The usually buoyant Outdoor & Action Sports coalition of VF Corp. suffered a 3 percent drop to $2.1 billion in its sales during the fourth quarter ended Jan. 2, largely due to the warm weather conditions that also hurt Wolverine Worldwide, Deckers Brands and other companies with the exception of Columbia Sportswear. Foreign currencies were responsible for two percentage points of the drop. Excluding also a 53rd week in the previous financial year, the segment's sales were up by 5 percent.
VF's total revenues were off by 5 percent to $3.38 billion in the quarter, but a big drop in impairment charges for its Contemporary brands division led the group's net income to jump by 156 percent to $312.2 million in the period. The overall results were below the guidance given by the company last October and below analysts' estimates, so the share price, which had already lost some ground in 2015, fell further after the final figures came out.
The management blamed the miss on heavy discounting for winter products to keep inventories in check with the warm weather, as well as a general slowdown in consumption during the period.
Both The North Face and Timberland declined in the quarter. Timberland's sales fell by 4 percent in dollars in the quarter but rose by one percent in local currencies, and on a comparable basis they went up by 5 percent. Geographically, the brand's sales declined at a low single-digit rate in the Americas. In constant currencies, they rose by a mid-single-digit rate in Europe but fell at a low single-digit rate in Asia-Pacific.
Vans performed better. Its quarterly sales moved up by 3 percent in dollars and by 8 percent in constant currencies, with a 13 percent increase excluding the 53rd week in the prior year. In local currencies, sales rose by a mid-single-digit percentage rate in the Americas, at a high single-digit rate in Europe and by more than 20 percent in Asia-Pacific.
For the full year, the Outdoor & Action Sports coalition booked a still healthy 11 percent sales increase on a comparable, currency-neutral basis. TNF went up by 6 percent, Timberland by 12 percent and Vans by 16 percent. In reported terms, TNF advanced by one percent to $2.3 billion, Timberland by percent to $1.8 billion and Vans by 7 percent to $2.2 billion.
The operating margin of the coalition declined by 11 percent but remained relatively high at 18.4 percent of sales. For the full financial year, the operating margin of the division increased to 17.1 percent
VF's management is predicting high single-digit growth for TNF, Timberland and Vans in 2016. At Vans, however, double-digit growth in the Americas and Asia-Pacific could be offset by flat or lower sales in Europe as the brand adjusts to an overhang of classics in the market.
Vans' anticipated sales decline in Europe will coincide with the global launch of a major new marketing campaign commemorating the 50th anniversary of the brand and telling its history. It will celebrate it with an imaginative mix of sport, art, music and fashion.
VF's management indicated that it might make some moves in VF's portfolio in the new year, but it wasn't clear whether it is looking to acquire another company or to divest part of its business. In the latter case, the financially battered Contemporary division would look like the most likely candidate for a sale.
More in SGI Europe and Outdoor Industry Compass