Written on the 24 November 2015 by Nick Nichols


BILLABONG'S (ASX:BBG) share price slumped today on news from company CEO Neil Fiske (pictured) that the company's key US market had softened.

However, the Gold Coast-based surfwear giant has all but assured that its shares will rise to around $3 this week after a shareholder vote approved the consolidation of shares at the rate of one for every five owned.

Fiske, in his address to shareholders at Billabong's annual general meeting at Broadbeach today, says company earnings are tracking $2.5 million below the same time last year, principally driven a slowdown in the US. He says the weakness has emerged in recent months, which has combined with the falling Australian dollar to impact on the company's earnings.

Billabong has the added problem that its debt is in US dollars, so any fall in the Australian dollar has an immediate effect on its debt levels and the servicing requirements of that debt.

Billabong's shares slumped more than 20 per cent today to a low of 53c, down from around 70c, on the news.

At the current share price of 55c, the shares should be trading just under $3 once the share consolidation takes effect on November 26.

Chairman Ian Pollard says the share consolidation was needed to bring the number of shares issued by Billabong to 'more appropriate for the size the company'.

Billabong currently has 990 million shares on issue following the recapitalisation of the company through private equity partners and major shareholders Oaktree Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners two years ago.

Meanwhile, Pollard deflected questions surrounding a possible merger of Billabong with Quiksilver, describing this suggestion as 'pure media speculation'. Fiske followed the same line after the meeting, declaring that his focus is firmly on the company's turnaround agenda.

"We are maniacally focused on executing that plan," he says. "We are focused on ploughing ahead and not being distracted by what's out there in the market."

As for the earnings slump for the year to date, Fiske remains confident that the shortfall could be made up in the second half which is traditionally stronger for Billabong leading into the US summer.

"There is all the opportunity for us to make up ground in the second half, which is much more important than the first half," he says.

Pollard told shareholders that, two years into the company's turnaround strategy, he was confident in the resilience of Billabong's key brands, namely Billabong, Element and RVCA.

"There will be competing demands for young consumers' share of wallet but we do not foresee any long-term decline in either participation or interest in the lifestyle our brands represent," he says.

"Looking at surfing alone, every measure we have shows a steady increase in global participation rates."

Fiske says the mono-brand strategy is the right approach for the company, arguing that he has not seen any damage to the Billabong name due to the company's issues at a corporate level in recent years.

"I think there was distraction, people took their eye off the ball and that inevitably catches up with your performance, but we're well beyond that now."

Fiske, who assumed the CEO role two years ago, also concedes the job has been challenging.

"I came in with a pretty good sense of what had to be done," he says. "What you've seen over two years is a consistency to our message and a consistency to our agenda. We know the business will continue to improve and reach its potential if we just stay focused, we just stay consistent."

Fiske sees the recent slowdown in the US as a short-term glitch on the radar.

"I don't think it affects our direction or conviction we have in our brands," he says.

"We would certainly say there has been a little turbulence in the Americas market, not specific to us but the whole sector of specialty action sports.

"The big chains have been down, tourism retail has been down and it's been a softer than anticipated market. I look at that as short-term turbulence."

Billabong has affirmed its commitment to grow its e-commerce business, which accounts for just 2 per cent of sales. This compares with 10 per cent plus by some of its major competitors.

Fiske says Billabong's sale of growing online retail business SurfStitch last year was not a missed opportunity.

"One of the things that was most critical for us in this turnaround was to get control back of our e-commerce sites that were previously controlled by SurfStitch.

"Now we're on it, these businesses are growing and certainly we see e-commerce as a big growth avenue for us."

However, Billabong is also building its bricks and mortar presence with 50 stores planned globally in the next few years.

As for Billabong's commitment to the Gold Coast, Fiske is adamant this won't change despite his roving role as CEO based out of the US.

"The headquarters is in the Gold Coast, it's the heart and soul of the company and we love it here," he says.

Author: Nick Nichols





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