Tiffany(TIF): strong 3Q11 + weak guidance = 8.7% stock drop

the results

TIF reported its 3Q11 (ended October 31st) earnings results before the start of New York trading yesterday morning.  For the three months, the company took in revenue of $821.8 million.  It earned $89.7 million, or $.70 per share.  This represents a 52% increase over the $.46 a share the company earned in 3Q10.  The 3Q11 figure handily beat the Wall Street consensus of $.60 a share, even exceeding the most optimistic estimate, which was $.67.

TIF also continues to buy back stock at around the $65-$66 level.

the guidance

TIF says it expects 4Q11 earnings to come in between $1.48-$1.58 per share.  This represents a (mere) 6.3% increase over the $1.44 per share the company posted for 4Q10.  This guidance falls near the bottom of the 4Q Wall Street analysts’ estimate range of $1.51 – $1.69.  The median estimate, which  may be revised down, has been $1.64.

Just for reference, a year ago TIF guided to eps of $1.29 and reported $1.44.  If we adjust management guidance for possible lowballing of the same magnitude, we arrive at a figure around $1.65.  That would be a year on year gain of 15% or so.

the details

3Q11 business was stellar.  By areas:

–the Americas, 47.9% of TIF’s sales (49.7% a year ago), rose by 17% yoy.

–Asia Pacific, 22.6% (19.6%), was up by 44%

–Japan, 18.1% (19.1), rose by 12%

–Europe, 11.4% (11.6%), was up by 19%.

Strength was in high-end merchandise.

Where’s the problem?

In its guidance, TIF alluded to “recent sales weaknesses” it has noticed in Europe (no surprise there–and it’s still a tiny part of TIF’s overall business) and in the eastern US.  In its conference call, the company said the western US remains strong and buying by foreign tourists continues to be a significant positive.  But it has noticed a slowdown in purchases by domestic customers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.  That’s the reason for its relative caution.

my thoughts

On the surface, the Boston-Washington corridor slowdown seems odd.  The just-released National Retail Federation survey (see my post) highlights the Northeast as an area where holiday spending is surging.  However, I’d already heard the same story as TIF’s from another (privately held) luxury retailer doing business along the East Coast.  I’d attributed that to company-specific problems, but it’s sounding like I’m wrong.

What could be the cause?  …pent-up demand from the recession being satisfied over the past year?  …lower bonuses on Wall Street?  …Newt Gingrich taking a lower spending profile (a joke)?

TIF is still projecting sales in the Americas to be up by 15%-20% yoy in 4Q11, but is now expecting the lion’s share of the sales growth to come from buying by foreign tourists.  This contrasts with the 50-50 split the company has seen in sales growth  between locals and foreigners during recent quarters.

TIF is currently earning at a $4 per share annual rate.  This means it’s now trading at a bit over 15x earnings.  That’s an unusually low multiple by historic standards.  It’s also where the TIF management sees considerable value, as evidenced by its stock buybacks.  In addition, Asia Pacific sales probably amount to about a third of revenues, if we factor in sales to tourists in the US and Europe.  Those sales alone seem to me to be enough to grow the entire company’s profits by at least 10% per year.

On the other hand, if US sales of luxury goods to domestic buyers are beginning to flatten out after an extraordinary burst of buying over the past year–and continue flat for a while–then earnings comparisons for TIF over the next few quarters will likely be lackluster.  Any potential bids from European luxury goods firms (I’ve regarded this possibility as very small, in any event) will likely stay on the shelf until the EU’s economic future is less cloudy.

All in all, I’m content myself to wait before adding to my holding.  If I owned no TIF at all, however, I’d be tempted to buy a small amount now and await further developments.


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