NEW YORK — Tiffany & Co. showed some signs of sparkle in the third quarter with a 1.2 percent net sales gain — the company’s first top-line increase in eight quarters.
But chief executive officer Frederic Cumenal, while “encouraged” by the results, took a cautious approach and said it was still too early to call a turnaround.
And now the jeweler, a neighbor to Donald Trump on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, has to contend with slower traffic at its flagship given the president-elect’s new security arrangements. The third quarter closed on Oct. 31, just before the election ratcheted up security outside Trump Tower. The Tiffany flagship represents less than 10 percent of the company’s global revenues but is nonetheless a key asset for the brand. (Disruptions on Fifth Avenue right after the election caused Tiffany to hold off on an event to celebrate its collaboration with designer Eddie Borgo).
Mark Erceg, chief financial officer and executive vice president, told investors on a call that “recent election-related activity has caused some minor disruptions to pedestrian foot traffic around that store.
“Federal, state and local officials and Tiffany security personnel are all doing a fabulous job trying to minimize any disruptions,” Erceg said. “However, given the importance of the holiday selling season to our flagship store, we remain understandably cautious as to how this situation might impact sales over the coming weeks.”
The company said it could not provide any assurance that sales at its flagship would not be negatively impacted in the fourth quarter or beyond.
Investors were sanguine and looked beyond that concern by sending the company’s shares up 3.2 percent to $80.60 Tuesday.
Tiffany’s third-quarter net earnings rose 4.5 percent to $95.1 million, or 76 cents a diluted share, from $91 million, or 70 cents, a year earlier. Sales for the three months ended Oct. 31 increased 1.2 percent to $949.3 million from $938.2 million, with a 2 percent decline in comparable-store sales.
“We are encouraged by some early signs of improvement in sales trends, but we clearly need more positive data over time before this can be considered an inflection point,” said Cumenal. “In this recent quarter, we saw a smaller sales decline in the U.S. from earlier this year, while Asia-Pacific results reflected strong growth in Mainland China and a relatively smaller decline in Hong Kong. Our business in Japan performed well, which we attribute to spending by domestic consumers, but we believe the strengthening of the yen has negatively impacted purchases by Chinese consumers. We also saw relative strength in U.K. sales, but a continuation of softness on the European continent.”
For the quarter, sales in the Americas region fell 2 percent to $417 million, while the Asia-Pacific region gained 4 percent to $247 million, Japan increased 13 percent to $150 million with help from currency exchange and Europe fell 10 percent to $104 million.
Mark Aaron, Tiffany’s vice president of investor relations, said that the recent product trends continued to hold, with lower-priced goods outperforming the higher-end merchandise.
“The best-performing jewelry category was fashion jewelry, which posted a modest increase over last year,” Aaron said. “This was driven by an increase in gold jewelry sales tied to the strength of the T Collection, which we have continued to build upon with new designs. In addition, fashion silver jewelry stabilized with sales up slightly…. At the other extreme was continued softness across the statement, fine and solitaire jewelry category led by a decline in high-end statement sales, which in contrast had posted strong growth last year.”
Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow described the company’s update as “solid” but said the risk-reward equation for the stock was still unfavorable.
“All in, there are clearly positives out of this release,” Boruchow said, pointing to improving comps, the gains in the company’s fashion-product segment and the business in Japan.
But on the more bearish side, he pointed to sales in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, slower gross-margin growth and the “adverse effects from the election-related activity outside its New York City flagship — 20 percent of U.S. sales — that could linger through Q4 and beyond.”
Tiffany maintained its sales outlook for the year, calling for a low-single-digit decline.