The Herbalife result had three elements - two bad, one good.
The bad elements are
(a). That volume fell - and quite sharply - minus 6 percent, and
(b). There was an inventory build in the face of the volume fall.
The shorts have played these elements up - and combined they meant that the cash flow was sequentially far less good.
The good element (which the company played up) was
(c). distributor numbers and retention went up sharply.
In the past distributor numbers and volume have been very tightly correlated.
They are no longer tightly correlated.
Inevitably they will become correlated again - but the question is which direction. Will volume growth rise to match distributor growth or will distributors leave disillusioned?
On this the Herbalife debate will hinge. [The bears will argue the FTC will also be an issue - but I doubt that strongly.]
An interpretation of the results in the light of Herbalife corporate rule changes
The company implemented three core rule changes which were trialled first in Eastern Europe and which I have cross checked with some Eastern European distributors.
i). Requiring that you qualify as a distributor slowly - ie there are no 4000 point success builder orders any more. Note that this rule change slows orders down.
ii). Requiring that the first qualification not be by "field sales" - you must buy from the company (note this slows orders down in Mexico and other countries for reasons that will be seen below).
iii). Requiring that if you sell via a website you do it under your distributor label (you get paid) on the GoHerbalife.com site. A delivery is then made direct to the customer obviating the need for the distributor to hold any inventory - and hence allowing de-stocking of distributor inventory and thus slowing current sales.
Why these rule changes
There are several reasons they implemented these rules.
One reason is that if a distributor qualifies as say 4*$1000 orders she is more likely to stay around than a distributor qualifying by a single $4000 order. The upline can then focus training on distributors who are more likely to stick around. This means new distributors become more effective.
A second (and possibly more important reason) is that they are very good at fending off Ackman's complaints. Slowing initial orders is antithetical to inventory loading (and inventory loading a required component of declaring Herbalife a pyramid). More importantly the third rule change obviates the need for any distributor inventory - and is a complete protection against a claim that Herbalife is a pyramid.
A third reason is about control of the business - particularly in developing markets. For example, in Mexico the up-line distributors have built warehouses all over the country - there are three Chairmans Club members who own the warehouses. The Chairmans club members can distribute Herbalife to you same day anywhere in the country almost everywhere - even with crappy Mexican logistics.
This is good for Herbalife (as they get lots of sales) but they are a risk for Herbalife - in that the Chairman club members might defect to a competitor taking their warehouses, customers and downline with them.
To "own" the customers Herbalife wants distributors to qualify with sales direct from the company. They are banning "field sales" for qualification.
Moreover Herbalife is building its own warehouses over the country. As it does this its distributor warehouses are being (to a small extent) de-stocked and its own warehouses are being stocked. The de-stocking of distributor warehouse is a drain on current sales and the stocking of its own is a costly inventory build.
All of these things should (i) make Herbalife stronger and (ii) explain the falling sales, increasing inventory and simultaneously increasing distributor numbers.
And if this interpretation is correct Herbalife should come back growing volume with a vengeance.
This is a deferred growth story.
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