Tiffany: High-end profits

Despite economic worries, the high-end retailer continues to outperform Wall Street expectations.

By TheStockAdvisors Dec 7, 2011 9:58AM
Jamie Grill/Photolibrary/PhotolibraryBy Elliott Gue, Personal Finance

Shares of luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. (TIF) have endured a roller coaster ride this year, reaching an all-time high in July only to plummet in late summer amid fears about the health of the global economy.

But the growth scare hasn’t curbed customers’ appetite for the finer things in life; Tiffany has outperformed Wall Street’s expectations for six consecutive quarters.

The company’s earnings per share surged 58% to $0.86 during its fiscal second quarter, an impressive total that blew analysts’ consensus estimate of $0.71 per share out of the water.

This growth was driven by better-than-expected gains in all product categories and across all regions in which the company operates.

Management boosted its full-year earnings guidance by $0.20 per share to a range of between $3.45 and $3.65 per share — the third time this year that Tiffany & Co. has raised its forecast.

The Americas remain Tiffany’s single largest market, representing about half of the firm’s operating profits.

Sales in the U.S. — the company’s largest market — rose 25% in the second quarter despite lingering concerns that jagged stock market volatility would lead wealthier consumers to rein in their spending.

Sales of the company’s iconic jewelry, which accounts for three-quarters of U.S. revenue, grew by double digits in each month of the quarter.

In fact, Tiffany’s strength in the U.S. market has broadened. Items that cost more than $20,000 continue to drive revenue growth.

But management also reported that sales of less expensive silver jewelry improved during Tiffany & Co.’s fiscal second quarter — a bit of a surprise after the rising cost of raw silver prompted the company to hike its prices.

Foreign tourists accounted for half the company’s U.S. sales growth in the second quarter, with the flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue posting a 41% year-over-year revenue increase on the back of strong sales to Chinese tourists. Hawaii was another strong market, boosted by purchases from Japanese visitors.

Outside the U.S., Japan and the Asia-Pacific region are Tiffany & Co.’s most important markets, accounting for about 22% and 18% of profits, respectively.

Asia-Pacific sales soared 55% last quarter, boosted by higher sales volumes and major price increases across all product lines.

The Chinese market was once again a standout in the quarter, while two newly opened outlets in South Korea exceeded sales expectations.

Tiffany & Co. reported 8% sales growth at stores that have been open for more than one year in Japan, traditionally one of the company’s strongest markets.

In an encouraging development, sales growth in this market has improved steadily since the devastating earthquake that struck Japan’s Tohoku region in March.

European sales grew by 32% year over year in the quarter, led by gains in Continental EU nations.

Although the eurozone is likely to enter at least a mild recession, the luxury segment has thus far been unaffected by the ongoing sovereign-debt crisis. In addition, management highlighted strong sales to Russian and Chinese tourists at its European outlets.

Tiffany & Co. has maintained profitability amid rising prices for key raw materials such as gold, silver and diamonds.

In addition to hiking end prices for its goods, the company has invested in a Sierra Leone diamond mine in exchange for guaranteed supplies at an attractive cost. Buy Tiffany & Co. under $83.

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