Shares of retailer bebe Stores
bebe's same-store sales increased 4%, compared to a 1.1% increase in the same month last year. Total sales increased an impressive 13.5% to $95.6 million. However, the cause for all the negative reaction was likely that bebe lowered its earnings guidance for the second quarter to between $0.25-$0.29 per share from the $0.31-$0.35 range.
I stumbled upon a blurb in the press release that gave me pause, though. It was easy enough to blow past the disclosure that the company is changing the name of its new Neda store in San Francisco (opened in September 2006) to "bebe accessories," because of Neda Mashouf's resignation. Something made me think twice, though, and a little digging revealed that Neda Mashouf was the company's vice chairman and general merchandising manager of design and bebe Sport. She also happened to be married to bebe Chairman and founder Manny Mashouf, and as of the latest proxy statement, the two owned 72.8% of bebe's shares.
Digging still further, the risk factors section of bebe's latest 10-Q backed up my suspicion: dissolution of Manny and Neda Mashouf's marriage was in progress when Neda resigned on Nov. 8 (and certainly should bring up the question of just how that large stake in the company will be divided between the two and what the implications will be). Neda Mashouf had previously been considered a key employee, according to the filing, and of course that implies her absence could have an adverse impact. A 1999 Business Week article said Neda has been a key trend spotter for bebe, and after her importance at the company grew over the years, she described herself thus: "I was and am a bebe girl."
A situation like this one isn't pleasant, and it's one of the risks not only of running a business, but also of living a life. I recently wrote about other departures of high-profile personnel from retailers -- take the Gralnicks' retirement from Chico's
On the other hand, if Neda Mashouf's departure wasn't a risk, you wouldn't think it would be noted as such in regulatory filings. And from my way of thinking, it's not just the possibility of losing some design magic and merchandising inspiration. In this particular case, such an emotionally charged situation could distract day-to-day business, not to mention the sheer number of Mashoufs on the executive team. (Other related executive officers at bebe include Manny Mashouf's son and nephew.)
Despite the market's adverse reaction to bebe's December comps and the loss of a key employee, there's no reason for investors to press the panic button on "what-ifs." We don't know the entirety of the situation by a long shot, and it does seem the said company has been traditionally solid and well run. However, as with every Foolish investment, there's always reason to be diligent in doing homework, such as reading SEC filings and keeping an eye on what's going on with your companies; there can be more there than meets the eye.
Tom Gardner recommended bebe to Motley Fool Stock Advisor subscribers in February 2006, attracted to its strategy, strong balance sheet, and long-term outlook; even with the recent setback, the shares have appreciated 14.85% since his recommendation. To find out what other companies David and Tom Gardner have recommended to subscribers in this market-beating service, click here for a 30-day free trial.
Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.
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