Don’t bet against the ‘man behind the brand’

Over past few months Sports Direct International (LSE: SPD) has been making the headlines, from its unpopular ‘zero hours’ employment practices to its relegation from the FTSE 100.

Thankfully, the most recent headline concerning the company is encouraging — at least for investors — as Sports Direct owner, Michael (Mike) Ashley, announced his intention to make a swoop for troubled retailer, BHS.  

Few would bet against the man, who seems to have an uncanny knack of buying brands, such as Donnay, from distressed sellers, and increasing sales by selling them at a discount, alongside high-profile brands such as Nike and Adidas.

Should Mike Ashley succeed in his bid for BHS, this could indeed present a strategic advantage to Sports Direct. One possible scenario could be to implement Sports Direct concessions in BHS stores, something he did when he bought a stake in Debenhams via a serious of options.

Down but not out

Potential acquisitions aside, Sports Direct’s recent performance has been in the spotlight. And rightly so, as its share price has slumped almost 50% over the last six months, wiping more than £1n from its valuation.

Sports Direct’s half yearly results, released last December, amassed huge panic among investors, as it was revealed that the company would fail to meet its forecast annual earnings target of £420m. A fall in high-street footfall and the warmer weather over the Christmas period — a critical period for retailers — were mentioned as key reasons for the profit warning.

Income investors would do well to look away now — Sports Direct doesn’t yield a penny. However, a summer of sport is near, which includes both the 2016 Rio Olympics and European Championships and I expect a pick-up in sales of sporting gear to boost top line growth, which could be the first step towards a recovery in the battered share price.

I think Sports Direct is a buy for the short-medium term, and may even be a good long term bet should Mike Ashley’s bid for BHS succeed.   

Food is the best way to a customer’s wallet

Struggling to shake off its fashion image as the brand for the ‘oldies’, Marks and Spencer (LSE: MKS) continues to make strides in other areas of the business such as  food items. This was evident during the most recent trading update, released on 7 April. Compared to the same period a year ago, food sales were up 4%, helping the the retailer grow its market share by 4.3% in this category. But clothing and home goods continued to struggle, with sales down 2.7%.

The company’s CEO, Steve Rowe, has highlighted that the growth in food sales is clearly the result of a sound strategic plan, after opening 80 stores and launching 400 new products.  Marks and Spencer’s next trading update is expected on 25 May and a key item on the agenda for investors is whether short-term profit expectations will be lowered.

Marks and Spencer’s current yield of 4.45% offers solace for investors unhappy with feeble capital gains of 2.6% YTD. Marks and Spencer is a “hold” for the short-term at best. Yet, as investors take positions with a view to the next set of numbers on 25 May, I expect that the added volatility could present an opportunity for a favourable entry.     

Alas, Marks and Spencer was once king of the High street, but now its clothing division is out of mind and, on current form, out of sight. If only there were a step-step guide for CEO, Steve Rowe, on how to turn the company's clothing division around.

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Yasin Ebrahim has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Sports Direct International. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.