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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 4:33 AM

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Tiffany 4Q profit falls, but forecast shines

Tiffany & Co. said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter profit slipped, as wealthy customers continued to buy up its priciest items but demand for its more modest jewelry fell.

AP Business Writer

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NEW YORK —

Tiffany & Co. said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter profit slipped, as wealthy customers continued to buy up its priciest items but demand for its more modest jewelry fell.

The lower-than-expected earnings broke a five-quarter streak of better-than-expected results for the upscale jeweler. But the company was optimistic about its prospects for 2012, predicting both higher profits and revenue.

The news sent shares of the company known for its iconic turquoise box soaring $4.59, or 6.7 percent, to close at $73.27 Tuesday.

The quarterly results didn't come as a complete surprise. After posting solid results for the first three quarters of the year, Tiffany cut its 2011 profit prediction in January, saying that its U.S. and European sales weakened significantly during the holiday season as customers pulled back on high-end jewelry spending.

For the quarter ended Jan. 31, Tiffany reported net income of $178.4 million, or $1.39 per share, down from $181.2 million, or $1.41 per share, in the same quarter of 2010. Results fell below the $1.42 per share analysts polled by FactSet were expecting.

Revenue rose 7.8 percent to $1.19 billion from $1.1 billion, matching analysts' predictions. The company said its revenue at stores open at least a year - an indicator of a retailer's health - rose 5 percent, as the average price per unit sold increased. The increase in average price was partially a result of higher metals and diamond costs that were passed on to customers.

European sales increased just 3 percent to $142 million. Asia-Pacific sales jumped 19 percent to $225 million and Japan sales rose 12 percent to $204 million.

Sales in the company's Americas region - which includes the U.S., Canada and Latin America - rose 5 percent to $605 million on a same-store sales increase of 3 percent. In the Americas, sales of items priced below $250 fell, while demand increased for most of the company's higher priced product categories, company executives said on a conference call with investors.

The company said that some of the slow sales growth might have stemmed from restrained spending by people employed in the financial industry on the East Coast of the United States. In addition, higher silver costs, and the resulting product price increases, may have scared off some entry-level buyers, Tiffany said.

For the full year 2011, Tiffany reported net income of $439.2 million, or $3.40 per share, up from $368.4 million, or $2.87 per share, in 2010. Revenue rose to $3.64 billion from $3.09 billion.

Tiffany projected a 2012 profit of $3.95 to $4.05 per share, ahead of average Wall Street predictions of $3.93 per share. Revenue is expected to rise about 10 percent, largely as a result of higher Asia-Pacific and Americas spending, the company said.

Based on Tiffany's 2011 results, the guidance suggests $4.01 billion in sales, well ahead of average analysts' predictions of $3.91 billion.

Collins Stewart analyst Laura Champine backed her "Neutral" rating for Tiffany, but boosted her price target for the company by $3 to $69.

Champine said the company's guidance "reflects aggressive expectations in the Americas," in light of the recent slowdown in sales. She also noted that most of the sales growth in the Americas last year was driven by higher prices.

Tiffany said it expects to open 24 new stores this year, including five in the United Arab Emirates, marking its debut in that market.

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