There weren't many positives in footwear firm Timberland's (NYSE: TBL ) third-quarter earnings results released a couple of weeks ago. Additionally, the stock hit a wall back in May after the market became fully aware that the company is facing an uphill battle to revive flagging sales. Does the stock represent a possible contrarian play?
Currently, Timberland is having a rough time selling its flagship classic boot and children's footwear offerings. As a result, nearly every third-quarter figure fell, including sales, margins, earnings, and free cash flow. Management expects the road to remain bumpy for the foreseeable future, projecting that 2006 earnings will fall 30% from last year's levels.
On a more positive note, international sales, which account for more than half of total sales, grew 6.9% for the quarter (3.6% on a constant currency basis) and apparel and accessories grew 27.5%, though this represents fewer than 30% of total sales. Additionally, Timberland has generated strong operating cash flow in the past, coming in ahead of reported net income over the past three full-year periods.
So where do investors go from here? Timberland doesn't issue a dividend, so getting paid to wait until top and bottom-line trends rebound is not an option. The shares are trading for less than 17 times next year's average analyst projections. I wouldn't call that overly compelling, especially considering that earnings trends are moving in the wrong direction, and could end up falling further than expected.
However, from a contrarian standpoint, one of the better times to move into a fashion-oriented footwear or apparel firm is when sales trends are weak. The strategy leaves room for upside gains if and when results recover. The problem is timing just when an inflection point is reached. The other strategy is jumping on board a hot concept and riding it to further gains, as investors are doing currently with Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX ) and Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick DeckersOutdoor (Nasdaq: DECK ) .
Right now, I can't place Timberland firmly in either camp. It's clearly not firing on all cylinders in moving its footwear brands into consumer shopping bags, but things aren't so grim that investors are completely shunning the stock. I can't think of any footwear firms with plummeting sales, but check out Sharper Image (Nasdaq: SHRP ) and Pier 1 Imports (NYSE: PIR ) for examples of retail stocks from which investors have shied away. At least Gap (NYSE: GPS ) pays a dividend while it works to make its way back to the fashion forefront. Again, I think Timberland's cash flow generation is holding the shares up -- although so far this year, it's used up cash instead of generating it. But that's little consolation until Timberland can find ways to get growth moving in a positive direction again.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.