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When I checked Crocs' (Nasdaq: CROX ) fourth-quarter results last evening, I was first surprised that it reported a sales increase. Then I wondered why the stock plunged in after-hours trading. Then came the "Aha!" moment: Crocs' CEO is abandoning ship. An "uh-oh" quickly followed that "Aha."
Crocs' quarter improved on past performance, but not enough to generate a profit . Crocs narrowed its fourth-quarter loss to $11.4 million, or $0.13 per share, improving from last year's net loss of $34.7 million, or $0.42 per share. The beleaguered shoe company even managed to report a 7.9% increase in revenue. That's not nearly the heady revenue growth Crocs delivered back before its fall from trendy grace, but it's still admirable in a rough economy.
You could give departing CEO John Duerden, who has only been Crocs' CEO for about a year, a lot of the credit for paying off debt and otherwise lifting this battered business out of its previous precarious position. And now, well, too bad -- he's outta there. He'll be replaced by the company's current chief operating officer and six-year veteran, John McCarvel. I'm not sure longtime Crocs watchers have particularly warm-and-fuzzy feelings for its management vets; insiders dumped shares at their highs (remember when it traded at about $75 a share?) before the company started choking and the stock began its gut-wrenching, precipitous drops into penny-stock territory.
Investors should step away from Crocs. While the company does predict that it will break even in the current quarter, it'll probably never return to the kind of growth it delivered at the height of its faddish heyday. Some people still seem to entertain that silly notion, since the stock has recently surged off its lows. Its PEG ratio is now 2.43, way steep for a shoe company that's no longer a trendy must-have. Crocs isn't even a stable brand like Nike (NYSE: NKE ) or Under Armour (NYSE: UA ) . It now more closely resembles poor, tragic Heelys (Nasdaq: HLYS ) .
CEO departures are rarely ever great news. At the very least, they can distract management. And for companies trying to turn around, like Crocs and Borders Group (NYSE: BGP ) (which also lost a fairly new CEO), they're especially troubling.
Crocs was a prime example of a stock train wreck for a long time. It is good that the company's narrowing its loss and increasing revenue. However, the loss of its CEO seems like another good reason for investors to steer clear. Just because it survives doesn't mean it will thrive. Now that its fad has faded, don't expect Crocs to return to its foamy glory days of yore.