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Apparel Retail Stocks in 2015: Top Gainers and Losers

By all accounts a lackluster year for the stock market, 2015 saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average lose 1.7%, closing at 17,425 on Dec. 31.

Apparel retail stocks didn’t fare much better, with the top 80 U.S. industry stocks falling by an average of 1.4% in the past 12 months.

Some outsized gains were enjoyed by a few star performers, many of whom benefitted from the fitness and athleisure lifestyle trends, while bigger-than-average drops were suffered by those who either made bad decisions or couldn’t keep up with the competition.

2015’s big gainers

Amazon (AMZN) managed to start generating profits last year, which propelled its stock up by 118 percent to finish the year at $675.89. The e-commerce giant reportedly had a very strong holiday shopping season, propelled by its Prime membership feature, which offers free shipping for a $99 annual fee, and has established itself as the go-to-resource for consumers seeking a convenient and value-driven shopping experience.

Despite missing its third-quarter sales forecast, which sent its stock down 32 percent during one day in October, casual footwear maker Skechers (SKX) leaped 64 percent for the year, to $30.21. Skechers has been making great strides in the value-priced athletic footwear arena, and according to the NPD Group has become the number two athletic footwear brand in the U.S., after Nike. The company’s sales are expected to rise about 30 percent to over $3.1 billion in the just-ended fiscal year, despite challenging currency headwinds and ongoing litigation with Converse over shoes the Nike division claims resembles its iconic Chuck Taylor sneaker.

Delta Apparel (DLA), maker of the Soffe, Junk Food and Salt Life casual sportswear brands, saw its stock gain almost 38 percent in 2015, to $14.04. The company, whose annual are about $450 million, divested its The Game collegiate apparel and headwear business during the year, which allowed it to focus on more strategic businesses with better growth potential. It expanded its El Salvador screen-printing operations to better service its growing private label and full package businesses, and added knitting capacity in Honduras to reduce its reliance on outside fabric suppliers.

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Athletic footwear and apparel power brand Nike (NKE) gained 30 percent on the year, to $62.50, as the company continued to extend its global reach and create new product innovations that have placed it securely in the position of global athletic product leader. The $30 billion company was the Dow’s biggest gainer for the year, and reported first quarter sales and earnings in late September that smashed estimates. Many Wall Street analysts expect Nike’s double-digit sales and earnings growth to continue. In addition to Michael Jordan, whose standalone namesake brand has redefined the basketball footwear space, Nike’s star-studded athlete roster includes Cleveland Cavalier Lebron James and Maria Sharapova, whose Nike endorsement deal is the most lucrative in women’s tennis.

Nike’s much-smaller competitor, $4 billion Under Armour (UA), had an excellent year as well, rising almost 19 percent to $80.61. The Baltimore-based company has been leaving many other brands in the dust, making great strides in athletic shoes and apparel both domestically and internationally. Under Armour has signed successful endorsement deals with top athletes including NBA MVP Steph Curry, 22-year-old golf phenom (and 2015 Masters and U.S. Open winner) Jordan Spieth, and three-time Cy Young award winning Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The company has launched several fitness apps, and is building a database that it hopes will give it consumer insight that will allow it to build better products and help athletes make better choices. Ultimately, it hopes to become a leader in wearable technology.

The biggest losers

On the bottom of the stock performance list are companies who no doubt can’t close the book on 2015 fast enough.

Iconix Brand Group (ICON), the licensing firm whose portfolio includes Badgley Mischka, Candie’s, Danskin, Marc Ecko and almost two dozen others, had a particularly tough time this past year. In March CFO Jeff Lupinacci resigned, followed in April by the departure of Chief Operating Officer Seth Horowitz. Then in August, amid whispers of questionable accounting methods in the treatment of some of its joint ventures, Founder and CEO Neil Cole announced his resignation, at around the same time the marketing firm reduced its guidance for the year and announced it would be restating previous financial statements. Then in late December, the stock took another hit when the company confirmed it had received a formal order of investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission, bringing its total 2015 share price decline to almost 80 percent, to $6.83 per share.

Investors apparently didn’t like the way Men’s Wearhouse (MW) looked, sending the stock down by 67 percent to under $15 per share. The retailer, whose acquisition of rival Jos. A. Bank was completed in March 2014 after a protracted takeover battle, thought it could force customers off their discounting addiction cold turkey, and in October 2015 held its last buy-one-get-three-free suit promotion, sending its stock tanking almost overnight. Men’s Wearhouse felt it had to discontinue the practice because it caused consumers to buy suits they didn’t really need, and had really tarnished the perception of the brand. The promotion, had become the narrative of the brand, rather than the quality of the products. In fact, the sale which was spoofed in a Saturday Night Live sketch that first aired in March 2014, featuring Vanessa Bayer as a mom who used the brand’s suits to clean up messes around the house, saying “…a suit from Jos. A. Bank is effectively cheaper than paper towels.”

Stage Stores (SSI) and Steinmart (SMRT) saw their stock prices fall by 56 percent and 54 percent, to $9.11 and $6.73, respectively, as the challenging retail environment, decline in mall foot traffic and intensifying competition from much larger retailers made sales and earnings goals difficult to achieve.

Stock in UGG footwear maker Deckers Outdoor (DECK) got stomped on as the warmest December on record in much of the US failed to heat up sales of warm boots and other cold-weather items. Deckers share price fell by more than 38 percent during the year, to $47.20.