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After a Tough 2019, Apex Looks for Growth

Sherman Oaks apparel licensing company Apex Global Brands may not live to see 2021, according to business analysis site Seeking Alpha. But Chief Executive Henry Stupp sees better times in 2020. A recent article on Seeking Alpha posited that high debt, strong retail headwinds and a “changing industry” dominated by e-commerce giants like Amazon.com Inc. have “brought this business to its knees,” and that it is unlikely to survive another year. Apex owns and manages a portfolio of clothing and footwear brands including Tony Hawk Signature Apparel, Hi-Tec, Magnum, 50 Peaks, Interceptor, Liz Lange, and Cherokee. At first glance, the company’s lagging stock performance and latest earnings report, published December 20, give a pessimistic outlook. Apex posted revenue of $4.9 million in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020, down $900,000 or 16 percent from $5.8 million in the same period a year prior. Its net loss for the quarter totaled $6.8 million (-$1.23 a share), compared to net income of $63,000 a year previous. The quarterly report attributed the drop to “decreases in royalties from the company’s Cherokee, Hi-Tec, Magnum and Interceptor brands,” stemming from the non-renewal of its Cherokee brand license in South Africa and factors related to Brexit. Additionally, shares of Apex, which trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker “APEX,” plummeted more than 50 percent in the last year. In mid-January 2019, shares hovered between $2.30 and $2.20 – as of Jan. 15, shares closed at just 74 cents. The Seeking Alpha write-up said the company could be delisted from the Nasdaq soon. That wouldn’t immediately change anything for the company’s shareholders, but would be a troubling sign for a small-cap company struggling to stay in the black. While Apex Chief Executive Henry Stupp admitted last year was a challenge for the company, he disputed the Seeking Alpha article as “factually inaccurate,’ particularly in its assessment of Apex’s debt. “It’s disappointing, you know. Licensees see it and it gets shared,” he said. “At least get your facts straight.” Stupp said it’s true that Apex felt headwinds pertaining to revenue in 2019, but the company is starting to see more stability in the new year. “We spent a lot of time dealing with Brexit and tariffs and onboarding new licensees which are normal industry headwinds. I’ve been doing this for a long time – it happens,” he said. “We think our licensees are doing a very good job, our team is operating efficiently and the underpinnings for growth and success are there.” Brexit, he explained, had a dual impact on Apex’s performance in that it weakened both the health of the English retail sector and the value of European currencies. Tariffs hiked up the pricing of footwear, a major category for Apex, which retailers were extremely cautious about. He added new initiatives such as Apex’s design services group cost money to start up and will take some time to reach their full potential. “We spoke to licensees, and they’re certainly a lot more optimistic going into calendar ’20 than they were exiting calendar ’19,” Stupp said. The Seeking Alpha article also suggested Apex could be acquired by a larger company in 2020 to avoid being delisted from the Nasdaq, but Stupp declined to comment on the possibility, only affirming the company’s compliance with Nasdaq’s requirements. Stupp also gave a preview of Apex’s upcoming activity. He pointed to Indian, Asian and Latin American markets as “major priorities” in the global licensing of high-growth brands Hi-Tec, Magnum, Cherokee and Tony Hawk, the latter of which should get a solid boost from skateboarding’s appearance in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He said he expects Magnum and Hi-Tec to do well this year too as U.S. consumers continue flocking towards outdoor, crossover and athletic lifestyle brands. “We think we have really good brands that are going to tap into that,” Stupp told the Business Journal.

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