TEXT-S&P raises Foot Locker rating to 'BB+'

Wed Oct 17, 2012 1:00pm EDT

Overview
     -- New York-based footwear retailer Foot Locker Inc. has
strengthened operating results ahead of our expectations because of revenue
increases and significant margin gains. 
     -- We are raising Foot Locker's corporate credit rating to 'BB+' from 
'BB', as credit protection metrics have improved ahead of our forecasts. 
     -- The stable outlook reflects our expectation for further performance 
growth in the next year because of continued comparable-store sales expansion 
and operating leverage enhancement. 

Rating Action
On Oct. 17, 2012, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services raised its corporate 
credit rating on Foot Locker Inc. to 'BB+' from 'BB'. The outlook is stable. 

At the same time, we raised our issue-level rating on the company's unsecured 
debt to 'BB+' from 'BB'. The recovery rating remains unchanged at '4', 
indicating our expectation of average (30% to 50%) recovery for noteholders in 
the event of a payment default or bankruptcy. 

Rationale
The rating on specialty athletic footwear retailer Foot Locker reflects 
Standard & Poor's expectation that the company will maintain its 
"intermediate" financial risk profile and "fair" business risk profile in the 
coming year. 

The intermediate financial risk profile reflects Foot Locker's improved credit 
protection measures as a result of EBITDA growth, as well as higher free 
operating cash flow generation. This improvement is in spite of increased 
capital spending and shareholder-friendly initiatives, including dividends and 
share repurchases in the past year. The fair business risk profile reflects 
the company's solid market position, good brand recognition, and improved 
operating efficiency. These strengths are partly offset by significant 
supplier concentration and participation in the intensely competitive athletic 
footwear and apparel retail industry. Other risk factors include weak 
economies in the U.S. and Europe reducing consumer spending, increased 
competition from vendors, sensitivity to fashion trends, and popularity of 
athletes with branded merchandise, given a substantial portion of sales are to 
young males ages 12 to 25. 

We expect Foot Locker's ongoing focus on improving Lady Foot Locker spurring 
online traffic, and expanding higher-margin apparel sales to continue to 
propel profit growth in the coming year. Foot Locker has performed ahead of 
our expectations in the first half of 2012, as athletic shoes and apparel 
remain on trend and select basketball merchandise sells at higher price points 
than in previous years. Same-store sales were up 9.8% in the latest quarter 
and gross margin increased 140 basis points (bps) to 32.5%, mainly because of 
improvements in fixed-cost leveraging as the company continues to shut 
less-productive stores. We also anticipate further enhancement in 
sales-per-gross-square-foot in the next 12 months.

Our forecast for key credit ratios for fiscal 2012 is as follows:
     -- Lease-adjusted total debt to EBITDA will improve to 2.4x by the end of 
fiscal 2012 from 2.9x in fiscal 2011.
     -- Funds from operations (FFO) to total debt will increase 3% to 41% by 
the end of fiscal 2012. 
     -- EBITDA coverage of interest will improve to 5.0x by the end of fiscal 
2012 from 4.3x in fiscal 2011.  

Standard & Poor's economists believe the risk of another U.S. recession during 
the next 12 months is between 20% and 25%. We expect GDP growth of just 2.2% 
this year and only 1.8% in 2013, consumer spending growth of between 2.0% and 
2.3% per year through 2013, and the unemployment rate remaining at or above 8% 
through late 2013 (see "U.S. Economic Forecast: He's Buying A Stairway To 
Heaven," published Sept. 21, 2012, on RatingsDirect). Considering these 
economic forecast items, our base-case forecast for the company's operating 
performance over the next year is as follows:
     -- Mid-single-digit percent sales increase because of a mid-single digit 
percent same-store sales increase and mid-teens percent direct sales growth 
from stronger holiday performance. 
     -- We expect gross margins to increase in the mid-double-digits basis 
points range, as gains from operating leverage offset pressure on merchandise 
margin through input cost increases.
     -- We anticipate selling, general, and administrative expenses will 
increase in the mid-single-digit percent range because of slightly increased 
marketing costs.
     -- We project funds from operations to debt will remain above 40% for 
2012, as the company continues to maintain low levels of markdown activity. 

We have revised the company's financial risk profile upward to intermediate 
from "significant," principally because we believe credit protection metrics 
will continue to demonstrate gains in the coming year. We expect Foot Locker 
to benefit from better inventory controls and reduced promotional activity, 
especially in footwear, as a result of strong merchandising across the casual, 
running, and basketball categories. We anticipate a 22% increase in EBITDA in 
fiscal 2012, which will leverage and coverage, given the company's minimal 
debt. 

Foot Locker has significant vendor concentration, but has built strong 
relationships with key branded vendors such as Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. The 
company enjoys significant allocation of exclusive and limited distribution 
products because of these strong relationships. However, dependence on a few 
select suppliers has increased rather than lessened over the past few years as 
the industry has consolidated. As of year-end 2011, Foot Locker purchased 
approximately 61% of its merchandise from Nike and about 82% of its 
merchandise from its top five vendors. 

Liquidity
We assess Foot Locker's liquidity as "strong," with cash on hand and cash 
generated from operations likely to exceed uses for the next 12 months. Cash 
sources include about $850 million of cash on hand, free operating cash flow 
in the mid-$300 million area, and nearly $200 million of availability under 
the company's credit facility as of July 28, 2012. Foot Locker's light 
maturity schedule over the next two years and limited revolver usage bolsters 
its liquidity. 

We anticipate cash uses could remain moderate and will be primarily composed 
of capital expenditures and investments in working capital, dividends, and 
share repurchases. The company announced approval of a new, three-year $400 
million share repurchase program earlier this year extending through January 
2015. It also announced a 9% increase in its quarterly dividend. As a result 
we expect about $110 million in dividends and between $125 million to $150 
million in share repurchases in 2012. 

Relevant aspects of the company's liquidity, in our view, are as follows:
     -- We expect coverage of sources over uses to be above 1.5x.
     -- We also expect that net sources would be positive, even with a 30% 
decline in EBITDA.
     -- The company has no financial performance covenants and no debt 
maturities over the next 12 months.
     -- We believe that the company has sound relationships with the banks.

Recovery analysis
For the complete recovery analysis, see the recovery report on Foot Locker 
Inc., to be published on RatingsDirect following this report.

Outlook
The stable outlook reflects our view that Foot Locker should continue to 
improve moderately over the next 12 months because of comparable-store sales 
growth. However, our fair assessment of the business risk profile limits the 
potential for an upgrade in the near to intermediate term. To consider an 
upgrade, we would need to reassess business risks, including vendor 
concentration and exposure to fashion trends, such as high-profile athlete 
endorsements. 

We could lower the rating in the next year if Foot Locker performs worse than 
our expectations because of a material weakening of consumer demand, severe 
merchandise missteps or increased competition. Under this scenario, leverage 
would approach the low-4.0x area because of a 10% decline in sales and a more 
than 200 bps gross margin decline.

Related Criteria And Research
     -- Business Risk/Financial Risk Matrix Expanded, Sept. 18, 2012
     -- Liquidity Descriptors For Global Corporate Issuers, Sept. 28, 2011
     -- 2008 Corporate Criteria: Analytical Methodology, April 15, 2008

Ratings List

Upgraded; Recovery Rating Unchanged
                                        To                 From
Foot Locker Inc.
 Corporate Credit Rating                BB+/Stable/--      BB/Stable/--
 Senior Unsecured                       BB+                BB
  Recovery Rating                       4                  4
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