TIF’s 1Q12: surprising slowdown by US customers

the report

TIF reported 1Q12 (ended April 30th) results prior to the opening of equity trading in New York yesterday morning.

Revenues were up 8% year on year, at $819.2 million.  The company earned $.64 a share for the three months, down a bit less than 5% from  results–but substantially below the Wall Street consensus of $.69.

Tif also lowered its full-year guidance by $.25 a share, to a range of $3.70-$3.80.  Worldwide sales are now expected to grow at a 7%-8% rate, down from the prior expectation of +10%.  Eps comparisons will likely be negative in 2Q12 and 3Q12.

The stock dropped sharply on the news.

As I’m writing this on Friday morning, TIF shares are somewhat lower again, in a choppy but flattish market.

the details

sales

Americas           up 3% at $386 million

Asia Pacific         up 17% at $195 million

Japan          up 15% at $142 million

Europe     up 3% at $88 million.

Business was much better than I had expected in Japan.  Analysis is complicated by the fact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in mid-March 2011.  Still, same store sales growth is up more than 10% from two years ago, in a land that had been turning decidedly cool toward luxury goods.

I think any gain in Europe, now the epicenter of world economic woes, is just short of miraculous.

Asia Pacific performed as expected–no better, no worse.  The company says Chinese business has cooled a bit from the torrid pace of last year.  I don’t consider this a worry.  But it does suggest that Asia won’t be a source of significant upside surprise for a while.

It’s the Americas, and specifically the US, where the falloff versus expectations lies.  Sales to foreign tourists are up, with weakness in European buying more than offset by a step-up in purchases by Asian visitors.  So it looks like the problem is with sales in the US to Americans.

TIF pointed out in its conference call that the softness:

–occurred in April

–is not focussed in any one region of the country (so it isn’t just laid-off NY bankers), and

–is consistent with MasterCard data for high-end jewelry in general (so it isn’t a Tiffany-specific issue).

my thoughts

Some portion of the poor US performance may be attributed to a later date for Mother’s Day this year.  But everyone who has access to a calendar already knew that.  Certainly management had factored this into its earlier guidance.

The downward revision comes after TIF has seen Mother’s Day sales.  I think this means that–unlike the case with more mass-market jewelers like Signet–Mother’s Day didn’t counteract April weakness for TIF.  It confirmed the slowdown.

Elsa Peretti

TIF has an exclusive license to sell Elsa Peretti jewelry, which makes up about 10% of company revenues.

The company filed an 8-K with the SEC on May 23rd in which it says that Ms. Peretti, 72, wants to retire and to sell her brand name and designs.  Negotiations between her and TIF are now in progress.  The Peretti intellectual property should have more value to TIF than to anyone else, so in a completely rational world TIF would end up obtaining it.  Earnings would be affected by, say, +/- 7%-8%, depending on whether negotiations result in purchase or not.

the stock

A short while ago, I sold the last of the TIF I held while I was doing a portfolio housecleaning.  My position was small and–as I’ve written elsewhere–I think the stock market is moving toward playing recovery of the average American rather than the continuing prosperity of the affluent.

I don’t feel a huge urge to buy back the stock I sold.

On the other hand, the stock looks cheap to me at 15x earnings.

15x was the place where I became interested in the stock–which I had owned in my portfolios, off and on, for many years–during the bounceback from Great Recession lows.  There’s always the possibility that the company could be acquired by a luxury goods conglomerate or a sovereign wealth fund.  We also know TIF management, which should know the value of the firm better than anyone else, has been buying the stock at above $60 a share.

I guess I’d like to watch the price for a while-and possibly get a better understanding of the current dynamics of the US customer.

 

 

 

 

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