Billabong: badly battered but bullish


“Short-term turbulence” is what Billabong’s CEO is calling it. But investors saw it differently. After a few years of edging back from a near-business wipeout, the surfwear specialist gave a trading update covering fiscal 2016’s first four months and the news wasn’t good.

So what did CEO Neil Fiske have to say (and bear in mind that with the share price plunging 23% it must have been pretty bad)?

Operating profit fell A$2.5m in the four-month period, conditions out there are getting worse and the Christmas trading period will be “crucial”.

It’s always worrying when a business says that Christmas trading will be crucial – it’s crucial for everyone but when you have to issue a warning, it makes investors very jittery. And given the current economic/political uncertainty in the world, with nobody really able to predict how Christmas will turn out those jitters are no surprise.

But a resolutely upbeat Fiske said the company would “ride out” the short-term turbulence “and stay focused on our agenda.”

So what exactly has gone wrong? It’s a long list: a weaker Australian dollar, weakness in North America, slowing demand in all physical sales channels (including department stores, teen retailers, action sport stores, and tourist-focused retailers), a consumer focused on deals and Billabong’s own determination not to discount…

So what makes the company think it can overcome all this? It’s done so before, having been rescued by a private equity bailout in 2012 after making catastrophic losses and having seen business improving until this latest downturn.

Also, Fiske said the problems it’s facing aren’t specific to Billabong: “We can certainly say there has been a little bit of turbulence in the Americas but that’s not specific to us but the whole sector. We’ll be fine in the end.”

Oh, and there’s the fact that the second half is always more important to Billabong than the first half. We can only wait and see.

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