Crocs Back From The Dead

By Stephen D. Simpson, CFA | September 28, 2010 AAA

There was no shortage of people lining up to cheer the demise of Crocs (Nasdaq:CROX) as the stock plunged from an improbable high near $70 to under $2 in only about one year. This maker of distinctive (some would say ugly) footwear defied gravity and the howls of value-oriented commentators on its way up and there was almost a sense of palpable glee when the bubble burst.

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Well, Crocs-haters may want to avert their eyes because Crocs is not dead. In fact, business seems to be pretty healthy, and that has fueled a rebound for the stock back into the teens. In fact, Crocs' stock has pretty much trounced the field for the past year. The past year has been a very strong one for footwear companies, but Crocs has more than doubled the one-year performance of the likes of Nike (NYSE:NKE), Timberland (NYSE:TBL), Skechers (NYSE:SKX) and K-Swiss (Nasdaq:KSWS).

So, What's Going On?
If a company can grow, there will always be investors willing to let bygones be bygones. To that end, Crocs is showing some of the best recent growth in the footwear sector. Although Skechers and Deckers (Nasdaq:DECK) have grown even faster, Crocs has managed double-digit top-line growth through a combination of higher unit sales and higher prices. Crocs has also managed to get more efficient in its operations - growing gross margin by more than six full percentage points in the June quarter.

All in all, this has led to a series of earnings beats (relative to estimates), and analyst estimates have jumped up nicely over the past three months. With 2011 estimates rising almost one-quarter during that time, it is not so surprising that the stock has been strong.

Where To From Here?
In fairness to the company, a lot of the hype that surrounded the stock in the glory days was a product of analysts trying to one-up each other and retail investors stoking irrational expectations in the echo chambers of message boards. Crocs was supposed to be the next Under Armour (NYSE:UA) or maybe even the next Nike (NYSE:NKE) and expand into this incredible range of footwear, apparel and follow-on brands.

In fact, some of the skeptics were just waiting for the next rumor to be a new car built out of the company's Croslite resin (seriously, some investors were openly speculating about whether that material would be picked up by automakers for use in interiors).

With the hype washed out by the stock's drop into the lowest of single digits, Crocs can be appreciated for what it actually is. Crocs is a relatively large company (over $1 billion in market cap, over $700 million in trailing revenue) and it makes a product that some people really do like. The margins are certainly heading in a more positive direction and a trailing return on assets of 7% is pretty encouraging. (For more, see The Bottom Line On Margins.)

The Bottom Line
That said, the stock does not seem cheap today - which is not a major surprise given the better-than-90% run over the past year. There is a large short position in the shares and the company seems to be operating with a tailwind. That could be enough for risk-tolerant growth investors, but value-seekers have likely missed the easy money here. (For more, see Traders: Profit From Other Investor's Fear.)

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