There was something about opening a fresh pack of baseball or basketball cards and chomping on that rectangular, pink stick of gum that made my day. It was the early 1970s, and I couldn't get enough of what Topps
Flash forward about 15 years, and I am moving out of my parents' house with my worldly possessions, including my extensive sports card collection. A few months into checking some of the lofty prices for my treasures, I walked into a sports card show at a major convention center. There were tables of dealers the length a few football fields, all of which had multiple cards of some of my "prized possessions." This was during the sports card boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and my views of supply and demand quickly told me that the balloon would eventually burst.
Another 15 years has elapsed, and I'm getting pretty sick of kids and adults buying cards for their potential worth instead of my generation's pure fascination of the game and its players. My friends and I knew the value of a Tom Seaver card, so we never dared flip him or put him anywhere near the spokes of our bikes. He was valuable because he was "Tom Terrific," not because the card would be worth a lot of money one day.
With sports cards merely a shell of the industry it once was, Topps has turned to its confectionary business as its primary business driver. Companies such as Upper Deck and Marvel Publishing have made it difficult for Topps to thrive in what was once its market. Confectionary sales now make up 58% of the company's net sales, while its Entertainment Unit (which includes sports cards, sticker albums, Internet activity, and strategy games) adds up to only 42% of sales.
At the end of fiscal 2004, sales were split 50/50 for its business units, but Topps had reduced the number of sports products released by almost 20% and restructured the sports organization (saving the company more than $1.5 million annually). The company's second-quarter sales were down 6.2% on an 8% decline in entertainment products and a 4.8% drop in confectionary sales. Topps' earnings of $0.09 per share, which were down from the $0.13 per share earned last year and below the $0.12 analysts' expectations, were mightily impacted by more than a 300-basis-point contraction in the Entertainment Unit's operating margin.
Kids are now turning to Yu-Gi-Oh!, Garbage Pail Kids, and Hantaro products over Barry Bonds baseball cards. The confectionary business, which has improved operating margins, is fighting to combat stiff competition from industry leaders WM Wrigley
If you take a look at the chart for the company's shares over the past two years, they've underperformed the S&P 500. Conversely, if you had bought a Barry Bonds rookie card (which I already have), the price appreciation would be sure to rival most of the highest performing stocks on the index.
Topps needs to continue to reduce its exposure to sports cards (it is not issuing hockey cards this year in fear of a lengthy lockout) and leverage its healthy $110.6 million of cash flow and no long-term debt. As sad as it might be personally, I would wait to invest in Topps shares until the company realigns its business further away from its sports card roots.
Get down to your parents' basement before your cards are gone! When you get back, look at these other views:
Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and has thousands of sports cards stashed in a cool, dry place in his basement. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.