Kontoor Brands, Inc.

Third Quarter 2023 Earnings Conference Call

November 2, 2023


Eric Tracy - VP, Corporate Finance and IR

Scott Baxter , President, CEO and Chair

Joe Alkire, CFO

Q&A Participants

Mauricio Serna - UBS

Bob Drbul - Guggenheim

Brooke Roach - Goldman Sachs

Will Gaertner - Wells Fargo

Peter McGoldrick - Stifel

Paul Kearney - Barclays


Greetings and welcome to the Kontoor Brands Third Quarter 2023 Earnings Conference Call.

At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. If anyone should require operator assistance during the conference, please press "*", "0" on your telephone keypad.

As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Eric Tracy, VP, Corporate Finance and Investor Relations. Thank you. Please go ahead.

Eric Tracy

Thank you, Operator, and welcome to Kontoor Brands third quarter 2023 earnings conference call. Participants on today's call will make forward-looking statements. These statements are based on current expectations and are subject to uncertainties that could cause actual results to, materially, differ. These uncertainties are detailed in documents filed with the SEC.

We urge you to read our risk factors, cautionary language, and other disclosures contained in those reports. Amounts referred to on today's call will often be on an adjusted dollar basis, which we clearly defined in the news release that was issued, earlier this morning.

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Reconciliations of GAAP measures to adjusted amounts can be found in the supplemental financial tables included in today's news release, which is available on our website at kontoorbrands.com.

These tables identify and quantify excluded items and provide management's view of why this information is useful to investors. Unless otherwise noted, amounts referred to on this call will be in constant currency, which exclude the translation impact of changes in foreign currency exchange rates.

Joining me on today's call are Kontoor Brands' President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair Scott Baxter; and newly Chief Financial Officer Joe Alkire. Following our prepared remarks, we will open the call for your questions. We anticipate the call will last about an hour.


Scott Baxter

Thanks, Eric, and thanks for all of those joining us on our call. I'm pleased to share that we delivered Q3 results above our expectations, most notably with upside to our topline. Our strategic playbook is working and is why I'm so confident in the next phase of Kontoor's evolution, even as we assume a more challenging macroeconomic backdrop.

And on the bottom-line, excluding the duty charge, which Joe will provide more detail on in a bit, operating results also exceeded our plan.

Global Kontoor revenue increased 8%, including about a point of FX benefit, with particular strengths in the US across both wholesale and D2C. Within the US market, ongoing strong POS and share gains were driven by accelerating shipments during the quarter.

From a share perspective, according to Circana, which focuses on the US total measured market, we continued to outpace the market in our US wholesale and core denim business, during the third quarter and here to start Q4. A few notable call-outs.

For the last three months, Kontoor Brands outperformed the market by approximately 140 basis points and in men's bottoms, we outperformed the market and our largest competitor by 170 and over 250 basis points, respectively.

And in women's, our Lee business gained over 60 points of share to the market, outpacing our closest competitor by 30 basis points. Importantly, even after aggressive pricing actions taken by select peers, we've continued to see market share gains.

For example, over the last month, our Wrangler men's bottoms business outpaced our largest competitor by over 250 points, while Lee's men's outperformed by roughly 150 points.

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Our share gains in the core are in large part due to the strategic investments in our brands across innovation, design, and demand creation. That drives competitive separation.

I'll touch on examples of our elevated demand creation and innovation platforms in a bit. This strength in our core is complemented by category extensions as we diversify our product assortment beyond denim bottoms, global highlights on a reported basis include outdoor, up more than 30% in Q3, while western female also saw positive momentum, further proof points of our brand's health. Our D2C business once again delivered broad based strength in the quarter.

Globally, Kontoor D2C increased 6% led by our own dotcom, up 10%. In the US, own dotcom increased 11%, balanced across brands with Wrangler and Lee both experiencing double-digit gains. And international D2C remained healthy in Q3, increasing 5% with Wrangler increasing 21% and Lee increasing 2% or up 15%, ex-China.

And within international, we did see choppiness during the quarter with expected softness in China more than offsetting reported gains in Europe. Importantly, we are seeing China trends accelerate here in Q4 and continue to anticipate the region to return to significant growth in the quarter, up 20% plus.

D2C and International are key areas of growth for Kontoor going forward with significant white space in each, as these segments represent only 12% and 21% percent of our last 12 month mix, respectively.

The KTB investment thesis remains highly differentiated relative to many of our peers that operate more mature D2C and international businesses, and the diversified and accretive growth that these opportunities afford is still very much ahead us.

And we will use ongoing structural gross margin accretion from these areas to help fund amplified investments and critical growth enablers such as talent, innovation and demand creation, creating a virtuous cycle for sustained topline growth, over the long-term.

So, let me touch on these a bit more in detail. First, with demand creation. Starting with Wrangler, simply put, Q3 was as big of a demand creation quarter the brand has ever experienced in its 75-year history.

Strategic partnerships with Sandro, Staud, Mini Rodini, and Barbie, not only support our efforts to reach the female and youth demos, but does so in an elevated brand enhancing manner, across the globe. The Wrangler and Barbie collection was our best and fastest-selling collaboration ever.

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Inspired by powerful cowgirls, the collection combines heritage denim with bold prints, further advancing Wrangler's diversification strategies to attract new and younger consumers, while remaining authentic to the brand.

Also in Q3, 'Made by Cowboys for Cowboys' took on a whole new meaning as Wrangler became the official jeans of America's team, The Dallas Cowboys. The sponsorship will run over the next three years, amplified via an integrated media platform signage and activations at AT&T Stadium. Social content featuring players and cheerleaders, retail promotions in a monthly concert series.

This connection of two iconic American brands doubles down on our Texas Heartland, and we couldn't be more excited about future opportunities to build on the partnership.

And as began Q4, the demand creation momentum for Wrangler continues. Just yesterday, we teased the launch of our co-lab with iconic premium Bourbon brand, Buffalo Trace.

Fittingly, it kicks off with a launch party next week at New York City hotspot, Ray's Bar. And then in December, the brand once again takes over Las Vegas at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

However, this year promises to be even more special, as country music superstar and our first female music endorse, Lainey Wilson, hot off her record breaking nine CMA nominations, is scheduled to open the Rodeo on December 15th.

Lainey will also host a four-night concert series sponsored by Wrangler to close out the biggest weekend in Rodeo, wearing her iconic Wrangler flares and Bell Bottom on and off stage.

Now, turning to the Lee brand. Q3 saw another quarter of tremendous return on marketing investment and, importantly, manifested on a global scale. During the third quarter, the Lee brand launched its newest and most iconic female fit, the Rider Jean, which was inspired by our very first women's denim line, the Lady Lee Rider, and made modern for today's woman.

The global campaign, shot by Mark Seliger and set to The Donna's "Who Invited You," launched mid-September and has sparked new excitement in our women's premium denim collection.

In addition, trend right collaborations with culturally relevant brands such as Dragon Ball Z, Roaring Wild, and Daydreamer also continue to extend Lee's reach to a younger, more diverse audience.

During Q3, Lee turned up the heat across Southern California as the Lee and Daydreamer partnership took over the iconic Fred Segel Shop on Sunset Boulevard with a two-week showcase of the collection. This launch leaned heavily into Daydreamer's LA cool aesthetic through the key premium distribution in Fred Segel and Revolt.

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And then in September, the brand hosted a unique, one of a kind experiential event at the Ed Sheeran concert at SoFi Stadium in L.A. with attendees including tastemakers, influencers, and celebrities from all over the world. And the momentum has carried into Q4 as Lee is currently ramping digital campaigns in support of Ultralux and Extreme Motion innovation platforms.

To further drive brand separation in the marketplace, we are also amplifying our focus on innovation as our pipeline is healthy and accelerating. A perfect example of innovation that cuts across both product and manufacturing, our Indigood platform continues to scale, delivering water and cost savings.

We recently announced that we surpassed our 2025 water savings goal of over 10 billion liters of freshwater two years earlier than was targeted. This accelerated accomplishment demonstrates our commitment to sustainability and to the effectiveness of the Indigood program, which also creates an important industry standard for others to follow.

I am proud of the work we are doing to save water with platforms like Indigood and other cutting-edge technologies, such as digital printing, driving towards a future where all jeans can be created using zero freshwater.

Other innovation platforms, such as Extreme Motion, Ever Fit, and Ultralux for Lee, as well as ATG in a performance specialty fishing line, Wrangler Angler, not only diversify our offering, but does so in an elevated way that mixes up AURs and gives the brands increasing permission to play in more premium points of distribution.

Needless to say, we have a ton of brand momentum for the balance of the year and into 2024, just one of the factors that gives me great confidence in the go forward. You don't develop this heat without investing behind the brands in a highly productive way.

From talent to design, to innovation, to demand creation, and we will continue to amplify strategic spend in support of diversified growth across categories, channels, and geographies. But make no mistake, we love how we are positioned in taking share within core US wholesale with incredible partners such as Walmart, Amazon and Target, as well as Western Specialty.

Retailers that align in support our brand's value proposition with consumers are especially important given the macro challenges around the world. Structurally accretive growth, particularly in D2C and International, helps fund these key investments, as does constantly evaluating our operating model, finding ways to reduce non-strategic spend, simplify processes and enhance efficiencies, including within our supply chain.

Our proactive restructuring actions last quarter and amplified inventory actions we are taking now are good examples of investments of healthier foundation of which to build.

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But rest assured, we are just in the beginning stages of transferring our model for the future, with substantial opportunity to unlock value, over time. Stay tuned for more here.

And these actions also help accelerate cash generation, creating significant opportunity to return cash to shareholders. As evidenced by our recently announced increase to the dividend, our capital allocation optionality remains robust.

This cash flow optionality, when taken with our resilient fundamentals, even during a challenging macro environment, creates a powerful combination that should support superior TSR over time.

We look forward to sharing more on our long-term strategic vision at our Investor Day.


Joe Alkire

Thank you, Scott, and thank you all for joining us today. Before I review the third quarter, let me say how honored and appreciative I am to have the opportunity to serve as CFO of Kontoor Brands.

I am thrilled to reunite with the Kontoor family, and I want to express my gratitude to Scott, the Board, and the organization for the support as I transition back into the business.

I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility and stewardship to all Kontoor employees around the globe, as well as those that have come before me and built the strong foundation that is in place today.

I'd also like to extend a special thank you to Rustin, who has been a strong resource for me during the transition. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family all the best in retirement.

With that, let's review the third quarter. Global revenue increased 7%, compared to the prior year as broad-based growth in the US in both wholesale and DTC was partially offset by a decline in International.

Our third quarter results again reflected the strong momentum of our brands, as evidenced by continued market share gains and POS strength across key accounts and distribution channels.

On a regional basis, US revenue increased 12%. Direct-to-consumer increased 7%, including 11% growth in digital. In the wholesale channel, revenue increased 12%, with strong performance from both brands.

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In addition to strength in our core categories, we also drove growth in outdoor and non-denim bottoms, as category expansion remains a top strategic priority. And while retailers remain cautious, inventory levels in the channel continue to improve and are more balanced as POS and shipments work towards equilibrium, as we enter the holiday period.

As expected, International revenue decreased 8%, driven mainly by China, which declined 19%.

As we discussed last quarter, the recovery in China will not be linear as a result of COVID-driven lockdowns and re-openings from a year ago. In terms of our outlook, we anticipate more than 20% growth in the fourth quarter and, importantly, as we enter 2024, the underlying fundamentals of our business in the region have improved.

Inventory levels across our retail network have returned to more normalized levels, and we are entering next year with a stronger foundation from which to grow.

We see significant long-term potential in China and expect growth to accelerate next year, due in part to an increase in the strategic investments we are making in the region.

In Europe, revenue decreased 4%, as double-digit growth in DTC was offset by a decline in wholesale. While we expect the macro environment to remain difficult in the region near-term, we are encouraged by the strength of our DTC business across both brands supported by investments we have been making in the platform.

Turning to our brands, global revenue for the Wrangler brand increased 9%, driven by growth in both wholesale and DTC.

The ongoing diversification into non-denim categories continues to drive brand momentum with particular strength in outdoor and non-denim bottoms. The brand's targeted investments in demand creation, strategic partnerships, and innovation are continuing to drive strong market share gains, across the retail landscape.

In the U.S., revenue increased 10%, with wholesale, own dotcom, and brick and mortar all contributing to growth. Wrangler International Revenue increased 2%, driven by 21% growth in DTC and a modest increase in wholesale.

Now turning to Lee, global revenue increased 3%. Growth was driven by strength in the U.S., with wholesale increasing 23% and own dotcom increasing 11%. In addition to growth in core denim, non-denim bottoms also performed well in the quarter and contributed to growth. Lee International Revenue decreased 13%.

In Europe, revenue decreased 3%, with 15% growth in DTC, more than offset by a decline in wholesale.

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In APAC, as expected, revenue decreased 18%. And finally, from a channel perspective, U.S. wholesale increased 12%, while non-U.S. wholesale decreased 10%. Global direct-to-consumer was up 6%, including a 10% increase in own dotcom and brick and mortar up 2%.

Turning to gross margin, as we shared in this morning's release, the quarter was impacted by an unanticipated 200 basis point charge from duty expense related to prior periods. The issue was identified late in the quarter and arose from the ERP implementation dating back to 2021. Excluding the duty expense, gross margin was flat versus the prior year at 43.5%.

Gross margin in the quarter also included the impact of proactive inventory management actions. These actions relate to clearing through non-core inventory as we aggressively focus on reducing overall inventory levels and exiting 2023 in a clean inventory position.

While these actions have a negative impact on gross margin near term, they improve the quality of our inventory and yield additional cash generation.

Further, excluding the impact of these actions and the duty charge, gross margin increased versus last year, which was largely consistent with our expectations. The increase in gross margin was driven by channel mix, pricing, and lower transitory costs such as air freight.

SG&A expense was $186 million. As a percentage of revenue, SG&A decreased 30 basis points to 28.4% versus adjusted SG&A in the prior year. Strategic investments in DTC and demand creation, as well as increased distribution costs, were partially offset by disciplined management of discretionary expenses and operating leverage.

Operating income was $85 million as reported, or $99 million excluding the duty charge, an increase of 10%, compared to adjusted operating income last year. Excluding the duty charge, operating margin increased 30 basis points to 15.1%.

Earnings per share was $1.05, compared to adjusted EPS of $1.11, last year. The quarter included a 17 cent negative impact from the duty charge. Excluding the duty charge, Q3 EPS was $1.22, representing a 10% increase versus the prior year, ahead of our expectations.

Now, turning to our balance sheet, third quarter inventory decreased 11%, compared to last year. We made more progress than expected on inventory during the quarter, due to stronger than expected revenue and the inventory management actions. While inventory levels are still elevated, we remain comfortable with the quality of our inventory and the ability to support our forward growth plans.

We expect inventory levels to decrease by approximately $100 million by the end of the year to approximately $500 million. We finished the third quarter with net debt, or long-term debt less cash, of $708 million and $78 million of cash on hand.

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Our net leverage ratio, or net debt divided by trailing 12-month adjusted EBITDA, was 1.9 times at the end of the quarter, within our targeted range. We expect net leverage to approximate 1.6 times by the end of '23.

And, as previously announced, our Board of Directors declared a regular quarterly cash dividend of 50 cents per share, representing a 4% increase. And finally, at the end of the third quarter, we had $62 million remaining under our share repurchase authorization. We did not repurchase shares in the third quarter.

On to our outlook, revenue is expected to increase approximately 1%, compared to 2022. This compares to our previous outlook of a low single-digit increase. Our updated outlook includes the following expectations.

First, we continue to anticipate a more challenging U.S. macro environment in the fourth quarter. We are pleased with the strength we delivered in the third quarter and are encouraged that positive POS trends have continued to start the fourth quarter. We do, however, believe it prudent to plan the business conservatively, given the macro uncertainty.

Second, we expect relatively stronger performance in international markets in the fourth quarter, driven by China, as well as continued growth from our global DTC business.

Gross margin is expected to approximate 42.5% on an adjusted basis, including a 40-basis point impact from the duty charge, as well as the proactive inventory management actions. This compares to our prior outlook of 43.5% to 44%.

Our updated outlook implies fourth quarter gross margin expansion of approximately 300 basis points, driven by ongoing structural mix, strategic pricing, and a decrease in input costs, partially offset by inventory management actions.

As we look to 2024, based on current visibility, we expect the combination of lower input costs and structural margin mix, mainly DTC and International, to drive significant gross margin expansion.

While we expect this to result in accelerated earnings growth, it also provides the investment capacity needed to continue investing behind our brands and enterprise strategy. SG&A is now expected to increase at a low single-digit rate on an adjusted basis, compared to 2022.

We will continue to prioritize investments in our brands and capabilities in support of long-term accretive growth, while remaining diligent with regard to discretionary spending.

EPS is now expected to approximate $4.35 on an adjusted basis, including an approximate $0.15 negative impact from the duty charge. Excluding the duty charge, full-year adjusted EPS is expected to approximate $4.50.

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We expect full-year operating cash flow of approximately $335 million. We expect to end the year with approximately $500 million of inventory, representing a more than 15% decrease, compared to the prior year.

We also expect to end 2023 with approximately $200 million of cash on hand and roughly $700 million of liquidity, supporting significant capital allocation optionality, as we move into next year.

I'd like to take a few moments and highlight the fundamental profile of our business in the second half of '23, based on our updated full-year outlook. Our quarterly results, this year, have been volatile from a comparability standpoint, making it somewhat difficult to understand the true underlying trajectory of our business as we move into next year.

Looking at our business by half presents a cleaner picture and one that is more representative of our expectations moving forward, the earnings power of the business, and the uniqueness of our model.

For the second half, we expect approximately 2% revenue growth and, excluding the duty charge, close to 200 basis points of gross margin expansion and double-digit operating earnings growth.

While we expect macro challenges to persist through at least the first half of 2024, the drivers of our second half '23 fundamentals, mainly gross margin expansion, will carry over into next year and support accelerated earnings growth and cash generation.

Additionally, we expect to achieve more steady-state levels of inventory, further contributing to an increase in cash generation, and we have a balance sheet that can support significant capital allocation optionality.

While we will remain disciplined and rigorous with regard to capital deployment and balance sheet management, we have a number of levers to pull to continue driving strong total returns for stakeholders, regardless of the operating environment.

To wrap up, I'd like to offer some perspective based on my observations through the first couple of months at Kontoor.

First, I am confident in Kontoor's opportunity to deliver sustainable growth and returns on capital. The brands are strong, we are appropriately investing behind a focused strategy, and there is significant white space to drive accretive growth through expansion in under-indexed channels and categories.

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Kontoor Brands Inc. published this content on 03 November 2023 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 03 November 2023 19:29:11 UTC.