Ulta Earnings Preview: Will the Results Be Pretty?

Ulta Salon, Cosmetics, & Fragrance (NASDAQ: ULTA  ) has had a great year. It has risen more than 23%, including a 61.89% run since I last spoke about it on March 25. The company is scheduled to report third-quarter results on Dec. 5, which could help it rise even higher. Let's take a look at recent results and the expectations for the quarter to determine whether we should buy now or wait to see what the company has to say.

The beauty supply giant
Ulta is the largest beauty retailer in the United States, providing a one-stop shop for all the beauty and salon products and services a consumer could desire. The company is dedicated to providing the highest-quality products at affordable prices, which is the recipe for success in any industry. Ulta currently operates 609 stores in 46 states and it is expanding quickly.


Last time out
On Sep. 12, Ulta reported second-quarter results that exceeded analyst expectations on both the top and bottom lines. Here's an overview of the report:

Metric Reported Expected
Earnings per Share $0.70 $0.67
Revenue $601 million $588 million

Earnings per share increased 29.6% and revenue rose 24.8% year over year, driven by comparable-store sales rising an impressive 8.4%. Gross profit rose 26.5% to $212.1 million as the gross margin expanded 50 basis points to 35.3%. This was a very impressive quarter and the stock has risen nearly 25% since then. 

Wall Street's expectations
Third-quarter results for fiscal 2013 are due out after the market closes on Dec. 5. Here's a breakdown of what analysts currently expect to see:

Metric Expectations Q3 2012
Earnings per Share $0.74 $0.59
Revenue $621.9 million $505.6 million

Expectations call for earnings growth of 25.4% and revenue growth of 23% year over year. In its second-quarter report, Ulta said it expects to earn $0.71 to $0.74 per share on revenue of $613 million to $626 million in the third quarter, which is in line with these expectations. I believe Ulta was conservative with its estimates in order to follow Wall Street's beloved "underpromise and overdeliver" strategy. 

What else to watch
Other than the key metrics, it will be important to look at the margin and store expansion efforts within the company, as well as the guidance for the fourth quarter. I would like to see Ulta's margin expand again, because it would help push gross profit even higher. Updated expansion plans will also be crucial because this is a high-growth company with hundreds of large untapped markets across the United States. Lastly, I would like to see fourth-quarter guidance in line with the consensus analyst estimates; a blowout quarter could be offset and the stock sent lower if Ulta provides weak guidance.

Competitor results
On Nov. 14, Sally Beauty Holding (NYSE: SBH  ) reported fourth-quarter results for fiscal 2013. In the report, earnings per share decreased 2.6% and revenue rose 2.7%, as same-store sales grew just 0.4%. These results were mixed compared to analyst estimates and there has been very little movement in the share price since then. Sally Beauty is not a high-growth story like Ulta , and its earnings reports are unlikely to blow away analyst estimates, either. If you are looking for an investment in the beauty industry, look no further than the "best of breed," Ulta .

The Foolish bottom line
Ulta is a great American growth story that has had a strong rally in 2013. I believe the company will report another earnings beat when it releases its third-quarter results on Dec. 5, helping the stock continue its run higher. Keep a close eye on this one going into the report and consider buying on any weakness. 

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