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Ulta Beauty Tops Views With 49% EPS Gain

Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA - News) reported great-looking fourth-quarter earnings but gave mixed guidance for the first quarter.

The one-stop beauty salon and supplies chain said earnings per share rose 49% to 73 cents, topping analysts' views by 5 cent s.

Sales grew 23% to $582.5 million. Analysts expected $579 million. Sales at stores open at least 14 months climbed 11.5% vs. a 10.4% gain a year earlier.

"Our strong sales resulted in additional market share gains in the quarter across all categories," said CEO Chuck Rubin on the post-earnings conference call.

For the current quarter, Ulta Beauty expects EPS of 46-48 cents, ahead of analysts' views for 45 cents. Its sales guidance was $452 million-$460 million, with the midpoint below the Wall Street target of $459.2 million.

The company also declared a special cash dividend of $1 per share, to be paid May 15.

Ulta, rated No. 5 on this week's elite IBD list, fell less than 1% in after-hours trading. The stock rose to a record high during the regular session, closing up 1.5% to 89.27. It has risen 37.5% so far this year.

Sally Beauty (NYSE:SBH - News), which sells salon supplies to consumers and professionals, closed up nearly 2% at 24.95, also a new high.

Beauty stores, as well as products makers such as Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL - News), Elizabeth Arden (NASDAQ:RDEN - News) and Nu Skin Enterprises (NYSE:NUS - News), are benefiting from an uptick in consumer discretionary spending.

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Ulta, which runs 449 all-in-one salon and beauty supplies stores, opened 61 last year, boosting total square footage by 16%. Expansion will step up this year.

"We will accelerate our store openings beyond our 15%-20% growth target. We plan to open 100 new stores this year, which is about 22% growth," Rubin said.

Robin Albing, head of Albing International Marketing, said one reason for the company's growth is that it's very competitive on pricing.

"The other thing that is often mentioned about Ulta is their breadth of line. They have so much variety in their stores. We've heard that from younger customers as well as from older ones, too," Albing said.

Ulta will add some trendy items including products from Body Shop, Katy Perry Lashes and an exclusive lineup from Bare Escentuals, Rubin says.

CFO Gregg Bodnar will step down due to a family health issue that requires him to relocate to Michigan. He will stay on until a successor can be found.

"Gregg has been a terrific partner of mine," Rubin said on the conference call.

On Jan. 5, Ulta raised its Q4 profit guidance after posting strong numbers during the crucial holiday season. From mid-November to the end of the year, sales popped 24.4% vs. a year earlier, to $386 million.

"We continue to believe the company represents both an attractive square footage growth and margin expansion story, and view the stock's premium valuation as justified," Oppenheimer analyst Joseph Altobello said in a note at the time.

During the fourth quarter, gross profit margin rose to 34.1% of sales from 33.1% a year earlier.

Ulta ended Q4 with $253.7 million in cash and no debt.