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Under Armour can make a big comeback in 2020, says bullish note

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Under Armour’s sales have declined on its home turf of North America for five consecutive quarters. The company has been the subject of a federal accounting probe since 2017, it recently came to light, for alleged manipulations made to make its quarterly revenue figures look healthier. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank, who has been the face of the company since its inception in 1997, is stepping down at the end of the year. Two years ago, Plank declared the company was “pivoting” in a number of ways—that hasn’t worked. Under Armour’s outlook looks grim right now.

And yet, analysts at Raymond James predict a comeback in 2020.

In an extremely bullish note this week, the investment bank upgraded Under Armour stock to a strong buy with a price target of $30 (it hasn’t been that high since 2016) and called it an “underrated underdog.”

Raymond James analysts Matthew McClintock and Mitch Ingles acknowledge the company has been rebuilding for quite a while, but expect the rebuilding to finally pay off: “The company has spent the last few years revitalizing its infrastructure and is on the cusp of a multi-year, profitable, and sustainable growth cycle,” the note says, “that we believe will allow it to grow earnings by 40% annually through 2023.”

Under Armour investors have seen better days. (5-year stock chart via Yahoo Finance)

Why the optimism?

Specifically, Raymond James likes that new Under Armour products are showing up at some wholesale partners early, ahead of schedule, as a result of the company’s effort “to clean up inventory at wholesale.” Kevin Plank did share on the Q3 earnings call that the company plans to ramp up its marketing spend in 2020; Raymond James cites the ahead-of-schedule products at wholesalers as the likely reason for the planned bump in marketing spend.

The firm is also “much more confident” in Under Armour footwear after seeing new prototypes, although one-off collaborations like Sour Patch sneakers are not going to be key to Under Armour winning the sneaker wars. (And Under Armour’s biggest star athlete endorser Steph Curry being injured for the first 3 months of the NBA season does not help.)

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, clad in Under Armour, claps during a news conference at Langston Golf Course in Washington, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Finally, the Raymond James analysts dismiss the news of the federal accounting probe as “less of an overhang to the stock than we originally feared.”

Indeed, while the initial Nov. 4 report caused a hit to the stock, Under Armour has stood by its practices, which, as more details have come out, look closer to permissible fudging than law-breaking. (Under Armour CFO David Bergman has said “We firmly believe that our accounting practices and disclosures were appropriate.”) To be sure, putting pressure on retailers to put products out early in order to boost sales in a mad-dash at the end of each quarter is not a great look, but it does not appear to be illegal.

If Under Armour is to pull off a comeback, the pressure will rest on the shoulders of new CEO Patrik Frisk. Raymond James cites as a positive the fact that Frisk joined Under Armour (from Aldo shoes) in 2017, after the period in which the suspect account happened.

Frisk certainly has a lot to fix with the brand. But international sales growth, especially in China, has been a positive silver lining recently, even while U.S. sales have struggled.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow @readDanwrite on Twitter.

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