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3 Consumer Companies Thriving in Spite of the Cold Weather

By Andrés Cardenal – Mar 8, 2014 at 4:30PM

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Foot Locker, Boston Beer, and L Brands aren't making any excuses and delivering sound performance in spite of the harsh weather. This speaks wonders about these companies and their management teams.

Weather conditions have become a matter of much discussion lately, as the cold and snowy winter in many parts of the country has hurt many companies over the past few months, especially in the consumer sector. You wouldn't have guessed that by looking at companies such as Foot Locker (FL 0.66%), Boston Beer (SAM 1.39%), and L Brands (BBWI 3.67%), though, as they're making no excuses and delivering hot-blooded performance in spite of the harsh weather.

Source: Foot Locker.

Foot Locker has its feet on the ground
Foot Locker was rising by a whopping 8.8% on Friday after the company announced both better-than-expected sales and earnings for its fiscal fourth quarter ended on Feb. 1. Total sales during the quarter grew 4.6% to $1.79 billion, above the average Wall Street estimate of $1.76 billion. Comparable-store sales were also strong during the period, rising by 5.3% year over year.

Management did a sound job of keeping costs under control and increasing sales per square foot, which had a positive impact on profit margins, and earnings during the quarter. Earnings per share came in at $0.81, a big 19% increase versus the same quarter of the prior year and comfortably above the $0.76 average analyst expectation.

The company is implementing a series of initiatives, such as closing unprofitable stores, remodeling other locations, and expanding internationally via franchised stores, and recent performance is confirming that Foot Locker is on the right track.

Management seems quite confident about the future, too: The company is forecasting a mid-single-digit increase in comparable-store sales during fiscal 2014 and a double-digit increase in earnings per share for the full year.

Source: Boston Beer.

Boston Beer for all kinds of weather
Some companies in the consumer business have blamed weather conditions for their lower-than-expected sales lately, and beer is one of the areas that could be expected to be particularly hurt by a cold winter, as consumers could presumably tend toward other alternatives when the climate is especially cold.

However, Boston Beer delivered a refreshingly big increase of 34.2% in revenues to $205.4 million during the fourth quarter of 2013, comfortably beating analysts' estimates of $191 million for the quarter. Core shipment volume grew by 29% during the quarter, and depletion increased by 20% versus the same quarter in the prior year.

Earnings per share came in materially below expectations, though, as the company continues investing heavily to capitalize on its long-term growth opportunities. In the words of CEO Martin Roper:

Given the opportunities that we see, we expect a continued high level of brand investment and capital investment as we pursue growth and innovation. We are prepared to forsake the earnings that may be lost as a result of these investments in the short term as we pursue long-term profitable growth.

Boston Beer is a growth leader in an attractive niche like craft beer, and the company is proving its ability to grow under all conditions, so management is doing the right thing by investing for long-term growth as opposed to focusing too much on current profitability.

Source: L Brands.

L Brands is still in fashion
Most clothing and apparel retailers have been complaining that their customers don't feel like facing the chilly weather to go shopping. But L Brands is uniquely positioned in the industry thanks to the popularity and high customer loyalty Victoria's Secret enjoys, and recent performance is conforming that soundness.

L Brands suffered a slowdown in December, but performance picked up in January with a big 9% increase in comparable sales at the company level, fueled by a 10% jump in comparable-store sales at Victoria's Secret. As for February, things look much more stable but still strong, with a 2% increase in comparable sales both at Victoria's Secret stores and on a total company level.

Management seems quite confident about the future, judging by capital distributions. The company announced an increase of 13% in regular dividends on Feb. 3, complemented by a special dividend of $1 per share. 

This marks the company's 157th consecutive quarterly dividend, so L Brands has proved that it has what it takes to reward shareholders with consistent cash payments through all kinds of weather.

Bottom line
Even subpar companies can do well when the skies are clear and industry conditions are favorable, but it takes a well-run business to deliver sound performance in a challenging scenario. Foot Locker, Boston Beer, and L Brands are successfully sailing through the storm, and that's a positive reflection on the business quality and management skills at these companies.

Andrés Cardenal has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Boston Beer. We Fools don't 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.

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