Shares of Hot Topic (Nasdaq: HOTT ) opened $1.20 -- or 17% -- higher this morning, despite posting horrendous March comps and agreeing to eat into its cash reserves to bankroll some ill-advised dividends.
Here's a merchandising brainstorm: Hot Topic should begin selling "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts for shoppers to wear when they're walking alongside the edgy mall retailer's shareholders.
Let's go over these stock-bubbling payouts. Hot Topic is initiating a quarterly dividend of $0.07 a share. It will also be paying out a one-time $1-a-share distribution.
"By initiating a dividend, our Board of Directors has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to enhancing shareholder value for our broad investor base," explains Hot Topic CEO Betsy McLaughlin in the announcement. "The strength of our balance sheet and the substantial free cash flow generated by our business provide us with the financial flexibility to return capital to our shareholders in this manner."
Let's revisit how these one-time payouts occur. There's no free lunch, as the stock typically drops by the amount of the distribution -- a taxable distribution at that -- after the payout. The company is clearly worth less after the money goes out, since its balance sheet is less liquid. Does it make any sense for the stock to pop higher than the payout on the news, especially when it's for more than the value of the one-time dividend that will soon go ex-dividend?
Yes, the quarterly dividend is nice. Based on yesterday's close, Hot Topic now has a yield of nearly 4%. It's a chunky payout for mall-based retailers, where Footlocker (NYSE: FL ) at 3.9% was the top dog. Yields at other generous apparel specialists -- American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO ) at 2.1%, Limited (NYSE: LTD ) at 2.3%, and Buckle (NYSE: BKE ) at 2.3% -- aren't even close.
However, the fat distributions are unlikely to woo your income-investing Granny to buy into a company selling Hello Kitty beanies and Tim Burton t-shirts. She's hopefully smart enough to consider the fundamentals behind the company that is cracking open its vault.
Granny will see that Hot Topic is one of the few mall chains to post negative comps for March. Yes, same-store sales fell 7.5% last month, dragged down by a sharp 11.2% slide at its namesake chain. The one saving grace was the 7.5% spike in comps at its plus-sized Torrid chain. That's a welcome surprise given the terrible report out of Lane Bryant parent Charming Shoppes (Nasdaq: CHRS ) recently, but Hot Topic needs to remedy the shortcomings of its flagship concept first.
Analysts see Hot Topic earning $0.27 a share this fiscal year, flat with last year's showing. There may be some healthy cash flow being generated beyond the bottom line, but it's just stupid for Hot Topic to begin giving away its greenery as if it were staring at a Che Guevara t-shirt for too long. Until it can fix its comps, it should be holding on to that money for the necessary refreshes to get back on track.
Oh, but why bring uninspiring fundamentals, negative comps, and grim growth prospects into this wonderful day for you Hot Topic shareholders? Let me catch up to you. I have this cool t-shirt I want you to see.
Just make sure you're walking on the correct side of the "I'm With Stupid" arrow.
Is Rick wrong? Is Hot Topic a great buy right now? Let him have it in the comment box below.