Analysts slashed their rating for the specialty retailer's stock to "underweight" from "neutral" with a price target of $10, down from $12. The Wednesday note sent Abercrombie shares tumbling over 11% in late-morning trading.
CEO Fran Horowitz expressed to JPMorgan that she thinks investments in supply chains, people and updated systems can improve the company's top-line trajectory. But JPMorgan said overall industry improvement is a necessary step to reverse years' worth of gross margin headwinds.
"Management sees no silver bullets to sustainable operating profit expansion citing top-line growth as the primary go-forward seeing factor with continued SG&A efficiency to fund the rising cost of relevance given material cost saving 'buckets' in the rearview mirror," analysts wrote.
Analysts said Abercrombie's management thinks top-line degradation has come from a mixture of external factors, ecommerce, poor traffic trends and some self-inflicted wounds, such as a lost connection with the core customer and a stagnant product assortment in need of a refresh.
For the near-term, softer trends will close out the quarter. Abercrombie's recently launched "This is the Time" advertising campaign resulted in a slight uptick in store activity over the same time last year. But to sustain management's model of driving the top line to drive the company, Abercrombie needs to post positive same-store-sales. It hasn't in six years.
Looking farther out to the horizon, Abercrombie's six-straight years of negative comparable sales and receding market share put it in an increasingly concerning position. Abercrombie isn't poised to compete well across categories, JPMorgan said, as rising costs and the accelerating consolidation of "undifferentiated retail" compound to weigh on the store's operations.
The chain has about 50% of its leases on pace to expire by the end of 2018, which will offer some flexibility for management in either closing stores or renegotiating leases. With that, though, management said it will continue to shutter stores annually, with about 60 closing this year.
Analysts forecast a 36% decline in Ebitda over the next two years to $121 million by fiscal year 2019 from $190 million in fiscal year 2017.
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