Not that long ago, electronics and accessories manufacturer Logitech (NASDAQ:LOGI) was a popular short target. As recently as early 2016, even with the LOGI stock price at a relatively modest $15 or so, over 15% of its shares outstanding were sold short. Logitech stock looked cheap on a fundamental basis, but bears bet against LOGI anyway.
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The short thesis made some sense. At the time, roughly half of Logitech’s revenue came from computer keyboards and computer mice. Meanwhile, PC (personal computer) unit sales were declining as consumers adopted smartphones as well as tablets like Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad.
As PC unit sales fell, bears argued, so too would sales of Logitech’s accessories for those computers. With roughly half of its revenue headed in the wrong direction, Logitech’s earnings would drop, they argued. And even after excluding some unfavorable items, its earnings per share was below $1 in fiscal 2016. That indicated that the LOGI stock price easily could dip below $10.
That thesis didn’t play out at all. The company’s revenues from devices for PCs actually kept increasing. Its margins improved. Categories like Gaming and Video Collaboration helped drive its revenue growth. Not only did its profits fail to decline, but its earnings per share more than doubled between fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2019. Logitech stock at one point had tripled, as shorts scrambled to cover. Barely 1% of its shares outstanding now are sold short.
Since the beginning of 2018, however, the LOGI stock price has stalled out. One key reason for the weakness is that aspects of the old short case seem pertinent again. Logitech’s growth still looks solid, but for LOGI stock to resume its upward climb, the company needs to launch new products.
One potential source of concern is that Logitech remains heavily reliant on PCs. In FY19, mice, keyboards, and PC webcams still drove a combined 43% of its sales.
The combined revenue from those categories increased 6% in FY19. But they’ve grown less than 1% in the first half of fiscal 2020. Meanwhile, consumer demand for PCs remains “very weak”, as research firm Gartner put it in July. The Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 10 refreshment cycle has boosted demand from businesses, but that tailwind, too, may fade.
To be fair, currency fluctuations may have negatively impacted this year’s revenue: for Logitech as a whole, revenue growth excluding currency fluctuations in the first half was over two percentage points higher than the reported total. And Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell has repeatedly noted that the driver of Logitech’s PC accessories demand isn’t unit sales, but rather unit usage.
After all, part of the weakness of PC sales is due to the fact that PCs are lasting longer, while new desktops no longer offer the same improvements they did a decade ago. That’s a benefit for Logitech, not a problem. Consumers who use computers longer and more often will buy Logitech’s accessories to replace old equipment and/or improve their experience.
Still, the growth of the company’s revenue from products for PCs is decelerating meaningfully even excluding currency fluctuations. And if 43% of the company’s revenue is growing minimally or not at all, that’s a significant negative factor for LOGI stock.
What Will boot LOGI Stock?
With Logitech stock trading at a still-reasonable valuation, flattish revenue from the PC categories isn’t a death knell. It’s not even a good reason to consider shorting LOGI stock at this point.
But now the rest of the company’s business is showing some weakness as well. Most notably, Logitech’s Gaming products had been a huge source of growth: their sales more than tripled between fiscal 2015 and 2019. In 2019, however, their revenue is flat.
That’s partly because of a difficult comparison. Last year’s release of the free Fortnite game by Epic Games shook up the video game industry — and led to a surge in sales of gaming headsets like those manufactured by Logitech’s Astro Gaming unit. The top line of Astro rival Turtle Beach (NASDAQ:HEAR) should drop about 17% this year, even with some help from an acquisition.
Going forward, the growth of LOGI’s Gaming unit is likely to decelerate from the torrid rates posted in years past. And that leaves the company reliant on a category like Video Collaboration, which is roughly 10% of its trailing 12-month sales, for growth.
So far, Logitech has managed to find ways to drive growth despite flattish end markets. But the obvious worry is that it won’t be able to continue to do so forever. Unless Gaming resumes growing meaningfully again in FY21, going forward its sales are not going to increase at the same, high-single-digit percentage rate seen in the past few years. And that might be a problem for LOGI stock.
Margins and the LOGI Stock Price
Logitech stock at this point seems like a revenue story. Its gross margins have improved, but they already are above the company’s previous target of 35%-37%. As CFO Nate Olmstead noted on the company’s Q2 earnings conference call, Logitech plans to reinvest additional profits that come from higher gross margins in marketing and research and development. As a result, LOGI expects its operating margins, excluding currency fluctuations, to be roughly flat in FY20.
A key reason why the LOGI stock price tripled is that Logitech has been a company that has been running on all cylinders. Its CEO has done a fantastic job over that stretch. But the counterintuitive problem with a company operating at peak efficiency is that there’s little room for improvement going forward. Logitech provided operating margin guidance this year of about 13%. I’m skeptical about the company’s ability to surpass that guidance.
And so what can increase the company’s earnings per share? Logitech does have a cash hoard of over $500 million and no debt, so it could make a bigger acquisition after years of buying smaller firms like Astro and software play Streamlabs. But M&A aside, it does seem like its margins have peaked and its revenue growth is at risk of decelerating.
Admittedly, the LOGI stock price incorporates that to some extent. Excluding the company’s cash, LOGI stock trades for about 18x FY20 consensus EPS estimates. But if annual earnings growth slows to 5% or so, that multiple is reasonable. And if Logitech stumbles at all, or its PC revenues finally start declining, the stock can get cheaper in a hurry.
Logitech Needs Something That Will Excite Investors
None of this means that LOGI stock is worth shorting. Again, its growth has been impressive, and it’s usually a bad idea to bet against well-run companies.
But Logitech stock has traded sideways for some 20 months now. Resistance has held of late at the current LOGI stock price. To drive a breakout, Logitech simply needs to get investors excited — and it’s tough to see how the company can do that.
A resurgence of its Gaming unit could help, though I’d rather own Turtle Beach stock if that scenario unfolds. (I personally have taken a bullish position in Turtle Beach using sold puts.) LOGI’s Video Collaboration unit can grow through a partnership with Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ:ZM), though with ZM stock down 37% from its highs it, too, might be a more attractive and more direct play than LOGI stock.
Regardless, those two categories only drove about one-third of Logitech’s sales in the first half of the fiscal year. The other two-thirds of the business — PC and tablet accessories, speakers, and audio equipment — pretty much “is what it is” at this point. And what it is is a low-growth, if attractive, portfolio.
That might be enough to cause LOGI stock to rise. But it’s probably not enough to enable LOGI stock to outperform. To get the P/E multiple back above 20 and the stock back above $50, Logitech needs to show it can return to at least double-digit-percentage profit growth. The problem at the moment is that’s it difficult to see how the company can do that.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has a bullish position in HEAR stock via options. He has no positions in any other securities mentioned.
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