With shares of lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) down 42% since this time last May, it seems an understatement to say the yoga apparel specialist has had a rough year. So, I can certainly understand speculation from research firm ISI Group that lululemon could be a potential takeover candidate.
Specifically, ISI named Lululemon among several brands potentially of interest to VF Corp (NYSE:VFC), which has a habit of making one or two "significant" acquisitions per year, and already owns nearly two dozen iconic names, including The North Face, Wrangler, Vans, and Timberland. By acquiring Lululemon, ISI says, VF Corp could boost its earnings by as much as $1.05 per share over the long term.
Shares of Lululemon unsurprisingly rose by more than 4% this morning on the report.
There's a catch
Fortunately -- yes, fortunately -- for Lululemon shareholders, I just don't think it'll happen. Or at least the way the ISI calls it, anyway.
Why? ISI's assumption hinges on VF Corp acquiring Lululemon for $50 per share, or a paltry 12% premium to yesterday's close. I don't know about you, but I'd vote "no" as a Lululemon shareholder if such a proposal came to the table.
Sure, ISI also claims a merger between Lululemon and VF would be a win for both companies. VF, for example, would benefit from increased exposure to the athletic apparel segment. And Lululemon, ISI says, would gain VF's strong brand-building and product-innovation capabilities, and a world-class supply chain.
To be sure, Lululemon's plunging share price follows a string of frustrating PR nightmares for the company, including a massive quality-driven pants recall last spring, the sudden departure of visionary CEO Christine Day early last summer, and some less than savory comments from Lululemon's founder -- and now former chairman -- Chip Wilson.
Now, however, Lululemon's storm appears to be passing. First, the company has a promising new CEO in Laurent Potdevin, who happens to have extensive experience building brands with fanatical customer bases. Lululemon is also working hard to reign in quality-control issues and to hone its supply-chain skills, and it is setting the stage for an accelerated global expansion next year. And that's not to mention Lululemon's impressive growth in both men's and children's apparel -- strength in the latter of which is already driving an accelerated rollout of Lululemon's kid-centric ivivva outlets.
Long story short: I don't think Lululemon needs a suitor like VF Corp to survive and thrive over the long term, especially if the offer were to come in at just $50 per share. That would value Lululemon at around $7.3 billion, or roughly 4.3 and 26 times trailing-12-month sales and earnings, respectively. That might sound high given Lululemon's temporary lull in growth, but it is a big discount to its five-year average trailing P/E of around 43.
Of course, anything higher would be a big pill to swallow for even the $28 billion behemoth that is VF Corp. And I'm not entirely sure VF wants to spend at least one-quarter of its entire market cap on one brand, even if it is a high-margin name like Lululemon.