NEW YORK — Liz Claiborne Inc., overcoming a double-digit decline in its namesake business amid competition from private labels and new lines, reported a 13.3 percent increase in net income for the second quarter and an improved forecast for the full year.
Boosted by improved performance from brands such as Juicy Couture and Ellen Tracy, net income went up to $50.6 million, or 46 cents a diluted share, which put the bottom line 3 cents ahead of what analysts had projected, according to Reuters Estimates. Profit during the same period last year was $44.6 million, or 41 cents.
“Our businesses continued to yield sales increases at retail due largely to a strong fashion cycle, increased full-price sell-through and our own conservative inventory planning, which has been enabled by the substantial investment in technology made in recent years,” said chairman and chief executive officer Paul Charron, in a statement.
Revenue for the 13 weeks ended July 3 rose 6.9 percent to $1.03 billion from $959.4 million. Investors pushed shares of the firm up $1.56, or 4.6 percent, to $35.70 on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.
Apparel sales of the Liz Claiborne brand fell 19.4 percent for the quarter. Claiborne has been working to turn around the brand with fewer markdowns and a more focused presentation under one master label. The changes are having some impact. Regular-priced sales made up 60 percent of the brand’s second-quarter sales at retail, up from 29 percent a year ago.
Claiborne attributed the sales drop to continued focus on inventory productivity by retailers, the migration of some chains to exclusive and differentiated offerings and competitive pressure from private label programs and new lines. H Hilfiger by Tommy Hilfiger Corp., Lauren by Ralph Lauren by Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. and Jones New York Signature by Jones Apparel Group are among the better lines competing with Liz in department stores.
Charron told Wall Street analysts on a conference call that the Liz brand is still in demand.
“There are retailers whose names you know that were begging for more Liz Claiborne product in the second quarter,” Charron said. “Because we were not taking any [inventory] chances, we didn’t have it to give.”
With the right product and the right value proposition, the brand could “endure very, very nicely,” he said.
“It’s awfully hard to kill one of these brands,” Charron said. “We’re not going to kill this one. We’re going to build it and we’re going to make it endure. I have every confidence in our people and I’m getting more confident.”
Claiborne’s other problem area was its moderately priced special markets business, which reported a 10.7 percent sales decline for the quarter.
Charron pointed to brands that contributed to the quarter’s upside, including Enyce, acquired in December, as well as Juicy Couture, Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman in accessories, and Sigrid Olsen in wholesale. Claiborne’s portfolio includes more then 30 brands and an appetite for fast-growing names persists.
Analyst Jennifer Black, president of Jennifer Black & Associates, said Claiborne’s second-quarter performance was “not just luck” and hinged on the firm’s skill in managing its stable.
“It’s just the beginning, because this is a company that has done a lot with their systems, they’ve diversified their portfolio and now they’re just starting to reap some more major rewards,” she said.
Overall, the second-quarter showing, which was helped by sales increases in the wholesale non-apparel and retail categories, were strong enough for the firm to increase its guidance for the full year.
Earnings per share are expected to be in the $2.79 to $2.83 range, up from previous projections of $2.70 to $2.77. Sales guidance was bumped up to 7 to 8 percent from 6 to 8 percent. These assumptions don’t take acquisitions into consideration.
For the first half, which was skewed somewhat by an extra week in the year-ago period, earnings rose 9.7 percent to $119.3 million, or $1.08 a diluted share, from $108.7 million, or $1, a year earlier. Sales advanced 4.6 percent to $2.13 billion from $2.04 billion.