In an age of strip malls, Internet uberstores, and big-box retail ogres, direct marketing strategies like Avon's
Today, Avon posted Q4 earnings per share of $1.09, exceeding December's reduced guidance and drubbing last year's fourth quarter by 36% (29% if you take out a special tax benefit). For the full year, earnings reached $2.78 per share, up 20% over 2002, excluding charges. That's a lot better than the red ink flowing at would-be beauty competitors such as Revlon
Avon's Q4 income upticks came atop a solid 10% sales increase, to a record $6.8 billion. The biggest escalation came in Europe, where the dollar's drop fueled a 30% sales increase. Sales in Russia were up 70%. Even adjusted for currency fluctuations, Avon's Asian and Latin American markets all outran the flattish, 2% growth in the U.S.
With the growing importance of overseas sales to Avon's bottom line, it looks like management made a smart decision signing Salma Hayek as the face of Avon. Hayek's image crosses borders and culture, and judging by the way Hollywood markets her films, the look resonates with women (and men) of all ages. (OK, I'll just come out and say it: Everyone agrees she's a total babe.)
Looking to 2004, Avon expects another 10% surge in sales, and 10%-12% growth in earnings. Guessing $3.06 a share, the firm is currently trading at 20 times the forward estimate. It's certainly not cheap, but it's clearly the market leader. Continued growth overseas and the success of new initiatives, such as its youth-oriented "mark" line, may make today's levels look like a bargain some day.
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Seth Jayson isn't sure which color palette will de-emphasize his receding hairline. Send him beauty tips via email.