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Urgent: Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (KORS): Earnings Update and What to Watch

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Earlier this week, Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (NYSE:KORS) announced market-stunning earnings for its third quarter. Earnings per share beat Wall Street estimates by 40%, coming in at $0.64 against an estimated $0.40. The shocker came from Kors’ continued pressure on comparable-sales growth, which jumped up 41% in the quarter. Not only did that make forecasters look silly — include me in that list — but it also handily beat out the company’s own expectations for mid-20% growth.

Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (NYSE:KORS)

With its foot firmly planted on the accelerator, it appears that any guess is as good as another for how high Kors can fly. Of course, the other side of that growth coin is the fear that Kors’ wings are thick with wax, which is going to melt as it floats ever closer to the sun. Once again, any stumble from the company is going to have a dramatic impact on the stock, but that doesn’t mean that a stumble is coming anytime soon. Here’s a rundown of the most recent earnings release, and what investors should look for over the next few months.

Third-quarter knockout
Right now, Kors is making everyone else look bad. At the end of 2012, holiday sales were up about 1%, with many companies falling flat on their faces. Analysts have said that the slow growth was the worst performance that the U.S. has seen since 2008. That sound bite quickly found its way into earnings calls, with management hemming and hawing about growing 3% even in a tough marketplace (if one more CEO brings up the fiscal cliff I might give up on investing altogether). Then along comes Kors with its 70% increase in revenue and suddenly people start to look silly.

Sales didn’t come at the expense of the bottom line, either, with Kors refusing to play the markdown game just to get feet in the door. Gross margins increased year over year, up about a percentage point to 60.4%. While that increase was largely driven by the company holding fast on pricing, it also saw a favorable shift in product mix to higher-margin items.

Looking way down the road to 2014, Kors announced that it was going to help boost sales even more by bring its e-commerce business in-house. Right now, Neiman Marcus runs the online business, and while the company is happy enough with the relationship, it’s been talking for a while about bringing it all back under one roof. That’s great news for the long run, and should really help the company address its omnichannel goal of having one Kors experience wherever customers shop.

In addition, Kors management has said that 40% of the customers who visit its site are from international locations that don’t have a store and can’t be shipped to. That’s a great indicator of the brand’s international strength and potential. But that’s all the long game — what should investors be watching this year?

What the future holds
One of the follow-on successes of having a luxury brand is that people want to buy everything they can with your name on it. Coach, Inc. (NYSE:COH) and Tiffany & Co. (NYSE:TIF) have made all sorts of lower-price-point items because the demand is so great. In this last quarter, Kors saw a surprise upswing in women’s ready-to-wear clothing that came from the demand for the brand. Look for the company to expand the ready-to-wear line in its retail stores to draw in additional foot traffic.

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