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bebe stores, inc. (NASDAQ:BEBE)

F2Q13 Earnings Call

January 31, 2012 4:30 pm ET

Executives

Liyuan Woo – Vice President Corporate Controller and Principal Accounting Officer

Steve Birkhold – Chief Executive Officer

Walter Parks – Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Jeffrey Van Sinderen – B Riley & Co.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Betty Chen – Wedbush Securities, Inc.

Dana L. Telsey – Telsey Advisory Group LLC

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Operator

Good afternoon and welcome to the bebe stores Fiscal Quarter Results Conference Call. As a reminder, the conference is being recorded. It is now my pleasure to introduce Ms. Liyuan Woo, Vice President Corporate Controller and Principal Accounting Officer. Ms. Woo, you may begin your conference.

Liyuan Woo

Good afternoon and welcome to bebe’s fiscal second quarter 2013 update. On the call with me today is Steve Birkhold, Chief Executive Officer; and Walter Parks, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. After Steve's opening remarks, Walter will discuss the fiscal second quarter results and business highlights as well as our expectations for the current quarter. Our call will be limited in time to one hour. After we have completed our prepared remarks, we will take your questions.

Before we get started, I'd like to remind you of the Company's Safe Harbor language. During the course of this call, we will make projections and/or other forward-looking statements regarding future events and future financial performance of the company. We wish to caution you that such statements are just predictions, and that actual events or results may differ materially. We refer you to the Company’s Form 10-K, 10-Q and other filings made with SEC for additional information on risk factors that could actual results to differ materially from our current expectations.

And now, I will turn the call over to Steve for his opening remarks.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you Liyuan, and good afternoon to everyone. It's great to be with you. I just want to say that I'm very excited to be here and have the opportunity to lead bebe into its next segment of growth. I wish to acknowledge Manny Mashouf for the company that he has built and really dedicate my support to the board for their support during this transition.

My first few weeks at bebe have been energizing and insightful. Simply to put, my reason for joining the brand has been absolutely confront. We have a great foundation, great brand equity and the significant potential for improvement. And looking at the company today, we have a strong brand of solid store network including e-commerce that has great potential growth and international licensing business with significant expansion plans ahead of us to be which we continue to incubate and an excellent balance sheet.

As a cornerstone of our company, the bebe brand is very well-positioned. The brand has a strong unique customer base and value proposition with untapped growth potential in additional categories and channels. With this foundation in place, I see the opportunity to leverage my 25 years worth of experience in apparel and global brand building to grow and build upon the financial performance of the company.

To turn around our performance, we need to continue to innovate our product, keeping relevant to both existing and potential new customers, and elevating our capabilities. I clearly recognize the challenges of the past few years for bebe, our top line has been flat with continued deceleration and traffic and gross margin erosion. During the first few weeks, I've been working with the team to elevate our strategies to ensure that we are positioned to deliver a sustainable and long-term growth.

This evaluation will continue over the next few months and in the meantime, our near-term priorities include driving a competitive top line, to strong brand positioning, traffic building, improvement of margins, strengthening of inventory productivity, and reintegrating our product offering. Other areas that will have my attention will be plans to accelerate growth in both e-commerce and international.

With that, I'm going to turn this over to Walter Parks, to go through our fiscal second quarter performance and current quarter guidance. Walter?

Walter Parks

Thank you, Steve. Good afternoon everyone. I am delighted to welcome Steve to bebe and I look forward to working with him. I also believe in the strength of the Company’s brand, our relationship with our customers and of course our people. With Steve we will continue to look for opportunities to drive productivity across our business in areas such as inventory, store operation, supply chain, real estate.

Now let me review the fiscal second quarter results. As we mentioned in the sales release, the fiscal second quarter comparable store sales was below our expectations, but we continue to see improved conversion and unit per transaction rates, the deceleration of store traffic remain the single biggest headwind impacting the results.

Net sales for the second quarter of fiscal 2013 were $135.5 million, a decrease of 10.9% from $152 million reported for the second quarter a year ago. As previously reported, comparable store sales for the quarter ended December 29, 2012 decreased 10.5%, compared to an increase of 9.6% in the comparable period of the prior year.

Gross margin as a percentage of net sales decreased to 33.9% in the second quarter of fiscal 2013 compared to 40.1% in the second quarter of fiscal 2012. The decrease in gross margin as a percentage of net sales was primarily due to an increase in markdowns and reserve coupled with unfavorable occupancy leverage.

SG&A expenses were $53.4 million or 39.4% of net sales compared to $49.9 million or 32.8% of net sales for the same period in the prior year. The dollar increase in SG&A expenses was primarily driven by certain costs, such as store impairment and write-off charges, as well as recruiting expenses. As a result of these charges, the current quarters EPS was reduced by approximately $0.04 net of income tax.

The effective tax rate for the second quarter of fiscal 2013 was 33.5% compared to 40.9% in the second quarter of fiscal 2012. The lower tax benefit in the current quarter compared to the tax expense in the prior-year period was due to the impact of permanent adjustments.

Net loss for the second quarter of fiscal 2013 was $4.8 million or $0.06 per share, an 84 million shares outstanding compared to net income of $6.6 million or $0.08 per share and 84 million shares outstanding for the same period of the prior year.

Net sales for the year-to-date period ended December 29, 2012 were $253.6 million, a decrease of 9.2% from $278.3 million for the year-to-date period ended December 31, 2011. Comparable store sales for the year-to-date period ended December 29, 2012 decreased 9.7%, compared to an increase of 8.4% in the prior year.

Net loss for the year-to-date period ended December 29, 2012 were $7.4 million compared to net earnings of $8.9 million in the prior year, loss per share for the year-to-date period ended December 29, 2012 was $0.09 per share an 84.2 million shares outstanding compared to net earnings per share of $0.11 per share an 84.3 million diluted shares outstanding in the prior year.

Our total cash and investments at December 29, 2012 were $260 million versus $241 million at June 30, 2012. The decrease is primarily driven by the repurchase in the Company's common stock, investing in inventory and CapEx. Inventories as of December 29, 2012 were 37.4 million compared to 30.8 million last year.

At the end of the second quarter average finished goods inventory per square foot increased approximately 27.5% compared to the prior year, reflecting the shift of new years eve in the fiscal January. The transitioning strategies including higher average unit costs for elevated products offering, additional spring received and other localization initiatives. Capital expenditures for the fiscal year ending period were approximately $11 million and depreciation expense was approximately $10 million.

In November 2012, the Board of Directors authorized a further repurchase up to $30 million of the Company's common stock. As of January 30, 2013 the company purchased approximately 3.5 million shares at an average price per share of $3.80 for an aggregate purchase price of approximately $13 million.

During the quarter ended December 29, 2012, the company opened 2 bebe store and closed one bebe store. We ended the quarter with approximately 1,000,000 square foot. Looking at the fiscal second quarter for bebe we saw improved trends in October and November, however the trend to get terms starting in the second week of December. We reacted by increasing the promotional activity through the end of the month. This contributed to the lower than expected gross margin. We saw sales decreased across all bebe channels during the quarter and experienced significant markdowns and margin erosion. For bebe.com, the comparable sales growth also slowed down against the strong prior year second quarter. However, we are working to make technological and merchandising enhancements to the online shopping experience.

We are expanding product offers, integrating our royalty program, and refining the marketing message to our clients. For bebe international, well our sales are negatively impacted by the product offering. we continue to grow our portfolio. During the quarter, our licensees open new doors in new countries including South Africa, Dominican Republic and Sweden.

We are now in 24 countries with 129 points of sales, compared to 104 points of sales across 19 countries in the prior-year fiscal second quarter. For 2b, the brand performance was mixed. we experienced improved sales in woven top jackets and bottoms, but they were not enough to offset the misses in knit tops and dresses.

We are pleased with our Black Friday, Cyber Monday in 12 days of wishlist performance. we have increased our investment in marketing, and brand awareness with 2b as well as building up our e-commerce customer base.

Let me review the current quarter expectations and items that relate to the fiscal year. For the third quarter of fiscal 2013, the Company currently anticipates comparable store sales to increase in the mid-single digit range. for the month of January, comparable store sales increased mid-single digits impacted by the New Year’s eve shift in the beginning of the month, coupled by the aggressive promotions to clear to inventory for the remainder of the month.

Depending on actual sales and markdowns, the net losses expected to be in midteens per share compared to break-even in the prior year. In the current quarter, we will continue to see a lower gross margin rate as we continue to clear to inventory and an increase in SG&A as a percentage of sales. The company is currently anticipating an effective tax rate of approximately 36% from fiscal 2013.

Depending on actual sales and markdowns, inventory per square foot at the end of the second quarter, are anticipated to increase in the low to mid-single digit range. For the remainder of fiscal 2013, the company anticipates opening four bebe stores and one 2b store and closing up to two bebe stores, which will result in no change total square footage from the end of the fiscal year.

In addition, our international licensees are anticipated that up to 15 points of sales this year. Depreciation expense for the year will be approximately $21 million. Total capital expenditures for the year anticipated to be $27 million, which will include capital expenditures for new storage remodel store expansions, improvements in technology systems and office improvements.

I will now turn the call over to Steve for his closing remarks.

Steve Birkhold

Thanks, Walter. So as Walter has mentioned, the results continue to be somewhat challenging as we look ahead to the second half of 2013. I intend to continue the focus on building up my executive team with a blend of new talents and existing talents and map out a mid and long-term turnaround strategies and initiatives.

For the short-term, we need to really focus on people as a key area, improve brand desirability with marketing and product, driving traffic into the stores in online and have a coherent messaging from the bebe brand. We continue our focus on hiring a seasoned creative marketer. we are also very excited about our new head of design as we focus more and fundamentally on merchandising products, marketing, production and planning.

All of these teams will be working very closely together with a clear vision of what we need to accomplish in the short, mid and long-term. I am very enthusiastic about the prospects of the turnaround for this great brand. We also need to improve inventory productivity to deliver better returns. Our focus here, we will be achieving improved gross margin and inventory returns. In the near-term we will continue to aggressively markdown and turn the inventories already committed to.

We’ve begin our fourth quarter to tightly align our sales and inventory plans by buying fashion that will sell out. As previously announced, we have a new Chief Digital Officer and we’re focusing on accelerating growth in the e-commerce area. Its capability requirements, channel integration and CRM being some of the key initiatives.

I look forward to positioning bebe for the dynamic changes taking place on our industry and for the tremendous opportunity that lie ahead for the company. I view my role as one that is to help keep the brand true to its heritage of style, fashion and sensuality and both keeping the relevant to existing customers and potential new customers by building on a world class omni-channel retail strategy to seamlessly integrate in-store online, mobile and social experience.

Again, I am very optimistic by the future prospects of our great brands and I look forward to working with the team that is highly motivated to reintegrate bebe.

So I want to thank you and open up the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Jeffrey Van Sinderen, B Riley.

Jeffrey Van Sinderen – B Riley & Co.

Good afternoon, and welcome to bebe, Steve I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about how we should think about merchandize margins in Q3 within the context of your comp guidance, and so are the promotional levels of markdowns, how does that measure the inventory running up in Q3, what it sounded to me was like you sort of staying on the path that you were in Q2 in terms of being pretty aggressive on markdowns, and maybe you can just talk a little bit about that.

Steve Birkhold

Yeah, I think strategically we have identified the fact that the environment continues to be difficult and consumer demand continues to be a little bit of a challenge, and we acknowledge the fact that our merchandize mix will take a little bit more time to evolve. Walter, can answer specifically your question from a numerical perspective.

Walter Parks

In the guidance we provided, we are looking at gross margin rate consistent with the prior year, maybe very similar, driven by a much more promotion, more similar to Q2 than the prior year.

Jeffrey Van Sinderen – B Riley & Co.

Okay. And then Steve I know you have been there only a short-term, but maybe you can walk us through, I know you had to prepare comments, but maybe some things that really stuck out to you sort of your initial impressions, what do you feel, obviously you spoke to the brand strength, but where you feel there are weakness is, where you feel the strengths are and maybe what specific initiatives you are working on first? Yeah, maybe we can start with that.

Steve Birkhold

Yeah, I mean again I am going to speak to it at a high level, but I think again interesting on the brand strength, I mean obviously my assessment and I think most of our assessments are that we have a brand that still have a lot of equity with our core targeted consumer. Obviously with the fact in the space that we planned, it's evidenced obviously and the numbers that we had some misses when it comes to products and some disconnect between product and marketing, so I would just have to say that the fundamentals and the organizational structure from my initial assessment is very strong, I think we have the opportunity now to attract some talents across the board that will bring a new vision and new energy I think into the mix.

So I wanted to say in this more difficult landscape, we still have a strong opportunity based on the equity of our brand, the loyalty of our core customers and actually the overwhelming appeal that the brand has to attract great talents. So that's really the front end of the businesses where we have to better connect the combination of having the right products with the right brand image at the right time, and that's where our initial focus is.

Jeffrey Van Sinderen – B Riley & Co.

Okay and then on the 2b, are there any initial thoughts there in terms of the go forward strategy, what your assessment is about or is it too early to really go into that?

Steve Birkhold

I'm mean surely to go into it a high level of detail I would say again I'm very confident and the strategy of the 2b concept, and I think that we've done a pretty good job in a relatively short period of time of building a strong consumer base that has kind of a unique position in the market, so I think the strategy of 2b is absolutely right, but obviously I don't have to say that for 2b to be successful long-term, the mother brand also has to be successful, so again 2b is continuing for us in a strong positive way, with a great degree of focus on the front end of the bebe brand.

Jeffrey Van Sinderen – B Riley & Co.

Okay. thanks very much and good luck in the first innings.

Steve Birkhold

Great, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Jennifer Black of Jennifer Black & Associates.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Good afternoon and welcome Steve, hi.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC.

I have a couple of questions. I was curious to know, maybe this is the Walter question, when you look at your percent of stores, I was curious to know Florida, Phoenix, California; these are all areas Las Vegas, that seem to be getting better, and I was curious as to what your concentration is when you look at your entire fleet of real estate?

Walter Parks

Well, again the highest concentration is in California followed by Texas and Florida and then. So long we have six stores in Vegas and actually the business there has been good. We only have two stores in Scottsdale and the business well, its stable, is in its good. There are certain areas of California that are very good and other areas that are still struggling and then throughout the mid-Western New England, it’s been a mixed bag.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC.

Okay, great. And then I wondered as far as Steve, when you look at the offering I know you discussed it in a little while, do you think the offering is too broad? Do you have any assessments and then I wondered what categories, where there any categories that performed well and whether any categories that under performed in the quarter?

Steve Birkhold

Again I am not going to jump into high level of detail that obviously from our results, those categories that didn’t perform well. Unfortunately I would say from a highlight perspective, I think the Dress category is some thing that we continue to have a lot of strength in. With this consumer, it’s the balance of finding the right size of offer and hindsight is always easy to look into, but I definitely think that my idea is we need to establish a stronger base within the business. So that would tell you that we need to find a little more focus and stability in the amount of styles and skews in the offer. So I don’t want to flow out any specific direction when it comes to that. But I think focus belief and then marketing those key beliefs in the strong way, it’s definitely going to be part of our strategy going forward.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Okay. and just a follow-up to that, you’d introduced leather, real leather to the collection, and I was just curious how we did, was it not accepted, I mean just trying to get an idea of who the customer I guess is, and what our appetite is to spend?

Steve Birkhold

Yeah. I mean, I think the leather category actually was successful for us. I think that we really, even though we play in an environment where price has been an issue for this customers. We clearly find that when we have the right product. We don’t really within the brand have big limitations on what you will spend within obviously a reason. So I don’t think price is a main driver, I think the main driver is product, and that’s where all of our focus is.

Walter Parks

And I would say that we are actually pleased, shockingly pleased, early on in the quarter, our challenge was in outerwear traditional woven, (inaudible) coats.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Okay. What about that new setting that you launched?

Walter Parks

It was a mixed bag. we had some success with skirts, bottoms, okay, jackets, one or two good overall mixed bag, and because of the environment, we were more promotional than we had originally anticipated.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Do you know a lot of other retailers?

Walter Parks

Yeah.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Okay. And lastly, did you say how much traffic was down?

Walter Parks

We did on the last call and it was 15 for the quarter.

Jennifer Black – Jennifer Black & Associates, LLC

Okay, great. Thanks a lot and good luck.

Walter Parks

That’s okay.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Betty Chen of Wedbush.

Betty Chen – Wedbush Securities, Inc.

I’ll add my welcome as well Steve.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Betty Chen – Wedbush Securities, Inc.

I was wondering if you can speak a little bit more, I think it’s still early, so where do you see some potential additions to the team that you’ll be prioritizing. secondly, I think you had mentioned in your earlier remark that the team also be buying perhaps deeper into what’s been selling well for the Q4 timeframe. Just want to clarify if I heard that correctly, and whether we could perhaps think about how much of the buy can you still impact to the Q4 timeframe and whether we can look for some sales improvement as a result of that?

Steve Birkhold

Okay. As far as addition to that Chen, I’m assuming you mean is there a strategy to add additional stores and everything. Honestly, I think one of my first areas of focus is really on the customer experience. I think that we’ve done a pretty good job, a really good job I think across the board of making sure that we covered the market effectively from a retail strategy and understanding where our consumer is. So I’m really more focused on creating a better experience, which I’ll speak to more obviously in future calls. But I think that, I would say from an addition perspective, there will be some plus stores, minus stores, more systematic and strategic at this point, whether it’d be lease explorations or relocations based on those kind of situations, but probably the big focus when it comes to the network is going to be really reenergizing the concept and providing the consumer with a more unique experience.

My comment about buying bebe in fourth quarter really is to going forward, making sure that we have a strong strategy that establishes a base of business in most of our key categories, with either new products or historical products that we believe in. Also we have to have the ability I think closer end to react to what's happening in the market. So as far as the specific strategy of buying bebe. We really haven't identified as those items yet, but I will have to say, philosophically we capped the right net and good stuff sells out quickly and we need to have the ability to believe in something and support it with a holistic marketing strategy, direct to the consumer inspirationally et cetera. So I do anticipate as we go into first quarter of next year which is basically fall and pre-fall of 2013 that you will see stronger point of view bebe and the products that we believe in supported by an integrated digital merchandizing and marketing strategy.

Betty Chen – Wedbush Securities, Inc.

So that's really helpful. And then Walter, I had a clarification question. Earlier, I think Jeff had asked you about gross margin, how we should think about that for the third quarter as part of your guidance, did you mean that the third quarter gross margin decrease will be similar to the magnitude we saw in the second quarter just reported?

Walter Parks

Yes.

Betty Chen – Wedbush Securities, Inc.

Okay. Great thank you so much and best of luck.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Dana Telsey of Telsey Advisory Group.

Dana L. Telsey – Telsey Advisory Group LLC

Fine. Given that bebe has a new designer in place, you’re new also, initial take on – if you look at a year from now, what should the pricing of the merchandise look like compared to today, what should be assortment mix be, whether it’s casual, wear-to-work in terms of where it is today?

And lastly given margins, under pressure on the growth side and also managing SG&A tightly like the business has done over the past few years, how would you like the complexion to be, given that you are managing SG&A with the weak comp. What are the targets what you would like to say and what are also in your mind too? Thank you.

Steve Birkhold

Again, there’s a lot for me to comment on in a relatively short amount of time. So honestly I am not going to give you tremendously specific answer. I would have to say that, from a pricing perspective, we have a consumer, we know a lot about our consumer. So I think we understand the elasticity of price between the different product categories and also understand the fact that the brand has the ability if the product is right to be very flexible plus or minus, up and down on place.

So I think the team and we have enough history with the brand to know the prices and the price points that drive volume and value. I think that the ideas that have been set forth in the past, which is upgrading and driving things upward of course will continue to be an aspiration, but we will also be pretty realistic about certain parts of the business that are little bit more price sensitive.

So I think the teams are of course working on and always work on competitive price analysis and we work at outsourcing merchandizing design teams to make sure that we have a good balance within our mix.

From a mix perspective, we also know what the consumer look for from us. We know that, in top of mind for her is going out kind of products whether it be dresses tops, bottoms, but we also know that once we get her in the store, she selects from wide range of lifestyle products like casual, denim, wear-to-work, even down to our new products in our bebe sport category, which now we have a true technical fabric that we’ve seen good response too.

On top of that, we’ve done a lot of work, and effort on all the tertiary categories that surround our core business in the accessories and non-apparel categories. And again we’ve seen some great innovation newness there. We have a new team in place that’s been on board. I think under a year at this point, I mean, it’s really we’re starting to see a lot of that products at the markets.

So commenting on specific mix is difficult at this point since we’re in the process of laying out our blue prints for our July through September time period, as you know we are relatively fast, when it comes to getting products to market, but we will definitely index on our historical categories that are very very strong. And again managing through the process with decreasing sales and increasing SG&A again that’s a big area of focus for myself, Walter and Liyuan and the whole team and we are doing that. We have a lot of disciplines in place to manage that and we anticipate continuing the tight management and the numbers that are historical to what Walter and Liyuan and finance and supply chain has delivered.

Walter Parks

I think Steve is right. It’s actually a good time to joint the business. We’re in the process now of starting to look at 14 and Steve will be intimately involved during that process. I know envision making substantial changes, I think we’ll make investments where he feels necessary and we’ll pull back where he doesn’t. I think he has committed to the Board and the shareholders ultimately that he wants to return the business to a much better run rate and closer to a historical level of profitability than the last 12 months. And I look forward to doing it with him.

Dana L. Telsey – Telsey Advisory Group LLC

Thank you. Best of luck.

Steve Birkhold

Thanks.

Operator

Our final question comes from the line of Adrienne Tennant, Janney Capital.

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Good afternoon, this is Gabriella Carbone, calling in for Adrienne. First, I would like to say welcome to Steve.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

So my first question is, I was just wondering if you can provide some color on the traffic trends you are seeing with the online business, as it in the key enhancements to the website, is there anything different there?

Steve Birkhold

Again we have a new Chief Digital Officer, who have joined us and I think we are continuing to add on to the team, so we have made some investments on the digital marketing side that are coming into play. And when I say investments, I mean investments in talent, so we anticipate a continuation of good results there.

Looking at a flow of segmentation of our database and going after our key categories in a very strong way, so I think not only for the strategic discussion, as far as where we are going, but I think with our new marketing talent that is on boarding soon hopefully, we will also be creating better content to put in front of the consumer. So it’s really an effort that is both on the structural side and also on the marketing side.

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Okay, great. And do you guys have a good target of what you think like D-T-C can become of the business?

Steve Birkhold

I don’t think we have one that we are prepared to talk to you today. I do know that with the investment over the last 12 months in both platforms and the distribution center. we believe it will be a much bigger part of the business as we move forward.

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Okay, great. And just one last final question, I was wondering, I know you mentioned about talking about non-apparel categories. I just (inaudible) provide what opportunities you see there and like if that can also become the larger piece of the business.

Steve Birkhold

Yeah. For sure we’re working on all the strategies across all the categories there. So, I don’t think we’re prepared today to give you specifics. but of course, as we grow, our plans are to jump into the big categories in that area. So there’s lots of opportunity out there for us. And we’re continuing to work hard to get it.

Gabriella Carbone – Janney Montgomery Scott LLC

Okay, great, thanks. Best of luck.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Operator

At this time, we have no further questions. This will conclude the second quarter earnings call for bebe. Thank you for joining us.

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