Levi Strauss & Co. capped off a very strong year with a bit of moderation as spending to build the company’s online business and higher advertising and compensation expenses weighed on fourth-quarter results.
“We had an outstanding year with reported net revenues of $5.6 billion, growing 14 percent year-over-year on a reported basis,” said Chip Bergh, president and chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co., in a statement. “It’s clear our strategies to diversify our product portfolio, expand our direct-to-consumer business, and deepen our connection with consumers worldwide have worked, resulting in both higher annual revenues and gross margins.”
Net earnings for the year ended Nov. 25 were flat at $285 million, but included a onetime $143 million charge related to tax changes. Adjusted earnings before interest and taxes rose 13 percent to $542 million.
In the fourth quarter, the company’s net profits slipped 17 percent to $97 million and sales grew 9 percent to $1.6 billion.
The company said, “Fourth-quarter adjusted EBIT decreased 18 percent [to $129 million] as higher revenues were more than offset by higher costs related to the expansion of the company’s direct-to-consumer business, higher compensation expense reflecting stronger company performance and increased advertising investments.”
Fourth-quarter revenue growth was strongest in Europe, where the top line expanded by 13 percent to $421 million. Revenues in the Americas gained 8 percent to $923 million while Asia saw revenues increase 5 percent to $248 million.
On a conference call with analysts, Bergh noted that women’s accounts for almost a third of the company’s business and grew 28 percent to $1.6 billion last year as revenues in tops rose 37 percent to more than $1 billion.
“Despite more than 300 wholesale door closures last year, we grew our U.S. wholesale business 7 percent, driven by Levi’s women’s and Signature,” he said. “We fully expect that this channel will continue to be challenging, but just as we demonstrated last year, we are going to continue to play to our strengths and look for ways to profitably grow our business.”
And he also pointed to geographic areas of opportunity.
“Strengthening our business in China continues to be a priority,” the ceo said. “China represents roughly 20 percent of the global apparel market, that is less than 5 percent of our business today. So we see China as a huge long-term opportunity.”
Last week, well after the quarter ended, Levi’s board declared a $110 million cash dividend on the company’s closely held common stock, which represented a 22 percent increase of the dividend paid a year earlier.
Levi’s reports quarterly results because it has public debt, but its stock is mostly controlled by the Haas family.
In November, just as Levi’s was cutting the ribbon on its nearly 17,000-square-foot Times Square store in Manhattan, sources said the company was contemplating an initial public offering (it would be Levi’s second time under the Wall Street spotlight, having gone public in 1971 only to be taken private again).
The company declined to comment at that time, but the market hasn’t been exactly inviting to new offerings lately.
Worries about the Chinese economy and the possibility of a recession growing nearer have roiled the stock market and the partial government shutdown delayed the Securities and Exchange Commission’s efforts to process the necessary paperwork for offerings.
Levi’s, however, is something of a rarity in the world of mainstream fashion — a solidly entrenched brand that has managed to work itself into a growth story, and that’s something investors are typically willing to get behind.