Tiffany recent torrid sales growth shows signs of slowing

NEW YORK ― Tiffany & Co. gave a holiday quarter profit outlook that missed Wall Street expectations, and signs that the recent torrid pace of its sales gains is slowing sent shares down 7 percent.

The upscale jeweler reported higher-than-expected third-quarter earnings, helped by sales of more expensive jewelry, and said that its sales gains would continue in the holiday season.

But Tiffany left unchanged its forecast for a high-teens percentage increase in sales for the full year, which ends in late January.

Tiffany Chief Executive Michael Kowalski said in a statement there had been “recent sales weaknesses in Europe and in the eastern part of the U.S.”

Globally, sales were up 17 percent in the third quarter, excluding the impact of currency translation. But that is below the 19 percent pace in the first three quarters combined. The slowdown was limited to the Americas and Europe, which together make up nearly 60 percent of Tiffany’s business.

Another concern is that gross margin, a measure of the profitability of jewelry sold, slipped and could dip further, Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand said.

“The worry is that there is a turn in the margin and slowing down of the pace of sales growth,” Swinand said.

Tiffany’s gross margin edged down 0.6 point to 57.9 percent in the third quarter, largely because it sold more pricy jewelry, which the company said has lower margins.

Tiffany said it expects fourth quarter earnings per share of $1.48 to $1.58, below the $1.63 Wall Street analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The upscale jeweler expects sales to rise at a low-teens percentage rate for the holiday quarter.

Tiffany’s sales at stores open at least a year, excluding the effect of currency translations, rose 16 percent in the third quarter.

Despite volatile stock markets, sales grew in every region. The fastest growth came from Asia where they rose 40 percent in the quarter, taking into account the effect of currency. China, the fastest growing luxury market, was a standout.

At Tiffany’s famed Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan, sales rose 24 percent, helped by the record number of tourists visiting New York.

The results echo those of upscale department stores Saks Inc., Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, which all recently reported that high end shoppers are still spending.In Europe, where leaders are trying to manage fears about the future of the euro, sales rose 15 percent in the third quarter.Tiffany reported net income of $89.7 million, or 70 cents per share, for the quarter, up from $55.1 million, or 43 cents per share, a year earlier and above the 61 cents a share that analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.