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Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF)

Q4 2009 Earnings Call

March 22, 2010 8:30 am ET

Executives

Mark Aaron – VP IR

James Fernandez – EVP & CFO

Michael Kowalski - CEO

Operator

Good day everyone, and welcome to the Tiffany & Co. fourth quarter 2009 earnings conference call. Today's call is being recorded. Participating on today's call are Mr. Michael Kowalski, Chairman and CEO; James Fernandez, Executive Vice President and CFO; and Mark Aaron, Vice President of Investor Relations. At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Mark Aaron.

Mark Aaron

Good morning and thanks to everyone for joining for a review of Tiffany’s fourth quarter and full year results that we reported this morning. On today’s call, Michael, James, and I will provide an analysis of those results and comment on Tiffany’s wide ranging plans for 2010. Before continuing please note Tiffany’s Safe Harbor language that statements made on this call that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements.

Actual results might differ materially from the expectations projected in those forward-looking statements. Additional information concerning risk factors that could cause actual results to differ materially is set forth in Tiffany's 2008 Annual Report on Form 10-K and on other reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.

Now we can proceed. What a difference a year can make. On our conference call last March we were experiencing the depths of the economic downturn and were reporting a sales decline in that fourth quarter and a drop in earnings. Against that backdrop its much more pleasing to be discussing the results we’ve achieved in our latest fourth quarter, where worldwide sales rose 17% and we posted strong earnings from continuing operations at the upper end of our expectations.

For the full year net sales declined 5% and net earnings from continuing operations came in at $2.12 per diluted share which was at the high end of the $2.07 to $2.12 per share outlook we provided when we reported holiday sales in January. At this time last year our initial outlook for 2009 called for an 11% decline in worldwide sales and net earnings from continuing operations of $1.50 to $1.60 per diluted share.

So relative to that initial outlook we are proud of this considerably better than expected performance. Let’s begin by reviewing sales results, sales in the Americas rose 14% in the fourth quarter compared with a 29% drop last year. And the growth was driven by a substantial increase in the number of transactions.

US store traffic in the quarter did improve from the steep declines experienced earlier in the year but only to a level that was virtually equal to last year indicating that there was a meaningful improvement in the customer conversion rate. We were also pleased that the US sales increase in the fourth quarter indicated growth at all price strata from silver jewelry under $500 to diamond jewelry over $50,000.

Comparable US store sales rose 11% in the quarter compared with a 33% decline in 2008’s fourth quarter. The strong performance we had reported for the holiday season continued through January. By month US comps rose 16% in November, 10% in December, and 6% in January. In last year’s fourth quarter comps had declined 39% in November, 33% in December, and 23% in January.

The US comp growth was pretty geographically broad based. Comparable branch stores increased 8% with strength seen from coast to coast representing quite an improvement from steep declines earlier in the year. The New York flagship store increased by 22% also reversing declines earlier in the year as it also benefited from higher tourist spending.

In fact sales rose 19% in the entire nine-store New York region in the quarter. For the full year the New York flagship store represented 9% of worldwide sales versus 10% in 2008. And despite a 15% sales decline in the year generated productivity of approximately $5,500 per gross square foot. US branch store comps also coincidentally declined 15% for the full year and you may be interested to know that the five highest volume US branch stores were once again in South Coast Plaza in Orange County California, in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, DC, and Beverly Hills.

US sales growth in the fourth quarter resulted from increases in both local customer and tourist spending. That’s contrasted with the sales decline in the full year which resulted from lower sales to both local customers and tourists. In fact for the full year sales to non-US visitors represented 15% of total US store sales versus 16% in 2008 and 14% in 2007.

With tourist sales not surprisingly representing higher percentages of sales in New York, Las Vegas, Hawaii, and Guam. Tourism and related spending does periodically shift due to currency swings and economic factors but most important is that we have a global store base to serve customers regardless of whether they are at home or travelling.

In 2009 we opened three new US stores, one in Roseville, California near Sacramento, a third store in the Seattle market, and a grandly designed store in the New Crystals at City Center in Las Vegas. At year-end we operated 79 Tiffany stores in the US, and we’re planning an increased rate of expansion in 2010.

Our direct marketing sales in the US also rebounded very nicely in the fourth quarter. A 16% increase in combined Internet and catalogue sales versus a 20% drop last year was entirely tied to an increase in the number of orders shipped. For the year, despite economic challenges our combined Internet and catalogue sales in the US declined only 1% as a modest increase in orders was offset by a slight decline in the average order size.

In addition as we had planned we reduced catalogue circulation in 2009 by about 15% to roughly 12 million catalogues as we continued to shift some resources toward online communication. We’re planning catalogue circulation about flat in 2010. These combined sales represented slightly more than 10% of sales in the Americas.

We expect a low double-digit percentage increase in combined US e-commerce and catalogue sales in 2010. Also in the Americas we’re very pleased with performance in Canada and Latin America where we posted double-digit sales growth in the quarter. We opened a second store last spring in Toronto in the Yorkdale area, which is having a stellar first year and is increasing our penetration of that important market.

And our stores in Mexico and Brazil also performed very well in 2009 with strong local currency comp store sales growth. Our plan for 2010 calls for a low double-digit percentage sales increase in the Americas, which assumes a high single-digit increase in US comparable store sales for the year. The spread by quarter will be affected to some degree by the comparison and progression of comps during 2009.

Let’s now turn to the Asia Pacific region where we enjoyed robust sales growth in practically every country except Japan. Sales in the region rose 14% in the quarter in dollars which was entirely due to increased unit volume. On the more meaningful constant currency basis, Asia Pacific sales rose 7% and comps rose 3%.

The following comments will be on a constant exchange rate basis. Sales in Japan declined 9% in the quarter, comp store sales also declined 9% on top of a 16% decline last year. Comps declined in November and December and were inexplicably flat in January. There was virtually no difference in performance within or outside Tokyo in the quarter, which was also true for the 11% full year comp decline.

During 2009 we closed and relocated two department store boutiques in Ikebukuro and Takoshima, and will continue to focus on maximizing profitability of the existing store base. We currently operate 57 Tiffany stores and boutiques in Japan.

The picture looked quite different in the rest of the Asia Pacific region where constant currency sales in the quarter rose 38% due to strong growth in every country. Comp store sales rose 24% versus a 9% drop last year. In addition, comps rose by at least 20% in all three months of the quarter. After comps declined modestly in the first quarter of 2009 we posted sequentially larger increases of 5% in the second quarter, 9% in the third quarter, and 24% in the fourth quarter which we’re comparing against the opposite trend in 2008 when comps increased 22%, 13% and 4% in the first, second, and third quarters and then declined 9% in the fourth quarter.

In any case we couldn’t be more pleased with our strong development in Asia Pacific and also with some excellent new store performance. For the full year, Asia Pacific comp store sales excluding Japan rose 8%. We finished the year operating 45 stores, which included the opening of six new stores during 2009 in Hangzhou and Shenzhen in Mainland China, Canton Road in Hong Kong, our second store in the Melbourne market in Chadstone, and stores in Busan and Seoul, Korea.

In fact in the fourth quarter, the new Canton Road store already ranked highest in sales volume among our eight stores in Hong Kong. The total Asia Pacific region represented 35% of worldwide sales in 2009 versus 32% in 2008. Japan was unchanged at 19% only because of the translation effect from the strong yen, while the rest of Asia Pacific rose to 16% of worldwide sales versus 13% in 2008.

Hong Kong alone represents more than a quarter of that 16% as it benefits from sales to local customers and to Mainland Chinese visitors. And you might find it interesting that in 2009 our highest volume single store in Asia Pacific outside Japan was in Ngee Ann City in Singapore. Our plan for 2010 calls for a high single-digit percentage increase in total Asia Pacific sales in dollars, which includes a low single-digit decline in Japan, and at least 20% growth in the rest of the region.

Europe also posted truly excellent results in the fourth quarter with sales up 29% in dollars mostly due to increased unit volume. On a constant exchange rate basis, sales rose 18% due to a 14% comp increase and the results of new stores. In fact all European countries except Ireland and Spain, achieved double-digit comp store sales growth in the quarter.

For the year, European comps rose 9% with increases of 3%, 5%, 9%, and 14% in the first through fourth quarters. In 2008, European comps by quarter were 12%, 11%, 8% and flat in the first to fourth quarters. As customer awareness of Tiffany continues to grow, Europe like Asia, is becoming a bigger contributor to sales.

Europe accounted for 12% of worldwide sales in 2009 versus 10% in 2008. Our sales in the United Kingdom which includes nine stores and a successful e-commerce business accounts for about half of our European sales. We are equally pleased with store performance in the rest of Europe with 18 stores that span nine countries.

In total, we now operate 27 stores in Europe, including three that we opened in 2009 in Selfridges department store in Manchester, in London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and in Amsterdam. Our plan for 2010 calls for a mid teens percentage increase in dollars in European sales. Worldwide, we opened 14 Tiffany & Co. stores and boutiques in 2009 and finished the year with 220 company-operated locations.

That represented a 7% increase in the number of locations. Worldwide gross square footage rose 5% to approximately 982,000 gross square feet in 2009, including a 4% increase to 626,000 in the Americas, a 5% increase to 255,000 in Asia Pacific, and a 7% increase to 101,000 gross square feet in Europe.

We continue to achieve high productivity in Tiffany & Co. stores and it can certainly go higher but results were effected in 2009 be economic conditions. Nonetheless worldwide sales per gross square foot in Tiffany operated stores in dollars were $2400 in 2009 versus $2600 in 2008. And by region were as follows.

In the Americas we generated approximately $1900 per gross square foot in 2009 versus $2200. Japan was $3300 in 2009 versus $3400. Asia Pacific outside Japan was unchanged at $3800. And Europe rose to $2700 from $2500 in 2008.

Lastly beyond our three geographical segments is Tiffany’s other channel which now consists mostly of rough diamond sales since we’ve closed the IRIDESSE business. We also record license revenue from our eyewear venture with Luxottica in the other channel. Other sales increased in the fourth quarter but declined 46% for the full year.

The full year decline reflected lower wholesale sales of diamonds that did not meet our quality standards, while the increase in the fourth quarter just reflected the timing of those sales. We are planning other sales to decline about 5% in 2010. From the merchandising perspective it’s probably appropriate to call 2009 the year of the Key referring to the success of the Tiffany Keys collection.

We launched it last spring and the collection generated the highest full year sales volume in our company’s history. The collection ranges from sterling silver, to gold and platinum with diamonds, with price points from $150 to $35,000. Its success reflects the combination of great design and worldwide marketing support and we believe it will be a perennial favorite among customers.

Looking at the fourth quarter we were pleased to experience sales growth across product categories and price points. We saw a recovery in high-end statement jewelry sales which is a merchandise category that was most pressured earlier in the year. Engagement jewelry sales rose substantially in the fourth quarter offsetting most of the declines earlier in the year.

Fine jewelry collections such as Victoria, and Metro also posted strong growth in the quarter. The fashion gold and silver jewelry categories rose strongly in the fourth quarter and rose for the year as well representing the success of Keys, along with growth in our famous Return to Tiffany, Notes, and Charms collections which all grew in the quarter.

And the designer jewelry category which includes the designs of Frank Gehry, Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso, and Jean Schlumberger, rose modestly in the quarter. So you can get a sense that our geographically broad sales in the fourth quarter also spanned many jewelry categories.

And I’ll now turn the call over to James.

James Fernandez

Thanks Mark for that informative sales review. Good morning to everyone. We think you’ll agree that Tiffany’s top line performance was quite good in 2009 considering the economic headwinds we faced and certainly better than what we expected at the start of 2009.

Let’s now look at the rest of the earnings statement, gross margin of 58.7% in the fourth quarter was 7/10 of a point below the 59.4% last year, with the decrease due to the increased wholesale sales of diamonds which are minimal if any margin. For the full year gross margin of 56.5% was 1.3 points lower than the 57.8% in 2008 due the effect of higher products costs through most of the year.

We’ve been dealing with volatile swings in precious metals and diamond prices over the past two years. Prices have generally moved higher since mid 2009. Considering our rate of inventory turnover which spans about a year the effect on Tiffany’s gross margin lags cost changes. While margin was pressured in most of 2009 from higher input costs than 2008 we expect to benefit in 2010 from the lower input costs at this time last year and are planning gross margin up at least a full point for the year.

Looking at SG&A expenses we entered 2009 by making some meaningful expense reductions and Tiffany’s entire organization demonstrated excellent and prudent expense discipline throughout the year. SG&A expenses increased 7% in the quarter on a reported basis. Excluding non-recurring items recorded last year, SG&A expenses increased 12% over last year and this was largely due to management incentive compensation recorded this year.

Such compensation was curtailed last year for obvious reasons tied to financial performance. In addition sales growth in the quarter triggered higher variable costs tied to store rents and sales commissions. For the full year SG&A expenses declined 6%. We reduced Tiffany’s staff count by 10% or about 900 people at the beginning of 2009 which generated annual savings in SG&A expenses and cost of sales in the area of $60 million.

A portion of the staff reductions especially in our stores will eventually need to be restored to maintain excellent customer service levels as store traffic increases but a meaningful number of other positions were permanently eliminated and will contribute to improved operating leverage. We also reduced marketing spending by approximately $44 million over the course of 2009 and our percentage to sales declined modestly.

In addition, variable cost tied to sales declined in the first three quarters of the year and then increased in the fourth quarter as sales rebounded. We expect SG&A expenses to increase approximately 10% in 2010 partly due to new stores and increased labor costs.

This also includes an increase in marketing spending in 2010 at a rate in excess of sales growth to support our pursuit of market share opportunities. All in all, we expect some improvement in the SG&A expense ratio to sales. Tiffany’s operating margin was 16.3% in 2009 which we think was commendable performance especially considering the challenging environment.

The expected improvements in gross margin and the SG&A expense ratio should result in a good increase in 2010 and as we’ve said before we believe there is no structural reason in the future to prevent Tiffany from achieving higher operating margins.

Other expenses of $15 million in the quarter and $51 million in the year were above last year’s levels due to higher interest expense tied to higher long-term debt levels. Conversely, our substantial cash balance is currently not earning much interest income due to low rates.

We expect other expenses net to be virtually unchanged at approximately $50 million in 2010. Tiffany’s effective income tax rate was 34% in the fourth quarter versus 40% last year. The rate for the full year came in at an expected 32% versus 37% in 2008, due to $11 million of favorable tax reserve adjustments recorded earlier in the year. We are currently expecting an effective tax rate of approximately 35% for 2010.

Adding it all up, net earnings from continuing operations per diluted share were $1.09 in the fourth quarter and $2.12 in the full year. Please note that the full year earnings included a net benefit of $0.08 per share from various non-recurring items earlier in the year which would put adjusted EPS excluding those items at $2.04 per share.

In 2008, Tiffany’s net earnings per diluted share on a GAAP basis were $0.25 in the quarter and $1.74 in the year. Adjusted net earnings from continuing operations that excluded non-recurring items were $0.86 in the quarter and $2.39 in the year.

Based on our objective that calls for 11% worldwide sales growth and the other financial assumptions we’ve mentioned our outlook for 2010 calls for net earnings of $2.45 to $2.50 per diluted share. That compares with adjusted EPS of $2.04 in 2009 when excluding non-recurring items representing expected growth of 20% to 23% in 2010.

Although we do not provide outlooks by quarter I encourage you to consider excluding non-recurring items from last year’s earnings when you forecast quarterly earnings in 2010. You can find a list of the items in the non-GAAP schedule in today’s news release.

For 2009, Tiffany’s return on average stockholders’ equity was 15% and the return on average assets was 8%. We remain committed to our long-term objectives to achieve at least a 15% ROE and at least a 10% ROA. Tiffany finished fiscal 2009 with a very strong balance sheet which we believe is and will continue to be an important competitive advantage for us.

Accounts receivable declined 3% in 2009. The quality of receivables remains very high and receivables continue to turn at a high 18 times per year. We were also very pleased with inventory performance in 2009. Our initial outlook for the year called for a single-digit percentage decline. The actual decline came in at 11%, which was greater than we expected due to the stronger than expected sales growth in the fourth quarter.

Despite that, we have maintained good in store availability and are replenishing any gaps in assortment. In addition, we had reduced internal manufacturing early in 2009 but have since ramped up production to meet growing demand. We are planning for a high single-digit percentage increase in inventories in 2010 to support the opening of new stores resulting in an improved rate of inventory turnover which is consistent with our long-term financial objectives.

Capital expenditures of $75 million was 3% of net sales in the full year and was below our normal target of 6% to 7% of sales due to fewer store openings and generally constrained spending throughout the company. We expect to return to a more normal level of CapEx as a percentage of sales in 2010, which will equate to approximately $200 million of capital expenditures.

We began the year expecting to generate at least $400 million of free cash flow but the combination of stronger than expected earnings and lower than expected inventories contributed ultimately generating more than $600 million in 2009. We finished 2009 with our cash position actually exceeding the level of our total short-term and long-term debt.

At January 31, 2010, cash and cash equivalents were $786 million versus $160 million in the prior year, while short-term and long-term debt totaled $754 million versus $709 million last year. And stockholders’ equity was $1.88 billion at the end of the year versus $1.59 billion last year.

Early in 2009, when global financial conditions looked pretty bleak, we took advantage of capital availability and secured $300 million of long-term debt. A portion was used to repay some outstanding debt that was maturing. We have some other long-term debt that will mature later in 2010 and are evaluating our options with respect to refinancing some or all of that debt.

In any scenario, Tiffany enjoys an enviable liquidity position and we expect to fund our expansion in 2010 with internally generated cash flow. In fact, Tiffany’s Board of Directors demonstrated its confidence two months ago when they approved resuming share repurchases and increasing the quarterly dividend rate by 18%.

Lastly, I’m pleased to say that our distribution centers and manufacturing facilities are effectively supporting our global operations and make us well positioned to expand our worldwide business and achieve meaningfully higher levels of sales and earnings in the coming years.

I’m now pleased to turn the call over to Mike.

Michael Kowalski

Thanks James, I’m very proud of the result we showed at every level of our organization to weather the economic storm we faced in 2009. We planned our business cautiously last year by reducing headcount and other expenses. We also closed our IRIDESSE business. However we were not completely in a defensive mode.

We took advantage of new store opportunities although at a somewhat moderated rate. We introduced exciting and successful new products. We maintained an adequate level of marketing communications and we managed our inventories very well.

As the year progressed better than expected sales and inventory performance combined with disciplined spending enabled us to generate stronger than expected earnings and cash flow. For much of the year, the luxury industry and especially the jewelry sector, felt the severe impact from reduced consumer spending.

Simultaneously, some jewelers lacked both the financial resources and the brand capital to survive in the downturn. Many turned to aggressive discounting while others liquidated. It also now appears that media reports from a year ago predicting the demise of luxury and full price spending were most certainly exaggerated.

Our research confirmed that many consumers were simply waiting for improvements in their personal incomes and their balance sheets prior to resuming spending. People are still celebrating and commemorating life’s important occasions and we believe they are increasingly seeking products and brands that represent genuine luxury and lasting value. They still desire beautiful designs of high quality. They appreciate and expect a superior shopping experience.

This is everything that Tiffany represents and consistently delivers. While the current economic environment is still fraught with challenge, there are important opportunities for us to pursue. Our plans for 2010 include expanding our store base, introducing new products and marketing aggressively in order to gain share of this competitively fragmented jewelry market.

Our current plan calls for opening 17 new stores in 2010 including six in the Americas, eight in Asia Pacific, and three in Europe. This equates to an 8% gross increase in the number of locations and a 5% increase in gross square footage. In the Americas, we finalized leases for new stores in Baltimore, in Towson Center, in Jacksonville, in St. Johns Town Center, in Los Angeles, at Santa Monica Place, and in Houston, at the Woodlands; two additional stores are planned.

Most of you know that over the past year we have been testing a 2500 square foot store concept in the United States that contains an edited selection of merchandise along with other enhancements in visual merchandising and selling style. Customer reaction has been quite good and we’ve gained meaningful insights from it.

At the same time we have continued to open full line 5000 square foot stores. We now believe that its appropriate to combine the best attributes of both formats into a new but smaller sized full line store. As a result the five US stores we plan to open in 2010 will offer a relatively full range of products and will average about 3700 square feet each.

We continue to believe that the US market can support 150 stores and believe we have now settled on the right size format for future stores. In the Asia Pacific region our plans call for eight new stores including among others opening our fourth store in Singapore in the new shops at Marina Bay Sands, as well as another store in Shanghai, in the Hong Kong Plaza.

And in Europe our plans call for adding three new stores including one at Canary Warf in London. E-commerce has proven to be very successful and an efficient compliment to our retail stores in the US, the United Kingdom, and Canada, Japan, and Australia. In fact our total Internet sales in those five countries accounted for approximately 6% of Tiffany’s worldwide sales in 2009.

I am pleased to say that we will further expand Tiffany’s Internet reach this year when we launch e-commerce in continental Europe, scheduled for midyear. In merchandising we will continue to introduce new designs in a wide range of materials and price points. We’re enthusiastic about a new collection of jewelry focused on yellow diamonds that will launch this spring.

Of course there will also be other new jewelry designs introduced in both silver and gold. We are in the early stages of growing our watch business with new designs, distribution, and marketing and believe that the potential exists for solid long-term growth. And we will move forward with a wonderful new collection of leather handbags and accessories that have been designed by Richard Lamberton and John Truex.

It will debut this year with distribution limited to a small number of our US stores as well as Tiffany.com. Our company has become increasingly global over the years and with it we have built a strong management team around the world. The organization continues to evolve toward greater decision making in each region, especially as it relates to in store product assortment, inventory management, and advertising spending.

Local managements ultimately know their market best and we expect improved decision-making accountability at that level to generate meaningful increases in sales and market share. Clearly corporate management in New York will continue to establish control and control company wide strategic and operational decision making, and provide all necessary support to the global organization.

Concluding my remarks the global economy still has its challenges and we’ve considered it in formulating our 2010 plans and financial outlook. We’ve planned for reasonably strong sales growth, factoring in comparisons to the steep declines in the first half of 2009. We think we’ve also made reasonable margin assumptions and we will continue to demonstrate expense discipline.

In terms of the current environment we are now a little more than half way through our first quarter and are pleased that worldwide sales growth is exceeding our first quarter plan which calls for a high teens percentage increase. It may go without saying but let me reiterate once again, that we do take a long-term approach to managing and growing Tiffany’s business.

Our company’s reputation is built on product and brand integrity and investors and customers can be assured that we will never compromise on those values and our strengths. Tiffany has the critical components necessary for continued success, organizational and financial strength, and a premium brand that is increasingly recognized around the world for genuine luxury and lasting value.

Please note that we expect to report Tiffany’s first quarter results on May 27. That concludes our remarks. Please feel free to call Mark with any questions you have and thank you very much for joining us this morning.

Operator

Thank you gentlemen, today’s conference will be available for a replay beginning today March 22, 2010, from 10:30 Central time ending on March 29, 2010 at 10:30 Central time. The dial in number for the replay is 1-888-203-1112 for Toll free, and 1-719-457-0820 for International callers. The pass code for the replay call is 7825641.

That concludes today’s conference. We thank you for your participation.

Question-and-Answer-Session

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