NEW YORK — Tiffany & Co., like others, is sticking to a long-term view on China.
Speaking on a conference call with analysts Thursday after the firm reported second-quarter results, Mark Aaron, its vice president of investor relations, said “it was difficult to predict any potential negative effect on sales in magnitude or duration from their recent stock market correction or currency devaluation. But most important, Tiffany remains focused on the long-term growth opportunity to serve Chinese consumers, both locally and globally, and we have, not in any way, altered our strategies.”
Aaron spoke after the luxury jeweler, hurt by an impairment charge from a loan to a diamond mining company and the impact of the strong dollar on tourist-related sales, reported a 16 percent decline in net earnings for the second quarter ended July 31.
Net earnings fell to $105 million, or 81 cents a diluted share, from $124 million, or 96 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Excluding the impairment charge, net earnings fell 10 percent to 86 cents a share, in line with management’s expectation. The company also cited higher marketing spending that impacted the bottom line.
Worldwide net sales were $991 million, and about even with $993 million in sales seen during the same period a year ago.
“We entered this year expecting translation and tourism-related pressures on sales and earnings from the exceptionally strong dollar, as well as challenging economic conditions in certain markets,” said Frederic Cumenal, chief executive officer. “While the adverse effects from the strong dollar have been even more significant than initially expected, we met our overall expectations in the first half of the year.
“We are pleased with responses to new designs, including our Tiffany T jewelry and CT60 watch collections, and are excited about upcoming additions being made to bolster sales across jewelry categories and price points. Tiffany also expanded its global presence during the quarter by opening six stores across the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe.”
Tiffany expects net earnings for the year to drop 2 to 5 percent below last year’s $4.20 per diluted share.
The company’s shares closed down 2.2 percent Thursday to $83.22 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Fashion jewelry performed the best last quarter with a continued shift toward gold jewelry. “Our statement, fine, and solitaire category was mixed, with substantial growth in high-end statement jewelry, but some softness in fine jewelry, and there was a bit of softness in the engagement jewelry category as well,” said Aaron.
He reviewed Tiffany’s performance in different regions around the world, beginning with the Americas. “In dollars, total sales declined 2 percent.” But on a constant exchange rate basis, both total and comparable-store sales were equal to last year, he said, noting the company is up against tough comparisons considering the 8 percent comp increase seen in last year’s second quarter, and the 11 percent comp increase seen in last year’s third quarter.
In the latest quarter, Aaron said, “higher domestic spending in the Americas, largely tied to strength in statement jewelry sales, was offset by lower foreign tourist spending in the U.S., especially in New York and Hawaii, which we attribute primarily to the effect from the strong U.S. dollar. But generally speaking, our sales results in the Americas in the second quarter and first half, apart from the strength at the higher statement jewelry price points, have reflected varying degrees of softness across much of the U.S. Conversely, comp-store sales in Canada and Latin America have been strong.”
Moving to the Asia-Pacific region, sales on a constant exchange rate basis rose 9 percent in total, led by fashion gold jewelry and statement jewelry, while comp-store sales increased 6 percent. “As we saw in the first quarter, performance in the region was once again mixed and led by double-digit sales growth in China and Australia as well as varying degrees of growth in most other markets. However, our stores in Hong Kong and Macau continued to experience weakness that began in the second half of last year, as we believe a number of Chinese tourists have shifted their traveling and shopping to other markets, at least for the moment.”
While sales rose in Korea, Aaron said the rate of growth was constrained by foreign tourists who avoided traveling to Korea during the MERS outbreak. “An improvement in sales growth may be gradual as foreign tourist bookings take some time to improve.”
In Japan, there was a 21 percent comp increase, though it was an easy comparison given the 13 percent decline seen a year ago, due to consumers buying earlier in the year in anticipation of a consumption tax increase.
“In addition, while our sales in Japan are largely made to Japanese customers, the year-over-year sales growth has been due to increased sales to foreign tourists, particularly Chinese visitors, which are perhaps tied to some degree to the attractiveness arising from the weaker yen,” Aaron said.
In Europe, “We were certainly pleased with the continuation of very strong local currency sales growth in the second quarter. On a constant exchange rate basis, both total and comparable-store sales rose 19 percent compared with an 8 percent comp decline in last year’s second quarter when we were seeing broad-based softness across Europe.”