Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers profit rises, orders jump

HORSHAM, Pa., Tue Dec 4, 2012 — Toll Brothers Inc., the largest luxury homebuilder in the United States, reported a higher quarterly profit and said new orders rose sharply, indicating that the U.S. housing market is well on its way to recovery.

The U.S. housing recovery has gained traction this year with prices for single-family homes having risen since February. Economists expect home construction to add to U.S. economic growth this year for the first time since 2005.

The Standard & Poor’s homebuilder index .GSPHOME has almost doubled in value this year.

Toll, which targets affluent customers who typically make at least $100,000 a year and have spotless credit records, said pent-up demand, rising home prices and low interest rates motivated buyers to return to the housing market in 2012.

The Federal Reserve, which has kept interest rates at rock-bottom levels since 2008 to support the housing market, launched an open-ended program to buy mortgage-backed securities in September.

Average selling prices for Toll rose to $582,000 in the fourth quarter from $565,000 a year earlier.

Toll — the only publicly traded luxury homebuilder — has gained market share as small and mid-sized private builders are constrained for capital.

Chrysler to showcase new glam minivan this week

DETROIT, Tue Nov 27, 2012 — Chrysler Group LLC, which popularized the minivan nearly 30 years ago, will showcase an upscale version of its Chrysler Town & Country family minivan at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week.

The 2013 Town & Country S includes a standard Blu-Ray DVD player as well as a black chrome grill and black interior. The minivan is the third Chrysler model to join the automaker’s “S” lineup after the 200 and 300 sedans.

Earlier this month, Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne told reporters that the automaker was “more or less” on track to launch a redesigned minivan by 2014. The company is the dominant player in the minivan segment, which it launched in 1983 under former CEO Lee Iacocca.

“We have spent an inordinate amount of time looking at that market,” Marchionne said, adding that the new minivan has been tested in consumer clinics for more than a year.

U.S. minivan sales peaked in 2000 at just more than 1.3 million and today’s sales are about half that, due in part to higher gasoline prices and the “soccer mom” stigma – that only families favor them. Over the last several years, Chrysler’s U.S. rivals, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., stopped production of their less-popular minivans.

GM sees Cadillac near U.S. luxury car market top soon

BIRMINGHAM, Mich., Tue Aug 28, 2012 – General Motors Co.’s top executive for Cadillac said the brand should be challenging foreign automakers for the top spot in U.S. luxury auto sales within a couple of years.

Don Butler, vice president of marketing for Cadillac, told reporters on Tuesday that sales for the brand should be double what they were in 2010 “within a couple years.”

Cadillac’s U.S. sales in 2010 were about 147,000 vehicles.

U.S. sales of the luxury brand rose 3.7 percent in 2011 to about 153,000, or 63 percent of the sales of luxury leader Bayerische Motoren Werke, or BMW.

Through July this year, Cadillac U.S. sales were down 12.6 percent from a year earlier to 76,229, according to Autodata Corp.

GM expects to boost sales in large part due to the appeal of its soon-to-be-introduced ATS model, which is smaller that most previous Cadillac offerings. GM sees the ATS as a challenger to BMW’s 3-Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class cars.

The ATS is Cadillac’s first attempt at making a small luxury car since its much-maligned Cimarron in the 1980s.

The ATS is one of 10 all-new or significantly refreshed products that Cadillac will introduce in the next three years, Butler told reporters in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, Michigan, on Tuesday.

In 2011, German carmakers led the lucrative U.S. luxury market after Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus brand had been champion for 11 straight years.

BMW took the top spot last year at about 248,000 in sales, followed closely by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz brand. Lexus was third.

Through July this year, Mercedes-Benz held the lead at 159,412 in U.S. sales, followed by BMW at 147,801 and Lexus at 126,367.

Luxury retailers resilient, forecasts bullish

NEW YORK, Tue Aug 14, 2012 – Affluent shoppers shrugged off anxiety about the global economy that cast a pall over the luxury sector in the spring, leading Estee Lauder, Michael Kors and Saks to issue bullish sales forecasts.

Consumers showed a willingness to pay for high-end handbags and designer gowns and anti-aging creams despite fears earlier this year that rocky stock markets and worries about the euro zone financial crisis and the global economy would dampen luxury spending.

“We have not seen any change in traffic in the full price channel,” Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. CEO John Idol said on a conference call on Tuesday.

Kors raised its full-year sales and profit forecast and said it expects same-store sales, a key retail measure, to rise 30 percent.

Kors and Saks Inc. also each offered fewer markdowns than expected.

At the same time, consumers continued to travel, snapping up Estee Lauder Cos. Inc.’s beauty goods at its airport stores, and flocking to department stores to buy Michael Kors eyeglasses and watches.

More broadly, the government reported U.S. retail sales increased in July for the first time in four months as demand rose broadly for everything from cars to electronics. That signaled consumers could drive faster growth in the third quarter.

Luxury demand fuels Michael Kors glitzy quarter; shares up 26%

NEW YORK – Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. reported robust quarterly results as its namesake luxury brand saw strong demand, and said it expects its accessories business to drive profits in the coming quarters.

Shares of the designer apparel and accessories company jumped 26 percent to $42.19 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange, their highest since the stock’s Dec. 15 debut.

The stock, which had risen 39 percent through Monday’s close, was trading up 22 percent at $41.25 in late morning trade. It was the biggest percentage gainer on the exchange.

Chief Executive John Idol attributed the quarterly performance to “the strong demand for the Michael Kors luxury brand, our exciting assortment of fashion merchandise and our exceptional jet-set in-store experience.”

Last week, larger rival Ralph Lauren Corp. also reported strong results for the holiday quarter, helped by double-digit sales growth at its own stores as well as increased sales to department stores.

The luxury goods industry has rebounded strongly after the sharp downturn of 2009, and watchmakers, luxury hotels, fashion and leather goods groups were widely expected to close 2011 on a strong note.

Michael Kors, which is known for its glitzy designs and primarily caters to women in the 30-40 age group, expects a fourth-quarter profit of 10 cents to 12 cents a share.

Wall Street analysts were looking for earnings of 11 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

“I think it’s a conservative guidance and sets them up for a beat in the fourth quarter,” Wedbush Securities analyst Corinna Freedman told Reuters.

Craftsman pulls luxury riding mower to Detroit auto show

DETROIT ― In a town where the cars are the stars, a tractor with a top speed of 8-miles-per-hour is ready for its closeup.

Equipped with cupholders, power steering and other fancy trappings, a new line of premium riding lawn mowers from Sears Holdings Corp’s. Craftsman division will debut next month at the Detroit auto show.

It’s rare for a non-automobile company to use the show as a launch pad for vehicles not sold at a car dealership, but Craftsman hopes the early January debut can turn car buffs on to a new generation of tractors that come with more advanced technology.

“A lot of people, when they think about mowing, they think about using the tractor as a chore,” Craftsman General Manager Kris Malkoski said in an interview on Thursday. “This is a premium tractor — more of a luxury.”

Priced between $3,000 and $6,500, Craftsman’s new CTX lineup carry price tags that are as much as double that of more economic mowers.

The move to launch a family of tractors at a car show rather than a conventional lawn and garden show could greatly increase visibility for the brand as it aims to move up market to better take on rivals like Deere & Co., Cub Cadet and Toro Co. Craftsman generates $2.5 billion in annual revenue from power products, including drills and garage door openers.

About 750,000 people attend the Detroit show, including thousands of journalists from dozens of countries. For years, automakers have been using the venue to unveil next year’s models or test receptivity to moonshot concept cars.

At times, those automakers have even showed off products that are not part of typical product line, such as when Ford Motor Co. unveiled electrified bicycles or Honda Motor Co. featured its ASIMO humanoid robot.