One of the more important lessons of investing is that there's no single "magic bullet." A successful investment is rather more like a bread recipe -- the ingredients are often basic, but if you leave one out you'll be in trouble.
What's my point? Well, we've talked in the past about the power of brands and how a company with a strong brand (like, say, Coca-Cola or McDonald's) can make for a good investment. What's important to remember, though, is that a brand doesn't produce cash flow in and of itself, and a great brand doesn't replace the need for growth and positive momentum in a business.
To that end, Tiffany
Results in the first quarter were a good news-bad news proposition. Although sales and earnings both beat expectations, sales growth clocked in at 12% and net income registered a 9% increase. Operating income, though, grew only about 6% for the period and worldwide same-store sales grew 4%.
The U.S. retail business was pretty strong for the quarter, with sales ticking up 14% and same-store sales rising 11%. International sales, though, were up only 1% on a constant-currency basis, and Tiffany saw same-store sales declines in both Japan (yet again) and Europe.
To me, the Japanese business seems to be approaching "debacle" proportions. While it's true that the Japanese economy hasn't been going gangbusters, Tiffany sales have been weak for about four years now. You'd think that after a few years, sales would decline to some sort of "baseline level" where they'd stabilize, but that hasn't happened yet.
Though I could certainly be mistaken, I believe the ongoing problem with sales in Japan lies deeper than the economy. Simply put, I still believe that Japanese tastes are moving away from what Tiffany's traditionally represents. What's more, when you consider the fact that jewelry tastes in Japan are a modern fashion phenomenon, that introduces some potential volatility into consumer tastes.
So what's ahead for Tiffany? The U.S. business seems pretty firm, and I would expect that to hold up. Overseas results, though, could be another story. I don't see any reason to expect an imminent turnaround in Japan, and parts of Europe seem to be teetering on the edge of recession.
Looking at the stock, it doesn't seem like any particular bargain right now. The basic fundamentals of the business are decent (good margin, good return on equity, great brand), but the price seems to already reflect that. Those who own Tiffany stock can probably sit tight, but new investors might want to take a look at the likes of Coach
Do some window shopping in the luxury sector with these prior Foolish takes:
- Coach Is Still In
- Dialing for Divas
- Do Blue Boxes Still Mean Green Cash?
- Four Seasons Weathers Storms
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).
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