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Executives

Liyuan Woo – CFO

Steve Birkhold – CEO

Analysts

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Betty Chen – Mizuho Securities

bebe stores, Inc. (BEBE) F2Q2014 Earnings Conference Call February 6, 2013 4:30 PM ET

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the bebe stores, Inc. Fiscal Second Quarter Results Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

It is now my pleasure to introduce Ms. Liyuan Woo, Chief Financial Officer. You may begin.

Liyuan Woo

Good afternoon, and welcome to BEBE's fiscal second quarter 2014 update. On the call with me today is Steve Birkhold, Chief Executive Officer. After Steve’s opening remarks and business highlights, I will discuss the fiscal second quarter results as well as our expectations for the current third quarter of fiscal 2014. Our call will be limited in time to one hour. After we have completed our prepared remarks, we will take your questions.

Before I 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 other forward-looking statements regarding future events and the 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 the SEC for additional information on risk factors that could cost actual results to differ materially from our current expectations.

And now I’ll turn over the call over to Steve for his opening remarks.

Steve Birkhold

Thanks, Liyuan, and good afternoon everyone. We are pleased to share with you that our second quarter results exceeded our expectations as we continue to execute our strategic turnaround.

When we last spoke in November, we were very cautious given the tough macroeconomic environment and the government shutdown and traffic decline which resulted in sales comp deceleration in the month of October. Since then we started to see a gradual improvement in traffic trends beginning in November which turned positive during the Black Friday weekend and gained momentum in December to Christmas despite weak mall traffic and a highly promotional environment.

We continue to make strides in assembling a compelling merchandise and assortment, connecting and messaging to the bebe girls throughout the holiday season and managing inventory at a lean level to ensure a clean position in January. Our inventory per square foot decreased 6.8% compared to last year fiscal second quarter, and we cleared through over 95% of our legacy products.

We managed comp store sales to a negative 1.9%, an improvement over the negative 2.8% [comp store sales] in the first quarter of 2014. In the important month of December, our comp sales were plus 3% with a positive traffic comp. Our merchandise margin was down just 50 basis points compared to the second quarter of last year despite the highly promotional environment. In addition, we carefully managed our costs while investing in high-impact SG&A areas including people, technology and marketing.

I would now turn to some highlights in our progress in our six strategic initiatives to move our business forward. Our first initiative is to increase product distinction with a contemporary accessible fashionable merchandise offering designed for the confident, sexy bebe girl. We saw a favorable response to our holiday assortment in a variety of categories including non-denim bottoms, dresses, jumpsuits, bebe sport and shoes. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of our logo business which demonstrates our customer's strong connection to the bebe brand.

In addition, we are making progress in the outerwear and other non-apparel categories. Overall the denim category and the tops category did not perform to our expectations, but we are taking steps to adjust our assortment and move through slower selling products. We made excellent products moving to our legacy merchandise and ended the quarter with fresh and lean inventory position. We moved through age and have substantially less markdown inventory now versus where we were last year.

Overall we remain committed to refine our merchandise strategy with open-to-buy, test, chase or cancel process. While we continue to see strong signs that we are headed in the right direction, we're at the beginning of an evolutionary process and will continue to fine-tune the assortments as we monitor selling trends. We look forward to our spring deliveries as we believe our product offerings will resonate well with the bebe girl. Early reads on spring are positive.

Our second strategic focus is to align our marketing campaign across traditional and new media, focused on messaging that speaks to our bebe girl. Our 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. marketing images and messaging that perfectly overemphasize our core brand position in the sexy and going-out occasions have resonated with the bebe girls. Our messaging during both Black Friday selling period and the holiday season were strong and frequent. We've created promotional messages throughout December.

We continue to see the uptick in mobile traffic and social media impressions. We will continue to test different promotions as we move towards spring, with a focus on driving traffic while measuring the returns.

As mentioned during the call last quarter, we are sending stronger messaging about our day work categories for spring. We believe that our "rule today and conquer the night" messaging and the sportswear presentation supporting our day wear business will create excitement and showcase the breadth of products that we offer to bebe girls.

Display ad campaign dropped this week in a variety of titles and we released it this week on social media. And if you check our Facebook page, you will that we've gotten very strong feedback on the campaign from our bebe customer.

Our third strategic focus is to create an omni-channel strategy to engage our customer wherever and whenever she shops. We mentioned during the last quarter's call that we use online -- the online channel new product offerings to very positive results. During the quarter our e-commerce site delivered 16% sales growth, and most importantly, plus 21% comp sales growth for the month of December.

For the holiday season, we saw improved full price selling with more compelling online assortments, and achieved better margins on our markdown products. We plan to maintain a balanced offering of full price and markdown merchandise in order to optimize our regular price selling while utilizing the site to clear through excess inventory.

Our omni-channel capabilities also allow us to optimize our inventory productivity and merchandise margin. We now have the ability to allocate stocks in our DC from both stores to our e-commerce orders since August of last year, which has enabled us to more efficiently manage our inventory and fulfill online orders.

During Black Friday we were able to ship 60% more units than last year with the same labor and processing costs all done in-house. We continue to see a significant growth opportunity in online shopping as online shopping becomes a more prominent shopping channel for our customer. We also view our website as an important marketing tool to stay connected with our customer and driver into our stores.

Our fourth strategic focus is on 2b] stores optimization while we continue with our outlet conversion and expansion efforts. We did a small test of upgraded product at higher price points in our 2b stores and saw a very strong response to this offering. While 2b was negatively impacted by traffic slowdowns, we started to see both top-line and margin improvements due to this improved product acceptance. We will continue to monitor the performance in our 17 mall-based 2b store concepts as we expand upon this product effort.

Our 32 outlet locations also experienced negative traffic but continued to perform with improved margins. We plan to convert all outlet stores from 2b to bebe by the end of May and we'll start to introduce made-for-outlet products in our fiscal fourth quarter. We believe that made-for-outlet, which is higher-margin product, can ultimately represent 65% of our outlet sales long term and substantially increase our average unit retail.

Our fifth strategic focus is our international business. Our partner is starting to see positive reactions to our new product offerings with similar trends to what we saw in our U.S. stores. Near term we will continue to work on enhancing our product assortments and branding efforts while managing tight inventories. In the long term, as we shared at the Investor Day, there's a substantial growth potential globally for retail, wholesale and online. And we will talk more about this strategy as it unfolds.

Our sixth strategic focus is on ROI-based investment for sustainable long-term growth. We have developed a new store prototype which more effective represents our new sexy, edgier look. The new prototype offers improved store flow and incorporate better visual merchandising including window displays, live streaming of content on in-store screens to highlight newness, create excitement, and give our omni-channel and brand experience -- and the brand experience that we want to convey.

Our goal is to have consistency across our websites, retail stores and in our marketing message. We will begin the testing phase of a new prototype store in April of 2014. We will evaluate the ROI and fine-tune the model prior to the rollout once we achieve our objectives.

While we're pleased with the progress we have made in the second quarter of 2014, we are aware of what is happening from a macro perspective as we enter our third quarter. The environment remains challenging, weather has been working against us throughout January and early February. However, we believe that we're well-positioned in inventory and we will optimize our margin position for the current quarter. We have less markdown inventory compared to last year and have positioned ourselves with fresh resort and [ph] spring assortments. Liyuan will provide a little more detail on this when she talks about our third quarter guidance in just a few minutes. We expect to deliver on our goal of sequential improvement in both sales and margin, however.

In summary, we are advancing in our merchandising, marketing and omni-channel strategies with disciplined investments and analysis so that we can measure our progress and adjust accordingly. We have consistently said that we plan to deliver sequential improvements in our results during our turnaround and despite the challenging retail environment we have. We will continue to be extremely disciplined in monitoring our sales performance, managing our inventories, controlling our expenses as we make our way through this turnaround. We also continue to learn as we go and will move forward with things that are working while push corrective [ph] in areas that aren't generating the adequate returns.

Overall we remain focus on driving our strategic plans forward and feel good about the number of positive indicators that we're seeing given the confidence that we will achieve our long-term objectives.

With that, I will turn the call back to Liyuan to go to our fiscal second quarter performance and provide some color for the third quarter fiscal guidance. Liyuan?

Liyuan Woo

Thanks, Steve. Second quarter of fiscal 2014 results exceeded our expectations and continued to exhibit sequential improvement, which is our transitional goal for the year.

Net sales for the second quarter of fiscal 2014 were $130 million, a decrease of 4.1% from $135.5 million reported for the second quarter a year ago. Comparable store sales for the second quarter decreased 1.9%. This follows a decrease of 2.8% sales comp in the first quarter. The decrease in total sales continue to be partially driven by the closure of unproductive stores. And as we close more stores in this fiscal year, the trend will continue.

The sequential improvement in comparable store sales in our full price bebe stores month over month was driven by improvement in both traffic and conversion. We experienced positive sales, traffic and conversion comp in the month of December, which was very encouraging time for us.

Gross margin decreased to 33.6% compared to 33.9% in the second quarter of fiscal 2013. The decrease was primarily due to the increasing markdown to clear through legacy products as planned, as well as increased promotional activities during the holiday season to react to the highly promotional environment.

SG&A expenses were $49.3 million or 37.9% of net sales, compared to $53.4 million or 39.4% of net sales for the same period in the prior year. The SG&A expenses in the second quarter of fiscal 2014 reflects planned increase in advertising expenses, decrease in contractor and professional fees, as well as the benefit of $5 million from a legal settlement.

Net loss for the second quarter of fiscal 2014 was $5.5 million or $0.07 per share on 79.1 million shares outstanding, compared to net loss of $4.8 million or $0.06 per share on 84.1 million shares outstanding for the same period of the prior year. Note that the fiscal 2014 net loss also reflects the continuing impact of maintaining a valuation allowance against deferred tax assets, and thus our effective tax rate approximate zero percent.

Net sales for the year-to-date period ended January 4, 2014 were $244.1 million, a decrease of 3.4% from $252.6 million for the year-to-date period ended December 29, 2012. Comparable store sales for the year-to-date period ended January 4, 2014 decreased 2.3%.

Net loss for the year-to-date period ended January 4, 2013 was $14.6 million compared to a net loss of $7.4 million in the prior year. Loss per share for the year-to-date period ended January 4, 2013 was $0.18 per share on 79.1 million shares outstanding, compared to a net loss per share of $0.09 on 84.2 million shares outstanding in the prior year. Note that the fiscal 2014 net loss also reflects the continuing impact of maintaining a valuation allowance against deferred tax assets, and thus our effective tax rate approximate zero percent.

Our total cash and investments at January 4, 2014 were $164 million versus $180 million at July 6, 2013. The decrease was primarily driven by the loss to date dividend payment and CapEx spend.

Inventories as of January 4, 2014 were at $31.9 million compared to $37.4 million last year. At the end of the fiscal second quarter, average finished goods inventory per square foot decreased approximately 6.8% compared to the prior year. CapEx for the second fiscal quarter were approximately $7 million and depreciation expense was approximately $10 million. During the quarter ended January 4, 2014, the company closed one 2b store and two bebe stores. We ended the quarter with approximately 930,000 square feet.

Now let me review the current third quarter expectations and items that relate to the year. As Steve mentioned, we're encouraged by the positive signs exhibited in the second quarter and expect to continue to deliver sequential improvement in most key financial metrics. Nevertheless, we remain cautious about the challenging and highly promotional environment.

Taking this into account, for the third quarter of fiscal 2014, we expect comparable store sales to be flat. Gross margin is expected to be higher than the prior year. We expect net loss per share for the third quarter to be in the mid-teens range, which is outperforming the third quarter of the prior year. The expected loss per share range also reflects the continuing impact of maintaining a valuation allowance against deferred tax assets or a close to zero percent effective tax rate.

Finished goods inventory per square foot as of the end of fiscal third quarter of 2014 are anticipated to decrease in the low single-digit range. For the remainder of fiscal 2014, the company plans to close up to six more bebe stores and one 2b bebe store, which will result in approximately 8% decrease in total store square footage from the end of fiscal 2013.

Depreciation expense for the year will be approximately $21 million. Total CapEx for the year are anticipated to be up to $25 million, which will include capital expenditures for new stores, remodels, store expansions, IT, and office [ph] improvements.

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

Steve Birkhold

Thanks, Liyuan.

As we look ahead to the rest of fiscal 2014, we will continue to focus on executing our transitional strategies. As I said earlier, we cannot control the macro environment but we have a very strong team in place and are well-positioned to carefully manage our inventory and control costs as necessary, while remaining focused on our customers and executing to our plan.

I am pleased to announce that we recently added two highly talented executives to our team. Our new SVP of marketing and chief digital officer. Kenna Florie draws from her background at Quiksilver and offers a strong strategic as well as taxable [ph] experience to our marketing team, and Erik Lautier, who used to work for me at Lacoste, recently joined as our Chief Digital Officer. I look forward to his contribution in taking our digital strategies to the next level.

Overall it comes down to products and we believe we can drive enhanced sales performance longer term as we continue to refine our product assortments. In short, we will continue to focus on our long-term growth and manage through the current market environments.

I'd like to thank our shareholders for their support as we continue to work on transforming this business and focusing on long-term sustainable growth.

With that, I would like to thank you, and open this call up for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions]

Our first question comes from Jeff Van Sinderen with B Riley & Co.

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Hi, good afternoon. And let me say congratulations to you and your team. It's really amazing in a kind of environment that we had for holiday. [Indiscernible] obviously are making progress and it's great to see that at the store level.

Maybe you can just touch on the traffic progression that you saw. And I think you said traffic was positive in December. Was it positive throughout the quarter or did it just turn positive in December?

Steve Birkhold

We began to see traffic in November gain from where we were in October. And I would say the Black Friday weekend with our Black Friday strategy all the way through the end of December we saw positive traffic trends in total. Obviously there were some fluctuations here and there, but we did see sustainable traffic in spite of the traffic trends that we all know are happening out there in the malls at a macro level. So we really feel like we were able to generate more interest in our store with our price, product and window strategy. And we definitely got feedback from our retail operations team that we were attracting some new and differentiated customers, which was the goal of the campaign.

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Right. That's great to hear. And then as far as store closures, with the weather, obviously that's -- I mean that's been talked about a lot in the industry lately. Just wondering how much that's impacting your business. You still sound relatively upbeat on traffic and conversion.

Steve Birkhold

Yeah, I mean the actual store closure number is obviously pretty identify. It's probably, in the current period of January, February, probably has on average about a 5 comp point impact, although some of the broader events had substantially more.

The one metric that's very hard to measure is the lack of traffic if the store is still open based on what we all know has been one of the worst winters across a broad section of the country. So we definitely monitor the numbers and the impact on comp and the stores that are closed. It's a little more difficult to really understand kind of the underperformance based on even if the store is open and the traffic trends just aren't there because of the weather.

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Got it. And maybe you can just touch on -- I think you touched on this a little bit in your prepared comments, but some of the investments you're making in people, marketing, maybe you can just update us a little bit more on that.

Steve Birkhold

Yeah, I think one of the successes that we had, probably one of the biggest successes in December, which obviously the evening dress category for us is very critical, we launched a specific campaign both online and offline, our New Year's campaign, which was called No Resolutions, No Regrets that drove a tremendous amount of traffic in a pretty focused time period going back to our evening, going-out dress occasions. So that along with the very strong initiative around Black Friday, which again we did, we used very similar assets that we do on our campaign, and I think the consistency of the messaging in creating that kind of aspiration regardless of the message has been a real key to our success.

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Okay, great. And then, Steve, maybe you can just -- just touch on real estate a little bit. I know you're in the process of converting some of the 2b outlets, I think you said by May those will be done. Maybe you can also just touch on when you feel you'll be where you want to be in terms of the level of for-outlet product, and then maybe just touch on what your outlook is beyond this year. I know maybe it's hard to see beyond this year for store closures. And then also maybe touch on when we're going to start to see some of the new store prototype elements in some of your stores.

Steve Birkhold

The first new [ph] store prototype will be in [Short Hills] and it'll open in April. And we have four plan. And then we're going to measure the ROI prior obviously to a large rollout.

We all know that customers shop the outlet channel obviously for brands and we are convert the 2b stores to bebe in April and May and be finished by May. The made-for-outlet product mix will obviously evolve as we gain momentum, but it'll start at a relatively small level in the beginning. And I would say once we enter fiscal 2015 in the second part of the second quarter fiscal 2015, the majority of the outlet channel stores will be bebe logo and bebe made-for-outlet along with bebe excess [ph].

So I believe that we will be giving the marketplace much more detail down the road about our outlet strategy. And this is, you know, at this point I think we're not really getting in-depth on that strategy. But safe to say we see it as a very viable channel. We know there's a lot of bebe consumers that shop this channel, and we need to utilize our brand to get her into the store.

Jeff Van Sinderen – B. Riley & Co.

Right. Makes total sense. Okay, I'll let someone else jump in. Thanks very much. And good luck with the rest of the quarter.

Steve Birkhold

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from Adrienne Tennant with Janney Capital Markets.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

And let me add my congratulations on the progress. Steve, I was wondering if you can talk to us about the comp guidance obviously for flattish comps. Is that quarter-to-date, how we should think about the business? Or do we need to see an acceleration as we get into more spring-like temperatures?

And then kind of getting back to the outlet piece of it, is there a particular ratio of frontline stores to outlets that you want to see or that you want to maintain?

And then finally, on GTC [ph], can you give us any update on kind of percentage penetration of the e-com GTC [ph] channel?

And then I'll ask some questions of Liyuan.

Steve Birkhold

Okay. So let me answer the first question about guidance. Obviously with our focus on removing and selling through as much legacy inventory which, like Liyuan said, we did accomplish that in a very strong way, we are obviously entering the beginning of third quarter with substantially less markdown inventory in obviously a very promotional environment. So we're not giving guidance from a monthly perspective, but we're not that far-off of our planned January comp numbers and we're confident that we will flat comp the quarter.

So obviously here in our stores you will see a higher percentage of spring products on the floor, early indications in certain markets and on dot-com had been, an internationally, had been very positive. And in other markets there is not an appetite for a lot of spring yet.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Right.

Steve Birkhold

So those are obvious results. But we're confident we're on track to deliver what we said in the quarter and we are positioned with a much higher percentage of go-forward product than we have been in the past. And like I said, we're seeing some strong reactions to some product categories.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Right.

Steve Birkhold

The second question I believe was number of -- yes. So, you know, I'm not going to say where we need to be or where we're going to be at the end of the day. On outlets, we will do a full-blown presentation on that strategy in the very near future. But needless to say, we're very happy with our overall current outlook portfolio wherein most of the top -- all of our outlets are basically in the top 50 in the country, and we do think that there is a significant opportunity at a reasonable level for the outlet channel. So it won't be a channel that dominates, from a total business perspective dominates, but it'll be a channel that we can substantially increase our average unit retail, deliver higher margins, and add a lot of value to the bottom line of the business, while maintaining our strong position in our bebe retail stores and dot-com.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Okay, great. And DGC [ph] penetration?

Steve Birkhold

You know, again we don't -- you know, we actually released, for the time we've given you guys some visibility to the performance of our online assets, but we don't talk about the percentage total business.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Okay. And then for Liyuan, just a quick question on the implied gross margin for the third quarter. Is it fair to say that it's still -- it implies improvement over the 29.7% last year I think it was? But is it fair to say that it's still implying sort of a low 30% gross margin? And if that is the case, as we go into the spring season which has a little bit more full price selling and the products improving, does that not leave some nice opportunity for upside?

Liyuan Woo

Well, again, Adrienne, we wanted to be cautious and we're still early from a transition perspective. And yes, we will be exceeding last year. But at this juncture, we believe the guidance is, you know, we'll only provide the guidance for the quarter.

Adrienne Tennant – Janney Capital Markets.

Okay. Fair enough. Thank you very much. Good luck.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Operator

Our last question comes from the line of Betty Chen with Mizuho Securities.

Betty Chen – Mizuho Securities

Good afternoon. Congratulations on a great job on a tough season. I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about, it sounds like a lot of the product categories definitely started to resonate with her. You did call, Steve, I believe that maybe denim and mid-tops perhaps were not as strong as you had hoped. When do you think we might see some progress on that front?

And then secondarily, regarding clubbebe, any new color regarding clubbebe? Are those members sort of coming back? Are you seeing any sort of leads on her transactions and buying patterns?

And then lastly, for Liyuan, my question is regarding SG&A. We saw a significant leverage in the second quarter. Could we see that type of leverage again in the third quarter? Thanks.

Steve Birkhold

So to comment on the categories that we're struggling with, I think there's kind of two different situations that are happening, and I think from a market and consumer perspective, the denim category is obviously very saturated, and quite honestly, there's not too many people that are in denim that are having a whole lot of success.

So what we did very early on is recognized that and really had a strategy to kind of move through inventory. Within that category, however, what we're finding is the more decorated logo-driven, decorated back-pocket is resonating very well with our bebe girls. So we're making those kinds of adjustments as we go. And I think if you were to see the numbers, the strength of our bottoms business versus our denim business is simply a customer choice and I believe that's happening in a substantial way across the marketplace.

So we have a very large viable denim business. We will find -- continue to find a way to make that work. Our supply chain can react relatively quickly. And we'll move forward with some new strategies going into back-to-school of our fiscal 2015.

Again mid-tops, with the categories within mid-tops, cropped continues to be very, very strong for the bebe customer. But once again, finding that more key item driven ongoing basic top has been probably the biggest challenge. So our pace of product development, design and the introduction of newness there is what's really critical to drive that business.

So although it's one of our categories that we didn't outperform, it's definitely a category that we can reload on, work with our great design team, and get back into the right styles relatively quickly.

Betty Chen – Mizuho Securities

Right.

Steve Birkhold

clubbebe again, our loyalty and our most loyal customer continues to spend with us at a very high level. We have not disappointed her and actually she's reacted very positively to new products and new ad campaign. There's definitely an opportunity for us. We've kind of joined in onboard to refresh our clubbebe assets with new rewards and renewed effort on customer acquisition side. So it's a big area of focus and it's something that we definitely see continuing as an opportunity.

Liyuan Woo

So, Betty, in terms of SG&A, we continue to really control the cost where we can control. But I think Steve mentioned earlier, when we invest a little bit more in advertising windows, we definitely see that positive reaction. So there's areas in advertising and people and technology we're going to continue to invest in.

Now obviously from a leverage perspective, Q3 is our lowest quarter compared to the rest. And there's certain level of fixed expense, only if it exists. But directionally we're definitely trying to control SG&A.

Betty Chen – Mizuho Securities

Okay, great. Liyuan, in terms of some of the professional fees that helped the second quarter, could that continue going forward?

Liyuan Woo

Yeah. So when we think about what happened in Q2, two-fold. One is indeed we have more temp employees or outside consulting because we were even more in a transitional period last year. But on the other side, there were some one-time items sitting in last year as well. So when you look at this quarter, you will see the similar trend as we have full-time employee instead of contractor or outside consulting. But the basic structure, it is what it is.

Betty Chen – Mizuho Securities

Okay, great. Well, thanks, and best of luck for the third quarter.

Liyuan Woo

Thank you, Bett.

Steve Birkhold

Thank you.

Operator

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

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