TIF’s 4Q11: supply your own adjective

the results

Just before the open on Tuesday March 18th, TIF reported earnings results for fiscal 4Q11 (TIF’s accounting year ends in January of the following calendar year). Sales came in at $1.19 billion, up 8% year on year. Profits were $178 million, or $1.39 per share, a drop of 2% from 2010.

For the full year, sales were $3.64 billion, a yoy advance of 18%. Eps were $3.60, or + 23% yoy.

In a lackluster market, the stock was up more than 6% on the news.

details

Sales for 4Q in the Americas were up 5% yoy; in Asia-Pacific they were up 19%, up 13% in Japan and 3% in Europe.

In early January, TIF had warned that its business had slowed significantly from the torrid pace of the first three quarters of 2011 (see my post). Overall, the results TIF actually reported were slightly better than it signaled at that time. Thanks to a small rebound in January, sales in the Americas were 1 percentage point higher than TIF was figuring, and Europe—of all places—was 2% better.  No change in trend elsewhere.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but 4Q11 eps would probably have been at least flat with 4Q10 and maybe up a penny, were it not for a year-end upward adjustment of the company’s tax rate. Without going into all the details,  a greater proportion of TIF’s sales than anticipated came from high-tax areas like the US and EU. Put another way, the tax rate adjustment is a consequence of the fact that sales in Asia-Pacific fell off more in 4Q11 than the rest of the world did.

TIF also gave its initial guidance for fiscal 2012—sales growth of 10%, earnings per share growth of 10%-13%–resulting in eps of about $4 for the year. The company thinks the bulk of the advance will come in 4Q12.

During the first half of 1Q12, results are tracking in line with TIF’s expectations.

During the quarter TIF spent $35 million buying back stock, at an average price of $67.26. That’s about 30% less than TIF averaged over the first nine months of the year. To me, it looks like all the buying came before the company’s profit warning. If so, I certainly can’t be too critical since I had no enthusiasm for buying, either.

Arguably, continuing to buy below $60 at the same time the company knew its sales shortfall would mean a lot of money tied up in unsold inventory would be too risky. But it certainly implies to me that TIF is not shrugging off the current sales slowdown as something that will soon be behind it.

my thoughts

TIF’s 4Q11 has played out pretty much as I thought it would in January. The only new news from the company announcement is that the situation appears to be stabilizing at the lower rate of sales growth TIF experienced in 4Q11. All in all, I don’t get the market reaction of aggressively bidding up the stock on this information.

Contrary to what I would have expected, TIF shares have also recovered all they had lost vs.the S&P after their January swoon.  And that’s before this week’s earnings report.

The stock now trades at around 18x this year’s earnings. That’s not wildly expensive for a company like TIF. But it’s not cheap, either, especially with perhaps three quarters of lackluster earnings comparisons in prospect.

There’s certainly a risk that my incorrectly lukewarm attitude to the stock at $59 will color my opinion now. Nonetheless, I’m happier on the sidelines now than buying. And I’ve got to at least consider the idea of selling some of what I own into any strength.

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.

 


10th annual Bain Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study, October 2011 (I)

the study

Bain released its tenth annual Luxury Goods Worldwide Study on October 17th.  It’s based on data from 230+ luxury goods companies, compiled by Bain in cooperation with Altagamma, the Italian luxury goods trade association.  The analysis is directed by Claudia D’Arpizio, the well-known consultant who heads Bain’s fashion and luxury goods practice. (Thanks to Bain & Company for giving me a copy of the study.  You can find a summary on the Bain website.)

the results

I’m going to write about the Bain study in two posts.  Today’s will cover prospects for the full year, and for the holiday selling season, in 2011.  Tomorrow’s will deal with secular trends in the luxury goods industry.

another year of exceptional growth

Despite a litany of macroeconomic woes–the nuclear disaster in Japan, Libya, Greece, slowdown in emerging markets, political craziness in the US and EU–Bain is predicting that luxury goods sales in 2011 will reach €191 billion this year.  That’s up 10% from the all-time high of €173 billion posted in 2010.

Bain is projecting 6%-7% annual sales growth for the luxury goods market from 2012-2014.  I take these figures as general indicators rather than point estimates.  I think the ideas they are intended to communicate are that growth in this industry will continue to be healthy but that the torrid pace of the past two years is likely to slow somewhat.

the most important forces

Three factors are key to this assessment:

–affluent clients in the developed world continue to spend heavily on luxury goods.  This phenomenon is more than a bounce back to pre-financial crisis levels.  It’s a genuine upsurge in demand, despite a slowdown in overall GDP expansion in these markets.

–Chinese customers continue their buying binge, both at home and as tourists abroad.

–the negative effects in Japan of the earthquake/tsunamis have been milder than expected.  In fact, luxury goods’ consumption may be rising again after several years of decline.

the holiday season

Bain thinks the holiday selling season will be a good one.  Its base assumption is that sales will be up 7% vs. 2010.  However, it figures the chances of the season being considerably better than that, at +10%, are twice as high as that sales will be disappointing.  The more positive outcome would bring full-year sales to an 11% gain.

currency effects

Bain keeps score in euros.  This only makes some sense since it’s in partnership with an Italian trade association for this study and because many luxury goods companies are based in either France or Germany.  But political/economic instability in the EU has caused its currency to fluctuate more than usual in the past couple of years–which affects the results of the Bain study.

Constant currency numbers, which give a better idea of underlying unit volume growth worldwide.  They present an even rosier picture of the luxury goods industry today.  The 2010 results of up 13% break out into 8% constant exchange rate growth + a 5% boost from a weak euro.  Bain projects that this year’s underlying growth will be 13%, with a strong euro lowering the figures by 6%.  In other words, global demand for luxury goods is currently accelerating, not decelerating, as the euro-denominated results suggest.

China

Chinese customers now make up over 20% of global luxury goods sales.  Bain estimates that business in Greater China (the mainland + Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) will hit €23.5 billion in 2011, a year on year gain of 29%.  In addition, Chinese tourists will likely buy another €12-15 billion worth of luxury goods on trips abroad.  While the impact of Chinese tourists is noticeable in Hawaii and New York, in cities like Milan and Paris they are probably the main factor driving growth in sales.

Note:  In addition to the fact that travelers like to buy souvenirs, luxury goods prices are generally higher in China than everywhere else except possibly Japan.  You’re also much more confident the items you buy outside China aren’t counterfeit.  And there are outlet stores, as well.   On anti-terrorist grounds, both the US and the UK have made it very difficult for Chinese to get travel visas, a fact that merchants and hoteliers there complain about bitterly.  One result of this policy is to funnel Chinese tourists into continental Europe.

Japan

For many years, Japan has been nirvana for luxury goods companies.  Japanese have been persistent buyers of luxury goods, whether the general economy has been good or bad.  Domestic prices are very high.  And the market there is very deep.  It comprises perhaps the top half of the population, as opposed to the top quarter in the US or EU.

In 2007, the music–and Japanese luxury goods sales growth–finally stopped.  No one quite knows why.

For 2011, however, despite a 12% year on year drop in luxury goods purchasing during 1Q due to the earthquake/tsunamis, Bain is projecting a small (+2%) year on year gain for Japan.  The consulting company thinks results will come in at €18.5 billion, meaning Japan retains its place as the second-largest luxury good market in the world.

world rankings

The top five luxury goods markets in the world at year-end 2010 are:

US        €48.1 billion         28% of the world market  (NY at €15 billion represents 9% of the world)

Japan     €18.1 billion     10.6%

Italy       €17.5 billion     10.2%

France     €13.3 billion     7.8%  (Paris = €8.5 billion    5%)

China     €9.6 billion     5.6%

Strong growth propelled China up from 7th a year earlier, displacing the UK and Germany in the rankings.

That’s it for today.  Market trends tomorrow.

bottom-up investing in a world turning top-down

the old days

Europe…

I started looking seriously at non-North American stock markets in 1984, after six years researching a number of sectors in the US market.  At that time, UK and continental European investors used almost exclusively a top-down style.  That is, they used macroeconomic analysis to select the countries they were interested in.  They then either bought banks, on the idea that the loan portfolios mirrored the economic structure of the countries; or they ventured into other sectors based on their economists’ view on what would be the areas of greatest economic strength.

…vs. the US

This process stood in stark contrast to what American investors did–which was to select individual stocks, mostly based on firm-specific factors, but with a little industry or sector guesswork also thrown in.  In fact, Peter Lynch of Fidelity Magellan, the most successful investor of that generation, wrote in his first book that he really didn’t pay much attention to macroeconomics.  He just picked good companies.

continental Europe?

When I began to manage a global portfolio at a small firm in 1986, I was faced with the problem of continental Europe.  I had limited resources.  There were lots of countries, all with different customs, different politics and different attitudes toward investing.  But together they only made up 10% or so of my benchmark index.   I’d spend all my time looking at just them if I adopted the European approach.  So I decided to do what Americans do, just pick stocks, on a pan-European basis and hope I didn’t get hurt too badly.

Ten years of European integration–and stellar portfolio performance along the way–later, my “accidental” approach had become the new norm.  It has stayed that way since.

…or so I thought.

macro-driven analysis

I’ve been surprised over the past couple of weeks to be seeing reports that harken back to an earlier day when analysts drew conclusions about individual stocks from general economic analysis, and nothing much else.

Two stick out.

1.  According to press reports, Goldman cut its price target on TIF a few days ago by 13%, from $77 to $67.  2013 eps were clipped by 4%, from $4.60 to $4.40.  Why?  Slowdown in the overall US economy.  That’s it.  Macroeconomic weakness will translate into lower jewelry purchases.

We’ll get some new evidence when TIF reports a little later this morning.   But judging from last night’s results from more down-market jewelry company SIG (which you’d expect to be hurt more severely than TIF if consumers were pulling in their horns),  however, there’s no sign of slowdown yet.  SIG said same store sales in the US were up 12% year on year in each month of the July quarter, and up 12% as well for the first three weeks of August.

I’m not saying GS is particularly insightful about TIF, nor that what I’ve read (I haven’t seen the actual report) is internally consistent.  What strikes me is the methodology–that there’s no apparent attempt to find a metric more subtle than that GDP growth is slowing.

2.  Deutsche Bank recently declared that the growth days for the casino gambling market in Macau are over.  Why?  Imports of German luxury cars into China, which had been growing at close to a 50% annual clip in the first half of 2011, slowed to +22% in July.  Deutsche believes this means wealthy Chinese citizens are seeing their income squeezed by global slowdown and are cutting back on spending (again, I haven’t seen the actual report, but it has been widely covered by the Asian press).

But July was a blowout month for the Macau gaming market.

According to Deutsche, that doesn’t matter.  We’re already seeing now is a reduction in high-roller participation in the market, but it’s being disguised for now by a boost in visits by less affluent Chinese gamblers.  By yearend, Deutsche thinks the Macau market will only be growing by 20%.  Growth of a mere 10% is possible for next year.  Evidence for any of this??

That’s an awful lot of inference from a one-month dropoff in sales of imported automobiles.   Who knows?  …maybe this year’s models are ugly.  …or customers have run out of garage space and will pick up the spending pace when their new garage additions are finished.

This report really struck a nerve in Hong Kong, however.  The entire gambling sector fell, with some stocks off as much as 10%.  It hasn’t recovered to date.

premises and conclusions

It’s always possible that your conclusions end up being correct even though your reasons are crazy–or non-existent. I happen to think that both reports will end up being too negative.  But that’s not my point.

In my experience, good analysts visit stores, interview/survey customers, talk with suppliers and with competitors to build a bottom-up model of a company or an industry.  They have detailed factual knowledge of a set of companies that they then integrate into an industry view.  Then maybe they knock on the door of their firm’s economist to give empirical feedback about the house macroeconomic view.

In these cases, the flow seems to have been reversed.  An economist who deals at the highest level of abstraction seems to be dictating what analysts are “supposed” to be seeing.  There’s a risk that the house macroeconomic view acts as a set of blinders that certainly make the analyst’s job easier, but makes the results less valuable at the same time.  I hope this isn’t the start of a trend.

We’ll know more about TIF later on today.  And Macau gambling numbers for August will be out in a week or so.

 

 

LVMH’s acquisition of Bulgari

The LVMH bid

About a week ago, LVMH announced a successful bid for control of the publicly traded Italian jewelry manufacturer and retailer, Bulgari.  Bulgari’s offerings, many of which reflect the founding family’s Greek heritage, mostly range in price from $2,000-$10,000.

The terms:

LVMH will issue shares of its stock in exchange for the 51% of Bulgari controlled by the Bulgari family.  It is offering €12.25 in cash for the 49% held by third parties.

what’s in this for Bulgari?

1.  A significant part of Bulgari’s business is high-end watches, the most extremely cyclical category in the fine jewelry business.  Watch sales are especially difficult to monitor, since wholesalers play such a large role in their distribution.  As a result, economic downturns have tended to be white-knuckle events for the company–and its stock.  Being part of a larger, more stable conglomerate will mean less wear and tear on management’s stomach linings.

2.  The Bulgari family gets two seats on the LVMH board, so it retains a management presence in luxury goods.

3.  Younger-generation family members who don’t want to be involved in the business and would rather have their inheritance right now and in cash will be able to sell without endangering the Bulgari family’s control position.

4.  Francesco Trapani, a Bulgari nephew and the current Bulgari CEO, will become head of the LVMH watches and jewelry business, an organization twice the size of Bulgari.

…and for LVMH?

1.  The larger fine jewelry business means LVMH will be in a stronger competitive position versus other luxury goods conglomerates like Richemont.

2.  The willingness of an entrepreneurial luxury goods family like Bulgari to join the LVMH fold contrasts sharply with the frosty reception of the Hermès management when it learned LVMH had acquired a large ownership position.  The Bulgaris, fellow entrepreneurs, may be able to smooth ruffled feathers in a way that Bernard Arnault has been unable to.

3.  The Bulgaris will likely also be instrumental in convincing other European luxury goods families to follow their lead.

What’s next?

Wall Street rumors have TIF (I own it) as the next target of LVMH and Mr. Trapani.

I don’t agree.  The main attraction of TIF would be the fit between its business and Bulgari’s.  TIF is a dominant factor in “statement” jewelry costing $25,000-$50,000 or more.  The company is unique in its ability to–at the same time–be a leader in the market for jewelry and other gifts that retail for $500 and below, without diluting its brand image (i.e., alienating the very big spenders).   I don’t know why, but TIF has never been very good in the middle; Bulgari would fill the doughnut hole in Tiffany’s offerings.  That’s the positive side.

On the other hand,  Europeans don’t regard TIF as a legitimate luxury brand.  That’s partly because it’s an American company, partly because of its lower-end business.

What is Mr. Arnault’s game plan?  I think it’s to collect up as many small, inefficiently run European family luxury goods businesses as he can over the next few years.  He’ll doubtless be able to use the brand names he acquirers more effectively than their current owners.  And he’ll enjoy manufacturing, distribution and marketing synergies.

His main selling points will be two:  the positive experience of the Bulgari family, and the ego appeal of joining a very exclusive club.  Were he do anything so déclassé as acquiring an American “quasi-luxury” company like TIF, a lot of the positive effect of the Bulgari merger on potential European luxury acquisition candidates would be lost.  Yes, TIF is doing a land office business in Europe currently.  But that’s because the affluent there are trading down.

TIF may eventually be on the Arnault to-do list, but I think he’s gunning for smaller, local game first.