The Motley Fool's Alyce Lomax recenly penned an article entitled "Creative Destruction at Talbots"
whereby she expressed surprise at the performance of Talbots (NYSE: TLB
) stock following its earnings release on September 7. TLB Q2 results missed bottom line expectations but actually beat on the topline, suggesting the picture may not be as morbid relative to broader market expectations. The stock rose by 17% after the results but is still nonetheless near its 52 week low. While TLB faces it share of challenges, it appears that the Motley Fool is overlooking several points that suggest TLB could actually offer a very attractive risk/reward.
First, there were a few micharacterizations in Ms. Lomax's article. For example, she claims that TLB "has been struggling to pull off a turnaround for years." This is not quite the case. In fact, the first half of fiscal 2010 experienced positive same store sales, building off the momentum TLB experienced in 2009. At this point in 2010, TLB shares traded between $14-17 before the back half of 2010 where TLB's fashion missteps began to impact its operating results. So while TLB has been struggling for about a year, this is not "years."
Secondly, the current required turnaround is actually easier relative to what TLB experienced in 2008. Back then TLB still owend J. Jill, which it paid an expensive price for in 2006. TLB also had a children's, men's, and UK division. Lastly, TLB had a very challenging capital structure ending 2008 with about $460MM of net debt against 2008 EBITDA of just $19MM. More importantly, TLB had $219MM of debt coming due in 2009. Despite all of these obstacles, TLB was able to strip away non-core divisions and successfully address its liquidity concerns in 2009, cleaning up its balance sheet and paving the way for the stock to run up from the low $2s to mid teens over the course of the next year.
TLB shares are now back to where they were in early 2009 but TLB's current set of problems are actually less challenging relative to what its management team faced in 2009. The main problem facing TLB is that it tried to expand its core customer base from the traditional 55-65 y/o woman to the 45-65 y/o age range. As a result, its core customers felt TLB was too fashion-forward and felt alienated while the newly pursued younger customers were not purchasing enough to offse the decline from the core customer defecetions. This lead to challenging performance over the past year. TLB management is aware of this and has been focused on shifting its fashion towards reinvigorating its core customer. This is clearly driving its decision to select a new Creative Director. However, investors should also note that core age segment has been up slightly based on comments in the most recent TLB conference call.
Ms.Lomax concludes her article stating that unless one enjoyings "taking big, risky bets on wrecked companies" one should steer clear of TLB. One problem with this statement is that it takes no consideration for TLB's valuation and that appears to offer tremendous upside if the company can successfully execute on its plans. Table I first illustrates that on any measure, TLB is very very cheap relative to its long term history.