TBL Shows Early Signs of a Turnaround

BOSTON — Investors ran up shares of Timberland Co. last Thursday following the firm’s better-than-expected 23 percent jump in third-quarter profits, despite a slip in revenues.

The stock spiked 23 percent in trading on Thursday to $16.38.

“We are encouraged by Timberland’s better-than-expected third-quarter results and would expect this momentum to carry into the fourth quarter, as retailers seem to be under-inventoried and cold weather is driving demand for boots,” Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Mitch Kummetz, who has a “neutral” rating on the stock with a $19 price target, wrote in a report.

“Yet, we are maintaining our wait-and-see posture on Timberland’s shares, as we are not yet convinced that the company’s current momentum will carry into the first half of fiscal-year 2010.”

While not providing a specific earnings or revenue forecast, Timberland management said on a post-earnings conference call that fourth-quarter gross margins should improve over the third quarter’s 46 percent of sales.

Kummetz said he expects Timberland’s sales to rise 5 percent for the full year and to increase 1 percent for the fourth quarter. He sees footwear sales rising 3 percent in the period.

Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland reported last week that third-quarter net income totaled $37.8 million, or 68 cents a diluted share, up from a profit of $30.7 million, or 52 cents, the prior year. Analysts had expected a profit of 45 cents.

Revenues slipped to $421.8 million from $423.6 million. The company cited declines in casual footwear offset by strength in boot sales. Global footwear sales rose 2 percent to $319.1 million. Wholesale revenues were flat at $342.2 million.

“For the first time in many quarters, revenue was essentially flat and global footwear revenue was up. We continue to manage operating expenses down and drive improvement on our balance sheet. We have made improvements this quarter, but we still have improvement opportunities ahead of us,” Timberland CFO Carrie Teffner said on the call.

Comparable-store sales were down 7 percent globally in the third quarter. North America retail revenues decreased 8 percent, with a 15 percent decrease in comp-store sales, thanks largely to declines in outlet stores.

“I think of the third quarter as modest progress, as nothing more than the first faint external signal that our plans to rebuild our brand and business performances are beginning to take. No one here is even barely satisfied with our performance,” CEO Jeff Swartz said on the call.

Swartz noted the firm had an 8 percent decrease in inventories and a 5 percent decline in expenses.

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