The Meme Stock Trade Is Far From Over
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The Meme Stock Trade Is Far From Over

It has now been half a year, and the core “meme stocks” are still trading at outrageous levels.

By Avi Salzman
Mon, Jul 12, 2021 11:07amGrey Clock 9 min

It seemed to be only a matter of time.

When GameStop (ticker: GME), BlackBerry (BB), and even the desiccated carcass of Blockbuster suddenly sprang to life in January, the clock was already ticking for when they would crash again. Would it be hours, days, or weeks?

It has now been half a year, and the core “meme stocks” are still trading at levels considered outrageous by people who have studied them for years. New names like Clover Health Investments (CLOV) and Newegg Commerce (NEGG) have recently popped up on message boards, and their stocks have popped, too.

The collective efforts of millions of retail traders—long derided as “the dumb money”—have successfully held stocks aloft and forced naysayers to capitulate.

That is true even as the companies they are betting on have shown scant signs of transforming their businesses, or turning profits that might justify their valuations. BlackBerry burned cash in its latest quarter and warned that its key cybersecurity division would hit the low end of its revenue guidance; the stock dipped on the news but has still more than doubled in the past year.

While trading volume at the big brokers has come down slightly from its February peak, it remains two to three times as high as it was before the pandemic. And a startling amount of that activity is occurring in stocks favoured by retail traders. The average daily value of shares traded in AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC), for example, reached $13.1 billion in June, more than Apple’s (AAPL) $9.5 billion and Amazon.com’s (AMZN) $10.3 billion.

Even as the coronavirus fades in the U.S., most new traders say they are committed to the hobby they learned during lockdown—58% of day traders in a Betterment survey said they are planning to trade even more in the future, and only 12% plan to trade less. Amateur pandemic bakers have stopped kneading sourdough loaves; traders are only getting hungrier.

A sustained bear market would spoil such an appetite, as it did when the dot-com bubble burst. For now, dips are reasons to hold or buy.

“I’ve seen that the ‘buy the dip’ sentiment hasn’t relented for a moment,” wrote Brandon Luczek, an electronics technician for the U.S. Navy who trades with friends online, in an email to Barron’s.

The meme stock surge has been propelled by a rise in trading by retail investors. In 2020, online brokers signed clients at a record pace, with more than 10 million people opening new accounts. That record will almost certainly be broken in 2021. Brokers had already added more than 10 million accounts less than halfway into the year, some of the top firms have disclosed.

Meme stocks are both the cart and the horse of this phenomenon. Their sudden price spikes are driven by new investors, and then that action drives even more new people to invest. Millions of people downloaded investing apps in late January and early February just to be a part of the fun. A recent Charles Schwab (SCHW) survey found that 15% of all current traders began investing after 2020.

The most prominent player in the surge is Robinhood, which said it had added 5.5 million funded accounts in the first quarter alone. But it isn’t alone. Fidelity, for instance, announced that it had attracted 1.6 million new customers under the age of 35 in the first quarter, 223% more than a year before.

Under pressure from Robinhood’s zero-commission model, all of the major brokers cut commissions to zero in 2019. That opened the floodgates to a new group of customers—one that may not have as much spare cash to trade but is more active and diverse than its predecessors. And the brokers are cashing in. Fidelity is hoping to attract investors before they even have driver’s licenses, allowing children as young as 13 to open trading accounts. Robinhood is riding the momentum to an initial public offering that analysts expect to value it at more than 10 times its revenue.

These new customers act differently than their older peers. For years, there was a “big gravitation toward ETFs,” says Chris Larkin, head of trading at E*Trade, which is now owned by Morgan Stanley (MS). But picking single stocks is clearly “the big story of 2021.”

To be sure, equity exchange-traded funds are still doing well, as investors around the world bet on the pandemic recovery and avoid weak bond yields.

But ETFs don’t light up the message boards like stocks do. Not that it has been a one-way ride for the top names. GameStop did dip in February, and Wall Street enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude. It didn’t last.

“Like cicadas, meme traders returned in a wild blaze of activity after being seemingly underground for several months,” wrote Steve Sosnick, chief strategist at Interactive Brokers. Sosnick believes that the meme stocks tend to trade inversely to cryptocurrencies, because their fans rotate from one to the other as the momentum shifts.

“I don’t think it’s strictly a coincidence that meme stocks roared back to life after a significant correction in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies,” he wrote.

Sosnick considers meme stocks a “sector unto themselves,” one that he segregates on his computer monitor away from other stock tickers.

Indeed, Wall Street’s reaction to the meme stock revolution has been to isolate the parts of the market that the pros deem irrational. Most short sellers won’t touch the stocks, and analysts are dropping coverage.

But Wall Street can’t swat the retail army away like cicadas, or count on them disappearing for the next 17 years. Stock trading has permanently shifted. This year, retail activity accounts for 24% of equity volume, up from 15% in 2019. Adherents to the new creed are not passive observers willing to let Wall Street manage the markets.

“What this really reflects is a reversal of the trends that we saw toward less and less engagement with individual companies,” says Joshua Mitts, a professor at Columbia Law School specializing in securities markets. “Technology is bringing the average investor closer to the companies in which he or she invests, and that’s just taking on new and unpredictable forms.”

It is now changing the lives of those who got in early and are still riding the names higher.

Take Matt Kohrs, who had invested in AMC Entertainment early. He quit his job as a programmer in New York in February, moved to Philadelphia, and started streaming stock analysis on YouTube for seven hours a day.

With 350,000 YouTube followers, it’s paying the bills. With his earnings from ads and from the stock, Kohrs says he can pull down roughly the same salary he made before. But he also knows that relying on earnings from stocks like this is nothing like a 9-to-5 job.

“The swings you get can definitely make you feel some sort of way,” he says.

Companies are starting to react more aggressively, too. They are either embracing their new owners or paying meme-ologists to understand the emoji-filled language of the new Wall Street so they can ward them off or appease them.

AMC even canceled a proposed equity raise this past week because the company apparently didn’t like the vibes it was getting from the Reddit crowd. AMC has already quintupled its share count over the past year. CEO Adam Aron tweeted that he had seen “many yes, many no” reactions to his proposal to issue 25 million more shares, so it will be canceled instead of being presented for a vote at AMC’s annual meeting later this month. The company did not respond to a question on how it had polled shareholders.

Forget the boardroom. Corporate policy is now being determined in the chat room.

Big investors are spending more time tracking social-media discussions about stocks. Bank of America found in a survey this year that about 25% of institutions had already been tracking social-media sentiment, but that about 40% are interested in using it going forward.

In the past few months, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan have all produced reports on how to trade around the retail action, coming to somewhat different conclusions.

There can be “alpha in the signal,” as Morgan Stanley put it, but it can take some intense number-crunching to get there. Not all message-board chatter leads to sustained price gains, of course, and retail order flow cannot easily be separated from institutional flow without substantial data analysis. For investors with the tools to pinpoint which stocks retail investors are buying and which they are selling, J.P. Morgan suggests going long on the 20% of stocks with the most buying interest and short on the top 20% in selling interest.

For now, many of the institutions buying data on social-media sentiment appear to be trying to reduce their risks, as opposed to scouting new opportunities, according to Boris Spiwak of alternative data firm Thinknum, which offers products that track social-media sentiment. “They see it as almost like an insurance policy, to limit their downside risks,” he says.

For retail traders, the method isn’t always scientific. The action is sustained by a community ethos. And the force behind it is as much emotional and moral as financial.

New investors say they are motivated by a desire to prove themselves and punish the old guard as much as by profits. They learn from one another about the market, sometimes amplifying or debunking conspiracy theories about Wall Street. Some link the meme-stock movement to continued mistrust of big financial institutions stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

“Wall Street brought our economy to its knees, and no one ever got in trouble for it,” says the 26-year-old Kohrs. “So, I think they view this as not only can we make money, but we can also make these hedge funds on Wall Street pay.”

Claire Hirschberg is a 28-year-old union organizer who bought about $50 worth of GameStop stock on Robinhood in January after hearing about it from friends. She liked the idea, but what really got her excited about it was the reaction of her father, a longtime money manager. “He was so mad I had bought GameStop and was refusing to sell,” she says, laughing. “And that just makes me want to hold it forever.”

Just like old Wall Street has rituals and codes, the new one does, too. A new investment banking employee learns quickly that you don’t wear a Ferragamo tie until after you make associate. You never leave the office until the managing director does, and you don’t complain about the hours. And the bad guys are the regulators and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and not in that order.

The new trading desk—the apps that millions of retail traders now use and the message boards where they congregate—have unspoken rules, too. Publicly acknowledging financial losses is a valiant act, evidence of internal fortitude and belief in the group. You don’t take yourself seriously and you don’t police language. You are part of an army of “apes” or “retards.” You hold through the crashes, even if it means you might lose everything. And the bad guys are the short sellers, the market makers, and the Wall Street elites, in that order.

The group action is not just for moral support. The trading strategy depends on people keeping up the buying pressure to force a short squeeze or to buy bullish options that trigger what’s known as a gamma squeeze.

Many short sellers say they won’t touch these stocks anymore. But clearly, others aren’t taking that advice and are giving the meme movement oxygen by repeatedly betting against the stocks. AMC’s short interest was at 17% of the stock’s float in mid-June, down from 28% in January, but not by much.

As the price rises, the shorts can’t help themselves. They start “drooling, with flames coming out of their ears,” says Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Securities analyst who has covered GameStop for years. “What’s kind of shocked me is the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over and over again and hoping for a different outcome each time, and the shorts keep coming back,” he says. “And [GameStop bull] Keith Gill and his Reddit raiders keep squeezing them, and it keeps working.”

To beat the short sellers, the Reddit crowd needs to hold together, but the community has been showing cracks at times. The two meme stocks with the most determined fan bases—GameStop and AMC—still have enormous armies of core believers who do not seem easily swayed. But other names seem to have more-fickle backers. Several stocks caught up in the meme madness have come crashing down to earth. Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) spiked twice—in late January and early June—but now trades only slightly above its mid-January levels. People who bought during the upswings have lost money.

Distrust has spread, and some traders worry that wallstreetbets— the original Reddit message board that inspired the GameStop frenzy—has grown so fast that it has lost its original spirit, and potentially grown vulnerable to manipulation. Some have moved to other message boards, like r/superstonk, in hopes of reclaiming the old community’s flavor.

Travis Rehl, the founder of social-media tracking company Hype Equity, says that he tries to separate possible manipulators from more organic investor sentiment. Hype Equity is usually hired by public-relations firms representing companies that are being talked about online, he says. Now, he sees a growing trend of stocks that suddenly come up on message boards, receive positive chatter, and then disappear.

“It’s called into question what is a true discussion versus what is something that somebody just wants to pump,” he says. The moderators of wallstreetbets forbid market manipulation on the platform, and Rehl say they appear to work hard to police misinformation. The moderators did not respond to a request from Barron’s for comment.

“If you can create enough buzz to get a stock that goes up 10%, 20%, even 50% in a short period of time, there’s a tremendous incentive to do that,” Sosnick says.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is watching for funny business on the message boards. SEC Chairman Gary Gensler and some members of Congress have discussed changing market rules with the intention of adding transparency protecting retail traders—although changes could also anger the retail crowd if they slow down trading or make it more expensive.

Regulations aren’t the only thing that could deflate this trend. Dan Egan, vice president of behavioural finance and investing at fintech Betterment, thinks the momentum may run out of steam in September. Even “apes” have responsibilities. “Kids start going back to schools; parents are free to go to work again,” he says. “That’s the next time there’s going to be some oxygen pulled out of the room.”

Traditional investors may be tempted to write off the entire phenomenon as temporary madness inspired by lockdowns and free government money. But that would be a mistake. If zero-commission brokerages and fun with GameStop broke down barriers for millions of new investors to open accounts, it’s almost certainly a good thing, as long as most people bet with money they don’t need immediately. Many new retail traders say they are teaching themselves how to trade, and have begun to diversify their holdings.

In one form or another, this is the future client base of Wall Street.

Arizona State University professor Hendrik Bessembinder published groundbreaking research in 2018 that found that “a randomly selected stock in a randomly selected month is more likely to lose money than make money.” In short, picking single stocks and holding a concentrated portfolio tends to be a losing strategy.

Even so, he’s encouraged by the new wave of trading. “I welcome the increase in retail trading, the idea of the stock market being a place with wide participation,” Bessembinder says. “Economists can’t tell people they shouldn’t get some fun.”

Connor Smith contributed reporting.

Reprinted by permission of Barron’s. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: July 11, 2021



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Nike Reverses Course as Innovation Stalls and Rivals Gain Ground

Shoe giant stumbled as CEO John Donahoe pulled away from retailers and relied on old hits. Now it says it’s refocusing on cutting-edge footwear for athletes.

By INTI PACHECO
Tue, Apr 23, 2024 10 min

In late February, Nike boss John Donahoe led a virtual all-hands meeting where he delivered a message to his staff: The company wasn’t performing at its best and he held himself accountable.

Two weeks earlier, Nike had announced it would lay off more than 1,600 employees .

Now, as the CEO spoke at the meeting, critical comments started to fill the chat window on the Zoom call while more than 20,000 employees watched.

“Accountability: I do not think that word means what you think it means,” an employee wrote. “If this is cost cutting, how about a CEO salary cut?” another wrote. Soon a cascade of laughing emojis filled the screen.

Some colleagues warned others that their posts weren’t anonymous and the chat might be monitored. The attacks went on for several minutes. “I hope Phil is watching and reading this,” an employee wrote, referencing the retired Nike co-founder Phil Knight .

The virtual protest illustrated the depths of the dissatisfaction within the sneaker giant and concern for its strategy. “How did we actually get here?” wrote one product manager.

Since the pandemic, Nike has lost ground in its critical running category while it focused on pumping out old hits and preparing for an e-commerce revolution that never came. The moves, current and former employees say, have eroded a culture of innovation and edginess that made Nike one of the world’s best-known brands.

Donahoe had told The Wall Street Journal in 2020 that his No. 1 priority when taking over the company was “don’t screw it up.” Four years later, the company is unwinding key elements of the CEO’s strategy that have backfired as a growing number of upstarts nip at its heels.

Among the reversals: As Covid raged and more shopping moved online, Nike cut ties with longtime retail partners such as DSW and Urban Outfitters and tried selling more merchandise directly to consumers. It is now asking some of those stores for help clearing out its overstuffed shelves and warehouses.

“I would say we got some things right and some things wrong,” Donahoe said Thursday, in an interview at Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters.

Losing its roots

The strategic missteps have animated a debate inside the company about its identity. In its zeal to boost digital sales, some current and former employees say, Nike veered from its roots as a maker of cutting-edge footwear for serious athletes. It has opened itself to competition from newcomers such as On and Hoka, which have borrowed from the playbook that fuelled Nike’s rise—including focusing on sport over lifestyle, and taking risks on innovation.

Nike’s once torrid growth has stalled . Sales for the quarter ended Feb. 29 were flat compared with a year earlier, and shares in the company have declined 24% over the past year, compared with a 19% gain in the S&P 500.

Donahoe in the interview acknowledged the brand lost its “sharp edge” in sports and needed to boost its “disruptive innovation pipeline.” The CEO said the brand’s marketing got fragmented and that with people going back to bricks-and-mortar stores, it was clear Nike needed to invest in its retail partners.

Nike executives said in interviews that the company became too cautious after the pandemic and overly reliant on older products that were reliable sellers. They said the company has made significant changes in recent months to refocus it on putting out cutting-edge footwear.

“We were serving consumers what they know and love,” said John Hoke , Nike’s recently named chief innovation officer. “The job is to of course do that but also to show them something new, take them someplace new.”

Donahoe said Nike is going through a period of adversity and layoffs that has created uncertainty, but that the company will get through it. “Our employees have been through a lot,” he said. “Nike is actually at its best, like a great sports team, when our backs are against the wall.”

Knight, who is chairman emeritus of the board and the company’s largest shareholder, said in a statement that Donahoe has his “unwavering support.”

Donahoe said employees’ responses to the all-hands meeting reflected one of Nike’s biggest strengths: how much its staff cares about the company. “We welcome and encourage that,” Donahoe said.

Shift into digital

Donahoe took over Nike just before the pandemic, at a delicate time. Though he inherited a market leader and one of the world’s best-known brands, Nike was seeking a refresh after it dealt with complaints about its workplace culture that led to a management shake-up .

The Evanston, Ill., native had been CEO of eBay , where he doubled the e-commerce platform’s revenue during a seven-year stint that ended in 2015. After a sabbatical—during which he says he had a life-altering experience at a 10-day Buddhist silent meditation retreat—Donahoe went on to run cloud-computing company ServiceNow .

When he took the helm of Nike in early 2020, his marching orders from Mark Parker , his predecessor and current executive chairman, and Knight were clear. He was to turn the world’s biggest shoe maker into a tech company more directly connected to consumers through its own apps, which in turn collect valuable data from shoppers.

Parker said when he stepped down that Donahoe was the right candidate to lead Nike’s digital transformation.

Donahoe was just the fourth CEO in the company’s more than 50-year history. The only other outsider to get the job said he was ousted in 2006 after a short stint because he focused too much on the numbers .

Donahoe started out with a 100-day global listening tour that was cut short after a month when the pandemic hit.

Covid lockdowns fuelled a surge in online shopping. Digital channels accounted for 30% of Nike’s sales in May 2020, about three years ahead of schedule.

Donahoe saw it as an acceleration of an inevitable shift and adjusted Nike’s plans accordingly. A few months in, he redoubled the company’s bet that it could make more money by selling products directly to consumers through its stores and digital channels. He said he believed digital sales would reach 50% of the business, and Nike should transform faster to define the marketplace of the future. It was time to act.

By late 2020, Nike dropped about a third of its sales partners and sold less merchandise to clients such as Foot Locker , DSW and Macy’s . There had been a plan to phase out wholesale clients since 2017, but with digital sales growing quickly, Donahoe said there was a need for urgency.

Executives were divided over whether Nike’s own stores, which include both factory outlets and specialty shops selling higher-priced new releases, could fill the sales void left by the retailers the company was cutting out.

In meetings, finance chief Matt Friend and Nike president Heidi O’Neill supported the aggressive exit from retail that Donahoe was pushing, while others favored a slower transition, people familiar with the matter said.

Some executives felt the specialty stores in particular worked better as marketing tools and that cutting off so many retailers so fast would backfire, the people said. Donahoe and his allies prevailed.

Nike teams were tasked to come up with a new global supply-chain process. Selling directly to consumers increased the company’s liabilities, including by shifting storage and shipping costs from wholesalers to Nike. The company would also absorb the losses from discounts if the merchandise didn’t sell quickly and inventory piled up.

One of the casualties of Donahoe’s 2020 transformation was a multibillion-dollar operation dedicated to developing footwear sold for under $100. The company deprioritised more-affordable footwear that usually sold to the sales partners that Nike was leaving behind. The move left Nike skewed toward higher-priced shoes.

The first evidence of cracks in Nike’s new approach appeared early last year when Foot Locker Chief Executive Mary Dillon said during an earnings call the brand had reversed course and was sending the retailer a wider assortment of Nike products. By the summer, Macy’s and DSW were saying the same thing.

The message was clear: Nike needed help selling merchandise.

Nike veterans said cutting off wholesale clients was one of the biggest mistakes the company has ever made. After digital sales hit the 30% of the total mark early in the pandemic, they dropped back, and haven’t reached that level since—let alone the 50% target Donahoe had foreseen.

Donahoe said in the interview the goal at the time was to lean more on specific partners, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and JD Sports , which he considers to be more aligned with Nike, rather than make a dramatic shift in strategy. Nike deprioritised making lower-priced shoes because of supply-chain disruptions during the pandemic, but it is now making more of those products, he said.

“I don’t see it as a reversal of the strategy,” Donahoe said of the return to more retail chains. “I see it as an adjustment.”

Rising competition

Competitors have been using the sneaker giant’s playbook at its expense. Smaller brands like On, Hoka and New Balance have captured significant pieces of the market for both hard-core and everyday runners—and their popularity is spreading to the mainstream.

Often quoting Knight, the Nike co-founder, former employees said the principle always was to first capture the market for hard-core athletes with innovative performance gear, and the casual consumer would follow.

In early February, Hoka owner Deckers Outdoor tapped Nike alums to take over both the parent company and the shoe brand. Hoka had $1.4 billion in sales for the year through March 2023, compared with about $352 million three years earlier.

Hoka didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“When you’re the biggest, there’s always going to be people coming after you,” Donahoe said. Competitors give Nike an incentive to try to understand what consumers want and to figure out how to come up with something bold and different, he said.

Nike still dwarfs its competition . During Donahoe’s tenure, Nike sales have grown 31% to $51 billion in 2023. That is more than double the results of Adidas, its closest competitor by far. New Balance reported sales reached $6.5 billion last year, and upstart On almost hit the $2 billion mark.

The race to hit revenue targets came at a cost for Nike. Executives turned to the brand’s lucrative franchises, including Air Jordan and Dunk, and ramped up the releases. The strategy diluted the exclusivity prized by die-hard Nike sneaker shoppers.

Donahoe said in the interview that Nike ramped up production to meet demand on its SNKRS app, which fans use to buy the latest limited releases. In early 2021, Nike was meeting less than 5% of the demand for some releases on the app and consumers were frustrated, Donahoe said, adding the goal is to meet something closer to 20% of demand for the exclusive styles.

Now, sneaker resellers say they have seen release after release of Nike’s limited-edition kicks that don’t sell out on the SNKRS app, and that in the secondary market—a space that the brand closely monitors —prices are tanking.

Nike executives in March said they would pull back on franchise releases.

Donahoe said “franchise management has always been something Nike has done.”

Nike’s digital sales, a figure that includes direct and partner e-commerce sales, declined for the quarter ended Feb. 29. Friend, the finance chief, told analysts in March that Nike expects total sales to decline at least until the end of this year.

Struggle for innovation

The pursuit of sales growth from limited-edition sneaker releases led Nike to neglect its running category, long considered the core product of the company, former employees said.

This month in Paris, Nike unveiled its new product line for the Olympics, including running shoes with a new cushioning system that uses the company’s Air technology.

In interviews at the event, executives said the company had become somewhat risk-averse during the pandemic, when working remotely stifled creativity. Martin Lotti, chief design officer, said the company had spent too much time looking to its past.

“If you drive a car just by looking in the rear view mirror, that’s not a good thing,” Lotti said. “The bigger opportunity is the windshield.”

Current and former Nike executives believe the future of the company is in its app ecosystem , like the Nike Training and Running Club or its SNKRS app, and the data it can harness from them to help design and sell products. Inside the company, leaders have long tried to draw comparisons to Apple when talking about Nike’s innovation and design culture.

The sneaker giant has been acquiring smaller data analytics startups for at least a decade. Two years ago, it also bet on the NFT craze .

One of Nike’s biggest tech investments is a multibillion-dollar process to migrate multiple software programs into one single system. The new platform, known as S/4HANA, is still not operational and is three years behind schedule. The software is designed to help day-to-day operations, such as procurement and inventory management, and speed up digital sales.

As part of its accelerated focus on digital sales, Nike hired about 3,500 people to join what the company calls its global technology group, which includes consumer insights and data analytics. Executives at the time said they were investing in “demand sensing,” “insight gathering” and a new inventory system.

Former Nike employees with knowledge of the consumer insights strategy said executives misinterpreted the data in ways that overestimated demand for retro franchises.

During February’s round of layoffs executives trimmed layers of management across the company’s insights and analytics teams. A large technology innovation team, tasked with developing software to implement Apple’s new Vision Pro augmented reality system in day-to-day design tasks, and a separate artificial intelligence team were also eliminated.

Executives at Nike say it is entering a “supercycle” of innovation and that the new Air line of products enhances athlete performance.

At the Olympics preview event this month, the company took over the historic Palais Brongniart in central Paris with a three-day event to unveil its new Air line. Guests wandered through a museum-like, conveyor-belt installation highlighting Nike’s product evolutions and research and development programs. Athletes including runners Sha’Carri Richardson and Eliud Kipchoge modeled the new gear. Retired tennis great Serena Williams narrated the company’s lavish introduction video before appearing on stage.

Outside, 30-foot orange statues of Nike-sponsored athletes including LeBron James, Kylian Mbappé and Victor Wembanyama stood guard.

Donahoe’s relationship with Knight goes back to the early 1990s, when he was a Bain consultant on Nike projects. He joined the Nike board in 2014 and is one of the directors of an entity Knight created called Swoosh LLC, which holds roughly $22 billion worth of Nike shares and controls a majority of Nike’s board seats. Donahoe calls Knight his “greatest hero in business.”

The current CEO said he meets with his predecessor, Parker, every week.

Donahoe said that he and Parker share an approach to management he calls “servant leadership” that was embodied by some of his sports heroes, including basketball coaches Phil Jackson, John Thompson, Mike Krzyzewski and Tara VanDerveer.

“It’s never been about me. It’s about your players. And are you doing everything you can to allow your players to make the adjustments to win? And when you have a win it’s about the players and when you have a loss you say it’s on me, right?,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve always tried to embody, including during this period of time.”

This week, Donahoe is facing another test: the company is notifying several hundred more workers whose jobs are being cut.

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