Tiffany sparkles in latest quarter

Investors take a shine to the luxury-goods retailer despite economic concerns.

By Jonathan Berr Mar 20, 2012 11:50AM
Image: Dollar sign (© Image Source/Corbis)Shares of Tiffany & Co. (TIF) soared more than 7% Tuesday morning after the company said its earnings would exceed analysts' estimates, despite fears that Wall Street layoffs and a slowdown in Europe would hurt results more than the economic rebound would help them.

It appears that rich Americans not employed on Wall Street are doing fine and that consumer confidence in the world's largest economy is on the rise. Ditto for wealthy Chinese, though China's economy is faltering. 

Tiffany gave bullish 2012 guidance, calling for sales growth of approximately 10%, driven by gains in the Asia-Pacific and the Americas. And its projected earnings, excluding one-time items, are between $3.95 and $4.05, exceeding analysts' expectations for $3.92. Tiffany also plans to open a net 24 new stores this year.

Of course, Tiffany, the second-largest luxury jewelry retailer, is not immune to the world economy's problems and reported lackluster earnings otherwise.

Net income in the latest quarter fell 1.6% to $178.4 million, or $1.39 a share, from $181.2 million, or $1.41 a share, a year earlier. This was Tiffany's first profit decline in more than two years. Results were below the $1.42 average forecast of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales increased 8% to $1.2 billion, fueled by gains around the world. That exceeded consensus estimates of $1.18 billion.

Gross margin in the fourth quarter fell to 60.4% from 60.9% because of rising product costs. Selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses rose 10% as the company moved into new corporate headquarters. The relocation pushed capital expenses to $239 million in 2011, up sharply from $127 million in 2010.

The results follow reports yesterday that Goldman Sachs (GS) has begun its latest round of layoffs. Goldman is hardly alone. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli last year estimated that Wall Street could shed 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012. The average bonus for masters of the universe fell 13% to $121,150 in 20111, the second-lowest figure in eight years. As for Europe, forecasters expect more misery for 2012, and see real GDP shrinking by 0.3% in the eurozone. That's contingent, of course, on the Greek debt crisis stabilizing and on no other countries such as Portugal or Ireland needing additional bailouts. 

Shares of Tiffany are up about 12% this year and are ahead of their $73.06 average one-year price target. A U.S. economic rebound has been priced into the stock and the downside risks are huge. Investors should wait for a pullback before buying these shares.

Tiffany's challenges may be good news for buyers of luxury goods as they may prompt the retailer to offer additional discounts to move merchandise. Then again, people who want to buy a $3,100 stainless steel men's watch with a silver dial and black leather strap probably aren't clipping too many coupons.

Freelance writer Jonathan Berr has stared through a Tiffany display window once or twice. He doesn't own shares of the listed companies.

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Mar 20, 2012 2:09PM
The rich seem to be doing fine. How wonderful.
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