Polo Ralph Lauren sees momentum continuing

Feb 9 - Polo Ralph Lauren Corp said momentum from a strong holiday season should continue in the current quarter and it has been able to charge full price for more of its high-end clothing, helping push its shares to an all-time high.

Ralph Lauren
Pieces from Polo Ralph Lauren

The upscale clothier and retailer, whose brands include Polo, Club Monaco and Chaps, posted a bigger-than-expected jump in quarterly profit.

Sales to department stores were strong, as were sales at the company's own high-end stores and its less expensive outlets.

Polo also doubled its dividend. Its shares rose as much as 9.9 percent, hitting a new all-time high in early trading, before edging back down.

Revenue from its wholesale business, which sells to department stores such as Macy's Inc and Nordstrom Inc, rose 21 percent. The wholesale business accounted for nearly half of overall sales.

Polo posted its fourth consecutive quarter of sales gains. Sales at its own stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, were up 15 percent. Same-store sales at its factory outlets also rose 15 percent.

Through its chain of outlets, the company has succeeded in catering to "aspirational shoppers" who crave brand names but are on tighter budgets than luxury shoppers.

Polo forecast its hot streak would continue in the current quarter, its last of the fiscal year.

Early orders for the 2011 fall and holiday seasons suggest Polo's market share will keep growing in fiscal 2012, executives said on a call with Wall Street analysts.

The company now expects fiscal 2011 operating margin to be flat rather than down 0.5 percentage point, despite higher costs for cotton, wool and cashmere. It cited strong sales and its ability to charge full price on more merchandise.

Just like Jones Group Inc, whose brands include Nine West, Jones New York and Anne Klein, Polo said it expects to raise prices more markedly in the second half this year.

In contrast to Jones, which warned that shoppers might not be willing to pay higher prices, Polo Chief Operating Officer Roger Farah said his company's "brand equity" would allow it to pass along higher costs.

Polo said net income rose to $168.4 million, or $1.72 a share, in the fiscal third quarter ended January 1, from $111.1 million, or $1.10 a share, a year earlier.

That was far above the $1.29 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had expected. Net revenue rose 24 percent to $1.5 billion, also above Wall Street forecasts.

The company doubled the quarterly cash dividend to 20 cents a share and authorized an additional $250 million stock buyback program.

Polo shares were up 9.5 percent to $126.81, while Jones shares were up 0.5 percent to $13.14.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba; additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; editing by Dave Zimmerman, John Wallace)

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