Forecasting Footwear: A Look at DSW and Shoe Carnival's 1Q08 Results

It's a holiday-shortened trading week, but there are a number of retailers reporting 1Q08 results in the coming days. We're going to take a look at a few footwear retailers today, as this has been one of the most volatile sectors in retailing over the past month and seen a fair amount institutional shareholder turnover.

DSW will report full 1Q08 results Thursday morning before the market opens and host a conference call at 8:00 am EST (Dial-in: 800-706-7748, Pwd: 70368480). Management already reported 1Q08 sales of $366M and a same-store sales decline of 5.4%, and introduced full-year EPS guidance ($0.75-$0.85) that fell well short of analyst expectations. The stock has been subsequently penalized by the market, falling from $15 to its current price in the low $13 range (16x-17x the midpoint of the fiscal 2009 guidance).

Generally speaking, when a retailer adjusts its earnings forecast in a quarterly sales release, there will be few surprises on the conference call to act as a catalyst for the stock. However, expectations for retailers are so low right now, even a modest earnings surprise can trigger a meaningful stock price appreciation.

Is there a chance that DSW beats the $0.24 consensus estimate? Possibly - the company employs a low-cost operating model and has a history of outperforming earnings expectations, even after reporting tepid sales figures. Markdown activity was relatively prominent during the quarter, but DSW stores usually take heavier discounts during 2Q as a part of the company's semi-annual clearance sale. Television advertising remains a key part of the company's marketing campaign, but we believe management has increasingly used its loyalty program to communicate with customers in a cost-efficient manner.

That being said, even if quarterly earnings were to surprise to the upside, we doubt that management will make any changes to its full-year earnings guidance (issued just a few weeks ago). Accordingly, we expect the stock will likely be range bound (up or down a few percentage points) following the conference call, barring any other significant company announcements

Investment recommendation: Using its historical trading range of 18x-23x forward earnings, DSW's stock appears relatively cheap at its current valuation. However, past multiples are less applicable in this environment, and we believe the current stock price reflects more realistic growth expectations. There are a number of reasons to like this company: a compelling "fashion at a value" consumer proposition; increasing brand awareness; a shift away from the "big white box" format to an aesthetically-pleasing layout that invokes similarities to Urban Outfitter's (NASDAQ: URBN) Anthropologie concept; exceptional merchandising personnel; and improved supply chain capabilities. But considering the challenges facing the footwear industry, including a lack of dominant fashion trends to drive customers into stores and rising Far East production costs, expect lackluster sales and earnings trends throughout 2008 and likely into 2009.

Unfortunately, there really isn't a clear-cut investment strategy for DSW. We remain upbeat on the company's overall business model and growth opportunities, but prospective investors need to have a longer investment horizon before considering a position in DSW. Short sellers may also want to look elsewhere, as the stock is already trading close to its trough valuation and may not offer enough downside risk.

Shoe Carnival (NASDAQ: SCVL)
Shoe Carnival is also set to release 1Q08 results on Thursday morning, with a conference call scheduled for 2:00 pm EST (Dial-in: 877-879-6209, Pwd: 2850426). Analysts forecast sales of $164.8M and earnings of $0.37 per share, according to Yahoo Finance.

In our opinion, the consensus estimates seem a bit aggressive. Based on 1Q08 sales results from Collective Brands (NYSE: PSS), Brown Shoe Company (NYSE: BWS), and DSW (NYSE: DSW), comparable store sales will likely be in the negative mid-single digit range. Assuming new store contribution rates remain relatively stable, we expect total 1Q08 sales will likely decline 3%-5% ($157-$161M). Merchandise margins should benefit from new urban-themed products from Nike, New Balance, and Rockport, increasing penetration of the skate category, and an expanding women's non-athletic portfolio. However, merchandise margin improvement should be more than offset by heavy promotional activity, rising Far East production costs, and the deleveraging effect of negative comps on buying, distribution and occupancy expenses. As such, we anticipate that 1Q08 EPS will also come in below the $0.37 Street estimate.

In February, management decided that it would discontinue quarterly and yearly earnings guidance, citing "difficulties in the economic environment and the uncertainty of the effect on consumer spending." Accordingly, there is a wide range of published estimates - the current FY09 consensus earnings estimate is $0.89 per share, but analysts project anywhere between $0.75 and $1.05. Management will likely provide some color regarding forward expectations on Thursday's conference call, but it is unlikely that they provide an official guidance range. If the company's earnings miss (even by a modest amount), we believe the revised estimates will gravitate toward the low-end of Street range. Using the current forward earnings multiple of approximately 14x, this would imply a new stock value in the mid $10 range - a sharp discount to the present stock price.

Investment recommendation: Longer-term, we view Shoe Carnival as an attractive investment vehicle. Though it is known largely for its child-friendly shopping environment, the company has taken great strides in recent years to refine its assortment, including a greater emphasis on higher-margin women's footwear. The company has also added new merchandising talent to bolster other categories, and inventory management practices remain a strong suit. With just under 300 stores, we believe there is also ample room for new store growth (including entry into several high growth western U.S. markets). We attribute much of the current sluggishness to macroeconomic and cyclical footwear industry issues - not company-specific factors - and we believe investors with a
three-to-five year horizon will be rewarded.

However, we would wait to initiate or add to positions until after Thursday's results. In fact, given the potential downside risk that we outlined above, the stock could be an intriguing short opportunity for those investors willing to take on a bit more risk. The stock has already retreated from a recent high of $15 in early May, but could fall further after a lackluster earnings report later this week.

Employee of The Consumer Stock Network, LLC is a member of the Board of directors or an advisor or officer of the Subject Companies. No
Analyst or household of analyst is a member on Board of Directors or serves as an officer, director or advisory board member of the Subject Companies.
Analyst or household of analyst owns shares in Subject Companies. No
Analyst or household of analyst owns options warrants, or futures in Subject Companies.

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