Outdoor financials: VF shares hit a new high, plus Wolverine, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne/Prana, September retail sales on the upswing

VF shares hit a new high, Wolverine CEO to sell 220,000 stock shares, Eddie Bauer announces listing on Nasdaq, Prana's parent names new CEO, and September sales on the upswing accordting to the NRF, spurred by sporting goods growth.
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VF shares hit a new high
Shares of VF Corp. (NYSE: VFC), parent of The North Face, JanSport and Eastpak, closed at a 52-week high on Oct. 9, ending the day at $75.60. The company's stock has climbed more than 36 percent in the last year, well above the S&P 500's return of 13.8 percent over the same period.

In early September, VF shares started trading above $70, and have traded roughly between $70 and $75 per share over the last month. It hit the new high despite trading below its average daily volume, with 456,900 shares bought and sold. The company's average daily trading volume over the last three months has been 570,312 shares per day.

Wolverine CEO to sell 220,000 stock shares
According to a recent filing with the SEC, Timothy J. O'Donovan, the chairman and CEO of Wolverine World Wide (NYSE: WWW), plans to sell more than 200,000 shares of the company's stock, as well as 20,000 shares of his family foundation's stock starting on Dec. 4.

The shares represent less than 17 percent of those owned by O'Donovan or subject to options held by him, according to the filing. "The purpose of the plan is to diversify the investment portfolios of Mr. O'Donovan and the foundation," according to the filing.

Eddie Bauer announces listing on Nasdaq
Eddie Bauer Holdings' application for listing of its common stock on the Nasdaq Global Market was approved by the Nasdaq Listing Qualifications Department. The stock, which has been trading on the pink sheets, began Nasdaq trading on Oct. 12, under the symbol "EBHI."

The retailer of outdoor-oriented clothing and accessories had put itself up for sale for the second time in May as it struggled to revamp merchandise and revive its brand name. The company's parent, Spiegel Inc., pulled the company off the auction block 15 months prior after it sold off some units but failed to get high enough offers to justify the sale of the profitable Eddie Bauer unit. Spiegel emerged from bankruptcy in June 2005, as Eddie Bauer Holdings Inc.

In August, the company reported a second-quarter loss of $42 million, or $1.40 per share, compared with net income of $69.5 million a year earlier, as sales at stores open at least a year fell 5.9 percent. At that time, CEO Fabian Mansson said in a statement that the company was disappointed with its quarterly performance, but that the merchandise had been revamped to be more consistent with its heritage an outdoor lifestyle brand.

Prana's parent names new CEO
Liz Claiborne (NYSE: LIZ), Prana's parent company, is reaching outside the apparel industry to hire Johnson & Johnson executive William McComb as its new CEO, succeeding retiring CEO Paul Charron.

"He may be an unexpected choice," said Charron in a conference call with analysts and investors following the news. "But we concluded he brings the best combination of skills and experience for the job."

McComb was group chairman at health-care company Johnson & Johnson, responsible for the global DePuy Orthopaedics business, and he oversaw company operations in more than 100 countries. In McComb's 14 years at Johnson & Johnson, he headed some of the company's largest consumer products brands, including Tylenol, Motrin and Clean & Clear.

Charron cited McComb's experience in brand-building, international development, supply chain management and consumer marketing, especially to women.

Charron had announced plans to retire in January from Liz Claiborne. He will remain chairman through the end of 2006, when he will be succeeded by Kay Koplovitz, a Claiborne director, as non-executive chairman.

September sales on the upswing, spurred by sporting goods growth
With gas prices on the decline, retail industry sales for September (which exclude automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) rose a strong 6.3 percent unadjusted over last year and increased 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted from August, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The gains, which led third-quarter sales to rise 6.3 percent over 2005, were stronger than NRF said it had been expecting.

"As gas prices dipped last month, consumers had more disposable income to spend on other items, especially back-to-school necessities like clothing and sporting goods," said NRF Chief Economist Rosalind Wells in a statement. "If September's sales are any indication, shoppers appear confident heading into the holiday season."

September retail sales released by the U.S. Commerce Department show that total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) dipped 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted from August and increased 5.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Last month's sales gains were led by clothing and clothing accessories stores, which saw sales rise 3.0 percent adjusted from August and 11.9 percent over last year. Sporting goods, book, hobby, and music stores also saw strong growth of 1.1 percent from August and 9.1 percent over last year.

NRF expects retail industry sales to increase 6.5 percent this year over 2005. Holiday sales, which are defined as retail industry sales in the full months of November and December, are expected to rise 5.0 percent to $457.4 billion.

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