This Company Is Running Ahead of the Pack

Source: The Finish Line.

The Finish Line (NASDAQ: FINL  ) is delivering strong financial results for investors while outgrowing other players in the industry, be it solid performers like Foot Locker (NYSE: FL  ) and Dick's Sporting Goods (NYSE: DKS  ) or companies facing slowdowns such as Cabela's (NYSE: CAB  ) and Hibbett Sports (NASDAQ: HIBB  ) . The Finish Line looks like a winning player in the athletic shoes and apparel business.

Running in the right direction
The Finish Line has implemented a series of initiatives to adapt to the omnichannel retail world over the last years. The company improved both the front- and back-end of its digital platform, launched fresh mobile solutions, and implemented new marketing programs with an omnichannel approach.

Its partnership with Macy's is yielding solid results, The Finish Line has expanded its presence to 185 shops at Macy's stores in addition to managing the athletic footwear business in another 477 stores as well as online at Management expects to add 220 additional shops at Macy's stores in the coming year.

The company's Winner's Circle loyalty program has been another driver of success lately, allowing The Finish Line to directly market to more than 9 million loyalty members. More than 60% of total transactions came from loyalty members in fiscal 2014, up versus 53% in the previous year.

The Finish Line has acquired several specialized running companies like Boulder Running Company, Run On!, and Running Spot lately, and the company has positioned its Running Specialty Group business as a leader in an attractively growing category.

This is clearly producing solid results for shareholders, judging by recent financial performance.

Firing on all cylinders
Sales in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 -- ended on March 1 -- increased by 17.2% to $518.9 million. This was a bit below analyst estimates of $529.3 million, but same-store sales were particularly strong with an increase of 6.3% versus the same quarter in the prior year.

Non-GAAP net income per share, which excludes the impact of impairment charges and the gain on the sale of an investment, increased 14.5% versus the prior year, while GAAP net income per share grew by 26.1% to $0.87. This was above analyst forecasts of $0.85 per share.

For the coming year, management expects comparable-store sales to grow in the mid-single digits and earnings per share to increase in the high-single to low double-digit range over fiscal 2014.

Chairman and CEO Glenn Lyon sounded pleased with the company's performance in the press release, and he provided an optimistic vision of the future for The Finish Line:

The successful execution of our consumer centric omni-channel strategy drove solid gains in our core business while growth initiatives contributed meaningfully to our record full year revenue and profits. We have a clear vision for building on our strong market position through innovative product, superior service, and effective consumer engagements. With that vision and our strong team, we move forward optimistic about our near and long-term growth prospects.

Outpacing the competition
Foot Locker is reporting solid performance, but the company is not growing as quickly as The Finish Line. Foot Locker reported an increase of 4.6% in sales during the fourth quarter of 2013 to $1.8 billion. Comparable-store sales during the quarter increased by 5.3%, and earnings per share grew by a strong 19% annually thanks to higher margins and a reduced share count.

The same goes for Dick's Sporting Goods, which reported better-than-expected sales and earnings for the quarter ended on February 1. Sales adjusted by the extra week in 2012 grew by 12.5% to $1.9 billion, fueled by a big increase of 7% in adjusted in comparable-store sales. Earnings per share came in at $1.11 during the 13 weeks period, an 8% increase versus earnings per share during the 14 weeks period in the prior year. 

Cabela's, on the other hand, disappointed investors when it reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013. Total adjusted revenues increased 4.9% to $1.19 billion, but comparable-store sales declined by 10.9% during the period, management attributed the decline to a tough yearly comparison on ammunition sales and a softer-than-expected holiday season.

Hibbett Sports also delivered disappointing financial performance for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2014, ended on February 1. Net sales were almost flat with a 0.2% increase to $217.6 million, and earnings per share declined to $0.64 during the quarter, compared with $0.73 in the same quarter of the prior year.

Bottom line
In a challenging and competitive industry like sports shoes and apparel retail, The Finish Line is not only doing remarkably well but also clearly outperforming the competition. This says a lot about the company's management team and its strategic direction.

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Andrés Cardenal

Andres Cardenal, CFA is a tenacious researcher of the best investment opportunities around the world. Andres is an economist and CFA Charterholder living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Naturally flavored. Follow me on Twitter for more investment ideas:

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