(A version of this article appears on TheStreet.com)
With low expectations shareholders of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) were rewarded during Thursday’s after hours trading as it was announced that the company experienced higher than expected sales for the fourth quarter to date.
Embattled CEO and Chairman Michael Jeffries needed a boost after calls for his resignation and having been the recent recipient of Herb Greenberg’s “Worst CEO of 2013 Award.” The 15% surge, if maintained into trading to end the week will leave shares only about 30% below their 52 week high.
Perhaps lost in the translation are the nuances contained in the report that sent shares soaring that may set Abercrombie and Fitch share holders up for more disappointment in the future. Manufactured good news has a way of doing that once reality hits and it is difficult to interpret today’s press release as anything other than a very favorable spin on a company and a personality much in need of spin.
For the period in question, which ended on January 4, 2014, the company actually reported decreased total sales, but found some solace in the fact that its direct to consumer sales were at its highest level of total sales than ever before. Of course, as the total pie shrinks a component may look comparatively better by simply not shrinking as much. The details of the direct to consumer activities was lacking. Its growth, was by all accounts, relative.
While sales were reported to be better than expected they represented a 4% decrease in the United States and a 10% decrease in international sales. Improved guidance was based on the nine week period ending before much of the east coast freeze that is reported to have stalled mall traffic. It’s unclear how nature’s elements will project forward as the first quarter becomes the object of focus. Additionally, reliance on”ongoing cost reduction efforts” is rarely a strategy for growth. Jeffries’ one year contract extension may require something more substantive than smoke and mirrors to further extend the engagement. Marketing the company as “We’re Not Sears” is not likely to provide a prolonged bounce, much as today’s press release may be suspect.
But I don’t really care about any of that, because Abercrombie and Fitch, for all of its dysfunction and sometimes embaarrassing behavior of its CEO, has been one of my favorite stocks since May 2012. During that period of time I’ve owned shares on 18 occasions.
Abercrombie and Fitch hasn’t been a holding for the faint of heart during that period, nor for anyone abiding by a buy and hold strategy.
As a punctuated buy and hold investor, my sales have been dictated by the call contracts I routinely sold on holdings, almost always utilizing in the money or very near the money strike levels.
Perhaps coincidentally the average cost of those shares has been $38.64, which was just slightly higher than the after hours trading peak after its more than $5 climb. During the period in question shares were initiated at $35.15 and soared as high as $55.23 almost a year to the date of that opening position. A perfect market timer could have sold shares at the peak ans achieved a 59% return with dividends.
Not only am I not a perfect market timer, but I’m also not very patient and would have had a hard time holding onto shares for a full year. Instead my shares were held for reasonably short periods of time, other than one lot currently open for 4 months. During that time the cumulative return has been 56% while the shares themselves have appreciated less than 11% from the date of first purchase.
With some of my shares set to expire on Friday January 10, 2014 amd some others the very next week, there is a chance that I will be left with no shares, thanks to a well timed press release.
However, I have no doubts that Abercrombie and Fitch will find a way to undo investor goodwill and will see its price come down. When it does, I will be there, once again, eager to pick up the wounded shares of of a company that would be embarrassed to have me as a customer.