Just a couple of years ago, the golf industry was rumored to be on its death bed. A new era of consumerism suggested people would rather play video games than play a round of golf, and watching the pros play a tournament simply took too long for the next generation of fans that weren’t used to doing any one thing for more than a few minutes at a time.
If golf is dying though, someone forgot to tell Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY). ELY stock surged more than 10% on Friday in response to an amazing second-quarter report.
A stroke of luck that won’t last? Maybe. But, just for the record, not only has Callaway been growing its bottom line nicely (albeit erratically) since 2012, it has only fallen short of earnings estimates once in its past fourteen quarters. Smaller rival Acushnet Holdings (NYSE:GOLF) hasn’t been quite as rock solid, but it is projected to grow its top- and bottom-lines this year and next year all the same.
Perhaps golf isn’t stuck in a bunker after all.
It seems unlikely the big jump in ELY stock can escape imminent profit-taking pressure. Aside from the fact that shares are technically overbought, priced at a trailing price-to-earnings ratio of 27 and a forward P/E of 24.4, Callaway Golf shares are pushing valuation limits too.
The underlying prod for the bullishness: Callaway turned $396 million worth of revenue into a profit of 63-cents-per-share versus expectations for earnings of 47-cents-per-share and sales of $371 million. Both figures were also better than year-ago comparisons of $305 million and 33-cents-per-share. The clincher: Callaway Golf upped its full-year earnings guidance from a range of 77 to 82 cents to a range of between 95 cents and $1.00.
Not bad for a company doing business in an industry that’s allegedly back pedaling.
Or, maybe it isn’t.
ELY Stock: It’s Complicated
Admittedly, golf was facing headwinds not too long ago, as a professional sport to watch, and as an amateur activity. In 2014, 3.7 million people began playing the game, but 4.1 million people gave it up. Last year’s television viewership of the Masters (one of the biggest tournaments of the year) was the weakest it had been in thirteen years.
The ebb and flow of golf is a little more nuanced than most observers appreciate, however.
For starters, it’s cyclical. Not dissimilar to the way the oil industry over-responded to strong crude prices in 2011 and 2012 to ultimately set the stage for the energy industry’s 2014 meltdown, the golf industry overbuilt itself coming out of 2008’s — and 2000’s — economic turbulence.
There’s also another nuance most of the industry (and many politicians) don’t like to concede. That is, the golf industry needs the average middle class player to survive, but the rising cost to play and a middle class that has been deceptively less empowered since 2008’s economic stumble has made playing golf out of reach for more than a few.
And if they’re not playing it, they’re not likely to watch the pros play either.
Then there’s the lingering, even if not entirely accurate, perception that golf is something of a sport for the elite. That’s a considerable liability in an environment where political debates have largely put the spotlight on why there are “haves” and “have nots.”
Out of the Bunker
Again though, golf is cyclical, because all of the aforementioned challenges are cyclical.
For starters — and again, a place where many politically minded people choose not to go — incomes are meaningfully on the rise again, and job security exists. With a wide swath of consumers feeling like they can afford to spend a little more on diversions, the sport is gaining traction again … or at least not losing it. Last year, 23.8 million players stepped foot on a golf course, matching 2016’s total.
Meanwhile, the number of people who played on a golf simulator or visited a driving range grew 7%. Many of them are increasingly likely to play an actual course.
Simultaneously, the stodgy club industry itself has realized if it wants to survive, it has to adapt. Some have done so better than others in terms of making golf more accessible and more reflective of modern social norms and customs. Others haven’t. As time marches on though, the shift toward sustainability continues.
Bottom Line for ELY Stock
Don’t misread the message. The golfing industry still has plenty of work ahead if it wants to rekindle its glory days. It’s still a competitive arena, with a lot of outfits fighting for customers that are easily lured by entertainment options other than golf.
The golfing business had made the turn though, so to speak, and ELY stock isn’t a bad way to play it.
That’s not to suggest we won’t see profit-taking pressure surface here. But, given that it’s the big name in golfing equipment at a time when growth is finally at hand again, it’s definitely a promising stock to keep on your watchlist. Just wait for a better entry point.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.