Jul 27, 2010
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Alberto Culver outperforms in haircare category, shares at record high

Jul 27, 2010

DETROIT, July 26 (Reuters) - Alberto Culver Co (ACV.N) posted a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit, as the maker of Alberto V05 and TRESemme shampoos saw double-digit sales growth across its beauty care brands, sending shares to an all-time high.

Alberto Culver
TRESemmé range for Alberto Culver

The company, which competes with larger rivals Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) and L'Oreal SA (OREP.PA), pointed to lower commodity costs and stronger demand for its TRESemme products.

"We continue to outperform the hair care category and gain market share," Chief Executive Officer V. James Marino said in a statement. "Double-digit organic sales growth was broad based across our core beauty care brands."

Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer with Solaris Asset Management, said Alberto's revenue came in much stronger than expected, but it also benefited from a buildup in inventory and positive currency translation. His firm does not own shares in the stock, but follows it closely.

"Its TRESemme brand of hair care products has been performing quite well and advertising has been effective," Ghriskey said.

Net income in the third quarter ended on June 30 rose about 69 percent to $47.2 million, or 47 cents a share, from almost $28 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, the company's earnings from continuing operations were 39 cents a share, 2 cents above what analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had expected.

Net sales rose 18.8 percent to $417.6 million, topping the $391.3 million analysts had expected.

Shares of Alberto rose to a new all-time high of $31.49, and were still up $1.32, or 4.5 percent, at $30.72 in late morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Stripping out the effects of foreign currency fluctuations and acquisitions and divestitures, sales rose 10.7 percent.

Sales rose 12.7 percent in the United States on strong demand in several of the company's core brands, while international sales jumped 29 percent, mostly due to heavy TRESemme growth.

Gross profit margin rose to 51.5 percent from 50.8 percent due to lower commodity costs, while advertising and marketing costs increased 20.1 percent, mostly from activity for TRESemme and St. Ives, Alberto said. Alberto and other consumer products companies have stepped up their advertising spending.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Mark Astrachan said in a research note that Alberto's gross profit margin came up short of his expectations due to higher costs for disruptions from a move to SAP (SAPG.DE) software that has hurt the company's ability to track inventory. He maintained his "hold" rating on the stock.

While the acceleration in demand demonstrates Alberto's ability to produce mid-single-digit revenue growth and share gains in the U.S. hair care market, the promotional environment in that sector remains a concern, he added.

The company also said its board had approved the regular quarterly cash dividend of 8.5 cents a share, payable Aug. 20 to shareholders of record on Aug. 5.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman)

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