K2 Plus 3 Equals 1

Sports equipment maker K2 (NYSE: KTO  ) went shopping again. It opened up its checkbook and announced it will buy three closely held ski-related companies: Volkl Sports Holding AG, Marker Group, and Marmot Mountain Ltd. This latest round of acquisitions by CEO Richard Heckmann joins a list of more than a dozen other sporting goods companies purchased over the last two years.

Like a kid collecting baseball cards, K2 has added Rawlings (a baseball equipment company), Worth (softball equipment), Brass Eagle and Worr Game Products (both paintball equipment companies), Shakespeare (fishing rods), Ex Officio (outdoor apparel), and RIDE (a snowboard maker) to its collection. Yet observers should not be surprised by Heckmann's acquisitiveness. When he was with US Filter, he oversaw the acquisition of some 260 companies in the 1990s before he eventually allowed the company itself to be sold to Vivendi SA in 1999 for $6.2 billion.

This deal continues a trend of consolidation in the sporting goods industry. Sports Authority (NYSE: TSA  ) merged with Gart Sports last year, and Russell (NYSE: RML  ) and Reebok (NYSE: RBK  ) have each acquired equipment companies. There are many small specialty manufacturers and a handful of large players. Heckmann's goal is to have K2 be the one-stop-shopping center for the industry. And to grow sales through acquisitions.

He seems to be hitting his goals. It's hard to walk into a sporting goods store these days and not buy a K2-related product. The company started out as a winter sports company and still has its own line of ski equipment. But with the acquisitions it's been making, it has quickly become a year-round company, though management still sees itself as a "first- and fourth-quarter company."

That may be changing. The company had previously anticipated a flat second quarter and holds to that, but is now raising guidance for the year. It expects sales to total $1.13 billion, or $0.86 per share, compared with previous estimates of $960 million, or $0.80 per share.

To fund these new acquisitions, K2 will resort to its usual payment plan: a combination of cash and stock. It will pay about $208 million for the three, plus assume an undisclosed amount of debt. I wrote in April that the company was still seeking companies to buy and had $100 million in excess debt availability for one. Or three.

That's the concern with a non-organic growth strategy: assuming too much debt and diluting shareholder value too much. Total debt grew to more than $209 million last quarter, up from $167 million last year. K2 will now be adding to that debt load. It was also handing out more than 6 million new shares to finance those purchases, and shares will be diluted further now.

As long as the acquisitions keep turbo-boosting revenues -- last year they helped energize a 23% rise in sales -- shareholders may overlook their diminishing stake in the company. Yet K2 can't afford a stumble and is undoubtedly approaching its debt limit.

Still, these purchases will continue to help K2 steal market share from competitors Adidas-Solomon AG and Rossignol. It's quickly becoming the industry powerhouse and expanding Heckmann's vision of having K2 become the dominant sporting goods brand.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.


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