This week, Nike (NKE) released earnings that were well appreciated by the market, sending shares of the world's largest footwear maker up 10% after the release. Nike noted strong growth in multiple divisions, including continued significant growth of Converse All-Star branded footwear. The company also noted strength in many emerging markets, including the belief that Brazil could be a billion dollar market by the middle of the decade.
All-Star model shoes predate Nike ownership and Converse predates Nike itself, being founded in 1908 and first selling the All-Star in 1917. Nike bought the company in 2003 for about $305 million. Nike's use of the All-Star and other Converse branding serves both the casual shoe niche and lower cost sport shoes. Nike attempts to use Converse to expand overall market share by without affecting its core sales under the Nike brand. Nike recorded that Converse accounted for $1.1 billion in sales over the last fiscal year, approximately 15% growth over last year.
The standard All-Star appears far more of a fashionable casual shoe than one chosen for comfort or performance. Nonetheless, Nike's technology and manufacturing capacity can be applied to the brand to expand it into some sport categories such as basketball and golf, among others. Several other well-known casual/sport shoe brands exist that appear somewhat comparable to Converse, such as Vans, K-Swiss (KSWS) and Skechers (SKX). Vans is a subsidiary of VF Corporation (VFC), which owns multiple other apparel brands and is currently acquiring The Timberland Company (TBL). The other two brands are still indepentent.
Skechers recently dramatically expanded its brand into the growing and controversial toning shoe category that it helped create. While many of the sports-shoe makers also grabbed market share within the toning market, including Adidas (OTC:ADDYY) through Reebok, Nike has largely refrained from joining them. Nike has preferred innovations that integrate digital technology into its core products, though it has also helped develop the toe-shoe or free-running category that is also relatively new and somewhat controversial. Many have argued that toning and/or toe-shoe businesses are faddish, but the market has not yet spoken.
The Skechers brand also offers several style oriented shoe options for adults and children, and also competes against these named brands and others for skateboard and alternative sport consumers. Skechers is presently worth approximately $718 million, with about $89 million in debt and $197 million in cash. Skechers has a significant level of its shares sold short.
K-Swiss was founded in 1966 and introduced the first leather tennis shoe to market. The company now competes in sports and casual categories, including several vintage-style offerings that are highly comparable to the All-Star lineup. The company has also seen significant growth in Europe and elsewhere internationally. K-Swiss has a market valuation of approximately $390 million, with $6.6 million in debt and $82.4 million in cash. The company also lost about $70 million over the last 12 months and also has a high level shares sold short.
Both Skechers and K-Swiss appear to be brands that a company with the resources and capacity of Nike could run more efficiently than their present management, though the brands would likely lose nimbleness and some status as an alternatively branded product. These companies have shown the ability to survive through prior difficult markets, but as Converse’s bankruptcy in 2001 showed, even longstanding footwear brands can fall. The current market includes dramatically rising material and distribution costs, and if these rising costs couple with a softening market, some consolidation within footwear may be inevitable.