Even though it's not Halloween yet, I'm once again donning my black-hooded robe and reaching for my scythe because fragrance distributor Inter Parfums (NASDAQ:IPAR) reported third-quarter sales. I'm also gearing up for the hate mail about to flood my mailbox as I once again pronounce doom and gloom on the licensee of such brands as Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg, and Christian Lacroix.

Last quarter, I had noted a certain rancid odor about the record sales the company reported, pointing out that even though revenue growth was high, it was the rate of growth that was troubling. Despite revenues this time coming in 43% higher than last quarter and 17% higher than last year (ignoring currency exchange rates, which reduce the growth by more than 5%), the rate of growth year over year is off 69%. If earnings per share beat estimates by a penny, as they did last quarter, that's still a 9% decline from last year.

Growth rates are a key to profits
When sales growth drops by 50% or more year over year, I see that as a red flag. And it doesn't matter if we're talking about growth of 150% one year followed by 75% growth the next. Even though we all know that such phenomenal rates are impossible to sustain, such slowdowns generally precede an earnings shortfall. Investors who heeded the warning last quarter would have been able to get out before suffering even greater pain. Shares initially jumped 7% on the second-quarter news before tumbling 33% over the intervening months. Even at its current price of $12.45 a stub, I still see Inter Parfums as overpriced.

The company no longer trades at premium multiples, as it did earlier this year when it was riding a wave of investor support at over $30 a share. Now at 15 times trailing and forward earnings, it seems more attractively priced than Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL) at 25 and 18, respectively, or Avon (NYSE:AVP) at 25 and 21, respectively. But with Inter Parfums forecasting full-year sales of $228 million, up from previous guidance of $225 million, that's only a 22% increase over the prior year, which is almost 50% lower than the year before that.

Visions of circling carrion birds aside, I still see investors having to overcome more thorns before they're able to enjoy the sweet smell of the bloom.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey plans to dress as a Coors Light bottle this Halloween. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.