Logo of jester cap with thought bubble with words 'Fool Transcripts' below it

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Foot Locker Inc (NYSE:FL)
Q2 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Aug. 24, 2018, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Foot Locker's Second Quarter 2018 Fiscal Results Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we'll conduct a question-and-answer session.

This conference may contain forward-looking statements that reflect management's current views of future events and financial performance. Management undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements, which are based on many assumptions and factors, including the effects of currency fluctuations, customer performances, economic and market conditions worldwide and other risks and uncertainties described more fully in the company's press release and in reports filed with the SEC, including the most recent filed Form 10-K and Form 10-Q. Any changes in such assumptions or factors could produce significantly different results. And actual results may differ materially from those contained in the forward-looking statements. Please note that this conference is being recorded.

I will now turn the call over to Jim Lance, Vice President, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations. Mr. Lance, you may begin.

James Lance -- Vice President, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations

Thank you, Kim. Welcome everyone to Foot Locker Inc.'s second quarter earnings conference call. As reported in this morning's press release, the company reported net income of $88 million in the second quarter compared to $51 million in the second quarter of last year. On a GAAP basis, this year's net income was $0.75 per share compared to $0.39 per share in the second quarter of 2017.

Included in these results is an incremental pre-tax charge of $3 million related to the pension litigation matter we have previously disclosed, offset by $2 million of tax benefits related to the tax reform toll charge and other changes in regulations as detailed in the press release. Included in last year's earnings per share is a $50 million charge related to the same pension litigation. Excluding these items, on a non-GAAP basis, second quarter earnings were $0.75 per share, a 21% increase versus last year's $0.62 per share.

Unless otherwise noted, the figures and rates mentioned during our call today will be based on non-GAAP results. A reconciliation of GAAP to non-GAAP results is included in this morning's press release. We will begin our prepared remarks with Lauren Peters, Foot Locker's Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, who will provide details on our second quarter financial results, along with our financial outlook for the balance of the year. Dick Johnson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, will then review the key drivers of our second quarter performance, along with an update on our 2018 real estate and ongoing initiatives. Lauren?

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Thank you, Jim and good morning everyone. We reported earlier this morning that we generated a 0.5% comparable sales gain in the second quarter, which is within the guidance we provided the last time we spoke. We are encouraged by this positive inflection in comp sales, expansion in our gross margin rate and an improving assortment of fresh and exciting products given that, it all starts with the top line. So let's drill down there.

By month, comp sales in May increased low-single digits. June was down low-single digits and July picked back up to post a low-single digit gain. Our total reported sales increased 4.8%. The percent difference between our comp gain and the total sales increase was primarily due to the 53rd week sales shift impact. Additionally, the effects from foreign exchange rates increased sales by $15 million.

Within our families of business, footwear posted a slight comp decline with average selling prices up, while units were down. Apparel had another strong performance, up double digits, its eighth consecutive quarter of positive comp sales. Both ASPs and units were up in apparel, reflecting our customers' strong appetite for our more premium branded assortments. Lastly, accessories were down double-digits, as strong demand for bags was offset by sales declines in hats and socks.

Digging into footwear, men's produced a low single-digit comp gain, reflecting the improving breadth and depth in our product assortments, while women's and kids both posted low single-digit comp declines.

Turning to the banners. We had some strong performances in our North American businesses. The positive results were led by East Bay, which generated a high single-digit comp gain. The next strongest banner was Champs Sports with an increase at the high end of mid-single digits. Kids Foot Locker was up low-single digits and both Foot Locker US and Foot Locker Canada had slight gains. The other store banners posted comparable sales declines. Footaction, which has a high penetration of Jordan in signature basketball, was down mid-single digits, while our SIX:02 women's banner was also down mid-single digits.

Our international divisions continued to work through some challenges during the quarter. Foot Locker Europe and Foot Locker Asia-Pacific were each down low-single digits. Sidestep was down mid-single digits, while Runners Point comped down double-digits. In Europe, the market remains promotional overall, with some markets such as Germany impacted more than others, which contributed to the softer top line results at Runners Point and Sidestep. In a few minutes Dick will provide further color around the products that drove these results.

By channel, comparable sales at our stores posted a 0.8% decline, while comp sales at our direct-to-customer channel were up 9.3%. As a percent of total sales, DTC was 13.5% for the quarter, up from 12.7% last year. Overall store traffic was down low-single digits for the quarter, with traffic at our US banners essentially flat and down high-single-digits at our international banners.

Moving on to the rest of the income statement. Our gross margin came in at 30.2% in the second quarter, up 60 basis points versus 29.6% last year. The increase in the rate reflects a 30 basis point improvement in our merchandise margin rate and 30 basis points of leverage in our occupancy and buyers compensation. The higher merchandise margin rate was primarily the result of lower markdowns at our US banners, which more than offset the ongoing promotional environment in our international market and led to a better margin results than our guidance.

Our SG&A expense rate came in at 21.3% in the quarter, up 140 basis points as a percent of sales, compared to 19.9% in the prior year. The higher SG&A expense reflects the ongoing investments we are making in our digital capabilities, as well as higher incentive compensation expense. As we described in our prior call, in Q2 of last year, we reduced our bonus accruals to be in line with our outlook for 2017. For 2018, SG&A expense includes a more normalized bonus accrual. In addition, we had a legal charge, which contributed 10 basis points of the deleverage.

Depreciation expense was $44 million in the quarter, up $2 million from last year as a result of our ongoing investments to elevate our customer experience, while interest income was $1 million, flat to last year. On a GAAP basis, the tax rate came in at 23.6%, 730 basis points lower than the prior year, due to the impact of the 21% federal income tax rate, as well as the benefit from concluding a foreign tax audit. On a non-GAAP basis, the rate came in at 25.1%, higher than the GAAP rate, due to several tax adjustments detailed in the non-GAAP reconciliation.

Turning to the balance sheet. We ended the quarter with $950 million of cash and cash equivalents, a decrease of $93 million from the end of Q2 last year. We spent $54 million on capital expenditures during the quarter and are on track to spend the annual plan of $230 million. We returned $133 million to shareholders during the quarter. This included our $0.345 dividend, which we increased by 11% at the beginning of this year, along with the repurchase of about 1.8 million shares for $92.5 million. In total, we have returned $286 million of cash to shareholders this year through our dividend and the buyback of close to 4.5 million shares.

Looking at real estate, we ended the second quarter with 3,276 company-owned stores, a decrease of eight stores from the end of the first quarter. During Q2, we opened 13 new stores, including the new Power Stores in London and Liverpool. In addition, we remodeled or relocated 33 stores and closed 21 stores. For the full year, we are on track to open 45 new doors, including our expansion into Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. We still expect to close approximately 120 stores.

Before I turn the call over to Dick, I want to touch on a few more topics, including inventory and the outlook for the remainder of the year. We had solid inventory management during the quarter, with inventory down 2.8% from a year ago, compared to a sales increase of 4.8%. On a constant currency basis, inventory decreased 2.4% compared to a 3.9% total sales increase. This disciplined approach, combined with an improving flow of product, is making our inventory more productive overall and we feel that we are well positioned to drive stronger results in the back half of 2018. That starts with Q3 and the important back-to-school period.

For the remainder of the year, we are encouraged about the improving top line trends. For the third quarter, we still expect comparable sales to be up low-single digits, with Q4 strengthening further within that low single-digit range. For gross margin, we anticipate Q3 to be up 10 basis points to 40 basis points, merchandised margin gains coming from the stronger product assortment, partially offset by deleverage on our occupancy expense, due to the impact of the 53rd week shift. As you may recall, about $60 million of sales move out of Q3 due to the shift.

SG&A expense is likely to increase by 140 basis points to 160 basis points as a percent of sales. This increase is primarily due to the digital capability investments that we're making, along with wage pressures, the normalized incentive compensation, as well as the 53rd week shift. Also as a reminder, in the third quarter of last year, SG&A expense included $7 million of hurricane-related charges.

Given all of that, for the full year, we still expect comparable sales to be up low-single digits and EPS growth in the double-digit range over the 52 week non-GAAP EPS of $3.99 in 2017. Also, on a 52 week basis, we still expect gross margin to improve by 10 basis points to 30 basis points. Well, we now expect SG&A to increase 100 basis points to 110 basis points as a percent of sales.

I'll now hand the call over to Dick to cover the product highlights in more depth, along with an update on our 2018 real estate and digital initiatives. Dick?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Lauren. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining us today. Overall, the second quarter was in line with our expectations, as we posted a positive comp gain and grew earnings per share by 21%. This performance reflects the work we are doing on several fronts, so that we are well positioned to succeed in a rapidly evolving environment. Our customers are moving fast, our industry is adapting to get closer and faster to market and we are changing our business to not only keep up with the change, but to come out ahead of it.

Let me start by focusing on three areas that are all meant to bring us even closer to our customer. The first area is product. We have improved the breadth and depth of many of the top trending footwear styles across categories. We have also upgraded our apparel offerings, and we are continuing to see very encouraging results from these efforts.

The second area of focus is around our real estate strategy. We are introducing Power Stores in key markets to create more immersive and community-oriented customer experiences. At the same time, we are entering new markets that we believe have strong growth potential, while expanding our global footprint. We continue to be selective about store locations to ensure we are only pursuing our highest potential opportunities.

And third, we are strengthening our digital platforms across our businesses, creating a better customer experience to drive improved customer engagement, while repositioning our loyalty program away from a transactional coupon-based plan to an exponential one, oriented around strategic brand moments. In short, we have a robust operating game plan and our results this quarter demonstrate solid progress.

With that overview, let's take a look at our second quarter product performance. Men's footwear was up low-single digits. This was driven by up-trending running platforms, along with an uptick in casual styles and while basketball was down, there were some bright spots. Men's running drove a mid-single digit comp increase. The momentum carried over from the first quarter in key styles from Nike, like the Air Max 270, Max 97 and Tuned Air, as well as Deerupt, X_PLR and Yeezy from adidas.

We anticipate that the momentum for these on-trend offerings will carry through the important back-to-school and holiday selling periods. Overall, casual footwear was up strong double digits, fueled by must-have classic styles from Vans and FILA. Slides also performed very well and have become a part of our customers go-to summer look.

Men's basketball was down high single-digits. As I noted on our last call, the Jordan brand has strategically been pulling back units in the marketplace. So while we continued to see better full-priced sell-throughs, we still face top line headwinds, which we expect to abate over the course of the fourth quarter. Signature basketball was down double-digits, due to the ongoing softness across various platforms. However, the brand was a clear bright spot with strong demand from the LeBron Low, Soldier and game shoe.

Our apparel business continued to perform well, due to the steps we've taken to focus on elevated brand assortments and stories. This momentum was evident across most geographies, channels and size ranges. These results continue to be led by branded assortments from Nike and adidas, as well as on-trend offerings from Champion and FILA.

In terms of our omni comp performance, Champs Sports was up mid-single digits, fueled by strong growth in Max Air across multiple styles, like Tuned Air, Max 270s and 97s, as well as Air Force 1s and Lebron. From adidas, Yeezy and Swift also provided solid gains. Champs saw robust sales from the FILA brand, specifically in women's footwear.

Apparel had a strong double-digit increase, driven by sales of premium branded assortments, including fleece and wind wear from Nike, Jordan, adidas and Champion. NBA apparel from Nike posted another strong quarter across multiple teams and we see continued opportunity with the new uniforms and recent player movement. Our Kids Foot Locker banner delivered a low single-digit comp gain. This was driven by strong double-digit gains in apparel, partially offset by a low single-digit decline in footwear. Apparel was led by Nike and Champion, as we saw strong sell-throughs in fleece, shorts, wind wear and infant sets. In footwear, Nike Air Max was a big hit with our kids, as Tuned Air and Max 270s led the way. Vans, LeBron and Slides were also big winners. Similar to the men's business, the pullback in Jordan units presented improved sell-through with top line headwinds.

Turning to Foot Locker US. Comp sales were up slightly. Foot Locker benefited from strong double-digit comp gains in apparel and mid-single digit growth in women's footwear. Apparel was led by Nike, Jordan and Champion with strong sell-throughs in tees, shorts, fleece and wind wear. While women's footwear growth was driven by Nike Air Max and Vans. Men's footwear was down low-single digits, while kids' footwear was flat. Nike Air Max fueled impressive gains in running. Additionally, Nike Air Force 1s, Vans, Yeezy and Slides also contributed growth in a meaningful way. Conversely, Foot Locker was impacted by difficult Jordan retro comparisons, along with a down-trending signature basketball category, with LeBron being the notable exception.

As we look at Foot Locker Europe, sales were down low-single digits with footwear and apparel both posting comp declines in that range. While still down, this result was an improvement from the declines we experienced over the past several quarters. In footwear, the Nike Air Max platforms resonated with our consumers. Similar to the US, Nike Air Force 1s and the FILA Disruptor also produced solid increases. From adidas, the Deerupt, Yeezy and Continental 80 led the way. The results also reflect the plans we laid out during the last earnings call to use the legislated promotional periods in the second quarter to clear slower-moving styles from adidas and Puma. While we still have more work to do, we anticipate that Foot Locker Europe will progress in the back half of the year, driven by the excellent flow of newness from Nike in both innovation and classics. We will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tuned Air throughout the fall with cutting-edge executions and consumer activations throughout Europe.

We also see the adidas business in Europe stabilizing somewhat through the classics business and a new pipeline of offerings. Additionally, we are building key positions in other brands, including FILA, Uggs, Vans, Champion and others.

Lastly, I wanted to update you on our East Bay business, which was up high-single digits for the quarter. This strong result was led by many of the same footwear and apparel styles we just mentioned, as well as gains in performance styles, including training, baseball, volleyball and soccer, along with football cleats from Nike and adidas. Our Team Sales business gained traction, powered by our digitally led model, which is providing our school partners and their athletes with greater access to the best performance footwear and apparel.

We are committed and focused as ever on connecting with our customers in cool, elevated ways. This includes exciting fresh product from our existing powerful vendor base and an ever evolving brand portfolio and unique in-store experiences, like gaming activation events. We are doing all of this in a manner that is meant to be both convenient and tailored to our customer shopping preferences, whether in-store or through one of our newly enhanced digital sites. As it's likely no surprise to you, our customer is always on with their digital device and it is our mission to make sure that we remain relevant and top of mind with them 24/7. Suffices to say we remain bullish on our customer connected journey as we progress through 2018 and beyond.

As I mentioned at the outset, another important way we continue to elevate the customer experience is through our store design elements, like the two Power Stores that recently opened in Europe. In fact, Lauren and I just visited these stores and it was readily apparent that they were designed to inspire youth culture and connect to and celebrate their local communities. For example, at our Liverpool store, we commissioned a local artist to create a piece of artwork, which is now showcased at the front of the store. We also leveraged this art work to create special products, like bags and tees which resonated with our customers.

The other Power Store is located on London's iconic Oxford Street. Here, customers were able to showcase their gaming skills through an Xbox experience zone, some while queuing up for a Lukes haircut or a sneaker cleaning. In short, these are just the few examples of the tests that we are conducting to create a more immersive customer experience.

Lastly, from a real estate perspective, I'm proud to announce that we will be opening our first store next week in Singapore Century Square Mall, along with the launch of our online channel in that market. This is an important first step as we expand our global reach. During the third quarter, our first Power Store is slated to open in Kowloon, Hong Kong, along with two more stores in Singapore. We will round out the year with the opening of our first location in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during the fourth quarter.

We have been hard at work on our digital capabilities and have made some notable progress during the second quarter. To start with, the first of our mini hub distribution center tests is now live and we expect to have the second test operational by the end of August. These two mini hubs will be servicing both stores and DTC orders, allowing for quicker store replenishment and next day service to over 6,000 zip codes in the US. We are excited about the potential to improve the overall customer experience.

Looking at the ongoing upgrade efforts on our digital platforms, during the quarter we completed further upgrades of our digital sites to our new, more responsive platform. As we move through 2018, we will continue to roll out the upgrade across all our banners with greater functionality, added over time. One example of this includes a more streamlined My Accounts and VIP section that will allow for a much more straightforward sign-up process to our loyalty program and more personalization for our customers.

Speaking of loyalty, we have mentioned how important experiences and the connections to those key authentic moments have become to our customer. In response, we are working to reshape our loyalty program around strategic brand moments. This is an opportunity to unify the banners on one platform, providing us with more opportunities to leverage data and create a more personalized and relevant program for our members. In turn, members will get credit for their purchases, no matter which banner or channel they choose to shop at.

We are looking forward to bringing this new program to life and expect to have our first pilot up and running in early 2019. Our customers are willing to share their pertinent data with us as long as we are transparent and use it to create more relevant experiences for them. Having said that we are proceeding carefully to ensure that the program is in full compliance with the various privacy laws and regulations across the US and abroad.

In terms of the outlook for the balance of the year. We remain optimistic that the improving product flow and depth and premium styles will help us deliver against our comp guidance. Not only do we anticipate more innovative products from our vendor partners, we will also introduce unique footwear and apparel exclusives in collaborations with multiple brands throughout the back half. For example, this week we announced the Discover Your Air campaign with Nike, featuring Jayson Tatum in exclusive Nike Air sneakers. This campaign will serve as the creative platform for all Nike Air products and related content at Foot Locker. We believe these types of introductions will further enhance our leadership position in the marketplace.

In closing, none of this would be possible without our associates' energy, passion and ongoing contributions to the business. I want to express my thanks to each and every one of them as we continue on our journey to inspire and empower youth culture and drive the long-term success of our business.

Kim, you can open up the call for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Matt McClintock from Barclays has a question. Go ahead.

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

Hi, yes, good morning everyone. Dick and Lauren, the guidance is for low single-digit comps in the back half with an acceleration in that range. I'm just trying to think, as we get into 2019, what could get us out of the low-single digit range, maybe a little higher? Is it going to take basketball coming back or maybe comparing against some of the malaise that we've seen in basketball this year to really start to get the comp to accelerate, or is this kind of longer term the range that we should be thinking about? Thank you.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks for the question, Matt. It's really a combination of many things. Our merchant team is doing great work with our vendor partners to create exciting stories and compelling product and that really drives the heat and the interests. Certainly, getting basketball silhouettes included in that product assortment is critical for us, making certain that the running silhouettes continue to drive strength and the casual items as well. So I think it's many, many things. We've had a strong apparel business now for eight quarters, that certainly helps our comp business. And a broad assortment of silhouettes across the footwear side of the business; men's, women's and kids. We really need to hit on many cylinders. And while we've got a lot of strength going, some acceleration across that range will certainly drive higher comps.

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

Okay, thank you for that. And just as a follow-up. 602, could you maybe dive into that a little bit more in more detail? I mean, with apparel being as strong as it was this quarter, overall, I'm just trying to parse out where some of the decline, especially [ph] came from. Thank you.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, 602, Matt, had a good quarter in apparel, but was up against some really strong Fenty product and Fenty launches from last year. And the model in 602 is a little bit different, in that it's not driven as much by launch product heat on Saturdays et cetera. So when we had it a year ago and didn't have it this year created a pretty big gap. And Carroll and the team did a great job to reassort the product and push against those launches, but they were just so prolific last year that we really didn't have the ammunition this year to go up against them.

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

I appreciate the color. Best of luck.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Jeanine Fichter [ph] from Jefferies is on the line with a question.

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Hi, yes, good morning. Just want to ask a bit about the Jordan business. I know we've seen that business under some pressure, just did the pullback in units in the market. Can you give us some perspective on the timeline, how we should think about that headwind is abating and when we start to lap the changes in distribution strategy? Thank you.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Can you just repeat the end of that, you started to fade out a little bit?

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Yes, sure. Just when we start to lap the changes in the distribution strategy and when we kind of get an apples-to-apples basis, when we're lapping the changes, they made the pullback on units in the market? Thank you.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, I've mentioned that Jeanine [ph] in my prepared remarks. We start to see some of that overlap start to occur when we get to fourth quarter. The sell-through on launch day continues to improve. We don't have the tail, because the units have been pulled back, but we really expect that to start to abate in the fourth quarter.

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Eric Tracy from Buckingham Research is on the line with a question.

Eric Tracy -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Hey, everyone, good morning. I guess, if I could just go to -- as we think about the comps accelerating in the back half, maybe just the assumptions embedded within that from a product perspective. Where I'm going is, is there an assumption that you are getting deeper within some of the existing platforms that have already been launched or scaling with those, or is there visibility to new platforms coming. And then obviously just within that, sort of the assumption around basketball in total. You mentioned Jordan and how that abates, but just basketball overall. Thanks.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, our merchant team, as I mentioned, has been hard at work to create some exciting things and some of those will be certainly on platforms that exist already, some of them will be with new vendor partners, some of them will be on new platforms. So it's a combination of many things, and certainly as we start to see some strength return or some -- I shouldn't say strength return, we start to abate against some of the Jordan numbers that will certainly help the comp in the back half. Basketball, again, it has to be seen as cool by our consumer and I think some of the -- the same things that are driving the NBA apparel with the player movement and some of the excitement that there will be around the league when it starts back up this fall, I think will certainly help the basketball business. But I've said it many times, our kid, Eric, is not focused as much on category if they aren't cool. And the fact that they're finding cool in a lot of different places right now, whether it be categories or different brands, they've got a broad range of interests. So I think that bodes really well for the work that we're doing with our vendor partners for the fall and holiday seasons.

Eric Tracy -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

And then if I could just follow up on some of the exclusive campaigns you talked about with Nike around Air. Clearly there's a lot of concern out there, just in terms of the brand DTC evolving. So maybe just speak to -- Dick, if you could, things like those type of campaigns and if there are other examples, and particularly as it relates to sort of a launch schedule that you all continue to garner some x-level of exclusivity that's driving either traffic to the store and/or your digital platforms?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we've had a number in the second quarter. We launched the East meets West with ASICS. We've got the Find Your Air campaign that we just talked about. I'm not going to get into the future ones. That's part of the discovery that our customer has. The last thing I would do to our merchant and marketing team is break some of those launch dates with this group when they want to drive the excitement to our core consumers. So -- but there is an awful lot of work going on. I can't reiterate that strong enough. We are working with many vendor partners to create exclusive platforms, to create heat and energy around the product. And you're right, the vendor DTC is going to continue to grow, but it's about having an integrated marketplace. Those are all the conversations we have with our vendors. And we've got deep, deep connections with our core consumers. And our consumers truly enjoy being in the stores. We talked about traffic being essentially flat in the US, down a little bit in Europe, but that consumer is still being driven to our store. They interact -- all of them interact with their digital device, but they like the store environment and our merchant and marketing teams are doing a great job driving heat to both our digital sites and our physical sites.

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Suppliers recognize that connection to our customer and then our customer wants to engage with the product physically and compare it across brands. And so, they recognize we're in a very efficient channel to get to that customer.

Eric Tracy -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Great, thanks guys. Best of luck.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks Eric.

Operator

Michael Binetti from Credit Suisse has a question on the line.

Michael Binetti -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Hey guys, thanks for taking our question. So I just wanted -- Lauren, maybe we can go back to where we were 90 days ago and then kind of think ahead a little bit here today. But Europe was down, I think, low double digits in the first quarter and then you said you were able to take advantage of some of the promotional periods there, and I think you said down low single-digits this quarter. So it seems like there is some good progress. I'm kind of wondering forward here what's embedded in your second half low single-digit comp guidance by region in the US and in Europe. Is the thinking that Europe will slow again now that we're past the promotional period there? And if so, what inning do you think you're in on cleaning the channel there? I was a little surprised that maybe you didn't lift the gross margin guidance for the year, given the big acceleration in the comps in Europe there. I would have thought you would have been able to say, hey, we're feeling a lot cleaner about the product than maybe we were 90 days ago.

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Yeah, well, the inventory discipline that we've described, and you're certainly seeing for an extended period of time applies across the region. So our European team -- doing what they need to do to keep that inventory fresh and dealing with slow-moving items, so that we can get to a position where we feel like we've got a proper product set. And so they have been hard at work on that. That's the reason why we describe an improving trend in our Foot Locker Europe business and encourage that depth of product that their customer is responding to improve as we move through the back half. But all of that said, right, we guided you a gross margin for the third quarter of 10 basis point to 40 basis point improvement, recognizing that while we've got merchandise margin improvement being less promotional in that period that with the shift of 53rd week, we've got some delever. And so that is the dynamic as you think about the third quarter. Is that helpful?

Michael Binetti -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Definitely. And then as I look at the P&L leverage, buying and occupancy leverage you point to, that was the best leverage we've seen in years on that line, albeit off a very low positive comp. Can you -- would you mind just reminding us what caused the change in leverage point in 2Q, and then maybe a little bit more thinking on the rest of the year? Thank you.

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

This is -- after you build up against the 53rd week, we got this quarterly differences. So, in Q2 we had a benefit from that 53rd week shift and that helps that leverage point on occupancy in Q2.

Michael Binetti -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you very much.

James Lance -- Vice President, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations

Thanks, Michael.

Operator

Kate McShane from Citi is on the line with a question.

Kate McShane -- Citi -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. Thanks for taking our question. My question is centered around traffic. We've heard from several retailers this week that they saw a significant lift in traffic and while sequentially your traffic improved it was still flat for the quarter. So I just wondered with what seemed to be a stronger consumer, why do you think traffic is still flat at the store? And is there any way to reconcile, I guess, the guidance that you gave at the beginning of the year kind of being the same versus what seems to be a stronger consumer?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning Kate. Yeah, the consumer certainly is out and about, and as we look to the US market, we did have flat traffic. And there is puts and takes by geography even within the US. There is a pretty strong customer sentiment here. So we anticipate to see some traffic trends that will likely improve as we get deeper into the back-to-school season. Our consumers really are driven by the heat and the excitement that we generate. So we have to make sure that we're driving them to the stores. But you bring up a really valid point. We expect that there is some positive traffic out there. Certainly customer sentiment in the US seems to be high, based on some of the other things that we're reading. But we do continue to face traffic challenges across Europe. The sentiment is not quite as high. The traffic patterns are significantly different across most of the geography in Western Europe.

Kate McShane -- Citi -- Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Kate.

Operator

Mitch Kummetz from Pivotal Research Group is on the line with a question.

Mitch Kummetz -- Pivotal Research Group -- Analyst

Yeah, thanks. I just wanted to follow up on Michael's question earlier about Europe and kind of what's embedded in the guidance, because obviously nice sequential improvement you got from Q1 to Q2. You do have easier compares there in the back half. I mean are you assuming that that business goes positive in the back half, or you think it still stays negative, just wanted to get your thoughts on that.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, we don't get into that much granularity. But as we've talked about in the prepared remarks, we do see the business sequentially improving. Right. The product mix, and Lauren just referenced the good work that the European team did from an inventory management perspective. So as they turn the assortment, we certainly expect to continue to see sequential improvement with the European business.

Mitch Kummetz -- Pivotal Research Group -- Analyst

Okay. And then on the Jordan business, I know that the tighter distribution was a drag to comp in the quarter. I imagine that the better sell-through helped the merged margin. Is that what you expect in the third quarter as well? Is that part of the expected merged margin lift in Q3? And I'm just wondering if it's -- is it is a more positive impact in Q3 or how does that look?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

We won't get into that level of nuance. But as we said, we see the overall headwinds with Jordan abating a bit in the fourth quarter. So you can infer from that that we're going to see some of the same going into the third quarter that we saw in the second quarter. Right? And some of it just depends on how the launch dates move around, how the quick strikes deliver et cetera. So it's always a work in progress with the Jordan brand, but we certainly see some of those headwinds abating going into the fourth quarter.

Mitch Kummetz -- Pivotal Research Group -- Analyst

Just a real quick one for Lauren. On the SG&A, you're expecting it to delever, I think, 100 basis points to 110 basis points this year. Can you say how much of that is from the digital investments versus maybe other discrete items and how does that -- how should that -- how should we think about that going into 2019? Would you expect to continue to invest as heavily on the digital side, or does that start to pare back a little bit?

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Yeah, with the digital capability investments is a big chunk of SG&A delever that we're expecting, but there are other elements in it. We have this year the fact that we've got more normalized incentives that we're providing, and as we've been talking about for a while now, higher minimum wages. Selling wages is a big piece of our SG&A, and medical cost as well. So that guidance that we've given of 100 basis points to 110 basis points contemplates all of that that. But specific to your question about digital capabilities and the future outlook for that, the customer is connected 24/7 and their expectations are that we're keeping pace with how technology evolves and we want to use it to the best we can, our best capabilities to drive our business and make sure that we're connected to that customer. So I'm not ready to call 2019 yet, but it's hard to see a business that doesn't continue to invest in those capabilities.

Mitch Kummetz -- Pivotal Research Group -- Analyst

Got it. All right, thanks.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mitch.

Operator

Susan Anderson from B Riley FBR Incorporated is on the line with a question.

Susan Anderson -- B Riley FBR -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. Thanks for taking my question. I guess I just wanted to follow up on the SIX:02 stores and the women's business there. So should we not necessarily expect that to improve until we start to cycle the compares from last year? And then maybe too, if you could just kind of give us an update on those stores and the strategy there going forward. Thanks.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Susan, we talked a little bit about the fact that SIX:02 is not -- is driven by launch products. So when we we're up against significant launches from a year ago, specifically around FENTY, it's going to continue to provide some headwinds in the back half, but certainly not as dramatic as the second quarter. The assortment mix and the change with some of the vendors that are represented in the SIX:02 stores is going very well. Carroll and her team are doing a great job of reassorting the mix and getting it right. So we see in stores like 34 Street, like Time Square, Hollywood and Highland where SIX:02 is connected to a Foot Locker that drives significant traffic, we are able to see a really nice sales model. Some of the other mall-based stores that may not be in exactly the right place, the right location, we need to continue to work on. And clearly there is an emphasis on growing the brand as a digitally led brand to make sure that the brand recognition is out there, the brand name is known. It's been a long time since we launched a new brand and while we continue to put a lot of energy in it, it takes a lot of energy to get a brand name to be recognizable by the consumers.

So we will continue to lead the brand digitally, continue to try to find the right rhythm in the stores and the vendor assortment continues to improve. So a lot of pluses on the SIX:02 business. It doesn't necessarily come through on the sales line in a quarter like the second quarter, just given some of the headwinds that we saw.

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

I can't (inaudible) need to add that the female customer is responding when we're bringing something special. And as Dick said, you can see it in the stores where it's within a Foot Locker, she comes in shopping. Maybe she was coming to shop for him, but when she finds that special space that has got great product for her, she is delighted with the experience. And while she is not as launch-driven, we've introduced product, we had the introduction of Good American and she lined up for that. So she likes special product just like he does, and that's what we're trying to deliver to her.

Susan Anderson -- B Riley FBR -- Analyst

That's great, very helpful.

Operator

Sam Poser from Susquehanna Financial Group is on the line with a question.

Sam Poser -- Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP -- Analyst

Good morning. Thank you for taking my question. A few ones. One, can you talk about the actual, like, change in the sell-through rates in Jordan, more specifically, what kind of rates you saw last year, what kind of rates you saw this year? And secondly, can you talk about the fashion or the lifestyle running businesses where you're seeing that, and the lifestyle businesses in more detail as an offset to basketball, because you brought up on numerous occasions the kid doesn't care, necessarily, its basketball shoe or running shoe or casual shoe. So can you give us some details on (inaudible) offsets and the momentum in those other categories? Thanks.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Sam, we are not going to get into the specifics of our sell-through numbers on Jordan clearly, but suffice it to say that we are seeing better sell-through on day of launch. We just don't have the tail, because of the reduction in peers in the marketplace. So absolutely seeing better sell-throughs and somebody asked a question earlier about does that have a positive impact on the margin. And certainly, it does. We're seeing -- I think as you're all students of the business. You see the chunky mid-sole sort of phenomenon right now, whether it's the FILA Disruptor or some models from our other vendor partners, it is all the rage on the women's side of the business and it is having an impact on the men's side of the business as well. We see things with Reebok, like Alter The Icon, where we've been able to do some really unique things. And, again, not basketball led, more of running silhouettes, in most cases are our casual silhouettes that are certainly helping offset some of the softness across the signature basketball side of things. At the same time, you look at the Air Force 1 business, which is a great classic basketball silhouette, and it continues to be one of the strengths across our fleet. So there's a lot of offsets to the marquee/player basketball and the fact that we've seen some early views of the new LeBron shoe, I think there will be some heat coming back to signature basketball. It's just going to take a little while to get there.

Sam Poser -- Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP -- Analyst

Okay. And then secondly, the flow of product, the flow of newness, the speed initiatives from the brands and so on, how is that helping your flow and are you writing -- are you able to write orders closer to need now and so on, and how is that evolving?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, it continues to evolve Sam. I mean all of our vendor partners are working on getting closer to market, but it's with the small percentage of the inventory at this point. But we are changing our processes to make sure that we've got open to buy available a little bit closer to the market, because there are products that are becoming available closer to market and we're seeing great work by all of our vendor partners to try to figure out that new model to build shoes faster, to get shoes into the marketplace faster and we're seeing some success, but it's still with a relatively small portion of our inventory.

Sam Poser -- Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP -- Analyst

All right. And lastly, in your guidance in the improvement in the same-store sales, are you -- what kind of change are you predicting in basketball in that number, or is it basically basketball as is and it improves as the mix and depth of the stuff that's performing well now improves?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, Sam, I've said many, many times that our consumer is driven by cool and if cool happens to be in basketball, our consumer will be motivated by that and buy basketball. Right now there is some wins and we talked about those in the LeBron side of things. At the same time, we're seeing such tremendous strength across the Max Air platform, Yeezys, all sorts of silhouettes, the FILA Disruptor that have nothing to do with basketball that the consumer is really excited to buy. So the guidance for the back half reflects what we see and what we know in the marketplace today and the flow of product that we've got coming in the next two quarters.

Sam Poser -- Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP -- Analyst

All right. Thank you very much and good luck.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Sam.

Operator

Camilo Lyon from Canaccord Genuity is on the line with a question.

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Good morning. This is (inaudible) on for Camilo, thanks for taking our question. Dick, you mentioned that you're getting more depth behind some of these strong trending platforms. Can you give us a sense of magnitude, maybe some examples on the magnitude of the increase in allocation in the second half versus the first half?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Again, that's stuff that we really don't disclose. Right. I mean those are very competitive positions, they're all part of our relationship with our vendor partners. So we don't get into the specifics of how product is allocated or how our allocations change quarter-to-quarter. We just -- we've seen the order books. We know the order books. We know the flow of product, and that's all embedded in the guidance that we gave you.

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Got it. And my second question is on the Power Stores. Is there any plan of opening Power Stores in the US? And given the traction you're seeing with the elevated experience that you're offering in your stores in the UK, are you following a similar strategy in the US? Can you maybe elaborate on some examples where you are elevating the in-store experience in the US or you plan to doing in the future?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Absolutely. Our Power Store strategy is a multi-geographic strategy, it's not specific to the UK, we just simply had the first two opportunities, based on lease and construction times to open the store at Liverpool and the store at Marble Arch on Oxford Street in London. We've got certainly plans to open up some Power Stores in the US. Probably the first one that you'll see will be in the Detroit market. We've taken some of the elements, we actually just reopened the store down on 14th Street here in New York that while I wouldn't qualify it as a Power Store, it's got many of the elements that we saw when we were over in London in Liverpool that we've been able to bring into a more traditional store. And I think it's -- it represents the great work that our real estate and our construction team and our brand marketing teams have done to really bring the key elements of the Power Stores into a more traditional sort of stores. So that work will continue across all of our geographies. We'll open up a Power Store in Kowloon, Hong Kong in the third quarter. Again, very exciting , but again it was driven by the fact that we were able to get the right property, the right lease terms and the right construction period to make it happen.

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Paul Trussell from Deutsche Bank is on the line with a question.

Paul Trussell -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Good morning.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Paul.

Paul Trussell -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

If we take a step back to the beginning of the year, you were coming off a few tough quarters in 2017, but you were cautiously kind of optimistic on the turn happening here in fiscal 2018 and had guided to flat-to-up low single digit comps at the time. Now, halfway through the year, just where do you feel like you've had the greatest successes and what are still some of the more meaningful challenges you're facing? I'm thinking about things such as your ability to attain key product from vendors, the ability for stores to generate traffic, how you've managed inventory, profitability turning around in certain categories and geographies, et cetera?

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Well the strength of the business, Paul, was clearly in the US, right, traffic flat, the categories -- the product heat was significant, the vendor certainly found us both digitally and online. So I feel really good about the work that's going on in North America. The opportunities that we've got continue to be -- getting things straightened out in Europe, we've talked a little bit about that in a couple of other questions, where they did what they needed to from an inventory management perspective, over the legislated sales periods in the summer time here. And now they will work hard to get that inventory turns and that presents some opportunity. The team did a great job managing the expenses. I think one of the strengths of our business is that we're able to flex expenses up and down pretty well in most cases. We continue to invest significantly in the customer-facing things, getting our digital presence stronger, the mini hub tests that we talked about that we'll learn more of -- certainly more about as we roll them out -- roll the second one out here at the end of August. So we've made a lot of progress. We've got a lot of work to do. Retail is an everyday sort of focus on the details and the team is focused on delivering against what we've talked about.

Paul Trussell -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Fair enough. And then also, you touched earlier, Lauren, on the digital investments being made and the impact it's having to SG&A this year. But just wanted to inquire a little bit more big picture on where you think we are in terms of the investment cycle. Certainly you're not giving guidance for 2019, but is it fair to think that the expense growth rate and the leverage hurdle will come down a bit as we look beyond this year?

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

We are laying some foundational stuff and beginning to see some of that come online with the investments that we've made in the mobile capabilities and website, and those changes roll out banner by banner. So we'll see the benefit as we get further into that. We talked a lot about our loyalty program and the changes that we're making there. And some of this technology is certainly intended to enable that element. So it will bear fruit as we go forward, it's bearing some now, but more as we go forward. But as I described, I'm not yet ready to tell you how that investment plays out over the longer term. I don't see us not continuing to invest there.

Paul Trussell -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Fair enough. Thank you and good luck.

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Paul.

Operator

I now turn the call back to Mr. Lance.

James Lance -- Vice President, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations

Okay, thank you for joining us today. I'll be back at my desk shortly to take follow-up calls. And please join us again for next earnings call, which we anticipate will take place at 9 AM on Wednesday, November 21. The call will follow the release of our third quarter results earlier that morning. Thanks again, and goodbye.

Operator

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's conference. Thank you for participating. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 62 minutes

Call participants:

James Lance -- Vice President, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations

Lauren Peters -- Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Richard Johnson -- Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Matt McClintock -- Barclays -- Analyst

Unidentified Participant -- -- Analyst

Eric Tracy -- Buckingham Research -- Analyst

Michael Binetti -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Kate McShane -- Citi -- Analyst

Mitch Kummetz -- Pivotal Research Group -- Analyst

Susan Anderson -- B Riley FBR -- Analyst

Sam Poser -- Susquehanna Financial Group LLLP -- Analyst

Paul Trussell -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

More FL analysis

This article is a transcript of this conference call produced for The Motley Fool. While we strive for our Foolish Best, there may be errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in this transcript. As with all our articles, The Motley Fool does not assume any responsibility for your use of this content, and we strongly encourage you to do your own research, including listening to the call yourself and reading the company's SEC filings. Please see our Terms and Conditions for additional details, including our Obligatory Capitalized Disclaimers of Liability.

Motley Fool Transcribers has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.