Some questions have been swirling around lululemon athletica (Nasdaq: LULU ) lately. Although the recent seaweed debacle brought an infusion of doubt to investors, there are a couple of other signs that maybe the investing case for lululemon is a bit shaky.
When green goes bad
Talk about hot yoga. Some questions have been raised ever since The New York Times reported that independent testing of lululemon's VitaSea fabrics showed no difference to cotton when it came to the mineral levels described. According to the article, lululemon founder Dennis "Chip" Wilson was quoted as saying something along the lines of his only evidence that the fabric contained seaweed was that when he wears it, it just feels different.
Canada's lululemon has removed label's claims of therapeutic benefits from VitaSea, but it's standing by its contention that the material contains the fibers it claims. However, I'd guess the most authentic, least faddish of its customers may feel just a tad leery.
Many companies may be all about green aspirations these days --consider Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) recent push into renewable power -- but those that appear to be "greenwashing" for marketing purposes will probably be metaphorical toast with exactly the people they're trying to impress.
Other things may not be as they seem at lululemon. MarketWatch's Herb Greenberg made a recent blog posting about how lululemon's CEO, Bob Meers, appears to have fudged his resume a bit, claiming to have had slightly different (and slightly more impressive) titles at Reebok and its Rockport and Greg Norman brands than he actually did.
I was leery of lululemon from day one, although my reasoning was far more simplistic. When I first heard about the upcoming IPO, I simply wandered around the company's website. When I ran across founder Chip Wilson's blog, which rambled about things like The Secret and what struck me as rather dubious connections between the sexual revolution, The Pill, surf culture, SuperGirl, cigarette smoking, breast cancer, and yoga, I pretty much dismissed lululemon. (That dismissal was bolstered by the recognition that lululemon has plenty of competition, something Wall Street types high on the stock a few months ago didn't seem to realize or address. Just for starters, what about rivals like Liz Claiborne's (NYSE: LIZ ) prAna and VF's (NYSE: VFC ) recent purchase of Lucy?)
As hot as candid CEO blogs are these days, there's a difference between thought-provoking philosophizing and trendy pseudo-intellectualism. For example, I've always really enjoyed Whole Foods Market's (Nasdaq: WFMI ) John Mackey's blog (his corporate one, not the now-infamous anonymous postings), which I think has shown an understanding of economic theory, psychology, the company's target market, and some visionary ideas.
On the other hand, my gut reaction to the lululemon blog was that I really didn't need to get in on that particular IPO. (OK, my gut reaction found it pretty entertaining, too.)
Sometimes a hunch is enough
The way things have been unfolding, you've really got to wonder what's going on at lululemon, even beyond the simple idea of brand authenticity. Herb Greenberg's right on to shine a light on what may be a tendency to exaggerate -- that kind of corporate behavior really doesn't inspire much confidence in what might come to pass down the road, and committed shareholders don't look fondly on things that are "partially true" or "stretched a bit." Be sure to check out lululemon's quarterly results tomorrow, but investors should ponder whether they feel confident in what will transpire over the long term, because that's when everything comes out in the wash.
I may have had a hunch that lululemon wasn't my kind of stock several months ago, but no, hunch-driven investing certainly isn't a replacement for a hard look at operations, financial statements, growth, ratios, and the overall market for a product or service. However, such hunches can be good reasons to continue researching a stock or to toss a stock idea aside to move on to more promising ones. Like fish in the sea, there are lots of stocks out there; I've had a hunch this was a good one to throw back.