U.S. retail sales fell in March, with clothing and accessories stores seeing declines of more than 50%. The figure isn't too much of a surprise, considering that most physical shops closed as the coronavirus outbreak deepened. Record job losses over the past month haven't helped matters. As many Americans face unemployment, we can expect less spending on nonessential items.
While it's best not to rush into the retail sector now, here are two names offering positive long-term prospects.
lululemon athletica (LULU 0.14%) entered this crisis in a position of strength. The maker of yoga-inspired athletic wear ended fiscal 2019 with $1.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents -- its highest level ever -- and no long-term debt. Net revenue climbed 21% to $4 billion last year, while earnings per share beat analysts' estimates in all four quarters.
The company is back in business in China after closing its shops there in February due to the coronavirus outbreak. Though Lululemon makes most of its revenue in the U.S., the fact that it can rely on some revenue in China while U.S. shops are closed is positive. China represents the company's third-biggest market in terms of physical store count.
Lululemon is also using its digital presence to navigate through the crisis. The company launched online "sweatlife" sessions in March, offering workouts, tips, and related content to stay connected with current and potential customers. The effort helped Lululemon reach more than 72 million people. The retailer already has a strong digital presence, with its direct-to-consumer business representing more than 28% of annual sales. Lululemon posted digital sales growth of 35% last year. With stores currently closed, staying connected with customers digitally is a way to keep the brand in the forefront and turn this relationship into sales later.
It wouldn't be realistic to expect a great year from Lululemon in 2020. In its recent annual report, the company said it expects the crisis will hurt sales, and as a result, have a "material adverse impact" on earnings this year. Still, from a long-term perspective, the efforts Lululemon is making now should set it up for more sales gains in the future. The shares are down 7% year to date, offering an entry point.
Nike (NKE -1.02%), like Lululemon, is using its digital presence to connect with its audience during the current health crisis. The athletic gear powerhouse temporarily shut stores in the U.S. and elsewhere as the coronavirus outbreak spread. Meanwhile, it made Nike Training Club Premium -- an app offering workouts and tips -- free to everyone in the U.S. for 90 days. Efforts to connect with its audience in China, where Nike temporarily closed 75% of its stores during the outbreak, directly translated into digital sales gains. The company increased digital sales there by more than 30% in the third quarter of fiscal 2020.
This digital platform -- part of Nike's effort to boost direct-to-consumer sales -- clearly helped the company through the crisis in China and may do the same in the U.S. Digital is Nike's fastest-growing segment and now represents more than 20% of its overall business. The positive trends in digital sales are likely to continue after the crisis as well.
The strength of the Nike brand is another reason to be optimistic about the future. Nike managed to report 7% revenue growth on a currency-neutral basis for the most recent quarter, in spite of coronavirus shutdowns in China. And Nike has steadily increased annual revenue over the past 10 years.
Like Lululemon, Nike surely won't post its best sales performance this year. The company hasn't offered guidance for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 due to the uncertainty of the current crisis, but Nike is planning fiscal 2021 performance to be in line with its long-term financial model. Nike stock's performance hasn't been brilliant this year. The shares have slipped 12% year to date, about the same as the S&P 500. Still, Nike's history of revenue gains, growing digital presence, and strong brand make it a solid bet for long-term investors in the consumer discretionary sector.