Online fashion retailer ASOS (LSE: ASC) looks tempting.
The shares touched 7000p at the beginning of 2014, but trade around 3300p today. A 14% decline in operating profits on the back of operational problems caused last years share-price decline.
Why the shares may go back up
Despite the companys challenges, earnings were good last year a 47million operating profit is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when delivered by a firm so young. ASOS started its life in June 2000.
Since then, ASOSs growth punched the lights out. The firms aim to be the worlds number one online fashion destination for the twenty-somethings looks like it may just come true. During 2014, just 14 years after establishment from a standing start, ASOS turned over revenue of 975.5 million, up 27% on the year before despite the profit fall, which suggests growth remains at full throttle. Indeed, world domination seems on course with 38% of revenue coming from the UK, 10% from the US, 27% from the EU and 25% from the rest of the world last year.
The bull case is clear.
Reasons to be wary
Yet every bull has its bear and today I want to focus on why we might want toavoid buying shares in ASOS right now.
The forward P/E rating for ASOS runs in excess of sixty for 2016, even after adjusting for the firms cash pile. Now, its possible for ASOS to get earnings growth back on track and rising with revenues but, even if it does, that kind of valuation seems unsustainable.
It seems unlikely that ASOS will keep trading on a P/E rating of sixty-plus years from now, even if earnings continue to grow. As all firms become larger growth rates tend to reduce. More likely is a steady valuation compression occurring as the underlying business grows and matures. Such dynamics could result in a range-bound or static share price and an unsatisfactory outcome for shareholders.
2) Low margins
There isnt much room for error or setbacks in ASOSs financial model. With the recent full-year results, the firm revealed a profit margin running at about 3.75%. Any further operational challenges, or poorer economics resulting from scaled-up revenues, could see the firms 47 million in earnings disappear at a stroke, and that would be catastrophic for the share price, no doubt
3) Fashion risk and cyclicality
What if ASOS makes a hash of its marketing in the future, or becomes un-hip for whatever reason with the worlds twenty-something fashion consumers? Fashion sales depend upon being fashionable. If ASOS gets the cold shoulder from the young in the future, everything will plummet: sales, profits, the share price Fashion retailing strikes me as a high-risk game to play.
Then theres the cyclicality that all non-essential retailers face. When economic times are tough, fashion spend inevitably falls.
Whichever way we look at it, despite the firms high sales growth, ASOS is very far from a certain ticket to riches for believing investors.
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