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Fifth Avenue protests could mean trouble at Tiffany's this holiday

Thousands of anti-Trump protesters shut down 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower as New Yorkers react to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States on November 9, 2016 in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters shut down 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower as New Yorkers react to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States on November 9, 2016 in New York City.

On a key stretch of New York's Fifth Avenue, visions of sugarplums are being crowded out by police barricades and angry protesters. That could spell trouble for Tiffany's holiday sales, as its famous flagship sits next door to the embattled Trump Tower.

As angry Americans take to the high-brow street to protest Donald Trump's election, analysts caution that a prolonged disruption could take a meaningful bite out of Tiffany's fourth-quarter sales and earnings. That's because its Fifth Avenue store accounts for roughly 20 percent of Tiffany's U.S. sales, and represents some 10 percent of its total revenues, according to various estimates.

With the store open but difficult to access, Cowen and Company analyst Oliver Chen said traffic could be cut in half on days with heightened security. Assuming that estimate is accurate and holds up for a total of two weeks after the election, Chen said the protests could pressure Tiffany's earnings by 3 cents a share in the fourth quarter.

For every additional week of disruption that could potentially cut sales in half, Chen estimates it would contribute another 3 to 5 cents of pressure per share.

"We do not know how long traffic risk factors will persist, but we do believe investors should be informed about this risk factor," he said in a note. It would be particularly troublesome if the protests continued through the high-traffic Black Friday weekend, or in the final days before Christmas, Chen said.

The analyst walked down his estimates for the company due to this uncertainty, but maintained the "buy" rating he placed on its shares last week.

In a separate note to clients, Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow listed heightened security on Fifth Avenue as yet another headwind challenging Tiffany's rebound. He reiterated his "underperform" rating on the company's stock Wednesday, saying the disruptions are expected to last "at least" until Trump is inaugurated in January.

Other risks to the brand's performance include ongoing weakness in luxury sales, which are getting hit by a slowdown in tourism and a strong U.S. dollar, Boruchow said.

Citi analyst Paul Lejuez echoed that Tiffany was already facing a laundry list of challenges before the protests began. He reiterated his "neutral" rating on the stock, saying the upheaval on Fifth Avenue is not its biggest concern.

Lejuez previously predicted tourism declines would pressure sales at Tiffany's Fifth Avenue flagship by 12 percent this fiscal year, and said Wednesday that he is sticking to that assumption.

"If the protests are still occurring in December, we will likely reconsider," he said.

A spokesman for Tiffany told CNBC that the company is in "frequent communication" with the New York Police Department and U.S. Secret Service regarding safety and security along the perimeter of its store.

"We remain open for business with regular hours and welcome customers to enter the store via our 57th Street entrance while any barricades along Fifth Avenue are in place," the spokesman said.

Tiffany's revenue and profits are both expected to take a hit this fiscal year, according to Thomson Reuters estimates. That includes a projected 1 percent drop in revenue and a 4 percent slide in third-quarter earnings per share.

Tiffany will release its third-quarter results, which will exclude any impact from the protests, later this month.