Pedestrians walk past a Lululemon Athletica store in New York
Lululemon's founder Chip Wilson has called for a shakeup of the yoga gear maker's board. Photograph by Lucas Jackson — Reuters

Lululemon’s new profit forecast a downward dog

Jun 12, 2014

It's never a good sign when the very first thing a company addresses in a earnings press release is a massive share repurchase—it suggests it has little else to offer shareholders.

In the case of one-time Wall Street darling Lululemon Athletica (lulu), that could be true at this point.

Despite a $450 million buyback plan—huge for a company with a market value of $5.5 billion—Lululemon's shares tanked 15% Thursday morning after the yoga wear retailer lowered its sales and profit forecast for the year following another poor quarter. (The company is apparently so eager to do the buyback, it paid a $30.9 million tax so it could send extra cash from Canada to the U.S. to have the money on hand for it.)

The downbeat forecast comes at a time Lululemon is still facing the fallout from last year's massive recall of unintentionally see-through yoga pants and at a time when the yoga specialty retail segment is getting busier—Gap (gps) is planning a massive expansion of its Athleta chain, where customers can get high quality activewear for about 20% less than at Lulu, while VF Corp (vfc) is building out its small lucy brand. It has also stumbled in getting the right products in stores: on a call with analysts, CEO Potdevin called the assortment in stores right now "sub-optimal" and blamed low traffic for the sales shortfall. The recall has turned into a hangover that just won't go away for Lululemon.

Adding to Lululemon's travails, it is dealing with boardroom strife (founder and top shareholder Chip Wilson attacked two fellow directors on Wednesday, including his successor as chairman), and turnover in its highest ranks, including a new CEO in January. (Longtime CFO John Currie today announced his pending retirement).

All this points to a brand that Wall Street fears has lost its mojo: sales at Lululemon-owned stores open at least a year fell 4% in the quarter ended May 4. Online sales were a saving grace, soaring 25%. And its net income fell 60% to $19 million.

But like J. Crew and even Gap, Lululemon is banking on interest overseas to give it a new source of growth. Potdevin said that by the end of the year, Lululemon will have stores in eight countries outside of North America (Lululemon began life in Vancouver) and have stores across Europe and Asia. If it can find some corporate zen.

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