Is it Time to Buy Lululemon?

Shares of apparel-maker lululemon athletica (Nasdaq: LULU  ) have tumbled 30% since reaching an all-time high at the beginning of May, at over $80. The stock fell 10% on June 7, thanks to a disappointing outlook in its first-quarter earnings report. The quarter itself was actually stellar, though, despite weaker-than- expected forecasts, with the following highlights:

  • Revenue up 53% to $285.7 million
  • Same-store sales up 25%
  • Direct-to-consumer (online) revenue up 179% to $38.4 million
  • Net income up 39.8% to $46.6 million

Second-quarter projections were well below Wall Street’s estimates, however,  as the company predicted an EPS of just 28 to 30 cents per share, when analysts had expected 33 cents. Revenue for the quarter was also short by $10 million, as were full year forecasts.

While shares may have seemed overpriced at $80, at $57, they could be a good buy. Let’s take a closer look and see what’s in store for the yoga retailer’s future.

New stores
With only 180 stores in the world, it’s easy to see how Lululemon is only at the beginning of its growth phase. By comparison, the Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS  ) brand family, which includes Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, has more than 3000 stores worldwide. H&M has about 2500 stores in 44 countries, and Spain-based Inditex, the parent of Zara and other brands, has over 3000 locations around the globe, as well. While these retailers have admittedly more broad product appeal than a niche player like Lululemon, it puts a little perspective on Lulu’s potential for expansion.

Founded in Vancouver, the clothing chain expanded first in Canada, and its most successful and mature stores can still be found north of the border. The chart below shows revenue and store count by region for Q1 2012.

Region

Store Count

Revenue

Revenue Share

Revenue/Store

Canada 49 $99.75 million 35% $2.035 million
United States 112 $171.42 million 60% $1.53 million
Australia/New Zealand 19 $14.28 million 5% $751,000
Source: Company 10-Q

If Lululemon’s stores in the U.S. and south of the equator were to achieve the level of sales of its older Canadian stores, the company would unlock an additional $81 million in revenue in just one quarter. That’s an increase of about 30% over what it did last quarter and, because those sales would come from real estate the company already occupies, margins should increase along the way. Clearly, there's room to even further improve same-store sales, as well as open new stores. While the company is opening new locations at a moderate pace, with 33 in fiscal 2011 and another 32 expected in fiscal 2012, I expect management to keep up this rate at a minimum for several years to come, especially considering that the company has not even entered Europe or Asia yet. It has dipped its toes in both continents with showrooms -- its prelude to a store -- in Hong Kong and London. CEO Christine Day was especially upbeat about the response in Asia.

The online channel
To complement its growth in bricks and mortar, the exercise retailer’s online sales are skyrocketing, jumping almost 200% in the past quarter. The company’s philosophy centers around building out community relationships and brand awareness through its stores and its brand ambassadors, and it only launched its e-commerce site three years ago. The online channel provides a low-cost method for Lululemon to sell its goods to customers who don’t have access to its stores, or prefer to shop from the convenience of their own homes. Online sales now make up 13.5% of total revenue. Peers like Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) and Under Armour (Nasdaq: UA  ) only make 18% and 25% of their sales, respectively, through those channels. For Under Armour, that includes factory houses and specialty stores, but I can see Lululemon surpassing those percentages, because its products are not as widely distributed as those of its two competitors. In fact, they  are available at nearly every sports-related retail franchise in the country.

This is also where Lululemon’s brand advantage comes into play. Unlike Nike and Under Armour, the brand has grown out of its stores and, because of its unique approach to retailing, which includes offering free yoga classes as well as other forms of community outreach, the company has made itself a lifestyle brand in a way that the two other athletic apparel sellers have not. Nike and Under Armour, by comparison, rely heavily on advertising as opposed to Lululemon, which employs alternative marketing strategies. The company shuns virtually all forms of traditional advertising.

The valuation puzzle
With its huge margins and brand power, even Lululemon bears acknowledge that the company itself is strong. Their beef is with the high price tag, but at a current P/E of 42, Lululemon might be a steal. It’s easy to see the company tripling its earnings in the next five years, which would bring the P/E down to a very reasonable 14 at today’s share price.

  • If the apparel chain opens another 30 stores each year for the next five years, and those stores bring in average of $6 million a year, the company will add $900 million in revenue in 2017.
  • If same-store sales grow at a conservative percentage of 12% using its base of 180 stores, it will add another $700 million, approximately.
  • Finally, based on last quarter’s growth, it seems reasonable to estimate online sales growing from about $100 million last year to $400 million by 2017.

That would mean sales would triple within five years, making its current P/E seem reasonable, assuming earnings moves with it. And even in 2017, there will be plenty of growth opportunities available, such as Europe and Asia, more stores in North America, the Ivivva line of stores for girls, and who-knows-what-else in the pipeline.

The bears may point to competition from the likes of the Gap’s Athleta looking to take a bite out of Lululemon’s fat margins, but the favorable factors outweigh the negative ones in the macro environment. Lululemon will benefit from the trend towards fitness and healthier living being championed by figures such as Michelle Obama, and observers must note that this is a high-end brand that is still growing at an incredible pace in a down economy. If the country ever returns to prosperity, there’s no doubt the yoga retailer will be firing on all cylinders.

Lululemon is certainly one brand with a future opportunity overseas, but there are some other companies that are poised to benefit from emerging markets right now. With millions of people about to enter the middle class in countries like India and China, now is the time to get in on these stocks, and our experts at the Fool have found a group that look ripe for new investments. Nike is one of them. Find out what the other two are in our special free report: "3 American Companies Set To Dominate the World."  All you have to do is click right here.

Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman owns shares of Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Under Armour and lululemon athletica. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of lululemon athletica, Under Armour, and Nike. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Nike. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bear put spread position in Under Armour. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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