E-retailer Boohoo’s sales give it plenty to be happy about

February 28, 2017 01:26 PM

(Bloomberg Gadfly)—There's no crying over Plc's performance. It certainly looks like it's got the hidden strengths to navigate choppy consumer waters, but the ratings are assuming it can exceed its current performance, or attract the interest of a big buyer such as Inc.

The online fast fashion retailer, No. 166 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Europe 500, on Tuesday announced its third sales upgrade, and second margin improvement, in three months.

The company said on Tuesday revenue would increase by 50% in the year to the end of February 2017, up from its previous forecast of 46-48% growth. It expects its margin on an Ebitda basis to be at the top of its 11-12% range.

Boohoo is in a rare retail sweet spot. It sells the latest trends—think off-the-shoulder dresses and bodysuits—with a turnaround averaging four to six weeks, and all at low prices.

About half of its products are made in the U.K., meaning that it is slightly less exposed to the plunging pound, while a third of its sales are outside Britain, bolstering earnings thanks to that sterling weakness.

Comparisons to its bigger rival ASOS Plc (No. 22 in the Europe 500) are striking. Boohoo's shares have risen 265% over the past year, compared with (a still impressive) 84% for ASOS. It trades on a forward price to earnings ratio of 63 times, compared with 37 times a year ago, and just ahead of ASOS.

Boohoo is also growing sales and earnings faster than ASOS, although from a much smaller base. They're both making inroads into the U.S., though Boohoo has more to go for with its acquisition of the L.A.-based Nasty Gal brand, No. 98 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide.

However, it will be tough to keep sales expanding at such eye-watering rates. And while the U.K. consumer has held up so far this year, the outlook isn't promising.

Meanwhile, Amazon (No. 1 in the Europe 500 and Top 500) is encroaching further into fashion, though Boohoo should be better able to see off this threat than many. It's targeted at the coveted 16-24 age group and stocks only its own garments, something Amazon is keen to replicate. It isn’t saddled with a physical store base, either.

It's hard to see what can derail Boohoo, but after such a stellar year it's equally hard to see how it could possibly do it all again—yet the valuation suggests investors are expecting just that, and more. Some caution is warranted as retail is littered with high flyers who fell to earth. Just look at ASOS' annus horribilis in 2014. Boohoo also suffered its own nasty profit warning in early 2015.

However, even if Boohoo stumbles, there's always the possibility that Amazon's interest in apparel could lead to it not just being a seller of fashion, but a buyer too.

It has acquired fashion businesses in the past, and if it wanted to bolster its cool credentials, Boohoo would be a good fit. Although, with a market capitalization of 1.7 billion pounds ($2.1 billion), it wouldn't be as cheap as a Boohoo bomber jacket.

Boohoo has been a stellar performer. But to justify its current rating, it must continue to deliver sales and profit upgrades. Alternatively it needs to become the target of a predator to avoid being a fashion victim.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.




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