Surf’s up

Boardriders, QuiksilverSurfwear retailers have found a more favourable tide, with profitability and the sales outlook improving.

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Billabong has made a return to profit for the first time in three years in the half year to December 31, while Rip Curl has also posted a stronger earnings result for the period.

Until this week, Quiksilver, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), also appeared to be headed for better results after losing investor confidence on a sharp drop in sales and substantial losses last year.

Quiksilver has delayed the release of its first quarter sales to the NYSE while it investigates a discrepancy in its accounts, which has been described as a “revenue cut off issue”, but has indicated that it does not expect any material impact on its bottom line.

The three Australian surfwear companies that started in Torquay, near Geelong in Victoria, have all become global retailers, and, despite their difficulties in the past few years, remain the most successful global retail brands to come out of Australia.

The Australian Stock Exchange listed, Billabong, has dominated headlines over two years after it revealed massive losses and a significant fall in sales when an aggressive acquisition strategy faltered.

Billabong International’s problems, which included breaches of loan covenants and a dramatic drop in share prices, scuttled plans by the privately held Rip Curl to attract a trade buyer or float as a public company.

Rip Curl had expected to realise around $400 million through a sale in 2012, but abandoned its plans as Billabong’s problems and an unenthusiastic financial market reaction to retail stocks indicated a public float was unlikely to achieve the expected sale price.

With Billabong’s financial position improving after restructuring, Rip Curl is again considering sale options, particularly after the retailer’s own better trading performance, which resulted in a 62 per cent boost in net profits to $22.9 million.

With sales in the US and Europe gaining traction, Rip Curl lifted sales by 7.8 per cent to $429.6 million for the 2014 financial year.

Restructuring in 2012 and 2013 that included the closure of underperforming stores has contributed to the higher earnings, albeit Rip Curl’s net result of $22.9 million in the latest period is still well short of the $34 million profit it booked in 2009.

Rip Curl has indicated there has been interest from private equity groups in buying into the retailer, but there are currently no formal offers.

Stock market conditions have also been more favourable in the past 12 months and could allow Rip Curl to revisit the public float option.

Rip Curl’s shares are tightly held, with Brian Singer and Doug Warbrink, who founded the company 45 years ago, controlling 72 per cent, and another director, Francois Payot holding a further 16 per cent of the issued scrip.

A sale of Rip Curl could be expected to realise around $350 million, but prospective buyers are likely to be cautious, with Quiksilver and outdoor adventurewear retailer, Kathmandu, struggling and Billabong showing promising signs of improvement but still with a lot of work to do.

Quiksilver posted a net loss of $US327 million for the full 2014 fiscal year, up from $239 million in 2013 after 2014 revenues fell to $1.57 billion compared to $1.81 billion the previous year.

In October it anticipated a return to sales growth of between one per cent and five per cent following restructuring that has included divesting business units along with the launch of a new Boardriders retail format on the Gold Coast that is expected to rollout to further locations.

While Quiksilver is faced with further restructuring, Billabong appears to be off the critical list and headed for recovery, with a half year profit to December 31 of $25.7 million after its own radical restructuring and trading gains in international markets, particularly its biggest the US, where wholesale sales were up 9.5 per cent and retail sales 5.7 per cent.

The latest profit compares with a $126.3 million loss in the same period in 2013 and marks the first positive bottom line result in three years for Billabong.

Total sales for the latest half were $522.1 million down from $527.2 million, a figure that includes some business units that have been divested, such as the West 49 retail chain in Canada.

Neile Fiske, Billabong CEO, who took over the reins from Launa Inman midway through a turnaround strategy, said the return to profit reflects a stabilisation of the business and positions it to pursue the strategies that will generate consistent growth.

Fiske said Billabong is moving into stage two of its turnaround strategy, which will include the merging of six Australian multi-brand retail banners, including Surf Dive n Ski, Beach Culture, and Surfection, into one key brand to gain economies of scale.

The retailer is also keen to correct an under investment in online retailing by developing a new global omni-channel retail platform that will be initially launched in Australia and is moving to further streamline its supply chain.

Fiske plans to increase capital spending to between $35 million and $40 million a year in the next few years to underpin growth.

While the US remains the biggest opportunity for Billabong International and the European division has returned to profitability on better margins, the retailer continues to have a strong focus on the Asia Pacific where it opened nine Billabong, five Tigerlily, and three multi-branded stores in the latest half, closing six non-performing stores.



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