Morgan Stanley upgraded Foot Locker (NYSE: FL) to overweight from underweight Tuesday, saying the shoe retailer has an edge over Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) in the high-end market.
"We believe Foot Locker can withstand the challenge from Amazon," Jay Sole, equity analyst, and Edward Ryan, research associate, said in a Tuesday note.
They have a 12-month $65 price target on Foot Locker, which is 33 percent higher than the stock's Monday closing price and close to where it traded in December. The shares climbed 4 percent Tuesday morning to above $50, still about 30 percent lower year to date.
Less than 5 percent of Foot Locker's 200 best-selling shoes are available on Amazon, the analysts said, while top athletic brands like Nike (NYSE: NKE) and Adidas still prefer to sell shoes through the brick-and-mortar retailer at an average price of $130 a pair.
"Amazon has positioned itself as a mid-market/mass retailer. It carries essentially none of the top selling, high-end styles from Nike and Adidas and we don't think that will change," the report said. "We expect FL to surprise the market by returning to 3-5% comp growth over the coming quarters."
The analysts estimate the higher-end athletic shoe market accounts for about 20 to 25 percent of the total footwear market, while Amazon is likely more focused on the larger, lower-end shoe market.
"We think brands will continue to allocate to Foot Locker a high-end product assortment which includes many styles consumers can't find anywhere else," the report said. "This unique high-end product offering is what will sustain Foot Locker over the long term."
Fears that Amazon will take business away from major retailers has erased billions of dollars from their market values. The SPDR S&P Retail ETF (NYSE Arca: XRT) (XRT) is down nearly 6 percent this year while Amazon shares have soared more than 30 percent to record highs in July.
Within the U.S. athletic footwear market, Amazon's share could double to 18 percent by 2022, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. But they forecast Foot Locker's market share will edge only 2 percentage points lower, to 29 percent.
Investors appear to be factoring in a larger market share decline to 25 percent for Foot Locker, the analysts said.
Foot Locker also maintains a strong brick-and-mortar business despite the overall struggles of mall shopping.
The shoe retailer has gained market share over the past seven years by "substantially increasing investment in its stores and creating the most premium destination to buy athletic footwear," the report said. "Brands still want the strong, premium mall presence FL best provides."
Only 11 percent of Foot Locker's roughly 2,300 stores are located within one mile of a Nike or Adidas store, suggesting at least 89 percent of Foot Locker stores are important to the athletic wear brands, the analysts said.
Nike could use its Oct. 25 analyst day to confirm Foot Locker as a strategic partner, something that could drive Foot Locker shares higher. New Nike innovations should help Foot Locker's same store sales, and currency moves in the last three months could boost fiscal 2017 and 2018 profit by 2 to 4 percent, the analysts said.
Other factors supporting the stock include overall expectations for growth in global athletic footwear sales and share repurchases. Morgan Stanley forecasts Foot Locker to buy back $450 million to $500 million in shares each year, resulting in a 5 percent annual drop in share count.
"We assume the stock price jumps back to $65 by mid-2018 and continues to rise at an 8 percent rate from there," the report said.
To be sure, the analysts said Amazon could take more customers away from Foot Locker through the Prime membership program.
"The power of Amazon to convert consumers into Prime members permanently changes the consumer landscape and rewrites industry rules," the report said. "Brands are compelled to offer best product on Amazon since so many consumers are shopping there and as a result FL suffers. In this bear scenario, Amazon athletic footwear sales expand 24% annually and its share gains come from all channels."
The Morgan Stanley analysts also expect Foot Locker's second-quarter earnings report on Aug. 18 to "look weak" and "doubt any potential commentary around August will be positive."
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