From: Reuters
Published May 6, 2008 09:24 AM

Estee Lauder quarterly profit falls 4 percent

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Estee Lauder Cos Inc <EL.N> on Tuesday reported a 4 percent drop in quarterly profit as the weak U.S. retail environment took a toll on sales of its cosmetics, fragrances and hair-care products.

The company, known for its MAC, Aveda, Clinique and Bobbi Brown brands, said profit was $90.1 million, or 46 cents per share, for its fiscal third quarter ended March 31, compared with $93.9 million, or 45 cents per share, a year earlier.

It had fewer shares outstanding in the latest quarter, which boosted per-share results.

Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of 47 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

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Estee Lauder rival Elizabeth Arden Inc <RDEN.O> reported a surprising quarterly net loss last week and cut its full-year outlook as the weak economy crimped cosmetic sales.

But Estee Lauder boosted the low end of its fiscal-year forecast by 6 cents per share. It now sees full-year earnings per share of $2.34 to $2.40, compared with a previous view of $2.28 to $2.40.

INTERNATIONAL STRENGTH CAN'T OFFSET U.S. WOES

Quarterly sales rose 11 percent to $1.88 billion. Excluding the impact of foreign currency translation, sales rose 7 percent.

Sales in its Europe, Middle East and Africa regions rose 17 percent, with operating profit rising 17 percent. Sales in its Asia Pacific region increased 26 percent, with profit jumping 76 percent.

But in the United States, sales rose just 2.8 percent, while income fell 30 percent.

"One of the great strengths of our company is our geographic and product category balance. This was clearly visible in our results this quarter, which enabled us to deliver solid sales growth despite the softness in the U.S. retail environment," Chief Executive Officer William Lauder said in a statement.

The company said the operating loss in its fragrance business widened, hurt by lower results from designer fragrances. Its hair-care operating results declined, due in part to soft sales growth.

While Estee Lauder's business is being hurt by the economic slowdown, its U.S. business is also feeling a lingering squeeze from Macy's <M.N> 2005 acquisition of May Department Stores. Macy's closed a number of stores following the deal, cutting the number of outlets for Estee Lauder cosmetics and fragrances.

(Reporting by Nicole Maestri; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and John Wallace)

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