Though some believe Harley-Davidson
While results weren't great, they were less bad than analysts had projected. Revenue was basically flat for the quarter, though slightly above the mean estimate. Even though net income fell from last year, aggressive share buybacks reduced the number of shares outstanding to the point where Harley could post EPS growth (and beat analysts' guesstimates).
Worldwide retail sales of Harley motorcycles grew about 6%. While U.S. retail sales rose a bit more than 3%, Japanese sales increased more than 10% and European sales were up more than 23%. For the quarter, Harley sold 114,000 retail units and shipped 77,000, leaving the company on target to ship about 329,000 bikes for the year.
Though free cash flow hasn't been great so far this year, the company has committed itself to share buybacks in a big way. After buying back nearly 3 million shares in the first quarter, Harley bought a whopping 17.7 million more shares in the second. It has spent more than $1 billion this year to buy back stock.
With these aggressive repurchases, management is boosting its EPS growth target for the year. Instead of prior guidance of 5% to 8% EPS growth, management now expects 10% to 13%. Investors should realize, though, that this is basically "purchased growth" -- even as they divert cash to buy back more shares, Harley's actual business isn't doing much better than expected.
Investors should also remember that the SEC is investigating the company's announcement of lowered shipment targets back in April. It now seems increasingly common for the SEC to investigate almost any restatement or significant change in guidance -- especially when shareholder lawsuits ensue -- so it's hard to say if anything will come of this.
Management still believes in targeting a mid-teens earnings growth rate over the long term, but I believe that could be a tough target to hit. These aren't cheap motorcycles; they're more like an "aspiration purchase." If we assume that Baby Boomers compose the majority of buyers with enough cash to afford semi-luxury items like Harleys, the aging of that demographic could suggest a smaller pool of buyers in Harley's future.
On the flip side, Harleys are selling well overseas, and international sales represent only about 20% of total units sold. The continued growth of the brand's foreign prestige could help compensate for an aging U.S. customer base. Imagine what could happen if Harleys become popular in China in a decade or so.
Harley-Davidson certainly has its challenges today. But it also enjoys a rock-solid brand, strong profitability, and a reasonably clean balance sheet. I'm going to be digging into this one a little more deeply in the weeks to come. In the past, other high-value brands like McDonald's, Apple, and Disney have been temporarily laid low by concerns about their future. All of them proved to be solid buying opportunities.
We've revved up more Harley-Davidson takes:
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).