The athletic apparel market has been one of the hottest industries for investors lately. Among stocks in the space, Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) was one of the best performing, climbing 56% in 2014. By standing up to industry giant Nike (NYSE:NKE) and other potential competitors, Under Armour has carved out lucrative niches in the athletic space and has built upon them to expand its overall presence and appeal to customers.
Yet even after its impressive performance, Under Armour still has plenty of room to become an even bigger player in the fast-growing industry. Let's take a closer look at how Under Armour scored such strong gains in 2014, and whether it can keep up the pace going into the New Year.
What kept Under Armour growing in 2014
For longtime investors, Under Armour's performance in 2014 hasn't come as much of a surprise. After all, at the beginning of the year, Under Armour had already given investors more than 600% returns during the preceding five years, as the athletic company bounced back from the recession with a vengeance.
Put simply, Under Armour kept on doing the things it has done in the past to spur further growth. Early in the year, Under Armour's strong holiday-quarter results sent the stock up as much as 25% in a single day, raising the bar for the new fiscal year early on. In April, the company completed its two-for-one stock split, and saw net income soar almost 75% on a 36% gain in sales.
Similar results in July contributed to further gains, with Under Armour's budding footwear segment showing growth on a par with its better-established apparel business. And in October, 30% revenue gains and a 22% jump in earnings were good enough to have the company end the year on a positive note from a news-release standpoint.
One key to understanding Under Armour's success is that, in large part, it hasn't come at the expense of Nike. Nike itself has produced solid gains, with its stock climbing 25% in 2014. What Under Armour's strong results show is that, when an industry is healthy, there's more than enough room for multiple companies to reap huge rewards. That's clearly what has helped Under Armour continue to climb in 2014.
What's ahead for Under Armour?
Perhaps the most amazing part of Under Armour's success is that there are so many different avenues in which the company still has huge future prospects. The company only now has started to tap into the lucrative women's apparel market, capitalizing on miscues by yoga specialist lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU), and seeking to play a bigger role in a segment that CEO Kevin Plank believes could become even larger than its current men's division. At the same time, Under Armour gets only a tiny percentage of its overall sales outside the U.S., and the company has made some moves to broaden its exposure internationally, including a deal with the U.S. Olympic speedskating team.
In addition, Under Armour has made strategic moves to put itself into the mix with respect to wearable computing. Its acquisition of MapMyFitness gives Under Armour access to a highly loyal group of runners and cyclists and will help it keep up with Nike's efforts in the space.
Finally, Under Armour has a huge opportunity to start 2015 on the same foot that helped it have a winning 2014. Nike traditionally has its strongest performance in the ramp-up to summer-sports season, with winter being a weaker time of year. If Under Armour can take advantage of that weakness again, it can gain momentum at a key time for the industry as it looks forward to another year of solid growth.
Most companies would be content with the level of success that Under Armour has already had. But for the athletic company, past performance only motivates Under Armour to seek to do more. With so many avenues for growth, Under Armour only needs to pick and choose the best prospects in the industry in order to sustain its impressive growth, and give long-term investors even more to celebrate in 2015 and beyond.
Dan Caplinger 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.