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UPDATE 2-Tiffany maintains forecast despite strong U.S. holiday sales

Devika Krishna Kumar
Friday, 10 Jan 2014 | 1:07 PM ET

(Adds analysts' comments, background; updates share movement)

Jan 10 (Reuters) - U.S. jeweler Tiffany & Co kept its full-year earnings forecast unchanged, disappointing investors after reporting a strong jump in U.S. holiday season sales.

The company's shares fell as much as 2.5 percent after it maintained its adjusted profit forecast of $3.65-$3.75 per share for the year ending Jan. 31.

"We believe the market was probably looking for a stronger earnings guide based on recent fundamental momentum," Jefferies & Co analysts wrote in a note.

Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarbrough said investors were also disappointed with flat growth in same-store sales in the Asia-Pacific region. Growth in the region had driven the company's sales growth in the past year amid sluggish sales in the Americas.

Tiffany's recovery in the United States, its biggest market, came after two years of struggle to find the right mix of the expensive jewelry for which it is known and cheaper silver items that generate a quarter of sales.

The company, known for its blue boxes and its Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan, reported a 7 percent rise in same-store sales in the Americas for the holiday shopping season ended Dec. 31.

Overall net worldwide sales rose 8 percent during November and December, excluding currency fluctuations. Including foreign exchange fluctuations, sales rose 4 percent.

Lower-end peer Zale Corp reported a 2 percent rise in comparable-store sales for the same period, driven by higher sales at its Zales Jewelers and Zales Outlet stores.

Zale shares rose as much as 19.5 percent on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

While Tiffany has maintained its forecast, other large retailers have slashed theirs due to steep discounts.

Signet Jewelers Ltd , the largest U.S. jeweler, estimated its fourth-quarter profit below analysts' expectations on Thursday as increased promotions hurt margins.

"Tiffany was able to overcome the traffic challenges of other mall retailers based on the strength of its assortments -and despite its lack of discounting," Dorothy Lakner of Topeka Capital Markets wrote in a note.

Yarbrough said the company's launch of cheaper silver jewelry and increased marketing and advertising efforts boosted sales in the Americas.

"We'll have to wait and see if this translates into 2014 or if this is just a holiday period revival," Yarbrough said.

Tiffany shares were down 2 percent at $90.30 on Friday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.

Zale shares were up 13 percent at $16.06, while Signet shares were down 2 percent at $71.93.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Kirti Pandey)

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