Fitness: Did you hear?...

New Spirit Fitness website, Nautilus stock price, Dick's Sporting Goods financials, health club numbers up, The Sports Authority financials, Cybex Pro+ tread, sporting goods imports, New Balance ad campaign, obesity shrinks men's mental powers?
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>> Fattest cities unite! Southern belt wins in the need to loosen belts. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga., recently released its list of the five fattest major cities in America. According to the CDC, you may be in the blubber belt if you live in (in descending order of size): San Antonio, Texas; Gary, Ind.; Jackson, Miss.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and Shreveport-Bossier, La. That may not look like the same group SNEWS wrote about a couple of months ago -- that was from a Men's Fitness annual survey on "Fattest and Fittest Cities," but the regions are close. According to the magazine (in descending order): Houston, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; Detroit, Mich.; Philadelphia, Penn.; and St. Louis, Miss. The magazine and the federal agency use slightly different criteria. But whatever the criteria, bottom line here is, we are bottom-heavy. I think that's called -- in straight English -- fat. Can't say it nicer than that.

>> As a part of its promotion of the NordicTrack Incline Trainer at the IHRSA show, FreeMotion Fitness had a daily competition to see who could run for the longest time at 6 mph at a 50-percent grade. OUCH! Daily winners were Andre Soregaroli of Italy with a time of 25.5 seconds, Daren Loesch of Pebble Beach, Calif., with a time of 26.8 seconds, and the grand prize winner, Tom Hart, with a time of 28.4 seconds. Hart, 34, is the fitness manager of Walnut Creek Sports and Fitness Club in Walnut Creek, Calif. The commercial-quality Incline Trainer inclines to 50 percent and declines to -5 percent.

>> The money is in retro styling, it seems. A Reuters story has reported that Puma has made its resurgence and emerged from eight years of losses due to just that. Puma's sales have exploded, rising more than 50 percent in 2002, likely sneaking customers away from market leader Nike. "The brand has been adopted almost simultaneously by both suburban Caucasian kids as well as inner-city kids, who basically view it as the leading edge fashion product right now," said John Shanley, a U.S.-based analyst at Wells Fargo Securities. Why the success? The drive for simplicity over high-tech gimmickry, plus retro shoes with their simplicity are cheaper. Puma hasn't made a huge push into performance. Case in point: 65 percent of its sales are in what it calls the "sports-lifestyle" market, retail analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate.

>> Not been to the Spirit Fitness website lately? The company launched a new one this month that is built on the beloved "KISS" principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). No flashy images or moving pictures, just straightforward and easily researchable information that can be found without digging through five or six layers. (That's about how many pages it took to even find prices before.) Take a gander: There is beauty in simplicity. www.spiritfitness.com.

>> On the day after the Nautilus product debut, RBC Capital Markets changed its price target for the stock (NYSE: NLS) from its old target of $15 to a new target of $16 in a year. The stock closed Thursday up 3.54 percent to 13.73.

>> Dick's Sporting Goods Inc. (NYSE: DKS) has reported net income for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 1, 2003, increased 48 percent to $19.1 million, or $0.82 per diluted share, compared to $12.9 million or $0.67 per diluted share for the quarter ended a year earlier. Sales increased 16 percent to $395.2 million. Comparable store sales increased 4.9 percent. Pro-forma net income for the fourth quarter increased 46 percent to $19.1 million and pro-forma earnings per share increased 39 percent to $0.82 per diluted share, (excluding the charge, net income would have been $20.5 million or $0.88 per diluted share) compared to pro-forma net income of $13.0 million or $0.59 per diluted share. For the year ended Feb. 1, sales increased 18 percent to $1,273 million from $1,075 million last year. Comparable stores sales increased 5.1 percent over last fiscal year. As of February, the company operated 141 stores in 25 states, with openings expected later this month in Connecticut, Kansas and West Virginia. In 2003, the company said it expects to open 20 new stores with comparable sales expected to increase about 2 percent to 3 percent.

>> As reported by American Business Information (ABI), in the six months between July 1, 2002, and Jan. 1, 2003, the number of health clubs listed in America's telephone directories rose 11 percent from 18,203 to 20,249, according to IHRSA, the association of health clubs. ABI verifies each listing with a contact call before adding it to its database. Since Jan. 1, 2000, the number of health clubs in the United States has risen 31 percent from 15,372 to 20,249. (In the UK, IHRSA has stats from The Leisure Database Co. that the number of UK health clubs since January 2000 has risen 23 percent, from 1,602 to 1,968.) SNEWS View: Somehow it doesn't jibe that we have that many more clubs but the American public as a whole is so much fatter. What gives? What are these clubs doing -- or not? What are their clients doing -- or not?

>> The Sports Authority Inc. (NYSE: TSA) has reported for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 1, 2003, that comparable store sales decreased 4.7 percent. Net income was $52.9 million or $1.56 per diluted share versus $15.6 million or $0.47 per diluted share for the comparable period last year. Sales for the fourth quarter of 2002 were $388.4 million versus $400.6 million for the fourth quarter of the prior year. Marty Hanaka, chairman and CEO, said in a statement, "In the fourth quarter, gross profit as a percentage of sales improved by 120 basis points, thereby mitigating the impact of soft comparable store sales caused by a weak economy, a short holiday shopping season and unfavorable weather patterns." Early first quarter 2003 financial results suggest that restrained consumer spending and the severe winter weather patterns in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will dampen results.

>> Cybex International has introduced a new treadmill called Cybex Pro+ with an interesting safety feature: The Safety Sentry detects if anyone is on the treadmill and will automatically stop the belt after a pre-selected time. That will stop the problem in clubs where users get off a running treadmill, leave it running and just walk away, while another user may not notice it's running and try to step on.

>> The dollar value of sporting goods imported into the United States increased by 6.3 percent in 2002. Imports had posted declines in three of the past four years (1998-2001), according to research by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association that analyzed the U.S. Commerce Department's statistical data on imports of athletic footwear, jogging/warm-up apparel and 14 sports equipment categories. SGMA reports the total declared value of U.S. sporting goods imports for 2002 was $8.56 billion compared with $8.05 billion for 2001. Among the major equipment categories, exercise cycles (+50 percent) were among the top three growth items, with all gym and exercise equipment imported going up 3.9 percent. The top two sports equipment export leaders are Mainland China (52.3 percent) and Taiwan (10.3 percent); China's dominant share climbed from 45.3 percent to 52.3 percent.

>> New Balance is launching a new ad campaign called "N is for Fit," which the company is calling its "most aggressive corporate fit effort." Print ads have already appeared or will appear in some vertical running and fitness/lifestyle publications. They show a bare foot in various performance stances with an N on the side of the foot and text that discusses the company's philosophy about fit. "Achieve New Balance" will continue as a tagline for the campaign. The 2003 TV campaign will launch this month in Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

>> Mental powers can decline with overweight, especially in men. That headline caught our eye last week. Seems a new study in the peer-reviewed International Journal on Obesity has suggested that fat may impinge on brain power, not just health. The study found that obesity works independently -- as well as in conjunction with other risk factors -- to cause a decline in thinking ability, especially memory and learning. Researchers say the results are especially disturbing in light of statistics that show the United States is facing an "epidemic of obesity" among both adults and children. Researchers say men may be more vulnerable because they tend to accumulate fat in their midsection rather than in other parts of the body. Previous studies have shown that this type of apple-shaped fat distribution carries a much higher degree of health risks than the pear-shaped fat distribution commonly found in women. Researchers at this point are only hypothesizing about why this may be true. SNEWS View: We don't know whether to giggle or cry. On the one hand, this begs for a smart-aleck comment (you know, something about men's brain power and memory...). But on the other hand, it somehow has such a serious underchord about a literal dumbing-down of society that it's downright scary.

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