With Dick's stock crashing after reporting dreadful results this morning, in which both comp sales and EPS missed as the company slashed its full year guidance below even the lowest sellside forecast (it now sees full year EPS of $2.80 to $3.00, below the previous guidance of $3.65 to $3.75 and the Wall Street estimate of $3.62 ), the management team had no reason to hold back on today's earnings call, and luckily - unlike many other retailers who still hold out hope that the worst is behind them - it did not, for an unvarnished look into the retail space.
Confirming just how little pricing power retailers have, CEO Ed Stack said "we have conducted extensive consumer research, and the customers have told us they feel our prices are not competitive in today's environment" in which everyone is slashing price to capture market share, and as a result the company is "intentionally joining this battle, and we will aggressively be promoting our business to drive market share to our stores and online."
Stack said he observed heavier promotions and price cuts particularly on athletic apparel, electronics, and hunting, fishing and camping gear which started as early as Father's Day. "We started to see this happening a little bit before Father's Day, and it continued to be very promotional, not only from retailers but also from some of the brands on a direct-to-consumer basis."
Having no other choice, Dicks has joined the battle of the "deep discounters", and has also launched a "best price guarantee" in which it promises customers that if they find a lower price on a product, Dick's will match it. Of course, by doing so, the retailer assures that both Dick's and its peers margins and net income shrink even more in the coming quarters.
Another major concern on the call - and to management - was the recent partnership between Amazon and Nike. Asked "how can you ensure that your positioning is still differentiated from that of the Amazon offering" the CEO responded: "We'll see how this goes. They've been transparent talking to us about this test, and I suspect it will probably go well, and then Nike will decide what they want to do about it and how they want to handle the balance of the market. Our relationship with Nike has been - has always been very good. It continues to be very good. We continue to work with them on shops, on our footwear decks and exclusive products. They are a strategic vendor of ours and we've got great relationship and what we're going to test and what they'll do ultimately we'll deal with that when it happens."
Speaking to CNBC, SW Retail Advisors' Stacey Widlitz said that "Dick's is another example of Amazon becoming the new middleman... Here we go down the gross margin rabbit hole just in time for the holidays."
Of course, if Nike ultimately decides to go exclusively with Amazon at least Dick's terminal suffering will be greatly shortened. Meanwhile, as the call went on, there was the following striking admission by the CEO:
"There's a lot of people right now, I think, in retail and in this industry in panic mode. There's been a difficult environment. I think people, I'm not going to speculate what they're thinking, but they seem to be in panic mode with how they're pricing product, and we think it's going to continue to be promotional and at times, irrational going forward."
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Just in case the message was not clear the first time, there was more panic: "People need to get rid of the inventory, and then some people are panicked as to what's going to happen with their business from a growth standpoint."
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And then, to top it off, just a little more: "What's going on in the marketplace right now is that it's just very promotional, almost panicked in some cases, I think, especially in the hunt, fish categories. There's a lot of inventory in the pipeline, and people need to move it out, and it's going to continue to be promotional until this inventory gets moved out of the pipeline"
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Finally, one can't possibly use the word "panic" 4 times in a conference call without also adding the occasional "perfect storm", and sure enough:
"So I think it's just a perfect storm right now in retail, and I think sporting goods is in the center of it right now. There'll be further consolidation. We're seeing Gander Mountain closing right now. We'll see what happens with some other retailers, but it's a perfect storm right now. We're not particularly happy that we're in it."
Meanwhile, as the legacy retail sector implodes and as US households drown under a record amount of debt (the two may be connected), the Fed is confused why credit card defaults as mysteriously surging at a time when the US economy is supposed to be recovering...