The retail environment has been weak due to flagging consumer confidence, a hibernating economy, a choppy job scenario, and high payroll taxes. However, companies catering to affluent consumers have an entirely different story to tell. The results of companies like Tiffany (NYSE: TIF ) , Signet Jewelers (NYSE: SIG ) , Michael Kors, and Zale Corporation (UNKNOWN: ZLC.DL ) demonstrate that affluent consumers have kept the luxury segment healthy, and the same can be expected in the future.
Sales of jewelry in the U.S. are expected to grow by 11% between 2012 and 2017 to $64 billion . In addition, the Asia-Pacific, or APAC, region is expected to account for around 31.2% of the global market for luxury jewelry and watches, as it is expected to become the fastest-growing region from 2012-2017. In the backdrop of these numbers, let's take a look at the results of these three jewelry companies and what the future holds for them.
Tiffany's solid run continues
Tiffany posted a better-than-expected third quarter. This was primarily due to an increase in demand in the Americas, APAC, and European regions, in addition to new launches. Revenue in the APAC region surged 27% as comparable-store sales, or comps, increased 20%.
Tiffany clocked revenue of $911.48 million , up 6.9% versus the same quarter a year ago, and also managed to beat the consensus estimates. In constant-exchange-rate terms, net sales jumped 11%, whereas comps climbed 7%.
On the back of a strong surge in demand from the APAC region and an improved operating margin, Tiffany delivered earnings per share of $0.73 and beat consensus estimates by $0.15 per share. This also translated into a 49% increase from earnings of $0.49 per share reported in the same quarter a year ago.
Tiffany also issued an upbeat full-year outlook. Tiffany revised its profit expectations upwards to the range of $3.65 to $3.75 per diluted share. That's a $0.15 improvement over its previous forecast. It also expects total net sales growth to be in mid-single digits for fiscal 2013.
Tiffany opened six outlets as planned during the quarter. The company plans to add net 14 stores in fiscal 2013 with six in the Americas, seven in the APAC region, three in Europe, and closing one location each in APAC and Japan. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the company operated 283 stores . Complementing the store base of the company is the online channel, which now includes e-commerce in 13 countries and informational sites in a number of additional countries.
In addition, the company has a strong brand-equity, as a result of being around for 176 years, and is able to command higher prices.
A look at Signet's performance
Signet's shares have appreciated the least of the three jewelers this year. However, like its peers, it also managed to beat analysts expectations on revenue and clocked $771.4 million, driven primarily by comps growth of 3.2%. This was 7.7% higher than the $716.2 million in revenue in the same quarter a year ago.
Net income declined by 3.7% versus last year to $33.6 million. This was primarily due to a 1.9% increase in the cost of goods sold. Earnings worked out to $0.42 per share and were in line with expectations.
Looking ahead, Signet is focused on increasing the productivity of its stores. It is counting on the e-commerce business, which gained 16% last quarter, to drive sales in the future. This is why it has been investing in digital initiatives. It has enhanced its digital ecosystem by refreshing the Kay and the Jared mobile websites, and has also created mobile apps for both of these brands. It is also counting on its advertisement campaigns by way of telling memorable stories.
It is also securing and manufacturing an additional, reliable and consistent supply of the diamonds for its customers through a direct diamond sourcing initiative. This should result in lower costs and help Signet report growth in its earnings going forward.
Zale's turnaround continues
Zale, which has appreciated the most this year, has seen twelve straight quarters of positive comps , which is impressive to say the least for a company that is trying to post a profit. In its latest quarter's results, Zale's comps rose 4.4% versus 3.9% in the year-ago quarter. This was on the back of a 7.5% increase in the company's Zale branded stores, and an 8.4% increase in its Peoples-branded locations.
On the back of comps growth, Zale reported revenue increase of 1.4% from $357.5 million to $362.6 million , narrowly beating analyst estimates. On the earnings front, its loss for the quarter came in at $27.31 million, which translated into a loss of $0.83 per share. This was better than the same quarter a year ago by $0.05 per share and was better than analysts' expectations.
Zale has been expanding its store count as it works towards reducing its losses and gaining more customers. The company has expanded its store count by over 20% since July from 740 to 900 stores. It is also expanding its product portfolio. It is increasing sales and margin by testing new products, fancy shapes, solitaires, pendants and earrings with expanded assortments online. It also launched Arctic Brilliance this fall in Canada and in its Zales Outlet stores.
So, on the back of new store openings and a growing merchandise portfolio, Zale could continue its resurgence in the future.
All three companies look very interesting, but from a risk-reward scenario, I think Tiffany's is best placed. Zale is too expensive for a value investor's taste as it has a P/E of almost 60. Signet, on the other hand, is cheaper at a P/E of 17 but its earnings declined in the previous quarter.
Tiffany's, at a P/E of 26, sits right in the middle. Its diversified business, strong growth, and a positive outlook suggest that the company is doing well. Also, Tiffany's offers a dividend yield of 1.7%, more than double that of Signet, while Zale doesn't pay a dividend. This is why Tiffany's looks like the best pick of the lot to me as it can deliver better value to shareholders in the future.
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