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If you ask folks who simply focus on short-term stock price appreciation, the market really rocked in the first quarter. But recent tidings imply that many investors have gotten ahead of themselves, and recent disappointing news about jobless claims and other ecoomic data have splashed some cold water on the pricy-stock party. Furthermore, the European situation is by no means fixed -- just shoved to the back burner for now.
Many stocks have been buoyed by general euphoria more than by true growth expectations. Luxury stocks may be among the ones that can't hold up to the reality of economic conditions and subsequent consumer spending power.
Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) has been gaining some sparkle; although the high-end diamond purveyor's fourth-quarter profit fell, the company appealed to some investors' "glass-half-full" approach when it presented a shiny outlook for 2012.
Still, economic uncertainty both at home and abroad shouldn't be underestimated for a company that deals in high-end diamonds and precious metals. The fact fact that it owes most of its recent success to more affluent customers still reflects a frugal, picky middle class here in the States. Higher prices for commodities like silver don't do much to help bring a more diversified customer base into Tiffany stores, either.
Tiffany shares have been on a run for the past several months, but buyer beware. Although its forward price-to-earnings ratio of 20 sounds quite reasonable compared with more challenged rivals such as Blue Nile (Nasdaq: NILE ) -- which trades at a whopping 39 times forward earnings -- Tiffany doesn't look like a bargain stock given economic uncertainty and the recently overdone euphoria floating many stocks in the marketplace. (Needless to say, Blue Nile's an even riskier stock idea now.)
Coach (NYSE: COH ) has long been one of my favorite luxury stocks; it's a well-run company boasting a venerated brand. In fact, CEO Lew Frankfort was recently added to Barron's list of top 30 CEOs, along with chief executives renowned for high-quality leadership such as Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B ) Warren Buffett and Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX ) Howard Schultz.
However, Coach shares are currently flirting with their 52-week high; the stock has been on an incredible run since it cratered last fall. Although Coach shareholders should hold on to their shares of this excellent company, at this juncture, I'd wait for a cheaper price to present itself before buying in. Last year's Coach trough was absolutely a buying opportunity; value-minded investors should keep an eye out for another temporary stumble.
For both Tiffany and Coach, economic uncertainty both at home and abroad is significant. The market's recognition of more negativity than its participants were previously willing to acknowledge could certainly put the brakes on the recent rally. Further, consumer sentiment could quickly sour when economic reality catches up, slowing down both luxury names.
Investors should take advantage of the luxury of time right now and wait for cheaper prices on both Tiffany and Coach. Given the fragility of the recent rally mode, cheaper prices should present themselves.
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