Crocs: Anatomy of a Train Wreck

Like all bubbles that have burst in the past, Crocs (Nasdaq: CROX  ) popped hard. In less than a year, the stockholders have lost 97% of their equity as the company has dropped from nearly $75 to under $1 in just a year.

I was an early bear on Crocs and I've continually questioned its existence as a public company. And here I am again, writing about yet another ugly quarter from the shoe company, when doing so before has earned me some of the most vicious and vitriolic hate mail I've ever seen -- until Crocs finally hit hard times, that is. The company's fans didn't take kindly to anyone suggesting maybe the Emperor didn't have any clothes (or that the clothes he did have might be extremely faddish).

Crocs shareholders had better brace themselves for some woeful news yet again, assuming they've stayed in this game this far -- a game which, by the way, looks like it's just about over.

Growth's like slamming into a wall at 50 mph
Crocs' third-quarter net loss clocked in at $148 million, or $1.79 per share. Remember that last year this time it reported a quarterly profit of $56.5 million, or $0.66 per share. Oh, how times have changed.

When I peeked at Crocs' 10-Q in August, the company said it was assessing some noncash charges in the third quarter. Boy, did it ever! The third-quarter results include $104.1 million in restructuring charges, including a whopping $70 million charge related to an inventory write-down. It sure seems like Crocs is trying to wipe its balance sheet clean of all its sins, and that has a lot to do with a whole lot of colorful plastic clogs hardly anybody wants at the moment.

For even more stomach-churning tidings, revenue fell 32% to $174.2 million, and gross profit was 1.4% of revenues, compared to 60.6% of revenues this time last year. Whew! I have to say, I have never seen gross profit drop like that. And the company expects a net loss of $0.50 per share to $0.65 per share in the fourth quarter.

Ouch. It should also be noted that the company has filed an extension on filing its 10-Q with the SEC, just as it did last quarter. Given its major problems, I think shareholders should make a date with themselves to check out the filing once it hits.

It's much more than the economy, stupid
I can't get over the opening statement in the conference call. CEO Ron Snyder doesn't hesitate to push blame on the tough economy. But the sluggish retail environment doesn't even begin to explain Crocs' current woes. Sure, lots of consumer-facing companies that provide discretionary products are facing major problems because of the current spending slowdown. But Crocs' problems are its own and have been obvious for quite some time now.

About a year ago I got flamed beyond belief when I said that I thought Crocs was a fad (read the comments -- they're a real hoot). This was right before the company started to choke. Since then, it has proceeded to choke again and again. Things were already pretty awful for Crocs in July, when I asked "How Low Can This Stock Go?" and pointed out it could always go lower, and I was pretty sure it was a good stock to stay away from. Sure enough, that night it warned and plunged again.

I do feel sorry for people who bought Crocs at $75, but at the same time, I hope they've learned an important lesson from all of this. Crocs traded for as much as 70+ times earnings at one point, the kind of multiple that investors pay for tech companies which are constantly innovating -- not shoe companies that can all too easily become one-hit wonders. In its heyday,  the company's stock often spiked on news, like licensing deals with entities like Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) or NASCAR. Fundamentals went out the window, and anybody who pointed that out was likely to get a raft of hate mail from Crocs stock fanatics.

And last but definitely not least, Crocs management was selling shares furiously when the stock was at its highs -- a perfect example of the old saw "buyer, beware!" My Foolish colleague Seth Jayson was right when he wondered if anyone would learn from Crocs.

Just don't do it
Granted, shoe companies haven't made great stock ideas here lately. Heely's (Nasdaq: HLYS  ) is another faddish flameout. Timberland has struggled as well. And while I like Deckers (Nasdaq: DECK  ) and Skechers (NYSE: SKX  ) , the short term will be rough. (And I can't say I was crazy about Skechers' amorous intentions toward Heely's.)

An acquisition of Heely's sounds silly to me since that strikes me as an even worse fad than Crocs (if that's possible). However, I actually can imagine Crocs as a possible takeover candidate. Crocs does have the proprietary Croslite material and someone like Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) or Under Armor (NYSE: UA  ) could certainly snap Crocs up. After all, Crocs is selling for peanuts compared to its previous valuations and its debt-free balance sheet does sport an attractive cash level.

Even shoes that go through fad phases will win over some lifelong fans, if not the masses, while the styles are hot. So, yeah, a few pairs of Crocs may still be around in five years -- but the crazy double- and triple-digit percentage growth that attracted investors to the company in the first place is a thing of the past.

Investors initially bought Crocs for its heady growth and quick rise to popularity. Investors today argue that the stock is a value, particularly since it is trading under a dollar. Just as it was irrational to invest in Crocs during its faddish bubble, it's just as nonsensical to believe this company is undervalued. The fact is, the company may still be overvalued given that it could be nonexistent -- at least as a public company -- in the near future.

At this point, buying Crocs is like buying a lottery ticket: Maybe the company will be bought out at some premium, but you're taking your chances. In this ferocious bear market, investors should focus on high-quality, non-fad companies, and not on speculative, former momentum stocks that may never do much of anything again. Or worse, never recover.

Crocs is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems Pay Dirt pick. Under Armour is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Under Armour is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (35)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 4:17 PM, rbnlaw1 wrote:

    People really believed in ugly clogs sold for $37 per pair in mall kiosks?

    Did they also buy stock in several Chinese toy importers? How about cell phone cover manufacturers? Dell?

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 4:25 PM, oddvan wrote:

    Bravo.!

    I never understood it. A few years ago I reviewed my methods and found some stocks I held were just pumped up junk.

    I sold. Sold them all took profits and will only ever buy these fad stocks and micro sectors to try and ride some of the gain.

    Sure the products might even be good, but when the numbers get out of hand and the cheerleaders start to shout every neg thought down, it is often time to move on.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 4:31 PM, jimbojimbojimbo wrote:

    Finally, the voice of reason! I live in Colorado and I think Crocs are the ugliest and stupidest fad ever produced. I was shocked when they IPO'ed and people actually invested in it! It's a one-trick pony built on a fad which is a recipe for disaster. Sorry Crocs...No bailout for you.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 5:09 PM, 181736065 wrote:

    No bailout for Crocs? C'mon they are the "foundation" of many hospital workers and mental health facility patient's posture.

    I bought a couple thousand (shares, not shoes) today at 95 centavos.

    Like you say, a crapshoot but I love to get "involved" in good financial stories - (btw.. never wore the ugly things.)

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 8:49 PM, Knotes wrote:

    I originally thought your tone was a little too "I told you so", but then I did go read those comments and I see where you are coming from. Congrats on your call - must feel good.

  • Report this Comment On November 13, 2008, at 11:29 PM, Bilifuduo wrote:

    Heh, I knew Crocs was going to go low, but not this low. Congrats on your pick

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 7:54 AM, Sinfest wrote:

    Looking at some of the ridiculous and caustic comments on your old bear calls on CROX, I'm glad to see you were vindicated by history, Alice.

    Hopefully, your bull calls on WFMI will turn out to be justified as well, since I'm holding onto the stuck with you :-)

    But the current 80% drop is painful to look at... ouch!

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 7:59 AM, TMFCop wrote:

    It's obvious Alyce is a tool of the hedgies! She's only knocking the company because she wants to buy the stock for herself at a lower price! She's in league with the market manipulators! Who's the real (f)ool now, Alyce?!?

    Heh! Unfortunately, investors all too often become too emotionally attached to their stocks and can't stand to rationally examine a negative argument. Even if Alyce had been wrong about Croc's ultimate direction, it is still a useful exercise to analyze the bear arguments about your company.

    Nice work, Alyce. You Fool!

    Rich

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 12:46 PM, affan786 wrote:

    Oh plz TMFCop, Alyce was against it last year and even now at a buck. If she had to buy it she would recommend 'BUY'. Sigh.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 1:45 PM, rgaguilar wrote:

    The fact that "Crocs traded for as much as 70+ times earnings at one point" is just sickening... and should probably have been an indicator of bad things to follow.

    What gets me is that smart people who understand the markets never have a good answer on how much a stock should trade for compared to earnings.

    What's a good price to earnings ratio rule of thumb? Less than 20 times earnings? Less than 10 times earnings?

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 1:47 PM, Milligram46 wrote:

    I have, never understood Crocs as a product. Oh I know, I know, robust and comfortable, I've heard. I read one comment that they are a staple in hopsitals, but even hospital are turning against them as they don't provide adequate protection from sharps or spills, the holes are kind of an issue. This product had fad written all over it and where Crocs as a company failed, as so many failed fads before is they were not working on their next big thing, or working to find someone to acquire them before the run ran out.

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 5:05 PM, northforkfool wrote:

    Found this headline on fark.com.

    "Crocs reports $148M loss as thousands of grown-up male customers finally took the time to look at themselves in the mirror"

  • Report this Comment On November 14, 2008, at 5:58 PM, TMFCop wrote:

    affan786,

    Let me introduce you to the word "sarcasm." I obviously agree wholeheartedly with Alyce's premise.

    I had gone and read all of the comments from her previous articles on Crocs which were just like what I was saying in my post. I probably should have made it a little more clear I was poking fun at those who chastised her.

    Thanks for reading though.

    Rich

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2008, at 2:08 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    Hi everybody! Thanks for the comments, I have enjoyed them all. I admit, I do tend to get an "I told you so" tone when writing about certain stocks, and I need to watch that. ;) But it seems to be a bigger problem for me when it's a stock that's generated terrible flames/hate mail. I try to logically look at the bull and bear cases even for stocks I like, and always try to admit when bear cases have credence, even for stocks I like. So I get a bit defensive over the stocks that have generated some of the major flames or mostly feedback that didn't seem to even acknowledge the possibility of risk or lack of sustainability.

    However, it's true that I have not always made good calls myself. WFMI (yes I am still hanging on with you Sinfest!) has been a good example. So yes, even when I point out being right about one stock I do admit I've also been wrong (so far) about others -- but always tried not to flame anybody who disagreed! I generally do think they often make good points even if I disagree. These are the things we must all weigh rationally as investors.

    northforkfool -- funny headline! LOL. And Rich, that was a very good imitation! hahaha

    Ragaguilar - I often look at P/E ratios versus growth and expected growth, as well as compare within the specific industries. However, I think that always needs to be tempered with some healthy skepticism. In one of the past Crocs articles, I pointed out its PEG ratio looked low, but also pointed out that I suspected the possibility that growth expectations were too high to begin with, and that did come to pass. The bottom line question was, was the past growth sustainable and was analysts' expected growth rational, and it looks like the answer has been a resounding no (and the theory that past growth resulted from a fad looks pretty well borne out by what has come to pass).

    Thanks again everyone!

    Alyce

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2008, at 4:22 PM, vinnypaz wrote:

    As I read your article, it only made me more sick to my stomach....the signs were all there. I'm one of those people who got slaughtered, losing 100K...thank God I can afford the loss. (Sort of)

    What stands out for me most with this investment is how bad management is...I used to read the message board and wonder about the validity of some of the accusations...particularly related Ron Snyder and his days at Flextronics...I'm beginning to think the guy is dishonest....

    The message board for CROX has proven to be a vile and malicious place...of course when right and wrong comes into the equation, coupled with money..it's never a good combination.

    I'll hold my shares to zero...selling them at this price seems even dumber than when I bought it.

  • Report this Comment On December 19, 2008, at 5:51 PM, Turling wrote:

    I recently attended a trade show where numerous accounting staff of Croc's were present. A warehouse had just had a lock put on it (I'm guessing for power) due to not paying the bill. The staff found it amusing. I can only guess, they have already all found other jobs and don't care anymore at this point.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2009, at 1:26 PM, hydrah wrote:

    has anyone taken the time to research how many diseases could be controlled in the developing world with the use of inexpensive shoes?

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