When investors ponder the merits of investing in luxury consumer stocks such as Tiffany (NYSE:TIF), Coach (NYSE:TPR), and Italian luxury eye-wear company Luxottica Group (NYSE:LUX), they may hesitate, and for good reason. After all, the global economy continues to sputter along in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and progress has been slow in digging out of the giant hole caused by the financial crisis. Even more than that, consumers across the globe by and large aren't able to spend at levels they could before the crisis.
At the same time, luxury consumer stocks need to be considered within the proper context. For better or worse, the rich just keep getting richer—meaning these companies in particular are showing resilience that many companies that cater to lower-end consumers cannot. As a result, continued spending by the wealthy means that these businesses stand to prosper going forward.
The wealthy keep spending
While times continue to be extremely tough for out-of-work consumers, the wealthy are very much back in business. That's because the capital markets have recovered all of their losses from the financial crisis and are actually breaching new all-time highs. The rich have money to spend, and for the most part, they're doing just that.
Tiffany is doing well to begin the year despite the many headwinds facing the consumer. Worldwide net sales and same-store sales (which only measures sales at locations open at least one year) are both up 7% through the first half of the year. Net earnings are up 10% over the first six months. Clearly, Tiffany's success is plain to see.
Coach recently wrapped up its fiscal year and the results prove that it is a resilient company. Coach realized 7% growth in net sales and 6% growth in diluted earnings per share. While Coach's performance in its North American operations disappointed, that's not entirely a surprise given the ongoing troubles facing the U.S. consumer, which include a weak labor market and the prospect of rising payroll taxes. In response, Coach is turning to international segments to engineer growth. The results speak for themselves. In fiscal 2013, Coach racked up 40% sales growth in China, its fastest-growing market. You can bet that emerging market growth, particularly in China, will be a key strategic priority for Coach going forward.
Luxottica is based in Italy and holds premier eye wear brands that include Ray-Ban and Oakley. While you might not think of eye-wear as big business, it certainly is just that. Luxottica generated nearly $10 billion in revenue over the past 12 months, and its second quarter results were impressive; the company booked 7% sales growth and 9.5% growth in net income, year over year.
Look underneath the ominous consumer landscape
In times in which the over-arching themes surrounding the consumer are negative, investors would be wise to take their cues from the signals being sent by management. In particular, it's extremely useful to focus on a company's dividend payments.
A company can only pay dividends if it isn't earning enough underlying profit for so long. Moreover, a company that increases its dividends is signaling to investors that the future will likely be bright. That's why, despite the dour stream of headlines regarding consumers, investors should look at the recent dividend trends at Tiffany and Coach with a positive view.
Tiffany raised its dividend this year, as it has for many years in a row. All told, the company's dividend has doubled over the past five years. As far as Coach is concerned, it's equally generous in sharing cash with investors. Since initiating its dividend in 2009, Coach has made great strides in providing a meaningful payout to shareholders. The company gave investors a strong 13% dividend increase earlier this year after bumping up its distribution by a full third in 2012.
Luxottica also pays a dividend, at about 1.6% annualized at recent prices. Tiffany pays a 1.8% dividend, while Coach does even better with a 2.5% payout. As a result, these luxury brands offer both growth and income. While most consumers continue to struggle, the rich keep getting richer, and that means bright futures for Tiffany, Coach, and Luxottica.