Oxford Can Likely Wait

Take me away to Margaritaville. That might have been the refrain for clothier Oxford Industries' (NYSE: OXM  ) second-quarter 2004 earnings announcement.

Like rivals Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL  ) and Phillips Van Heusen (NYSE: PVH  ) , and unlike its more relaxed Tommy Bahama unit, Oxford is best known for classic dress shirts, slacks, and golf wear. But it was Tommy Bahama that delivered with style this quarter.

The purveyor of clothes, home furnishings, and restaurants celebrating the laidback island lifestyle contributed $76 million to Oxford's $254 million in sales, a 37% gain over last year. Overall, operating income jumped to $17 million from $7.1 million year over year, with Tommy Bahama contributing $7.6 million, or 44% of the total.

Perhaps most importantly, quarterly gross margins, at 30%, were a full 10% higher than last year. Oxford executives attributed the boost to Tommy Bahama's popular premium priced apparel.

But don't break out the blender just yet. Sales for core men's and women's apparel were both down 4%, and even Tommy Bahama had some trouble with the ladies, with sales of its branded womenswear slipping 15%. (Sales of branded menswear were up 15%.)

Management attributes the slippage largely to planned moves such as the phase-out of its Izod golf shirts, reduced shipments of men's clothing to Sears' (NYSE: S  ) Lands' End unit, and the termination of an agreement to sell women's clothes through Kmart (Nasdaq: KMRT  ) .

Executives also cited general weakness in women's apparel at many of the company's retail customer outlets, including J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) , Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) .

Granted, at 22 times trailing earnings, Oxford may prove cheap. After all, management raised its full-year earnings guidance to $2.18 to $2.26 per share despite the woes in its core business. That would be a roughly 60% rise over last year's $1.34. (Although that was before Tommy Bahama was integrated into operations.)

And yes, management seems very confident and even declared a 14% dividend increase on Monday. But, the Foolish investor treats even great news with some degree of skepticism, and management admits that moves to attract women to its core and Tommy Bahama lines won't have an impact until next fiscal year.

So maybe you should spare the salt and tequila for now -- there will be plenty of time to limbo after the winter chill fades.

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