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Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF)

F4Q07 Earnings Call

March 24, 2008 8:30 am ET

Executives

Mark L. Aaron - Vice President, Investor Relations

James N. Fernandez - Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President

Michael J. Kowalski - Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer

Operator

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

Mark L. Aaron

Thank you. Good morning. Earlier today we reported Tiffany's fourth quarter and full year results and by now you’ve hopefully had a chance to read the press release. On this conference call, Jim and I will review those results and then Mike will add his thoughts about Tiffany's plans for 2008.

First, please note Tiffany's Safe Harbor provision 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 2006 report on Form 10-K and in 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.

Tiffany enjoyed a successful year in 2007. For the full year, we achieved broad-based sales growth in most markets and, notwithstanding a U.S. slowdown in the latter part of the year, Tiffany performed well from a financial perspective. Our earnings per share exceeded the growth objective we set at the start of 2007. It also exceeded the forecast we had provided with our holiday sales results in January when adjusted for the various one-time items noted in the press release. And we pursued a number of strategic initiatives during the year. Let’s begin by looking at sales in our four channels of distribution.

U.S. retail sales rose 4% in the fourth quarter, which was in line with the results we had reported for the November/December holiday season. An increase in the average transaction size was partly offset by a decline in the number of transactions.

U.S. price stratification for the quarter was similar to the holiday season, mostly reflecting greater sales strength in the higher price ranges of various categories. In essence, silver jewelry sales were soft below $500 but stronger above that price. Similarly, fine jewelry sales from $10,000 to $50,000 were relatively stronger than in the $1,000 to $10,000 range, and while sales over $50,000, which represent almost 10% of U.S. retail annual sales, for the fourth quarter were modestly lower than the prior year, we were pleased to see an increased number of transactions.

Comparable store sales declined 1% in the quarter. Similar to what we’ve heard from many other retailers, we believe that fourth quarter performance was affected by customers exhibiting some caution tied to various macroeconomic factors.

The monthly comp trend in the quarter was erratic, ranging from a 7% increase in November, which was on top of an 11% prior year increase, to a 5% decline in December on top of an 8% increase, to a flat comp in January on top of a 15% increase in the prior year.

Sales in our New York flagship store were strong all year despite tough year-over-year comparisons, increasing 10% in the fourth quarter on top of a 17% prior year increase and 21% for the year on top of a 9% increase. Sales in the nine-store New York region, which includes the flagship store and our new Wall Street store, rose 9% in the quarter and 16% for the year.

Comparable branch store sales declined 4% in the quarter, with some softness in most markets, but sales increased 4% for the year. Branch store comps had increased 8% in last year’s fourth quarter and 4% for the year.

Despite the fourth quarter softness, there were some strong performing stores, including Cincinnati, Edina, Houston, and Palo Alto. Sales in Hawaii, where we have four stores, rose fractionally and sales declines in California with 12 stores and Florida with eight stores were roughly in line with the overall brand store comp decline.

You may find it interesting that for the year, our five largest U.S. branch stores ranked by sales volume were at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, San Francisco, Chicago, Beverly Hills, and in the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Tiffany continued to benefit from higher sales to foreign tourists in 2007, especially Europeans visiting our New York store, as well as our branch stores in Orlando, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, along with customers from Japan visiting our stores in Hawaii. In fact, fourth quarter comps in the flagship store entirely reflected higher foreign tourist spending, while for the full year the New York flagship store increase reflected a combination of higher sales to foreign tourists and local customers. Overall, sales to foreign tourists represented 14% of U.S. retail sales in 2007 versus 11% in 2006.

For the full year, U.S. retail sales rose 11% and comps rose 7%. As a percent of sales, the New York store increased to 20% of U.S. retail sales in 2007 versus 19% in 2006, and the New York flagship store sales approached $300 million in 2007, with sales productivity topping a record $7,000 per gross square foot.

It was another year of successful store openings. We added seven stores in Austin, Texas; the Forum Shops in Las Vegas; Natick, Massachusetts outside Boston; Santa Barbara, California; Providence, Rhode Island; Red Bank, New Jersey; and the Wall Street store. And in Hawaii, we closed our Whaler’s Village store in Maui. In total, we added a net of six U.S. stores in 2007, which increased our U.S. store base by 9% and square footage by 10%. We are also planning to open six U.S. stores this year.

So while we were disappointed with how U.S. retail sales finished the year, it was a good year nonetheless and we enhanced our base of distribution.

Moving to the international side, our international retail sales increased 21% in the fourth quarter due to very strong growth in the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan and solid growth in our stores in Europe, Canada, and Latin America. On a constant exchange rate basis, which excludes the effect of translating foreign currency denominated sales into U.S. dollars, international retail sales rose 14% and comp store sales rose 6%.

For the year, international sales rose by a strong 19%, with comps of 7% on a constant exchange rate basis. It’s clear that our international business is steadily becoming more geographically diversified. For the full year, international retail sales represented 41% of Tiffany's worldwide net sales, with Japan accounting for 17% versus 19% in the prior year, the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan increasing to 11%, Europe growing to 8%, and the rest of international sales at 5%.

My following comments will be on a constant exchange rate basis as noted on the non-GAAP measures schedule in today’s press release. Total retail sales in Japan declined 2% in the fourth quarter, as the decline in jewelry units sold primarily in silver jewelry was partly offset by an increased average price. And while silver jewelry sales were soft, we were pleased with an increase in sales of engagement jewelry and in Elsa Peretti’s jewelry design and similar patterns were true for the full year.

The YEN averaged 110 to the dollar in the fourth quarter versus 118 in the prior year’s quarter, so although Japan retail sales declined 2% in YEN in the quarter, they rose 4% when translated into dollars. For the year, there was minimal translation effect with the YEN virtually unchanged at 117 to the dollar.

Generally speaking, it is a challenging retail environment in Japan. Comp-store sales in Japan declined 6% on top of a 4% comp decline in last year’s fourth quarter. The comp trend included declines of 4% in November, 6% in December, and 9% in January, versus respective declines of 4%, 5%, and 5% in last year’s fourth quarter.

Geographically, the 6% comp decline in the quarter was comprised of a 5% decline in Tokyo and a 7% decline outside Tokyo and a similar pattern existed for the full year as well. It’s worth noting that for the full year, comp store sales in Japan declined 5% but total retail sales were equal to the prior year, with the difference representing the importance of new stores and store relocations.

During the year, we opened four new department store boutiques in the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo’s Shibuya; in the Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo’s Shinjuku; in the Fukuya Department Store in Hiroshima; and in the Matsuzakaya Department Store in Nagoya, while closing three underperforming locations for a net increase of one location in Japan in 2007.

More recently, the recent opening of a two-level Tiffany Boutique in the Matsuzakaya Department Store in Tokyo now gives us three street-facing locations on the Ginza and we have nearly completed our plan to convert key department store boutiques from standard format to full concession operations with our own Tiffany trained employees, which enables us to enhance the shopping experience.

Outside Japan, sales in the rest of the world were, to say the least, quite robust. In the Asia-Pacific region outside Japan, comp-store sales surged 28% in the fourth quarter and 26% in the year, with double-digit percentage growth in every country. These gains were on top of strong 22% comp growth in both last year’s fourth quarter and the full year. Sales in Hong Kong itself represent almost one-third of that region.

During the year, we added six stores in the region, in Seoul, in Singapore’s Changi Airport, in Macau, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and in Tianzhen in China. We finished the year with 34 company-operated Tiffany stores in that region.

We also experienced another year of strong growth in Europe in 2007. Comp store sales rose 8% in the fourth quarter on top of a 19% increase and rose 13% for the year on top of a 20% increase. Europe was also a picture of broad-based geographical strength, both in London, which represents a little more than half of European sales, and on the continent. We added three European stores in 2007 in Hamburg, London, and Bologna and finished the year with 17 company-operated Tiffany stores in Europe.

And we continue to be pleased with our developing businesses in Canada with very successful stores in Toronto and Vancouver, and in Mexico where we operate six locations.

Internationally, we added a net of 11 new stores and boutiques in 2007, representing an 11% increase in retail locations and a 7% increase in square footage. Our plan is to accelerate that pace in 2008 with quite a few new stores and boutiques planned for Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Japan.

Worldwide, we added a net of seventeen company-operated Tiffany & Company stores and boutiques in 2007, representing a 10% increase in the number of locations. Square footage increased 9% to approximately 860,000 gross square feet, including 533,000 in the U.S. and 327,000 internationally.

Returning to the U.S., it was not too surprising that our direct marketing channel also experienced a sales slowdown in the fourth quarter. Sales declined 1% in the quarter compared with a 10% increase last year but rose 5% for the year on top of an 11% increase in 2006. The number of orders was up in both periods but the average order size fluctuated.

For the full year, the average direct marketing order of $233 was virtually unchanged from $231 in the prior year. We relaunched our website in 2007 with enhanced functionality and graphics and are pleased with customer reaction. We also increased the frequency of e-mail communications to customers. Conversely, we reduced catalog mailings by about 10% in the year, although our current plan is to modestly increase circulation in 2008.

Tiffany's Internet business has grown dramatically with high profitability since being launched in 1999. E-commerce sales of more than $150 million in 2007 represented roughly 80% of the direct marketing channel. E-commerce nicely complements our retail store presence while also acting as an effective marketing communications tool.

Lastly, sales in the other channel rose 9% in the fourth quarter and 64% in the year. In both periods, the growth mostly came from increased wholesale sales of rough diamonds acquired through our diamond sourcing program and subsequently determined to not meet our quality standards.

Sales in our Iridesse stores increased in the year due to new store openings but did not meet our expectations.

So that covers sales by channel of distribution. Briefly looking at some merchandising highlights, it was another very strong year for diamond jewelry at Tiffany and an improving year for silver. The 10% worldwide sales growth in the quarter was spread across a number of jewelry categories.

Engagement jewelry sales continued at a strong pace in the U.S. and internationally for the quarter and in fact, solitaire diamond ring sales rose more than 20% for the year. The average price of an engagement ring sold rose to $7,000 worldwide in 2007, from $6500 in the prior year.

Celebration ring sales are also maintaining strong popularity with existing and new designs and the legacy jewelry collection is a solid performer, along with some of the established favorites like the swing, jazz, and bubbles collection.

At more modest prices, sales of charm jewelry in silver and gold also rose at a strong pace and we are pleased with the results from our new Somerset collection. Of course, ongoing favorites in silver and gold also include the Atlas, 1837, and Return to Tiffany collections. The average price per piece of silver jewelry sold in 2007 rose to $196 worldwide from $189 in the prior year. And name designer jewelry sales posted a decent increase in the quarter and year.

Lastly, despite some softening in the U.S. in the fourth quarter, worldwide statement jewelry sales for the year were quite strong, most notably in the U.S. as well as in certain international markets. Strong unit growth in statement jewelry was supplemented by an increase in the average price per piece sold to $96,000 worldwide from $93,000 in the prior year.

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

James N. Fernandez

Thanks, Mark. It was a very active year at Tiffany, not only in terms of store expansion but also as it related to a number of strategic initiatives. I’ll highlight them as I complete the review of the income statement.

Tiffany's gross margin in 2007 was affected by various factors, including higher product cost, increased wholesale sales of diamonds that earn a zero margin, and shifts in sales mix. The higher product costs were reflected in the LIFO charges we recorded in 2007 -- $9.9 million in the fourth quarter and $28.7 million for the full year.

However, the biggest item affecting gross margin in the fourth quarter related to an obsolescence charge we recorded to write-off certain watches as part of our new strategic alliance with The Swatch Group.

Gross margin of 56.9% in the quarter was seven-tenths of a point lower than the prior year. Excluding the $19 million charge, gross margin would have increased in the quarter due to favorable product sales mix.

As we announced in today’s press release, we will discontinue utilizing the LIFO accounting method and begin using the average cost method for all inventories beginning in the first quarter of 2008. This will result in our inventory reporting conforming to the manner in which we operationally manage inventories and evaluate retail pricing and also will be consistent with many of our peer companies. We presume that analysts and investors will appreciate this change.

The tax related cash outflow of approximately $60 million to be paid over four years is not significant given the strength of our balance sheet. In addition, we will provide adjusted figures for the 2007 quarters when we file our report on Form 10-K in the next week.

SG&A expenses in the quarter and year were also affected by some one-time items. As reported, SG&A expenses increased 28%. However, that increase included two significant items. First, we have fully reserved against the $48 million loan that we made to the Tahera Diamond Corporation. Tahera recently sought protection from creditors and the impairment charge reflects our expectation that the loan will not be repaid.

Second, we recorded an impairment charge of $16 million related to our Iridesse business based on lower-than-expected store performance and a related reduction in future cash flow projections.

Excluding those two items, SG&A expenses would have increased 8% and with the 10% sales growth would have resulted in an improved expense ratio. Similarly for the full year, SG&A expenses increased 19% excluding the Tahera and Iridesse charges, as well as a $10 million contribution we made in the third quarter to the Tiffany & Company Foundation from the $105 million gain we realized on the sale leaseback of our Tokyo flagship store, SG&A expenses would have increased 12% in the year. Compared with the 15% sales growth we achieved, we would have shown an improved expense ratio.

Other expenses net in the quarter and the year were lower than the prior year, largely due to reduced net interest expense as we reduced net debt with operating cash flow and with the proceeds from the sales of the Tokyo and London flagship stores, and the sale of Little Switzerland.

Tiffany's effective tax rates in both the fourth quarter and the year increased from the prior year but came in pretty close to what we have expected. Therefore, net earnings in the fourth quarter of $118 million, or $0.89 per diluted share, were lower than the prior year but it was due to a number of non-recurring charges. Excluding those one-time items noted in today’s press release, net earnings from continuing operations in the quarter would have increased 14% over the prior year.

Similarly for the full year, adjusting for those items as well as the substantial gain we recorded from the sale of the Tokyo store, net earnings from continuing operations would have increased 20% and EPS from continuing operations would have been $2.33 per diluted share. This performance exceeded the 15% EPS growth we targeted at the start of 2007.

We also finished the year with a strong balance sheet. Cash and short-term investments were $247 million versus $191 million a year ago. Our total short-term and long-term debt was $453 million, and our stockholders equity was $1.6 billion. Therefore, total debt represented 28% of equity versus 29% a year ago.

Net inventories increased 8% in fiscal 2007 to support sales growth, new stores, and diamond sourcing. You should note that approximately half of the increase came from translating international inventories into U.S. dollars and on the other hand, the $19 million obsolescence charge we recorded for watches reduced inventories by almost 2%.

All in all, we were pleased to achieve an improvement in inventory turnover in 2007 and are in a strong inventory position.

Net receivables rose 17% in 2007, with about 5% of the increase due to foreign translation. Receivable turnover remained at a very high 18 times a year.

Capital expenditures were approximately $186 million in 2007 versus $175 million in 2006. As many of you know, we’ve invested heavily in Tiffany's infrastructure in recent years for internal jewelry manufacturing and rough diamond sourcing, as well as for added distributions in our capacity, and are now benefiting from that spending.

CapEx was 6% of net sales in 2007 and we are planning future spending to continue at a rate of approximately 6% to 7% of sales.

In our share repurchase program, we were increasingly active as 2007 progressed. After generating substantial proceeds in the third quarter from the sale leasebacks and sale of Little Switzerland, we spent $418 million in the fourth quarter to repurchase 9.3 million shares of our stock at an average cost of $44.99 per share. For the full year, we spent $575 million to repurchase 12.4 million shares at an average cost of $46.44 per share.

This led Tiffany's board of directors two months ago to increase its authorization for future repurchase by an additional $500 million. At year-end, we had $621 million available for future repurchases through January of 2011 and we intend to be opportunistic in our purchases.

Tiffany's productivity and profitability was improved in 2007. Return on average assets for the year increased to 11% versus our objective that calls for at least a 10% ROA and return on average stockholders equity rose to 18%, which exceeded our objective that calls for at least a 15% ROE.

As Mark mentioned, we added a net of 17 company-operated Tiffany locations in 2007, increasing our worldwide store base by 10% and square footage by 9%. For 2008, we are planning almost a 15% increase in a number of worldwide locations and a high single digit increase in square footage, as we accelerate the pace on the international side to take advantage of opportunities in a number of new and existing markets.

In terms of the financial plans that we initially disclosed last month, we continue to expect a 10% increase in worldwide net sales in 2008, coming from a low single digit increase in the U.S. comp store sales, which reflects the current difficult environment, and a mid single digit increase in international comp store sales, which will range from minimal growth in Japan to considerably stronger growth in Asia-Pacific outside Japan and in Europe. We are also expecting a meaningful contribution from the new stores.

We are also planning direct marketing sales to increase by a mid single digit percentage for the full year and sales in our other channel to increase by a low single digit percentage in 2008.

It’s difficult for us to improve our operating margin in this kind of environment and we are looking for operating margin in 2008 to be approximately equal to last year. We will not attempt to forecast the direction of precious metal or diamond costs but we are modestly benefiting from our zero cost collar hedging program that covers a portion of our platinum and silver needs for internal manufacturing.

Longer term, we have repeatedly said that higher costs will ultimately lead to increased retail prices which is true for the entire industry. We expect other expense net of approximately $20 million in 2008 and an effective tax rate of approximately 36% to 37%.

We are forecasting net earnings to grow by 5% to 9% and an 11% to 15% increase in diluted earnings per share to a range of $2.75 to $2.85 for 2008, which consists of an increase to our previously issued guidance of $2.50 to $2.55 per share because of better than expected 2007 results, as well as the benefit from changing our inventory valuation from LIFO to the average cost method. This compares with $2.47 in 2007, which is adjusted for the various one-time items and the conversion from LIFO to the average cost method.

While we don’t provide quarterly earnings guidance, I should point out that we are planning for relatively and consistently strong international sales growth throughout the year in Asia-Pacific outside Japan, in Europe, and in Canada and Latin America, along with solid growth of wholesale sales in the Middle East and Russia. However, we are forecasting softness in the U.S. sales for the first half of the year which in turn should lead everyone to expect pressure on earnings in the first and second quarters before rebounding later in the year.

From a financial and infrastructure standpoint, Tiffany is prepared to grow its business and deal appropriately with whatever environment we encounter. I’m now pleased to turn the call over to Mike.

Michael J. Kowalski

Thanks, Jim and good morning to all of you. As Mark and Jim have reviewed with you, 2007 was an active, productive, and highly profitable year for Tiffany. Despite the slowdown in our U.S. business in the latter part of the year, our international business in total performed very well, highlighting the benefit of our global diversification.

We are now more than halfway through the first quarter and in today’s press release, we indicated continued strong sales growth in non-U.S. markets except Japan, as well as slightly positive comparable store sales growth in the United States versus our expectation for a slight decline in the first half of 2008. It’s obviously early in the year but we are pleased that worldwide sales are exceeding 10% in the quarter to date.

We are all aware of the current economic uncertainties influencing consumers in the U.S. As we manage through these uncertain times, we will control our expenses prudently but at the same time capitalize on the numerous expansion opportunities available to us, increasing Tiffany's share of the large and still competitively fragmented jewelry industry.

We plan to open six new stores in the U.S. this year, including the first of our new 2000 square foot format stores in the Los Angeles market. We believe the design of this exciting smaller store format will provide a retail selling and service environment that further enhances Tiffany's appeal to the self-purchase customer and it should allow us to broaden our store expansion plans and profitably reach more customers in the United States.

Internationally, we expect to open approximately 20 locations this year. In Europe, we have long desired a presence in Spain and we will open a store at a prime location in Madrid, and we look forward to entering Belgium with a store in Brussels. We are also planning to add a fourth store in Germany when we open in Düsseldorf and we recently added our sixth location in London with a new store in terminal five at Heathrow Airport.

We also have many exciting plans in Asia, including opening several locations in China. We’ve announced a store for Perth, which will be our fourth location in the very successful Australian market. We are also opening several boutiques and department stores in Japan, including a couple of Tiffany for Men boutiques, and we will be undertaking a significant renovation this year of our Tokyo flagship store on the Ginza, which should be completed before the holiday season.

Regarding individual product categories, 2007 was another terrific year for diamond sales and we continue to achieve great success in the engagement jewelry category. We also continue to broaden our overall jewelry offerings with designs that complement that perennial favorites of Tiffany.

As always, our product development team has a substantial number of exciting new designs in the works for 2008.

We are also very enthusiastic about our strategic alliance with The Swatch Group, which is the world’s leading designer, developer, distributor and manufacturer of high-end luxury watches.

While 2008 is a start-up and transition year, Swatch will begin to manufacture our watches to expand wholesale distribution to independent watch retailers and to develop the marketing support that is needed to build customer awareness.

We are also working on new watch designs that will debut in 2009. We believe this alliance can ultimately lead to a watch business of very substantial scale in sales and in earnings.

And we recently announced that Tiffany will open a Patek Philippe Salon on the mezzanine level of our New York flagship store. Tiffany's relationship with Patek Philippe dates back more than 150 years. We are honored to be chosen for their only salon in the United States.

In closing, let me state what we believe is obvious but that nevertheless always bears repeating -- the Tiffany & Company brand remains remarkably strong in the United States and increasingly around the world. In fact, we believe our brand character is especially resonant in these most challenging of economic times when the future is obscured by so much uncertainty and pessimism.

What has made Tiffany such an extraordinarily endearing brand is that our customers trust us to create those special objects that transcend time, even difficult times like those we confront today. Objects that are cherished, passed from one generation to the next. Objects that inspire, that matter, and that last. Those are the things that are of special importance today and there is little doubt in our mind that managing the Tiffany & Company brand to sustain and enhance that special character remains even more critically important today and remains the key to sustainable long-term financial growth and rewarding our shareholders.

We will update you on our progress when we report Tiffany's first quarter results on Friday, May 30th. That concludes today’s conference call. Please contact Mark with any questions. Again, thank you all for listening.

Operator

Thank you, everyone, for joining us for today’s Tiffany & Company fourth quarter earnings conference call. A replay of this conference will be made available beginning today, March 24, 2008, at 9:30 a.m. Central, 10:30 Eastern, and run through March 30, 2008 at 12:00 a.m. Central, 1:00 a.m. Eastern. The toll-free telephone number to dial in for the replay is 1-888-203-1112 and the toll telephone number is 719-457-0820. The replay code is 5640806. Again, the telephone numbers for the replay are 1-888-203-1112 and 719-457-0820, and the replay code is 5640806. This will conclude our conference call today. We appreciate your participation. You may disconnect at this time.

Question-and-Answer Session

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