By  on November 3, 2011

Shares of the The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. climbed 17.9 percent Thursday as the firm posted double-digit percentage gains for both profits and sales in the first quarter.

The stock rose $18.09 to close at $118.92 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, income attributable to Lauder rose 45.8 percent to $278.6 million, or $1.40 a diluted share, from $191.1 million, or 95 cents, last year. Results for both quarters include restructuring charges. Excluding restructuring charges in the current quarter, diluted earnings per share were $1.41, 23 cents above analysts’ consensus estimate of $1.18. Sales rose 18.4 percent to $2.48 billion from $2.09 billion.

Fabrizio Freda, president and chief executive officer, said in a conference call to Wall Street analysts that the company “achieved double-digit gains in every geographic region, including the United States, our home market. We also reported double-digit growth in skin care, makeup and hair care.”

The firm’s performance during the quarter was helped by a weaker U.S. dollar.

Freda noted that positive macroeconomic trends and internal improvements contributed to the firm’s performance, including strong demand from the luxury shopper. He explained that results were boosted by the robust global prestige beauty retail environment, with the affluent consumer purchasing across many product categories.

“Our success is also due to our diverse portfolio of 28 prestige brands and extensive geographic reach. At any given time, we can make greater investment in the most promising opportunities by brand, country and channel, and we react swiftly,” Freda boasted to analysts.

In a telephone interview, Freda said while skin care and makeup are key categories in Asia, the former is the fastest-growing beauty sector in the region. “In China, 65 percent to 75 percent of the market is skin care,” the ceo said.

In other geographic regions, Freda said makeup is the fastest-growing sector in Latin America, while fragrance is tops throughout Europe. Hair care is a huge market in the U.S., as well as in some emerging markets, such as Brazil and India, he noted.

While category preference is cultural, income levels determine the level of spending and channel distribution. “In some markets, the majority of the category is mass, such as Brazil. In Korea, cosmetics spending is in luxury and prestige,” Freda said.

Still, Asia remains a booming growth story for years to come.

“More women are entering the workforce, [having] outstanding careers. A lot of them control the family budget. When you ask women what is your preferred priority category [for spending], they said food first. Second and third is fashion and cosmetics. [We expect] a lot of growth in cosmetics in the next five years,” Freda said.

For the second quarter, the company forecast diluted EPS of $1.85 to $2, before restructuring charges. For fiscal year 2012, the company estimated diluted EPS in the range of $4.25 to $4.45, before restructuring charges.

Per share estimates don’t take into account the previously announced 2-for-1 common stock split. The additional shares are expected to be issued Jan. 20 to stockholders of record on Jan. 4.

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