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By
Reuters
Published
Nov 22, 2011
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Middle-class buyers give Kay Jewelers owner a lift

By
Reuters
Published
Nov 22, 2011

Kay Jewelers and Jared parent Signet Jewelers Ltd (SIG.N) (SIG.L) posted a higher-than-expected quarterly profit, the latest sign that American watch and necklace shoppers have been undeterred by higher prices.


Signet shares were up nearly 3 percent in morning trading on Tuesday.

At Kay, a U.S. chain that caters to shoppers of modest means and accounts for nearly half of Signet's overall business, sales at stores open at least a year were up 13 percent. Prices were 8.7 percent higher than a year earlier, partially on increases to offset higher gold, silver and diamond costs.

But Signet Chief Executive Officer Michael Barnes said on a call with analysts that Kay shoppers had also been "trading up" to fancier jewelry. Barnes said he was pleased so far with Signet's holiday quarter.

Kay's results echoed those of main U.S. rival Zale Corp (ZLC.N), which reported higher same-store sales and gross margins on Monday, helped by price increases and fewer bargains for shoppers..

In the latest sign that middle-income shoppers' finances are improving, Signet said on Tuesday that its gross margin had benefited from lower bad debt as a percentage of U.S. sales.

The sales jump also extended to Signet's U.S.-based Jared chain, which priced its items at $1,055 on average during the quarter, compared with $449 at Kay.

Jared's comparable sales rose 18.3 percent, consistent with the large gains in recent months at chains such as luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co (TIF.N), which reports results next week, and upscale stores Saks Inc (SKS.N) and Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N).

High-end shoppers' willingness to spend allowed Jared to raise prices by 21.7 percent from a year earlier.

Overall, Signet's U.S. same-store sales rose 13.9 percent.

In Britain, where Signet gets more than 20 percent of its sales, same-store sales fell 0.5 percent. The decline follows two quarters of gains as the government's austerity measures there are curbing consumer spending.

Signet reported net income of $26.1 million, or 30 cents per share, for the third quarter ended Oct. 29, up from $6 million, or 7 cents per share, a year earlier. That beat the 21 cents a share that Wall Street analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Overall sales were $710.5 million, well above the $684.7 million analysts were projecting.

Signet shares were up 2.8 percent at $44.75 in morning trading, while Zale gained 8.4 percent to $3.86.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba, editing by Maureen Bavdek and Lisa Von Ahn)

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