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Qurate Retail, Inc. (NASDAQ:QRTEA) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript

Qurate Retail, Inc. (NASDAQ:QRTEA) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript February 28, 2024

Qurate Retail, Inc. beats earnings expectations. Reported EPS is $0.22, expectations were $0.13. Qurate Retail, Inc. isn’t one of the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds at the end of the third quarter (see the details here).

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Qurate Retail, Inc. 2023 Year-end Earnings Call. During the presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode. Afterwards, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder this conference will be recorded February 28. I would now like to turn the call over to Shane Kleinstein, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Shane Kleinstein: Thank you, and good morning. Before we begin, we'd like to remind everyone that this will include certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Actual events or results could differ materially due to a number of risks and uncertainties, including those mentioned in the most recent Forms 10-K filed by our company and QVC with the SEC. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this call and Qurate Retail expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to this updates or revisions to any forward-looking statement contained herein to reflect any change in Qurate Retail's expectations with regard thereto or any change in events conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based.


Please note that we have published slides to accompany the earnings release. On today's call we will address -- we will discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures, including adjusted OIBDA, adjusted OIBDA margin, free cash flow and constant currency. Information regarding the comparable GAAP metrics along with required definitions and reconciliations, including preliminary note and schedules one through three can be found in the earnings press release issued today or our earnings presentation, which are available on our website. Today, speaking on the earnings call, we have Qurate Retail President and CEO, David Rawlinson; Qurate Retail Group, CFO, Bill Wafford; and Qurate Retail, Executive Chairman, Greg Maffei. Now I'll turn the call over to David Rawlinson.

David Rawlinson : Thank you, Shane, and good morning to everyone. Thank you for joining us today and for your interest in Qurate Retail. 2023 was a transformative year for Qurate with a number of key achievements. In mid-2022, we were facing substantial challenges across the business and announced project Athens to improve our execution, reinvigorate our core value proposition and return to significant OIBDA and free cash flow generation. We implemented initiatives to refresh our assortment, sharpen our pricing, enhance our programming, improve our productivity and reduce our cost to serve. I'm thrilled to say that the initiatives we put into action have yielded strong positive results as evidenced by the adjusted OIBDA growth we experienced in the second half of 2023 and the free cash flow generation over the year.

We are encouraged by these results and look forward to continuing the momentum into 2024. Let me share several highlights from 2023. First, as anticipated, we generated strong adjusted OIBDA growth in the second half of the year with Q4 adjusted OIBDA of 73% as reported. This was primarily due to meaningful gross margin expansion of more than 200 basis points in 2023 with gross margin expansion for the last three consecutive quarters. We substantially improved our merchandise assortment with higher quality products, which resulted in higher average selling prices and product margins. Fulfillment expense was favorable as a result of renegotiating ocean shipping and end market freight rates and executing a number of productivity enhancements.

We reduced our inventory balance 22% year-over-year, making room for a pressure assortment and newer products, which benefited inventory obsolescence expense for the year. We also took down administrative costs at each of our businesses. Second, we divested Zulily MA, delivering on Pillar 4 Project Athens to optimize our portfolio. Zulily has negatively impacted our profitability and cash profile with a $97 million adjusted OIBDA loss in 2022. The divestitures simplifies our portfolio and benefits our go-forward liquidity while allowing management to focus on our remaining businesses. Third, we increased free cash flow $586 million in 2023. In the first half of the year, this was mainly driven by working capital improvements from accounts payable and inventory reduction actions.

In the back half of the year, our free cash flow generation was significant -- was from significant adjusted OIBDA growth. Finally, we reduced gross debt by approximately $1 billion in 2023 fortifying our balance sheet. This proves the business' ability to deliver on our commitments. We have fundamentally improved our execution capability through our transformation initiatives. As we enter 2024, we have confidence in our ability to sustain momentum in creating a more streamlined, profitable, cash producing and relevant company. Taking a closer look at fourth quarter performance. We built on continued momentum coming out of Q3 with strong adjusted OIBDA growth and gross margin expansion of 550 basis points. At QxH, revenue declined 4%. Units declined as we comped significant inventory liquidation sales from last year and from continued industry softness in consumer electronics.

We also made deliberate choices to drive higher average selling prices and gross margins and to shift category mix. This reduced revenue, but the resulting revenue had higher initial margins which offset lower volume. In the US, similar to our retail peers, we did see customers start their shopping later in the holiday season. However, when the shopping did kick off, we had strong sell-throughs and key events which drove sales. We are pleased that QxH grew market share as top line performance largely outpaced discretionary retail for the second consecutive quarter. Throughout the year, we have maintained focus on obtaining new higher-quality inventory that would excite our customers and provide them with value. We reinvigorated our programming and honed the special relationship our customers have with Host, which led to continued high engagement, growing total linear minutes viewed 15% compared to the prior year.

Moving to QVC International. We are proud to report QVC International grew constant currency revenue and adjusted OIBDA for the second consecutive quarter in Q4. We experienced particular strength in the UK as inflation in Europe is stabilizing. Adjusted OIBDA growth was driven by improved product margins, rate efficiencies and inventory management. Bill will provide more details. As we've said previously, QVC International is executing a series of initiatives that are on track to deliver substantial adjusted OIBDA improvement reaching run rate through 2025. These initiatives include workforce reductions taken in Europe in the second half of 2023 as well as steps to optimize the organizational structure, drive margin opportunities and improve broadcast and content strategies.

One of the key initiatives in 2023 was the launch of integrated experience. It aims to turn QVC International into a seamless, integrated and dimersive digital experience. In the UK, our initial focus is gardening and in Germany, food and kitchen. Both have shown positive customer engagement and driven increased sales in their respective categories and we believe we can scale to other category segments and markets over time. At Cornerstone, our businesses are focused on furniture and home decor, both of which are driven by new housing starts and household moves. With housing starts and home sales at historically depressed rates, Cornerstone's top line has been persistently impacted. In this difficult environment, we maintained our focus on cost management and generated substantial adjusted OIBDA growth in the fourth quarter.

The improvement was primarily due to favorable supply chain costs as well as lower catalog and personnel expenses. Expanding physical retail presence has been a successful tool for driving sales, deeper customer engagement, and better access to design services and improved conversion. We opened two new retail stores in Columbus, Ohio and Denver, Colorado and relocated one in Q4. Back in the US, we saw strong performance in our streaming services, QVC Plus and HSN Plus in Q4 and throughout the year. Total minutes viewed on our own platforms and BaaS channels increased 23% to $3.6 billion, representing 5% of our total US minutes viewed in 2023. We see real opportunity in our streaming business. Though still a small percent of our overall revenue base, screening revenue grew more than 50% in 2023.

We see similar growth rates continuing into 2024 as the business begins to scale. Let me now address our customer count. As I will describe, we have seen substantial stabilization in our customer count and encouraging signs of customer behavior. We believe that we have the customers we need to execute on Project Athens. Consistent with historical averages, QxH existing customers made up half of total customer count that generated 90% of 2023 sales. They purchased 31 items in 2023 and spent $1,600 on average. The strength of engagement is even more evident, and our best customers in QVC US, who are defined as purchasing at least 20 times a year. They were 17% of the count which generated 76% of the sales in 2023. They purchased, on average, 76 items in the year and increased their average spend 9% year-on-year to $3,900.

We substantially moderated the rate of decline in the customer file as we progress through 2023. We've moderated the sequential decline of our trailing 12 month count to down less than $100,000 from Q3 compared to down nearly $400,000 from the same period last year. Lastly, we began acquiring more new customers. New customers grew for the second consecutive quarter in Q4 with growth accelerating to 21%. We are utilizing several channels to incentivize additional purchases among our new customers. To share just a few examples, we are sending welcome e-mails to introduce our host, top deals and frequently purchased items. We are leveraging improved analytics to expose new customers to personalize content, brands and categories based on their interactions with us and we have developed a next purchase direct e-mail piece that features our top national brands in various ways to watch and engage with QVC.

Rather than growing the file with expensive-to-obtain and hard-to-retain transient customers for now we are concentrating on stabilizing our customer file, retaining our best customers and returning to new customer growth year-over-year that will contribute to customer file growth over time. We believe this is the prudent and profitable path and gives us the stability we need to continue to deliver on Project Athens in 2024. We also believe it sets us up nicely for customer file growth in 2025. Now I would like to touch again while Qurate's business model is differentiated across retail and the value we bring to customers, vendors and celebrities. Starting with vendors. Our platform continues to be very attractive to both new and existing vendors.

We move meaningful volume and provide a scaled platform to connect with customers on a personal level and share product stories. We had impressive sell-through rates in Q4 across a range of price points and in particular on higher end products where we were able to demonstrate compelling value for unique products. For example at QVC, we offered Fire Light lab-grown diamonds from two carats to nine carats ranging in price from $1,300 to $5,000. The entire collection was well received selling out across sizes and products including a sold-out non-carat tennis bracelet. We also sold $5.7 million of Ninja Woodfire of electric smoker and outdoor grill moving 19,000 units priced at $300 a piece. At HSN, we sold out of a day [indiscernible] with a price point in excess of $1,000 over Black Friday weekend.

In Home Décor, we sold $6 million of Barefoot Dreams luxury throw on Cyber Monday. In Beauty, we sold 40,000 units of an Elemis cream in one day and 114,000 units of [indiscernible] velocity gift set in two days. The scale of this platform is very difficult to replicate and attractive to existing and new vendors. We debut a new brand in tights, Sheertex selling $2.4 million in just a couple of hours. We introduced a new leather handbag and luggage brand Hawkins that sold $340,000 in 11 minutes. QVC and HSN have always been a home for celebrities engaging personalities and entrepreneurs. We welcome many familiar and new faces in the fourth quarter with a great pipeline planned for 2024. At QVC Lawrence Zarian launched BEAUTIFUL, an exclusive fashion collection of dresses, outwear and accessories.

In connection with the launch we conducted a satellite media tour with a nationally syndicated segment on Extra. At HSN, we teamed up with legendary singer Dolly Parton for the presale of our debut rock album Rockstar. Iconic Singer Chaka Khan launched her own perfume. Singer Katherine McPhee debut her jewelry line Radiance by Absolute. Erin Andrews launched her Sportswear line. Wolfgang Puck celebrated his 25th year with HSN with a new cook wear line. During his time with HSN, he has generated $600 million in sales. Numerous other celebrities have teamed up with us recently and our 2024 celebrities lineup is fantastic. In January, Scarlett Johansson debuted a new beauty line called the Outset. Actress Christina Ricci came on air as the new brand ambassador for Lancer Skincare.

A customer selecting the perfect item on an Internet shopping platforms with a mobile device in hand.
A customer selecting the perfect item on an Internet shopping platforms with a mobile device in hand.

In March, self-taught cake artist and social media influencer, Yolanda Gampp who has 4.5 million YouTube subscribers and 2.8 million Instagram followers will introduce a new bakeware line. Many other celebrities will join us this year and we look forward to sharing more on future calls. And finally, we continue to provide value to customers through compelling product values, exposure to their favorite host and celebrities, and importantly our engaging programming. Our programming is enhanced by destination and mass events, especially around the holiday season. We hosted a 49-hour nonstop holiday party across channels and platforms with fun holiday shopping and special pop-in personalities. 680,000 customers shop the weekend, including more than 40,000 new customers.

The event generated 81 million views across social platforms. It features several live streams, including holiday guides to get together with Jimmy Garth, holiday head-to-toe style with experts, high chocolate cocktails and holiday recipes in 30 minutes with Fabio Pavani. We have also appeared on other powerful platforms to fuel engagement. QVC host presented gift ideas on popular talk shows including The Drew Barrymore Show and the Tamron Hall Show to promote our Holiday Giftathon. We remain excited about the value proposition that makes QVC and HSN unique and we'll continue leveraging this model as we expand across platforms. Finally, I want to discuss an organizational change we announced yesterday. I'm pleased to announce that Stacy Bowe will be taking over as the President of HSN.

Stacy has been serving as the Chief Merchant at QVC US since joining the company in 2022 and has been one of the driving forces behind the improvement at QVC, including rapidly recalibrating our buying program, improving our inventory levels and bringing freshness and newness to the assortment. Prior to QVC, Stacy had a decorated career at G-III Apparel Group and Macy's. I would like to thank Rob Muller who has distinguished 23 years of extraordinary contributions to the company including serving for the last two years as President of HSN. In summary, our business reached an inflection point in the third quarter of 2023. We have made substantial progress in stabilizing revenue and growing cash flow and profitability. We look forward to continuing to drive improved results in 2024 while preparing the business for its future of multi-platform growth.

Now, I'll turn the call to Bill to discuss the financial results of each of our businesses in more detail.

Bill Wafford: Thank you, David, and good morning, everyone. Unless otherwise noted, my comments compare financial performance for the three months ended December 31, 2023 to the same period in 2022. Starting with QxH. Revenue declined 4%, primarily on lower unit volume. These pressures were partially offset by 3% growth in average selling price. As David mentioned, lower unit volume was in part a result of comping to liquidation sales in Q4 2022 to actively reduce inventory. While this negatively impacted revenue, it was accretive to profitability. Second, we saw higher returns in the fourth quarter which are normalizing to pre-pandemic levels across the industry, after an extended low period during the pandemic. From a category perspective QxH experienced growth in Apparel and Jewelry.

These gains were offset by a decline mainly in electronics, which accounted for 64% of QxH's revenue decrease. The decline in electronics is primarily driven by category softness across the industry, due to lack of innovation as well as the strategic pullback in the category as our merchandise team focuses on the higher-margin categories. Apparel grew 3%, due to strength in classic and contemporary apparel. Jewelry grew 8%, mainly on the strength of Fine Jewelry. Home revenue, decreased 2% mainly due to lower demand for Home Improvement & Floor Care, partially offset by growth in Cleaning & Fitness. BD declined 1%, mainly due to lower demand for Bath & Body as well as our strategic decision to dedicate more airtime to launching and growing smaller brands in order to diversify our assortment.

This was partially offset by strong performance in Beauty devices. Accessories declined 3%, primarily due to lower demand for loungewear, partially offset by strength in fashion accessories and footwear. Adjusted OIBDA margin increased 360 basis points with gross margin expansion of 450 basis points, primarily driven by favorable product margins fulfillment and inventory obsolescence expense. Product margins increased 215 basis points, driven by mix shift to higher-margin products and fewer clearance actions due to improved inventory health. Fulfillment expenses improved 155 basis points due to improved efficiency and Pat factor from Project Athens initiatives, less detention and image costs and favorable rates from our new parcel carrier contract that went into effect in late July.

Inventory obsolescence, declined reflecting enhanced merchandise and assortment and comping 2022's Q4 inventory reductions. SG&A was unfavorable by approximately 75 basis points, primarily due to sales deleverage on administrative and marketing expenses. Bad debt expense accounted for approximately 20 basis points of pressure due to provisional adjustments, while our overall bad debt rates remain low and well under 2% of revenue. Before moving on to QVC International, as noted in our earnings release we conducted an annual impairment assessment and recognized a $326 million non-cash goodwill impairment charge at QxH. This is included in operating income, but excluded from adjusted OIBDA. Moving to QVC International, My comments will focus on constant and currency results.

Revenue grew slightly reflecting a 1% increase in average selling price offset by a 1% decrease in unit volume. QVC UK letter performance, up low-double digits with sales gains in all, but one category and particular strength in home. Japan was down slightly and Germany declined mid-single digits. From a category perspective, QVC International experienced growth mainly in Home and Beauty, with declines in Apparel and Accessories. Adjusted OIBDA increased 2% and adjusted OIBDA margin was flat. Gross margin increased 100 basis points, mainly due to improved product margins in the UK and Germany. QVC International benefited from fewer inventory clearance actions due to healthier inventories compared to last year lower supply chain costs from ocean containers in Europe and a mix shift to higher-margin products including BD.

Fulfillment was unfavorable, primarily due to $4 million of rent from the sale-leaseback transactions in January and increased labor costs. SG&A was unfavorable due to higher administrative costs from outside services related to transformation actions and management incentive accruals, partially offset by lower marketing expense. QVC International is executing a series of transformation initiatives that are on track to deliver substantial adjusted OIBDA improvement reaching run rate through 2025. Moving to Cornerstone. Revenue declined 12% in the quarter. We experienced soft demand in most home categories as well as in apparel at Garnet Hill. Despite the decline in revenue, Cornerstone diligently managed costs and significantly grew adjusted OIBDA.

Growth was primarily driven by decreased supply chain costs from lower ocean shipping rates and less detention and demurrage costs. These gains were partially offset by promotional activity and deleverage of marketing expense. Turning to cash flow and the balance sheet. Full year capital expenditures were $230 million. For 2024, we anticipate capital expenditures to be approximately $235 million to $250 million. We spent $113 million on renewals of our TV distribution contracts in 2023. Our TV distribution payments can fluctuate year-over-year depending on renewal cycles, though we continue to expect the two-year average to be approximately $100 million. Free cash flow for 2023 was $577 million versus a use of $9 million last year. The year-over-year improvement was attributable to increased cash flow from operations, driven by working capital improvements in the front half of the year and higher earnings in the back half of the year.

This was partially offset by higher TV distribution payments year-over-year. We continue to expect higher adjusted OIBDA to benefit free cash flow in 2024. Looking at our debt profile. We repaid $138 million net on the revolver in the fourth quarter. Net debt at Qurate Retail Group reduced $209 million in the fourth quarter from the revolver paydown and strong cash generation. As of December 31, we had $857 million drawn on the QVC revolver with $2.3 billion in available capacity. In terms of cash balances, as of December 31, 2023, Qurate Retail had total cash of $1.1 billion, of which $307 million was at QVC Inc. $453 million was at Liberty Interactive and $275 million was at Qurate Retail Inc. Our leverage ratio as defined by the QVC revolving credit facility was 2.4 times.

Note, that covenant OIBDA includes the adjusted OIBDA of QVC Inc. and Cornerstone, gains from the sale-leaseback transactions completed in the last 12 months and a portion of projected cost savings. Note that we delivered a redemption notice yesterday to redeem all remaining outstanding QVC 4.85% senior secured notes due in 2024 on March 28, which we will fund with cash and revolver capacity. In 2022 and 2023, we executed programs to increase our liquidity and position ourselves for the successful implementation of our transformation plan. We affirmed that our debt level is manageable and our current cushion is sufficient in relation to our 4.5 times maximum net leverage covenant threshold stipulated in our credit facility. In 2023, we made substantial progress in the execution of our transformation initiatives and Qurate's second half results are a measure of our progress.

We look forward to building on this momentum in 2024. Now with that I'll turn the call over to Greg.

Greg Maffei: Thanks, Bill. Successful 2023 has been demonstrated on improved financial performance and business health. The second half of 2023 was a turning point as Athens took hold. We saw enhanced merchandising and pricing strategy. We also saw efficiencies in the fulfillment center, post our fire elevated costs as well as other administrative costs that we're taking out of the business. So all of these drove significant adjusted OIBDA growth in the second half with $586 million of growth in cash flow year-over-year. We also position the business for the future, the future multi-platform and digital strategies that we'll begin to take hold. We also continue to improve the balance sheet reducing approximately $1 billion of debt in 2023 lowering the revolver balance by $218 million including $138 million in the fourth quarter.

We will continue to assess incremental opportunities to improve the balance sheet. We did deliver a notice to redeem the outstanding 2024 senior secured notes using cash on hand and our revolver capacity. We expect to continue to build momentum on these successes in 2024. And with that, I'll open it up for Q&A, operator.

Operator: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, we will now be conducting a question-and-answer session [Operator Instructions] Our first question is from Jason Bazinet with Citi. Please go ahead.

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