Tiffany gives upbeat 2012 forecast, aided by expansion

NEW YORK, Tue Mar 20, 2012 – Tiffany & Co. forecast higher sales for 2012, helped by further expansion in Asia and the Americas, and the high-end jeweler said that after a bumpy holiday season, business so far this year was on track with its projections.

Shares of the company were up 3.7 percent at $71.25 in premarket trading.

The New York-based chain said in January that its U.S. and European customers had been “restrained” in their shopping because of volatile stock markets and the eurozone crisis, leading to softer-than-expected sales for the important holiday season.

“That was the first warning that the luxury party was coming to an end, but now it seems it was just a speed bump,” said Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand.

U.S. stock markets have since rallied, and the debt crisis in Europe has eased. In a statement, Tiffany CEO Michael Kowalski said global sales growth so far this year was “tracking in line” with the company’s expectations.

Tiffany expects fiscal-year global net sales to be up 10 percent, led by gains in Asia and the Americas. That would be an improvement over the soft holiday sales, but still below last year’s 18 percent clip.

The company forecast a profit of between $3.95 and $4.05 per share, above Wall Street estimates of $3.93, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

UPS reports higher adjusted quarterly profit; forecasts higher earnings

ATLANTA – United Parcel Service reported higher quarterly profit after adjusting for a new pension accounting method, and forecast higher 2012 earnings.

The world’s largest package delivery company on Tuesday said fourth-quarter net income fell to $725 million, or 74 cents a share, from $1.025 billion, or $1.02 a share, a year ago.

After adjusting for a pension fund accounting change started in the fourth quarter, profit rose to $1.28 a share from $1.06.

UPS said the new accounting method resulted in after-tax charges in 2011 and 2010 of $527 million and $75 million, respectively.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 6 percent to $14.2 billion, roughly in line with the $14.4 billion expected by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Chevron profit falls as refineries, output suffer

SAN RAMON, Calif. – Chevron Corp. reported lower quarterly earnings on Friday, missing Wall Street forecasts, as rising spending on oil and gas projects and losses at its U.S. refinery business offset gains from higher crude oil prices.Oil and gas output at the No. 2 U.S. oil company also declined to 2.64 million barrels per day from 2.79 million BPD a year-ago, although benchmark oil prices rose about 25 percent during the quarter.

Chevron had said earlier this month its refinery margins were suffering and would be near breakeven for the quarter, but the U.S. losses pulled the entire segment into the red, and the company’s profits from oil and gas sales also appeared weaker than expected.

Its shares fell 2.5 percent in early trading.

“It was a miss on some non-controllable factors,” said Pavel Molchanov, analyst with Raymond James in Houston, citing the timings of sales and global pricing differences as the likely reason oil and gas profits fell about $500 million below his forecast.

Still, Chevron added 1.67 billion barrels of oil equivalent to its reserves last year, 171 percent of its 2011 output, a very strong performance, Molchanov said.

Chevron is embroiled in two major legal battles in South America, where a Brazilian prosecutor plans to file criminal charges against it and some of its local managers.

The company is facing an $11 billion lawsuit there related to an offshore oil spill in November, and it also remains locked in a legal war against plaintiffs in Ecuador, who won an $18 billion judgment against it in a court there.

Verizon CFO says comfortable with January 2011 forecast

IRVING, Texas – Verizon Communications Inc chief financial officer said on Tuesday he expects to close the purchase of spectrum from cable companies by mid-year.

Fran Shammo said he sees wireless margin improving in 2012. Shammo also said he is still comfortable with a forecast he made in January 2011 related to earnings growth for 2012.

He said in January 2011 that he expected 2012 earnings growth to be double his estimate for 2011 earnings growth of 5-8 percent.

Apple 2012: Smooth sailing, for the most part, with a strong wind

SAN FRANCISCO ― Apple Inc. coasts into 2012 with a strong wind in its sails, a clutch of envelope-pushing products in its hold, a record share price, and a steady hand at the tiller.

But its very success ― with the market-leading iPad and the voice-enabled iPhone 4S ― is luring cheaper rivals to the surface.

Google Inc’s. Android, launched a few years ago and taking aim squarely at the high-end iOS, continues to attract cellphone makers. Inc’s. Kindle Fire, half the cost of the iPad, is expected to have chipped away at the lower end of the tablet market.

Finally, though many on Wall Street, betting that an iTV and 4G iPhones and iPads will again pack its stores, continue to bank on a share-price climb to as high as $700, some begin to question the sustainability of Apple’s torrid growth pace.

Apple tacked on $43 billion to its top line in fiscal 2011, lifting it to $108.25 billion ― a 65 percent increase from the previous year.

Barry Jaruzelski, a consumer hardware business expert and partner at consulting firm Booz & Co., said to sustain that is effectively to conjure a Fortune 500 company out of thin air ― year after year.

“You become a victim of your own success,” he said. “Can you grow the existing products that much, or can you create a new category that creates $10 billion to $20 billion? That is the challenge.”

When Apple reports earnings Jan. 24, many investors for the first time might be watching for chinks in the armor, especially given Apple’s first miss since 2004 for the October quarter.

“The risk is the sustainability of what they have been doing,” said ISI Group analyst Brian Marshall. “They have put up a huge number and the question is can they continue to penetrate with their current existing product portfolio at these price levels?”

The fear is that the number of people who can afford an iPad or an iPhone is dwindling, he added.

Adobe results beat Wall Street forecast, shares rise 3 percent

SAN JOSE, Calif. ― Software maker Adobe Systems Inc., the maker of Photoshop and Acrobat software, released quarterly results that beat Wall Street projections, sending its shares up 3 percent.

The positive surprise came a month after the company announced plans to lay off 7 percent of its staff as it cut back on investment in some products and halted development of its Flash Player for mobile browsers, surrendering in a long-running war with Apple Inc over emerging Web standards.

The company said digital media and digital marketing, its core businesses, performed strongly in the quarter.

Adobe’s concession to Apple and its late founder Steve Jobs, who famously derided Flash as an inefficient power-hog, came as the design software specialist warned that revenue growth will slow next year.

That is because the company is scaling back development of some products and shifting towards leasing other types of software via the cloud on a subscription basis, instead of selling licenses up front.

Adobe expects revenue in the current fiscal first quarter to dip due to seasonality but executives told analysts on a conference call that revenues in the second quarter would get a bounce thanks to the launch of new products.

“We would also expect Q3 and Q4 to follow normal historical patterns with a sequential decline in Q3 due to normal summer seasonality followed by a strong Q4,” said Chief Financial Officer Mark Garrett.

The world’s biggest maker of design software posted a profit, excluding items, of 67 cents per share for the fourth quarter, which ended Dec. 2. That beat the average forecast of 60 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Quarterly revenue rose 14 percent from a year earlier to $1.15 billion.

Adobe said it was targeting revenue of $1.025 billion to $1.075 billion for the current quarter.

Analysts on average expected revenue of $1.09 billion for the fiscal fourth quarter and $1.05 billion for the current quarter, which ends in February.

It said non-GAAP earnings per share in the current quarter would be 54 cents to 59 cents.

Shares of Adobe closed at $26.46 on Nasdaq and rose 3 percent to $27.26 in extended trading.

Target profit tops expectations; shares climb 2.6 percent

MINNEAPOLIS ― Target Corp. posted a much bigger-than-expected jump in quarterly profit on Wednesday as shoppers responded to its increased food selection and 5 percent discount to cardholders.

The U.S. retailer earned $555 million, or 82 cents per share, in the third quarter ended on Oct. 29, up from $535 million, or 74 cents per share, a year earlier.

Target had forecast earnings of 70 cents to 75 cents per share, and analysts on average were expecting 74 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Shares of Target rose 2.6 percent to $54.55 in premarket trading.

The Minneapolis-based company has more than 1,760 U.S. stores and plans to open some in Canada starting in 2013.

Excluding costs related to the plan to open stores in Canada, Target said it earned 87 cents per share.

Target is offering its card holders — who already get a 5 percent discount on purchases — free shipping on any online purchases, hoping to woo shoppers away from other sites such as Inc this holiday season.

It also promoted its Black Friday sale early by having shoppers sign up to get details about the deals, much as larger rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. did. Target is opening its stores at midnight after Thanksgiving, earlier than before.

The company forecast fourth-quarter earnings of $1.43 to $1.53 per share, excluding certain items.

Target previously said third-quarter sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, rose 4.3 percent and that it expected such sales to rise in a low-to-mid single-digit percentage range in November. It also already reported that third-quarter sales rose 5.4 percent to $16.05 billion.

Target’s move to add groceries to more stores has boosted sales, but also puts a little pressure on profits, as food carries lower margins than merchandise like apparel.

Earlier this month Target said Chief Financial Officer Doug Scovanner would retire in March, its third high-profile departure in less than a month.

WellPoint raises forecast as third quarter profit exceeds expectations

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. ― WellPoint Inc. posted a higher-than-expected third-quarter profit on Wednesday on strong membership gains, and the health insurer raised its full-year profit forecast.

WellPoint also projected that profit would rise next year from its newly increased 2011 forecast.

Quarterly net income fell to $683.2 million from $739.1 million a year earlier. Earnings per share rose to $1.90 from $1.84 a year before, when the company had more outstanding shares.

Excluding investment gains, earnings of $1.77 per share were 9 cents ahead of analysts’ average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose about 6 percent to $15.16 billion.

Medical enrollment stood at about 34.4 million, up 2.6 percent from a year earlier. The company reported gains in its plans serving large and small employers, while increases in its Medicare plans were helped by its acquisition of CareMore Health Group.

WellPoint spent 85.1 percent of its premium revenue on medical claims, more than 83.8 percent a year before. The ratio, which is closely watched as an indicator of profitability, was better than the 86 percent expected by Wells Fargo analyst Peter Costa.

Health insurers have seen their claim costs stay low during the weak economy as Americans avoid doctor visits and procedures.

WellPoint projected 2011 earnings in a range of $7.18 to $7.28 per share. Excluding net investment gains, the forecast is $6.90 to $7.00 per share, up from its prior range of $6.75 to $6.95.

Analysts have been looking for $7.07.

Coca-Cola third quarter profit beats Wall Street forecast by a penny

ATLANTA ― Coca-Cola Co. reported a quarterly profit on Tuesday that slightly beat Wall Street estimates, as sales increased worldwide.

The world’s largest soft-drink maker, whose brands range from Sprite to Minute Maid and Powerade, said net income was $2.22 billion, or 95 cents per share in the third quarter, up from $2.06 billion, or 88 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, earnings were $1.03 per share. On that basis, analysts on average were expecting $1.02 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue jumped 45 percent to $12.25 billion, boosted by last year’s acquisition of its North American bottling operations, price increases and a 5 percentage-point currency benefit. Analysts expected revenue of $12.01 billion.

Worldwide volume rose 5 percent. Volume in North America also rose 5 percent, helped by the addition of new cross-licensed brands such as Dr Pepper. Excluding those brands, North American volume rose 1 percent.

Volume increased 7 percent in Latin America, 2 percent in Europe, 7 percent in the Eurasia and Africa segment and 6 percent in the Pacific region.

Coca-Cola shares fell 20 cents to $66.80 in premarket trading.

Shale gas helps Halliburton profit beat Wall Street forecasts

Halliburton Co., the world’s second-largest oilfield services company, posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit as more drillers tapped its expertise in extracting gas from U.S. shale rock.

Despite low natural gas prices, demand for shale energy continues to grow across the United States amid calls for energy independence and a push for cheap supply from the chemical and transportation sectors.

Halliburton shares fell 0.7 percent in premarket trading. Dahlman Rose & Co analyst James Crandell said the strong earnings likely will have “neutral implications” for the shares Monday.

Third-quarter net profit climbed to $683 million, or 74 cents per share, from $544 million, or 60 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, Halliburton earned 94 cents per share, topping analysts’ average estimate of 92 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 40 percent to $6.55 billion. Analysts had expected $6.39 billion.

Producers are plowing billions of dollars into developing U.S. oil shale fields, tightening the market for equipment and allowing the services companies to maintain higher prices.

Many analysts expect the North American shale boom to last at least through 2012, even with the weak American economy.

“Despite short-term macroeconomic concerns, I continue to believe in the long-term prospects for our business,” Halliburton Chief Executive Dave Lesar said in a statement.

The company said delays in operations in Iraq and an operational shutdown in Libya during the third quarter hurt results.

Halliburton said profit from operations outside the United States “recovered at the rate we expected” during the quarter.

Three rigs did start operating in Iraq toward the end of the quarter, however. And in Libya, where rebels have ousted ruler Muammar Gaddafi, the company is assessing whether to reopen.

Halliburton has put behind it a major liability attached to former unit KBR Inc (KBR.N), which just settled a five-year dispute over failed bolts on subsea oilfield flow lines off Brazil for $200 million.

Shares of Houston-based Halliburton fell 0.7 percent to $27.48 in premarket trading. The stock has dropped 8.3 percent this year.