By  on May 16, 2006

NEW YORK — VF Corp. is going against the grain.

At a time when apparel vendors are under increasing pressure from retail consolidation, VF is trumpeting the strength of the company and its confidence in the long-term success of its growth strategy. It reinforced that view on Monday by rewarding shareholders with a 90 percent increase in its dividend payout.

"We wanted to make a statement about our confidence in our growth plan and our ability to continue to generate cash" to fund future expansion, said Mackey McDonald, chairman and chief executive officer of the $6.5 billion apparel group, in an interview. "We wanted to make a strong statement."

After the stock market closed on Monday, the company said its board had approved the increase, entitling shareholders to an annual dividend of $2.20 a share, up from $1.16 a share, payable June 19 to shareholders of record as of June 9.

For McDonald, the ability to offer such a sizable increase is another validation of the success of the company's transformation from conservative manufacturer of such brands as Lee, Wrangler and namesake Vanity Fair into a global powerhouse of lifestyle brands, many of which came with ready-made retail operations.

To be sure, the company's aggressive acquisition of lifestyle brands — a strategy it embarked on in 2003 — has sent sales and earnings skyrocketing and has helped insulate VF from the affects of retail consolidation.

VF has returned three straight years of record growth, finishing off 2005 with a 6.7 percent earnings gain to $506.7 million, or $4.44 a share. Revenues for the year rose 6.2 percent to $6.5 billion. The momentum has carried into 2006. In its most recent quarter, the company reported a 24.6 percent rise in earnings to $128.2 million, or $1.14 a share. Revenues rose 5.3 percent to $1.67 billion.

Other major apparel manufacturers have not fared nearly so well, such as Liz Clai­borne and Jones Apparel Group. Jones recently reported a 70 percent drop in earnings and a 9.9 percent revenue decline to $1.22 billion in the first quarter of 2006. The company's wholesale moderate apparel sales declined 6.9 percent, or $25 million, and wholesale footwear and accessories fell 14 percent, or $39 million.

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