Wolverine Claws Out More Growth

Maybe I just don't read the right magazines, but it has seemed to me for a while that Wolverine World Wide (NYSE: WWW  ) doesn't always get its due. In fact, when I do see people write about this company, they most often refer back to the company's signature line of work boots. Given that the company is a lot more than that, though, perhaps there's undiscovered (or underappreciated) value here.

As seems to often be the case for Wolverine, this is a quarter that you could best describe as "solid, but not spectacular." Revenue was up more than 10%, but operating income was up a little less than that, and margins slid a bit. Though some of the margin decline was due to a change in business practices, involving the moving of an international customer to a wholesale model instead of distribution-fee basis, I still would have liked to see better performance -- even as earnings did exceed expectations.

On a revenue basis, there was solid double-digit growth in most lines. The Heritage brand group, which includes licensed brands from Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) and Harley Davidson (NYSE: HDI  ) , did well, as did the signature Wolverine line. Once again, though, Merrell was the standout performer, with sales for the brand rising by 17%. The laggard was the Hush Puppies line. Though profits rose on a significant margin improvement -- and the brand seems to have good traction at Federated (NYSE: FD  ) -- sales were slightly weaker overall.

Wolverine isn't the sort of company from which I'd expect dramatic changes, but next year will nevertheless see some important new products. Merrell apparel and Patagonia footwear lines will make their debut, and thus far, the buzz is pretty encouraging. Provided that costs don't somehow get out of control, adding more premium brands shouldn't be a bad thing for either margins or returns.

Despite all of that, Wolverine just isn't cheap enough for me. For my money, the right stock at the wrong price is, in fact, the wrong stock, so I won't be looking to buy any time soon. On the other hand, Fools looking for footwear stocks that they could consider buying might want to turn their attention to Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) and K-Swiss (Nasdaq: KSWS  ) -- both of which might be a better value for the money today.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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