and heavily D2C weighted…”   He acknowledges that’s $0.25 a share, but that they will still be on plan. One of VF’s strengths, to my way of thinking, is their capacity (and financial ability) to take the longer term view while accommodating the quarterly requirements of a public company.
 
Third, VF projects a rigorous, consistent, but flexible management approach to running their businesses. That’s not to say that things don’t go wrong and they don’t make mistakes (though you generally don’t read about them in the earnings press release or conference call unless they’re whoopers). But it sounds like (and it’s sounded this way for a while) there’s a consensus as to goals and objectives among the management team and hopefully the employees that creates efficiencies. There is, at the risk of oversimplifying, institutional knowledge off what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” for the brands and the company. That is a powerful competitive advantage not easily come by.  I see this discipline, for example, in a balance sheet where inventory actually dropped a bit in spite of the sales increase.
 
The problem comes when that institutional consensus and momentum needs to be changed but is so stubbornly imbedded it won’t change. Then you become JC Penney. That’s just a general comment- not an expectation for VF.
 
Total revenues for the quarter rose 4.7% from $3.15 to $3.3 billion.  Net income rose from $381 million to $434 million.  Across all segments, international rose 7% to represent 40% of the total, and direct to consumer was up 14% to 40% of the total. $32 million of the revenue increase came from foreign currency translation. OAS, at $1.97 billion, represented 60% of the total. Jeans wear was an additional 23% of the total.
 
The gross margin increased 0.9% during the quarter from 46.7% to 47.6%. “The higher gross margins…reflect lower product costs and the continued shift in our revenue mix towards higher margin businesses, including Outdoor & Action Sports, international and direct-to-consumer.”
 
“Selling, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of total revenues increased 40 basis points during the third quarter…primarily resulting from increased investments in marketing and direct-to-consumer, partially offset by the leverage of operating expenses on higher revenues.”
 
OAS’s operating profit for the quarter was $421 million or 21% of revenues. It grew 1.94%. In last year’s quarter it was $413 million. Of that increase of $8.2 million, there was actually a $9.9 million currency translation gain. Ignoring the currency gain, OAS had an operating loss of $1.7 million for a quarter. Hmmmm.
 
They provide the following additional detail on the OAS results;
 
“The North Face ®, Vans ® and Timberland ® brands achieved global revenue growth of 3%, 16% and 2%, respectively. U.S. revenues for the third quarter increased 5% and were negatively impacted by retailer caution and a calendar shift for key retailers, which pushed approximately $40 million of shipments [mostly the North Face] from the third quarter into the fourth quarter of 2013. International revenues rose 8%, reflecting growth in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas (non-U.S.).”
 
The additional demand generation expenses and calendar shift had a meaningful impact and OAS results for the quarter would look better without them.
 
It would be particularly interesting to see what kind of revenues and operating income other brands in VF’s OAS segment were generating, but I guess there’s no chance of that. I’d settle for just a little information on Reef.
 
VF has growth in OAS and jeans, but its other segments are flat on a quarter over quarter basis. One quarter, of course, doesn’t mean much. It looks like OAS is running into some headwinds that have to do with a difficult economy, but then so are most other companies. There’s also the fact that their success with Vans, just as one example, means that the percentage increases they could generate in the past will be harder to come by. That’s just the law of large numbers.
 
Even given the reasonable and even positive explanations, I find the operating loss in OAS, excluding foreign exchange, interesting and I’ll be watching that in future quarters.