At its third-quarter earnings call earlier this week, Under Armour, Inc., seemed to be scrambling to respond to reports that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission launched inquiries into the company’s accounting practices and disclosures back in 2017 that are still ongoing.
Breaking from their “typical company policy of not discussing any regulatory or litigation matters,” Under Armour CFO David Bergman confirmed that the company is the subject of an investigation but said “we firmly believe” that accounting practices and disclosures are and have been “appropriate.” Meanwhile, the company’s stock has continued to plummet.
“We have been fully cooperating” with the government “for nearly two-and-a-half years,” Bergman maintained in the earnings call. Companies that jigger the figures in their earnings reports to make it look like revenues are better than they are sometimes run into trouble with government watchdogs. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal enforcement agencies are looking at whether Under Armour shifted sales figures to different quarters to make earnings seem stronger. As recently as last week, federal investigators had been contacting people about the Baltimore-based company’s activities, the paper reported.
Growing pains or something serious?
It is interesting that even as Under Armour executives maintained that they are cooperating with federal officials, they seemed a bit less congenial when dealing with analysts’ inquisitiveness about the matter during the recent earnings call. Bergman seemed to deflect when asked by an analyst on the call why investors and the world at large are “just hearing about it now.” Bergman answered that “we are prohibited” from providing more detail. Reiterating his belief that the company’s practices and disclosures were appropriate, Bergman asserted that while Under Armour is “fully cooperating” it is now “focused on 2020 and beyond.”
That forward-looking message seems to be one that Under Armour’s leadership is looking to underscore. “We’re looking forward to the next chapter,” said Kevin Plank, chairman, CEO, and current president of the firm. “We are set up, and we are ready to build and be that great brand that we talk about so often.”
’It’s tough getting to $5 billion’
Those taking a more reflective approach to the goings-on at Under Armour more interested in looking back might remember that the company churned through several chief financial officers in the not too distant past. Longtime CFO Brad Dickerson left in 2016, and his successor Chip Molloy, formerly of PetSmart Inc., departed a year later. Early in 2017, Bergman became acting CFO and later that year got the gig permanently.
But 2017 wasn’t a great year for everyone at the company. Several securities lawsuits against the company were consolidated into a class action and the plaintiffs—pension and retirement funds—maintained that the company, including some former CFOs, had “made material misstatements and omissions” about Under Armour’s growth and demand for its products. Although the claims were dismissed in 2017, an amended complaint was filed the following year, Under Armour disclosed in its annual report for fiscal year 2018.
Adding to Under Armour’s woes was a 2018 hacking that resulted in data from 150 million users of Under Armour’s Connected Fitness getting into the hands of an “unauthorized third party,” the company wrote in its annual report. That apparently triggered the filing of a consumer class action against the company.
Plank acknowledged some of the challenges Under Armour has experienced in recent years in the 3Q earnings call. “It’s tough getting to $5 billion,” he maintained. “It’s a reason why there’s only a couple, three or four companies that have done it at this point,” he continued.
The business, Plank said, had been “really getting ourselves structured” and “rightsizing” in the last few years.
“The professionalization of the company wasn’t meaning that we weren’t professional before,” Plank said. “It’s just taking our company from $5 billion to $10 billion is really a different step,” he continued in the earnings call. Helping to move the company forward will be President and COO Patrik Frisk, who will become CEO and President on Jan. 1, Under Armour disclosed in a recent SEC filing.
Lori Tripoli is a writer based in the greater New York City area who focuses on legal and regulatory issues.