The severity of the global economic pullback is subjecting the old adage that beauty products are recession-resistant, if not recession-proof, to its toughest challenge yet.

Sales fell across the board, according to quarterly updates from Revlon Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co., Sally Beauty Holdings Inc., International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Nu Skin Enterprises Inc. and Bare Escentuals Inc. and annual results from Shiseido in Japan.


 Of those companies, only Revlon and Sally Beauty were able to pull better profits out of lower sales and were rewarded handsomely for the feat by investors on Thursday, as was Shiseido. In at least some cases, consumers are shifting to lower-priced stores for their beauty fix. Looking ahead, currency fluctuations are expected to continue to weigh on bottom and tops lines, and sales will likely remain weak.

A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble’s chairman and chief executive officer, told Wall Street on a conference call that the market had, in effect, come to him.

“One of the things that’s going on right now that’s good for us is [a] big part of the beauty trade-down is out of department stores and out of specialty stores into the array of self-select kinds of stores” where customers buy without the help of sales attendants, Lafley said.

But the stiffest competition might ultimately come from shoppers’ own cabinets.

“Consumers stock up on a number of these products,” said Erin Smith, an equity analyst covering consumer staples for Argus Research Co. “In a recession they can look through their cabinets and see they have five different skin creams.”

On Thursday shares of Revlon advanced 33.9 percent to $4.74 and Bare Escentuals’ moved up 39.5 percent to $9.26. Sally Beauty’s stock increased 5 percent to $7.40, but on the downswing were P&G, off 1.9 percent to $49.44; IFF, 4.2 percent to $31.20, and Nu Skin, 6.8 percent to $12.82. In Tokyo, shares of Shiseido closed at 1,731 yen, or $17.83 at current exchange, up 12.6 percent

Procter & Gamble’s beauty earnings dropped 14 percent to $504 million for its third quarter, which includes January, February and March, as sales fell 9 percent to $4.3 billion.

The firm’s shipments of prestige fragrances, which include Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci, decreased more than 20 percent as markets contracted and retailers cut inventories. Shipments of beauty goods were hurt by destocking in Central Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa after the company increased prices to offset currency fluctuations.

“We do expect some continued pressure from retailer and distributor destocking,” said Teri List, senior vice president and treasurer, who noted there has been strength in the Olay business.

The consumer products giant, which has 138,000 employees across 80 countries and a broad range of products, registered an overall 3.6 percent drop in profits on an 8 percent decline in sales.

Revlon went back to the black in the first quarter ended March 31, posting a profit of $12.7 million, or 25 cents a diluted share, compared with a loss of $2.5 million, or 5 cents a share, a year earlier, when restructuring charges crimped results. Sales declined 2.7 percent to $303.3 million, but would have risen 3.8 percent without currency fluctuations. Revlon acknowledged that earlier shipments of new products to retailers helped boost first-quarter sales.

David Kennedy — who effective today is vice chairman, handing over the president and ceo reins to Alan Ennis — said Revlon’s color cosmetics continued to gain traction globally, but added, “If the current currency rates do continue, they’ll obviously have an adverse impact.”

After several years of few launches, Revlon has begun to churn out more robust new product plans.

When asked on a conference call with analysts how many new products Revlon’s launch cycle can accommodate, Kennedy said, “It’s not a question of the number of [stockkeeping units] or the number of offerings. We’re planning out three years for our portfolio strategy.…Our end objective is to have profitable sales growth.”

At Sally Beauty Holdings, Gary Winterhalter, president and ceo, told analysts, “We had a good quarter and performed well in a difficult environment [and] continue to believe our business is recession resistant.”

Going into the next six months he said the company was “cautiously optimistic.”

Profits for the second fiscal quarter ended March 31 jumped 98.4 percent to $24.6 million on significantly lower interest costs. Sales slid 0.3 percent $641.5 million, with foreign currency exchange pulling the top line down $26.2 million.

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