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Is the alternative data Victoria's real Secret?

6 months ago by Jon Marino in Markets

Perhaps Victoria's real Secret is in the alternative data. 

Victoria's Secret parent company L Brands will announce earnings after the bell May 22 - and after a quarter in which its leadership had to fend off an activist investor intent on breaking up the company. Revenue is down, and analysts tracked by Zacks Investment Research are anticipating another earnings slide, with expectations of $0.00 for the quarter

The women's clothing retailer is up against challenging trends and competitors that are developing a less controversial public image on social media. Recently, L Brands ($NYSE:LB) began cutting underperforming stores and brands like La Senza — the lingerie retailer that was dealt to private equity in late 2018 — and luxury bag seller Henry Bendel

Jobs Taking an "L"

L Brands is posting fewer jobs online (first chart), which can be attributable to a constant rise in employee count despite company value tanking. Since the beginning of 2018, L Brands' LinkedIn ($NASDAQ:MSFT) employees count rose 22%, while the company's stock price fell more than 60%.

Perhaps L Brands is closing in on "peak employment" of its own, which would also explain why job postings are down 34% from November 2016. In its annual report this March, the company revealed it has shrunk its real estate footprint due to the shuttering of stores and selling of brands. The only L Brands property in the US that added locations is Bath and Body Works, according to federal filings.  

The Social Struggle is Real

Part of L Brands' challenge has been the slowing trajectory of newer brands, such as Victoria's Secret-run Pink, with younger consumers.

Facebook ($NASDAQ:FB) Likes for Victoria's Secret Pink has been close to flat for years, increasing just 4.3% from November 2015 to mid-May. Meanwhile, American Eagle's Aerie brand, a direct competitor to Pink, saw Facebook LIkes rise more than 8% from mid-March 2017 to mid-May.

One of Victoria's Secret's strengths in this social media fight, however, comes in numbers: Pink still has more than seven times as much engagement today as Aerie, even if trajectory is slowing. 

Caught in Traffic

The difficulty when social scale slows is that it tends to translate to web traffic. According to traffic data, Victoria's Secret's monthly active user count has been declining for years and even semi-annual sales spikes are growing smaller every year. 

There are other hurdles still: the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show saw ratings plummet last year, and recently announced it would abandon a network television broadcast altogether.

This comes on the heels of CMO Ed Razek making inadvisable — and pretty much inexcusable — comments about having transgender and plus-sized participants in the fashion show, which drew public criticism for the brand. Even if L Brands' board does decide to cleave off its Bath and Body Works asset, Victoria's Secret will face challenges defending its brand power and its market cap. Currently, alternative data shows that competitors are gaining ground. 

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Jon Marino

Jon Marino is Thinknum's finance editor, covering the impacts of alternative data on public companies and investors. Prior to joining Thinknum, Jon worked in the ...

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