Polo's Next Hurdle

After a strong showing last quarter, Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL  ) revealed through its fiscal second quarter that it can gallop even faster. With the company now more in control of its brand, the question will be whether Polo's name resonates overseas.

Polo indicated that revenue in the quarter rose by 14% versus last year's fiscal second quarter to $1.17 billion. Admittedly, that number was inflated by the company's repurchase of rights to its Polo Jeans line from Jones Apparel (NYSE: JNY  ) . Even after eliminating the effects of that acquisition, though, revenue rose 9%.

In an even more welcome sign, the revenue increase was complemented by an increasing level of operating efficiency. Operating income jumped 21% year over year to $215 million on the back of an 120-basis-point boost in operating margin, which hit 18.4%. As for earnings per share, they came in at $1.28 compared to $0.97.

The shining star in the quarter was the company's retail business. Comparable-store sales growth at the company's various stores was eye-popping. Club Monaco's sales jumped 15.9%, while those at Ralph Lauren and the firm's factory stores rose 9.6% and 8.4% respectively, for consolidated growth of 9.3%. Meanwhile, Polo.com saw its sales rocket 35%. Meanwhile, operating margin in the retail area hit 15%, an impressive gain compared to last year's 10.2%.

In the wake of the release of second-quarter results, Polo was understandably brimming with confidence as the holiday sales season approaches. The firm bumped up its per-share earnings forecast for fiscal 2007 for the second quarter in a row, this time to between $3.50 and $3.60, up from $3.25 to $3.35.

Polo's repurchase of rights to various product lines has served it well, but that strategy appears to have more or less run its course. The company revealed in its earnings release that it will buy back its small leather goods business from Kellwood (NYSE: KWD  ) , but this probably won't have a dramatic impact.

Instead, Polo will go overseas to sustain its growth. The firm, which generates 70% of its sales in the U.S., is hoping to greatly expand its position in Asia and Europe, so that eventually two-thirds of sales come from overseas. This won't be a cakewalk, especially in Europe, with its well-established fashion industry.

Fiscal 2007 likely will make it clear that Polo can sprint, but as the field widens, Polo will have to show that it can run long-distance.

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Fool contributor Brian Gorman does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.


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