It’s confession time: I’ve never really been convinced that Under Armour (NYSE:UA, NYSE:UAA) is a solid investment. While its products resonate with its core customers, that engagement hasn’t translated to market success. Compared against two years ago, Under Armour stock has declined to roughly half its value.
Of course, circumstances change quite rapidly in the retail sector. Last year, Under Armour stock was the worst-performing investment in the S&P 500. This year, UA shares have put endless smiles on speculators’ faces. Since the January opener, the athletic-apparel company has gained 43%.
Am I impressed? Definitely. But if you’re thinking that I might reverse course and jump on the bandwagon, you may want to turn away.
Here are three reasons why I’m still hesitant on Under Armour stock.
Fundamentals Are Still Disappointing
Our own Vince Martin made an interesting point that I admit I didn’t catch myself: Under Armour stock has performed well recently due in part to its “much lower base.” In other words, shares benefit from the law of small numbers. Martin writes:
“The biggest selling point for Under Armour stock is that it has the most upside. It’s the smallest of the three and, in the near term at least, it has the most room for improvement.”
Not that Martin needs my affirmation, but I’m in complete agreement with him. More importantly, I side with his other point that “Under Armour stock already is pricing in quite a bit of improvement that I’m not convinced is coming.”
Under the best of circumstances, the sports-apparel industry is a cutthroat one. This reminds me of something my Krav Maga instructor once taught me: If you get into a knife fight, be prepared to get stabbed.
My instructor wasn’t meaning to discourage me, as he gave me the tools to win such a confrontation. His point was that a knife fight won’t be cheap. Unfortunately for UA, the company is always exchanging sharp blows with heavyweights Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Adidas (OTCMKTS:ADDYY).
However, the fundamentals just don’t make sense for me. The company has a high debt load against the competition, giving management less flexibility. Revenues are rising, but the growth rate isn’t that impressive compared to the segment leaders.
I find this concerning because, using Martin’s words, UA has the lower base. It should decisively lead sales growth, not merely tag along with the big boys.
Put another way, the fundamentals are still disappointing. They certainly can’t support management’s penchant for aggressive strategies.
Under Armour Stock Faces Overwhelming Competition
One of my biggest gripes about Under Armour stock was the underlying company’s tit-for-tat showdown in the sponsorship arena. I understand the allure. Nike made significant gains with its endorsement deal with Michael Jordan. But it’s also a huge gamble.
For UA, its aggressiveness just hasn’t panned out. Until recently, shares slipped uncontrollably since hitting a high in September 2015. Moreover, debt skyrocketed to a point where management must now be careful where to expend its resources.
Furthermore, the return on investment for sports sponsorships have become increasingly irrational. Traditional TV viewership has sharply declined in the cord-cutting era, and that trend has also victimized athletic competitions.
Whether we’re talking football, baseball or even international sports like soccer, TV audiences have found alternative entertainment forms. That makes plowing money into team sponsorships or individual endorsements a risky affair, especially if you lack the financial wherewithal.
Beyond that, Under Armour has also failed to keep pace in the product-sales arena. In Dick’s Sporting Goods‘ (NYSE:DKS) second quarter earnings report, the retailer partially blamed its revenue shortfall on UA.
Granted, the specific reason for the finger-pointing was Under Armour’s decision to sell products at low-price leaders like Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS). Still, you didn’t see Dick’s management blame Nike or Adidas on its production-distribution decisions. That’s because when these two giants want to sell premium-ticket items, they find ample willing buyers.
But Under Armour’s strategy to jump to Kohl’s has also inspired Dick’s to respond. The brick-and-mortar retailer has recently focused more on its in-house Second Skin brand, which is similar to UA products.
Essentially, the company faces severe competition at every segment and at every price point it enters. That’s just not a great recipe for long-term success for Under Armour stock.
UA Risks Losing Relevancy
UA prides itself on delivering athletic wear for the new generation. In that regard, it succeeded hands down. Few companies have resonated with their customers quite like Under Armour.
But athletic-apparel manufacturers can’t just focus on the performance aspect. Today, sports apparel is as much about fashion as it is about athletic enhancement. If you don’t believe me, check the responses toward San Diego Padres pitcher Alex Torres debuting a protective pitcher’s cap.
Baseball players apparently would rather risk death than to look stupid.
This mix of sports performance and fashion represents a risk factor to all apparel makers. However, even here, Under Armour stock holds the greatest risk.
That’s because UA might be winning the athletic war while losing the fashion war. Nike and Adidas have both succeeded in delivering products that are suitable in the field and on the street. As a result, most consumer demographics gladly shell out money for their premium, fashionable offerings.
Under Armour? It’s selling to Kohl’s. Plus, it suffers the ignominy of getting called out for it. That doesn’t sound like the pathway to long-term success. Instead, it sounds like Under Armour is becoming less relevant.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.