The further down the list you go, the worse off retailers are feeling this year. Consumers held on to their cash for bigger items and renovations, leaving electronics, entertainment, and clothing to fill in the little gaps. That meant big brands and small all felt the crush this year, and everyone is looking forward to a brighter 2014. Even with the tough conditions, a few brands did manage to shine, setting themselves up for an excellent next year. Here are your top clothing stocks for 2014.
Fifth & Pacific slims down for 2014
Over the past three months, brand portfolio Fifth & Pacific (NYSE:KATE) has emptied its portfolio. The company sold off Juicy Couture in October and dropped Lucky Brand just this month. The result is a slimmed down, ready to roll Kate Spade business. Kate has been killing it this year, and was hampered by the fall of Juicy. Now free to spread its wings, Fifth & Pacific is going into 2014 with a completely different business.
Kate Spade is one of the few brands that came out way ahead in 2013. The brand's revenue grew 76% last quarter over 2012, driven by comparable sales growth of 31%. That speed puts it in the same boat as Michael Kors, but Fifth & Pacific has the benefit of experience.
By shrinking the business, management now has less to focus on, giving it the chance to push Kate Spade and sister brand Kate Spade Saturday as hard as it wants. The business got an influx of cash from the brand sell-off, and is realizing a return from lease terminations, as well. The combination of strong sales, strong management, and a growing pile of resources makes Fifth & Pacific a 2014 winner.
Nike keeps on teaching the world to love sports
If Fifth & Pacific is the growth opportunity in clothing next year, Nike (NYSE:NKE) is the stable riser. The business commands a $15 billion brand and is shooting for $36 billion in annual sales by 2017. Last quarter, Nike increased revenue by 8% and expanded its gross margin at an even faster rate. That led to a 37% increase in earnings per share.
Want dividends -- Nike's got you covered there, too. Nike has increased its annual dividend for 12 years in a row, giving investors some stability. Consistent growth has been Nike's trademark, and the goal for 2017 just underscores what this company is capable of.
In 2014, the business is expecting double-digit revenue growth in its newer markets, like China and Eastern Europe. That's going to help Nike hit its 2015 milestone of $30 billion in annual sales, up from $25.3 billion in fiscal 2012. In short, 2014 is the launching point for Nike, and investors look set to be well rewarded by its flight.
Taking the long view at VF Corporation
While the scope isn't as broad as at Nike, the plan is no less ambitious over at VF Corp. (NYSE:VFC). The owners of The North Face, Timberland, Wrangler, and other household names has its own 2017 plan. While Nike is planning to grow overall revenue by 42% over five years, VF is hoping to jump 59% by 2017. VF has a goal of hitting $17 billion in 2017, up from just $10.9 billion in 2012.
The company is going to make the push based on the strength of its brands. The North Face is at the head of the pack, growing revenue by 10% last year. The brand has shown an incredible ability to appeal to both athletes and casual wearers, and has given the company a real fashion icon to help lead its sales push.
In 2014, look for VF to inch up its operating margin, as the business continues to coalesce. The company is updating its sales technology, addressing its marketing issues, and pushing fashion into some of its older brands, like Lee jeans. That should help boost revenue and keep investors happy all year long.
Controversy may have finally died off at Lululemon
If you want to take a higher risk shot in 2014, lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) might be the place for you. The company got crushed this month on a poor outlook, but there are lots of things going right for Lululemon, as well. The business finally ditched its loudmouthed founder, a new CEO has been chosen, and its most recent product issue may be on the way to a resolution under the new head of product.
When it comes down to the wire, this may be what investing is all about. There's a fine line between success and failure here, and Lululemon is over halfway to the failure side. After building a community of yoga practitioners, founder Chip Wilson says something akin to 'we don't sell clothes for fat people' a few months after selling overly sheer pants to everyone, and the community revolts.
Now Lululemon is looking down the barrel of flat comparable sales in its fourth quarter. That's not the year that the company was supposed to have. Luckily, it might not be the year that 2014 brings it. New CEO Laurent Potdevin comes to Lululemon from TOMS, a shoe business built on the value of community and goodwill. Before that, he worked at Burton Snowboards, where he learned the value of technical product design. If anyone can right Lululemon's ship, its Potdevin -- 2014 is his chance to prove his mettle.
Finishing on a high note with Under Armour
You didn't really want to end on Lululemon, right? Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) is the glorious thorn in everyone's side. It's a growth stock like Fifth & Pacific, it's Nike's best competition, it rivals The North Face for college fashion value, and it sells all of the things Lululemon makes for about 15% less.
The company increased its full-year outlook earlier this year, expecting a 22% to 23% increase in revenue. The company continues to drive its brand on its reputation for innovation. This year, the company introduced a new ColdGear line which contains ceramic to help insulate you -- I have no idea how that works. Fortunately, my failures at science haven't held the company back, and the new line is off to a roaring start.
In 2014, Under Armour is going to be releasing new footwear lines, working to integrate its in-store and direct-to-consumer marketing, and expanding its gross margin as its supply chain settles into a routine. For investors, Under Armour offers a lot of great potential with a proven track record of turning neat ideas into cold hard cash -- 2014 should be no different.
The bottom line
Whether you're looking for a grower, a solid player, or a bit of a risk, there's something for every investor in 2014. Macroeconomic conditions may make a positive turn, but even if they don't, these five brands have the potential to turn lemons into lemonade. No matter what you decided to do in 2014, retail investors should be happy to see 2013 disappear into the mist.
Fool contributor Andrew Marder has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Lululemon Athletica, Nike, and Under Armour. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike and Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.