With shares of lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) down 17% so far in 2014, investors are hopeful the yoga apparel specialist's fiscal fourth-quarter report tomorrow morning will bring good news. But I'm not expecting last quarter's numbers to be much of a surprise, especially because lululemon already revised its fourth-quarter guidance downward leading into a mid-January presentation at ICR XChange. At the time, lululemon told investors to expect fourth-quarter earnings per share of $0.71 to $0.73, and revenue in the range of $513 million to $518 million.
Sure enough, analysts adjusted their estimates accordingly, and are now going into tomorrow's report expecting earnings of $0.72 per share on sales of $515.11 million.
Lululemon might post another beat...
Then again, there's always a chance lululemon's guidance could prove conservative, especially considering it hinged on the assumption that weak traffic and sales trends during the first two weeks of January would continue through the end of the month. If that assumption was wrong and the trends were short-lived, lululemon could still deliver on its stubborn reputation for consistently overachieving.
However, that sure didn't help shareholders last quarter, when they were forced to endure an 11% post-earnings plunge, despite lululemon handily beating analysts' estimates on both its top and bottom lines.
So what does lululemon need to provide in order to keep investors happy?
...but it won't matter unless we see this
Simply put: The market wants to see a light at the end of the tunnel with lululemon's forward outlook.
Last quarter's results were tainted by freshly lowered guidance, thanks to a combination of the lasting effects of a massive pants recall last spring, the surprise resignation of CEO Christine Day last summer, and less-than-tasteful comments from company founder and former chairman Chip Wilson in November.
As it stands, analysts are currently modeling first-quarter earnings of $0.38 per share on sales of $389.39 million. For the full year, Wall Street wants to see earnings of $2.14 per share on sales of $1.82 billion. If lululemon tells us to realistically expect anything at or above these ranges, it would do wonders to restore investors' confidence in its long-term prospects.
But don't get me wrong; this doesn't mean lululemon is without its challenges. To the contrary, I fully expect lululemon still has work to do in repairing its damaged image with consumers. And over the long-term, lululemon still needs to prove to investors it's more than just a yoga company to compete on a global scale with industry stalwarts like Nike.
In the near term, though, investors could breathe a huge sigh of relief if lululemon's guidance indicates the worst of last year's issues are over.
Steve Symington owns shares of Lululemon Athletica. The Motley Fool recommends Lululemon Athletica and Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. 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.