lululemon athletica (LULU -0.61%) stock has been a juggernaut of an investment, delivering 589% in returns over the last five years. The athleisure company has dominated an industry that continues to garner consumer attention, with the advent of remote work only helping the trend. As we've watched formal-wear companies like Tailored Brands go into bankruptcy as overall demand for business attire has diminished, casual clothing companies like Lululemon have flourished.
An annual powerhouse
Lululemon has delivered yearly double-digit percentage sales growth for five years. The company finished fiscal 2019, which ended last February, with a 21% increase in revenue to $4 billion. Operating income increased a comparable 22.3% year over year, while earnings per diluted share jumped 36.5% to $4.93.
Throughout fiscal 2020, Lululemon's growth story hasn't been stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the three fiscal quarters that ended Nov. 1, revenue was still up a weak 3.5% year over year to $2.67 billion, but the third quarter saw some acceleration. Revenue increased 22% year over year to $1.1 billion, while total comp sales grew 19%.
The makeup of the company's growth includes strong performance in direct-to-consumer, which increased by 94%. The third quarter set the tone for the ever-important holiday season. While we won't get those results for a while (currently scheduled for release on March 31), it seems fair to say that Lululemon has maintained its consumer demand. Overall holiday retail sales grew 3%, and given Lululemon's trends, it stands to reason that the company was likely one of the benefactors.
Working from the couch
If businesses can save money on office space by having certain workers do their jobs from home, that's not going to go away when the pandemic ends. COVID-19 forced so many businesses to figure out how to operate in a different way. A trend that could be detrimental to commercial real estate could benefit a company offering comfortable attire. Are you going to work from your home office in a suit? Nope. Are you going to work from home in a skirt? Nope. You're going to wear something comfortable. Lululemon can only gain from what's happening there.
In the past, Lululemon's valuation was a constant concern for me. The space it operated in seemed highly replicable by competitors. Over time, though, it's become quite clear that investors are heavily vested in the growth story here, and that the company is not getting outpaced by rivals. Based on the ever-strong comp sales growth (excluding parts of the pandemic-influenced 2020), Lululemon is a faster-growing Nike for women, and more recently for the men's space as well.
Lululemon shares have outpaced the S&P 500 by 128% over the last two years. You'll hear no argument that this is a highly valued growth stock. Earnings and sales growth have been strong, but not enough to keep up with the valuation of shares. The stock has a trailing P/E ratio of 86 times earnings. Still, compared to a stock valuation like Zoom Video Communications (ZM 1.77%), Lululemon investors are getting a much better deal.
The video-conferencing platform was a gravy train this year for investors. The pandemic, and stay-at-home policies, led to huge usage, and a sudden huge gain in earnings. After giving back about a third of its 600% gain over the last 12 months, Zoom Video still asks a big premium for its shares. On a trailing basis, the stock trades at 238 times earnings; with full-year 2021 adjusted EPS guidance in the $1.21 to $1.29 range, the stock is still remarkably pricey.
Rather than push those kinds of premiums while the market is near all-time highs, it might be better for investors to look at something like Lululemon. It's still a growth name, but it is priced a bit more reasonably. More importantly, Lululemon has shown an impressive track record of growing comparable sales. Athleisure apparel has an inherent advantage in a work-from-home environment in the same sense that something like Zoom does, but also has demonstrated utility prior to social distancing. Zoom Video, on the other hand, does not.
The sales data is there, and it seems very likely that Lululemon will continue its rise as a major contender in athletic/athleisure wear. It's a solid growth stock for any portfolio.