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By Mitchell Clark

First-quarter earnings results for Harley-Davidson Inc. (NYSE:HOG) were good. The motorcycle manufacturer did a solid job boosting its bottom line on what was a decent gain in sales, particularly internationally. First-quarter earnings per share grew 22% to $1.21.

U.S. dealers sold 35,730 new motorcycles in the quarter for a three percent gain. International dealers sold 21,685 new motorcycles during the quarter, up 11%, with comparative Asia-Pacific sales up 21%. This produced total bike sales of $1.31 billion in the 2014 first quarter, for a gain of 13% over the same quarter of 2013. Gross margin was higher, and management reiterated previous guidance of a seven- to nine-percent increase in motorcycle shipments this year. It was a solid quarter for the company, and the stock bounced nicely higher on the news.

So far this earnings season, the numbers have been pretty modest. Two emerging trends from reporting companies include strengthening business conditions in Europe and Asia, along with the confirmation of existing 2014 guidance. Generally, the numbers are OK.

Stocks have been able to work through recent jitters and the main indices. Most of the economic data hitting the wires is actually meeting consensus expectations, and this is helping investor sentiment.

However, the Nasdaq Composite and Russell 2000 both have a lot higher to go if the market is to resume an upward trend. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is holding up extremely well.

Harley-Davidson got slammed in 2007 and 2008, dropping from more than $70.00 a share to less than $10.00 in the March low of 2009. What a buying opportunity.

The stock's been working its way back up to its all-time record-high and, over the last two years, has handily beat the S&P 500. The company's seven-year stock chart is featured below:

(click to enlarge)

Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com

While Harley-Davidson's revenues have been growing slowly, bottom line earnings have really been improving. And like so many other large companies, earnings per share are being boosted by share repurchases.

The years 2009 and 2010 were tough for obvious reasons. The company had to slash its dividend to $0.10 per quarter, down from $0.33 in 2008. With better times, the dividend has almost been restored to its previous level. Management upped its 2014 first-quarter dividend from $0.21 to $0.275 per share.

According to the company, the average buyer of its motorcycles in 2013 had a median household income of about $91,000. A third of buyers had a college or graduate degree.

An ongoing global restructuring program has helped with earnings. This year, management expects lower selling, administrative, and engineering costs as a percentage of revenue.

For 2013, diluted earnings per share grew 21% over 2012, which is impressive. But looking beyond the press release, actual net earnings grew 18%, with the difference due to a reduction in weighted average diluted shares outstanding (something you have to watch for).

Still, Harley-Davidson is very much on the comeback trail. Shareholders' equity has been climbing substantially.

Disclosure: None

Source: Harley-Davidson Inc.: Slammed In 2007/08, But Making A Strong Comeback