Abercrombie's Fantasy Is a Shareholder's Nightmare

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"The plane, boss! The plane!" Pardon the Fantasy Island reference, but the latest outrage emanating from Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) implies that the island is the only place on the map where the retailer's top brass could be hanging out at the moment.

Abercrombie & Fitch will pay its CEO, Mike Jeffries, $4 million in one lump sum to limit his personal use of the corporate jet.

Let that sink in for a minute.

His amended employment agreement requires that Jeffries now pay for any personal use of the jet over $200,000 per year, but I guess a cool $4 million takes the sting out of having to muster some self-control, eh?

How clueless is Abercrombie's management and board? The personal use of corporate jets by a corporation's top brass became emblematic of hubristic excess last year, when TARP recipients like Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) scrambled to rein in such luxury expenditures. Abercrombie never took a bailout dime, but these days everyone is far more tuned in to outrageous executive excess. Apparently on Fantasy Island, though, people "didn't get the memo."

Or maybe they just take some kind of perverse pleasure from repeatedly poking shareholders straight in the eye. Last year, Jeffries was among the highest-paid CEOs in 2008, despite the fact that Abercrombie was stumbling badly.

In fact, Abercrombie's annual revenue and profit have dropped precipitously since the fiscal year ended February 2008. In the year ended January 2010, earnings per share just managed to break even, from over $5 per share the company had earned two years earlier.

According to several surveys, CEO pay has dropped overall for two years running. Jeffries' pocketbook appears to have been somehow "recession-proof," even if his company's business wasn't. Ahem.

In December, I outlined 10 Foolish reasons to avoid Abercrombie, painstakingly -- OK, maybe a bit obsessively -- drawn from several years' worth of history. Now we've got one more reason. Given Abercrombie's historical "issues" and continued indications of what really seems to matter to Abercrombie's top brass (themselves), investors would do well to stick to retail rivals like Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO  ) and Buckle (NYSE: BKE  ) , both of which trade at cheaper multiples while operationally performing extremely well through the recession, to boot.

Unless an Abercrombie shareholder's idea of a "fantasy" is extremely masochistic, it's not hard to imagine that the company's CEO will only continue to treat shareholders like whipping boys.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (17)

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  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2010, at 2:38 PM, rdotson310 wrote:

    Really good reporting. To many times these stories dont get out there and the public and shareholders are unaware of the magnatude of the problem.

    I dont understand why we would pay encentive may to managers in the first place if they really need that much ensentive then maybe the jobs not right for them. Encentive pay should go to sales people or someone who brings in accounts or even someone comming up with a new product a CEO job is just like anyone elses. Im sure most large companies could find a CEO that would work for nothing but the prestege and perks with no problem.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2010, at 11:36 PM, Atrossity wrote:

    Yes indeed. Bewildering! But I guess I'm beginning to get accustomed to bewilderment over CEO's obliviousness to their public image, to say nothing of business and personal ethics, exceptions exempted.

    I suspect this phenomenon is the result of a psychological tendency for people to find a person to represent an abstract concept like a company, naturally the CEO is the one they pick. This is a flawed analysis technique when applied to something as abstract as a corporation, but since we still have one foot in hunter/gathering, it's not likely to change. So... Long Live The CEO, send him your virgin daughters to do with as he will, since that will improve the stock, right?

    CEO's are just people and often people who's worship results in them forgetting they are just people. It's a cult of personality problem and everyone nodding with admiration at their excesses are as much to blame as they are, IMHO.

  • Report this Comment On April 16, 2010, at 2:39 AM, Clint35 wrote:

    You're right on the money as usual Alyce. But Somehow it's near a 52 week high. And the P/E is around 55! I was shorting this one on my caps port. for a short time. But I gave up because it kept going up. I guess some people like being whipping boys.

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