Legend has it that Helen of Troy was so beautiful that a flotilla of ships sailed halfway across the Mediterranean to rescue her. By comparison, I'm not sure that anybody would even cross the street for personal-care and home-goods maker Helen of Troy
Sales fell nearly 8% in the quarter, and margins were slammed by higher sales, general, and administrative expenses. As a result of those expenses, operating margin dropped to 10.8% from 17.9%. This in turn translated to a 44% drop in operating income, and net income was nearly cut in half. While the housewares business produced better than 29% revenue growth, the personal-care business was down nearly 15%.
The folks in management want to point the finger away from themselves and toward the economy. Apparently, they think that declining consumer confidence and higher energy prices are hurting their sales. I think this is total bunk. First of all, if consumer confidence hurt sales of curling irons, why didn't it hurt sales of teakettles? In other words, why is the housewares business still strong and the legacy business so weak?
If Helen of Troy sold cars, carpets, speedboats, or appliances, I might consider the "consumer confidence" excuse. In this case, though, I believe the answer is something else entirely. The housewares business was acquired last year and brought popular and fresh new brands and products into the company, and I think that's why it's succeeding. If the company can't generate solid new product ideas in the personal-care business, it will continue to stagnate and decline.
Ordinarily, this would be the sort of setup that would get my attention -- a potential value turnaround in the making. It's also certainly fair to say that this stock has spazzed out in the past and eventually come back. And with a stable of reasonably popular brands, I wouldn't dismiss another recovery at some point. But for now, at least, if you've got to bet on a Trojan, I'd say you're better off going with the University of Southern California's football team. At least they're getting the job done.
For more on this ugly scene:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).