May 2, 2018 / 11:11 AM / 22 days ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 2-Weak U.S. sales cloud Estee Lauder's profit beat

(Corrects to say sales were flat in North America, not up 1 percent, in second paragraph. Drops “growth” from headline)

May 2 (Reuters) - Estee Lauder Cos Inc topped expectations for quarterly profit on Wednesday but investors were worried about slowing U.S. sales as fewer shoppers visit department stores where the company sells a bulk of its products.

Sales were flat in North America, compared with a 38 percent growth in the Asia-Pacific region, but that was enough to knock 5 percent off the stock which has gained more than two-thirds in value over the past year.

Brands such as Clinique and Smashbox, which the company pushes through makeup counters in department stores, have been facing a decline as shoppers opt to purchase discounted products online or through specialty shops such as Ulta Beauty and personalized makeup subscriptions like Birchbox and Ipsy.

“The only blemish in the quarter was continued softness in the U.S. where mid-tier department store challenges continue to weigh upon EL’s delivery,” Oppenheimer & Co analyst Rupesh Parikh said, adding that the recent bankruptcy of Bon-Ton would mount further pressure.

The 72-year old company is also using social media to target a younger audience, while encouraging a network of bloggers who promote its products through makeup and grooming tips.

These initiatives, however, increased operating expenses by 19 percent to $2.2 billion. Estee Lauder also recorded a $100 million restructuring charge in the third quarter related to a multi-year initiative launched in 2016.

Its skin-care division was a bright spot, posting double-digit revenue growth in China and at duty-free stores at airports. Total skin-care sales surged 31 percent to $1.45 billion.

Estee Lauder said it expects full-year adjusted profit of $4.38 to $4.42 per share, largely above the average estimate of $4.37 per share.

Net earnings rose to $372 million, or 99 cents per share, in the third quarter ended March 31, from $298 million, or 80 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned $1.17 per share, topping analysts’ average estimate of $1.07, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales rose 18 percent to $3.37 billion, also exceeding analysts’ estimates.

Estee also said on Wednesday tests on some of its product advertising claims did not meet company standards, but added that the claims did not relate to the quality or safety of the products. A company spokeswoman said claims for new product launches would not be affected.

Shares of the New York-based company fell as much as 5 percent, on track for their worst day in nearly two years. (Reporting by Karina Dsouza in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

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