If Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said that “The creation of beauty is art,” then it seems fair to suggest that Elizabeth Arden (NASDAQ:RDEN) is vying to turn its celebrity fragrance, elite skin care and luxury spa brand into a modern-day masterpiece. That will be a tough task, to be sure, but the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, released last Thursday, were awfully pretty.
RDEN reported earnings of $5.4 million (18 cents per share), compared to $2.3 million (8 cents per share) for the same quarter in 2010. That blew away analysts’ estimates of 10 cents for the quarter. The company also reported net sales of $253.8 million, up 11.2% from the same quarter last year.
One big reason for the company’s strong results: cost discipline and technology-related efficiency. Elizabeth Arden has focused on outsourcing business functions, such as packaging, while streamlining global transaction processing functions. RDEN also acquired the trademarks for several Liz Claiborne fragrance brands. The company believes it can accelerate the growth of those brands, particularly internationally.
While some 65% of RDEN’s sales come from North America, the company is aggressively targeting global markets — particularly in Asia and Western Europe, which each have $45 billion beauty product markets. The company’s “Red Door”-branded spas, which are operated by a third party, remain a strong distribution channel and brand awareness tool for RDEN’s skin care, cosmetics and fragrance lines. Elizabeth Arden’s e-commerce channel also is a source of revenue growth.
Now trading at about $31.50, RDEN set a new 52-week high of $34.62 on July 21. It also is trading more than 93% above its 52-week low, set last August, of $15.79. With a market cap of $859.90 million, the company has a price/earnings-to-growth ratio of 1.37, meaning the stock might be slightly overvalued.
The 9.9% return on equity is a little lower, and the leverage position (total cash of $33.82 million vs. total debt of $258.1 million) is a little higher than we’d like. That said, the fundamentals still are attractive.
Bottom Line: It’s hard to be beautiful — and it’s even harder to be in the business of making women beautiful in the middle of a topsy-turvy economy. When the economy tanked back in late 2008 and 2009, so did earnings of companies like Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL), Avon (NYSE:AVP) and Revlon (NYSE:REV). As a result, earnings and stock prices in this sector — like most others — would be vulnerable to a contracting economy.
While the economy still is too weak to send the average shopper scrambling for a $1,200 Fendi baguette bag, budget-conscious beauties still can pamper themselves with a spritz of Peace Love & Juicy Couture. And that’s what gives Elizabeth Arden an edge. Indeed, most of the company’s revenue comes from that prestige fragrance business, particularly celebrity brands like Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. So if the economy stays on track, RDEN shares should continue to be a sweet-smelling part of your portfolio.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the stocks named here.