Step on It! Our Favorite Footwear Stocks

How often have you heard that before you can judge someone, you must walk a mile in his (or her) shoes? Well, today we're judging companies that make or sell footwear, not people, so no exercise is required -- just a look at the numbers and some informed judgments about companies treading in this field.

Peter Varley: With 4,500 Payless ShoeSource stores worldwide, mainly in the United States, there is probably a store near you. But Collective Brands (NYS: PSS) is bigger than just Payless, with interests in wholesaling and several other brands such as Keds canvas shoes and Saucony running shoes, which are sold through sports stores. One of my colleagues did a purely quantitative analysis in an article earlier this week, so to avoid covering the same ground, I took a look at the text sections of the company annual report and the CAPS page, particularly the observations under the "Commentary" tab.

I'm impressed that the company is expanding internationally, where there is huge growth potential, and that it has a brand to appeal to just about every segment of the mass market. There are few recent CAPS user comments of substance, but one references an analyst suggesting that $21 is a reasonable target, an improbable-sounding 50% jump from the current price. However, it has seen this level as recently as May of this year, so perhaps it has been oversold since I don't believe the outlook for the company has deteriorated nearly that much. Overall, this stock looks promising and worth further study.

Austin Smith: One of my most favorite shoe companies isn't even really a shoe company -- yet. I'm really interested to see what Under Armour (NYS: UA) does with its footwear division going forward. Most people think of Under Armour as just a fitness-apparel company, but Under Armour President David McCreight has specifically stated that footwear is part of the company's long-term strategy. It's already had respectable success in the cleats category, and it grabbed 11% of the baseball and softball cleat market very quickly. Now it's moving into the larger $18 billion athletic-footwear market with cross-training and running shoes.

The risks in this segment are obvious. Under Armour is knocking on the door of Nike (NYS: NKE) , the veteran that defined the entire industry. Nike has a dominating 95% of the basketball-shoe segment, to Under Armour's 1%. But to Under Armour's credit, it has already built a well-recognized brand, so it isn't going into this fight without some firepower. The company has done an incredible thing turning compression shirts into a defining product in just 15 short years. It also helps that the company can claim some of the biggest names in sports, including Tom Brady and Kemba Walker, promoting its gear. I think the upside potential for these guys is huge and the potential downside is minimal. If shoes tank, they miss out on revenue they aren't getting now anyway. If shoes are a slam dunk, all the better.

Another company that landed on my radar recently is Crocs (NAS: CROX) . I'm not in love with the company overall, but its share-price plunge in mid-October has brought it down to more attractive multiples. Its inventory management has been iffy, but its accounts receivable and days sales outstanding have received positive Foolish reviews. Its forward P/E is a cheap 11.5, and its margins are well over industry norms because of the low manufacturing costs of its shoes. Now that the stock has come down in price, I believe there may be a value play here.

At the time thisarticle was published Austin Smith and Peter Varley own no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of Under Armour.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Under Armour and Nike and creating a diagonal call position in Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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