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Korean apparel retailer F&F returns as market darling after relisting

With the growing popularity of the Discovery Expedition and MLB brands in China, the retailer is set to become an "emperor's stock"

By Nov 05, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Discovery Expedition, a popular apparel brand in Korea
Discovery Expedition, a popular apparel brand in Korea

South Korean outdoor clothing retailer F&F Co. has returned as one of the most coveted stocks on the main bourse, with its share price nearly trebling from mid-May when the company was spun off from its parent F&F Holdings Co. and relisted.

Shares of F&F, the Korean distributor of the US outdoor brands Discovery Expedition and MLB, finished up 6%, the highest daily percentage gain in more than three months, at 945,000 won on Friday, outperforming the broader Kospi market’s 0.5% fall.

With 7.2 trillion won ($6.1 billion) in market capitalization, F&F is now the 53rd largest stock on the Korea Exchange, ahead of well-known companies such as Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering Co. (KSOE), the holding firm of the world’s largest shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. with its market cap of 7.15 trillion won, Hyundai Glovis Co. (6.1 trillion won) and CJ Cheiljedang Corp. (5.7 trillion won).

Back in mid-May, F&F was relisted at 360,000 won a share with its total market value of 3.2 trillion won.

Industry watchers say the stock will soon join the club of shares worth more than 1 million won apiece, commonly known as the “emperor’s stock.”

The key driving force behind F&F’s decent stock performance is its improving earnings.

MLB fashion caps
MLB fashion caps

Its operating profit increased more than sevenfold to 95.7 billion won in the third quarter from a year earlier, while sales more than doubled to 328.9 billion won, with the gradual economic recovery from the pandemic.

Operating profit margin reached a record quarterly high of 29.1%.

“F&F has entered the high-growth, high-margin phase, which is rare for an apparel retailer,” said Daishin Securities analyst Yoo Jung-hyun.

On Friday alone, eight analysts raised their target price for F&F to as high as 1.3 million won, with the Buy rating from all of them.

SETTING SIGHTS ON CHINA

Launched in 1992, F&F has rapidly grown its business with the domestic launch of the Discovery Expedition and MLB apparel in licensing agreements. It has also introduced the Italian clothing brand Benetton and the French apparel Renoma to South Korea in licensing contracts.

Now the Korean company is setting its sights on China.

F&F Chairman Kim Chang-soo
F&F Chairman Kim Chang-soo

In June, it opened an MLB Kids outlet in the Global Harbor Shopping Mall, Shanghai’s largest retail shop, to appeal to young people, referred to as MZers, or Millennials and young adults in Generation Z.

The number of its MLB and MLB Kids outlets in China increased to 389 at the end of September from 71 at the end of 2020.

The company’s third-quarter revenue from its Chinese business doubled to 123.5 billion won from 60.5 billion in the previous quarter.

“In China, MLB has grown to be a brand with annual sales of 400 billion won. F&F’s earnings momentum will remain strong for the time being,” said Hana Financial Investment analyst Suh Hyun-jung.

Write to Sung-Mi Shim at smshim@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.
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