"... a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." -- Shakespeare
Can anybody come up with a drabber name for a company than Brown Shoe
A dull name, a dull business, a dull industry... a dull stock? Not necessarily. While cybernauts and biotechies aren't likely to give a second thought to shoes, value wonks on the prowl for potential turnarounds might want to polish up on this company.
Results for the fourth quarter ended in January look nondescript. Revenue was up about 10% for the quarter, well ahead of the (one) Wall Street estimate that I could find. While earnings per share weren't stellar either (up only about $0.02 from the year-ago quarter once charges are adjusted), they weren't exactly terrible.
Results for the flagship Famous Footwear chain were solid (sales up about 9%; same-store sales up about 4%), but business in the company's wholesale division wasn't so good. Although sales were up almost 12% for the division as a whole, problems with the Naturalizer and Bass brands, as well as the children's business, pushed earnings down by over 13%.
So, what's to like?
Despite a year that even management believes was disappointing, return on equity is still in double digits, free cash flow is still positive, and debt is still very manageable. Brown Shoe remains a preferred supplier for many department stores, and its price and market strategies insulate it somewhat from the brand wars that have killed trendier names in the past (L.A. Gear, anyone?). What's more, the company has taken several steps to reorganize and reenergize the lagging business that hurt results for 2004.
With the stock trading at only about one-third times trailing sales and less than 15 times reported trailing earnings, the valuation is certainly not extreme. What's more, the company pays a small dividend, so patient investors can collect a small bit of cash while waiting for better days.
Although Brown Shoe isn't likely to produce a two-bagger return, it's also not a train-wreck turnaround either. To be sure, investors must keep an eye on sales trends and make sure that the company's reorganization efforts are paying off, but the business is certainly not in desperate straits. If Brown Shoe can make even modest improvements in sales and margins, patient investors could be rewarded with some solid returns.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.