Nine West Has Put On Its Dancing Shoes

Nine West Group is a company Imelda Marcos would probably die for: It sells more than 100,000 pairs of women's shoes a day. Nine West's footwear is so popular that its shares have rocketed to 28 from 17 1/2 when it went public on Feb. 2. Are the shoes--and the stock--just one of those passing fads?

"Definitely not," insists a money manager at a large Boston investment company that owns nearly 5%. This pro thinks Nine West's Big Board stock will rise to the mid-30s over the near term and climb to more than 40 over the next 12 to 18 months, based on the company's better-than-expected first-quarter results and its rosy prospects over the next two years.

Analyst Brenda Gall, a first vice-president at Merrill Lynch, is also high on Nine West, which sells affordable yet high-quality, stylish women's footwear--casual and dress shoes and boots. Gall recently raised her 1993 estimate to $1.50 a share from an earlier $1.40, and her 1994 forecast is now $1.70 to $1.75 from a previous $1.65 to $1.70. She expects sales to jump to $617 million in 1994 from 1993's estimated $535 million and 1992's $461 million. Gall says Nine West stands to boost its current 3% market share, since women's casual shoes are now cutting into athletic-shoe sales.

Profit margins are fat. Nine West's shoes and boots, which are priced between $25 and $140 a pair, are manufactured in Brazil by three manufacturing groups that Nine West's management has done business with for 20 years. Their cost-efficient factories, which have their own tanneries, employ 38,000 workers.

STEPPING OUT. So far, notes Gall, the company's 260 stores and other outlets, such as Macy's, have managed to meet or exceed management's goal of steady 15% compounded-annual-sales growth and an earnings rate of 20%. Nine West is planning to open 75 more stores this year.

Co-Chairman and President Vince Camuto, who owns 26% of the company, notes that Nine West has just scratched the surface of the $14 billion women's dress-shoe retail market. "We won't rest until we have become a dominant force in our end of the shoe business," he says.

But as big as the U.S. market is, "we are open to opportunities overseas," Camuto adds. He says several European companies have inquired about Nine West coming to Europe for a licensing pact or joint venture.

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