* Q3 EPS from operations 33 cts vs Street view 24 cts
* Smaller sales drop in U.S., says November starts well
* Ups FY EPS from continuing ops view to $1.88-$1.98/shr
* To triple China mainland stores within 5 years
* Tiffany shares up 4.1 percent (Adds analyst comments, details from call, updates shares)
By Phil Wahba
NEW YORK, Nov 25 Tiffany & Co (TIF.N), which resisted the temptation to deeply discount its jewelry in the recession, posted earnings showing its upscale shoppers around the world are coming back to life.
Tiffany's quarterly profit beat Wall Street expectations and the company raised its full-year forecast on Wednesday, saying early trends in November were encouraging ahead of the holiday shopping season. Its shares rose 4 percent.
"Tiffany's results also speak to a company that defended its brand during the depth of the market downturn last holiday season by not discounting its merchandise," Brian Sozzi of Wall Street Strategies Inc said in a note.
The company posted double-digit sales growth in Asia, bolstered by mainland China and Singapore, and a slower rate of decline for the United States.
"Global diversity is paying off for Tiffany," said Matt Arnold, analyst with Edward Jones. "It not only protects Tiffany, but it will yield a better growth profile as there are plenty more places it could still go."
Global sales at stores open at least a year, an important retail gauge known as same-store sales, fell 6 percent during the third quarter and were down 10 percent in the United States.
The global sales declines eased as the quarter progressed, Tiffany said, and November worldwide sales are signaling a strong start for the holiday season.
After last year's bloodbath, when U.S. same-store-sales fell 33 percent in the fourth quarter that included the holiday season, any sign of domestic improvement comes as a relief.
"Tiffany's numbers are not that great in the U.S.," said Laura Champine, a Cowen & Co analyst. "Jewelry will show some growth next year, but that's only because last year was so bad."
Tiffany shares were up $1.71 to $43.54 in noon trading. Shares in Mid-tier jeweler Zale Corp ZLC.N, which beat Wall Street earnings expectations on Tuesday, rose 0.6 percent. [ID:nN24291808]
Upscale U.S. department store Saks Inc SKS.N gained 3.9 percent. Saks last week posted a surprise profit, suggesting the pressure on luxury retailers could be easing.[ID:nN17545573]
GROWTH IN ASIA, EUROPE
In Asia, excluding a weak Japanese market, total sales rose 18 percent in the quarter. Sales grew 12 percent in Europe, where Tiffany opened a store in Amsterdam this week and plans to open a second store at London's Heathrow Airport.
But at Tiffany's flagship store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, which accounts for up to 15 percent of its global sales, sales shrank 8 percent during the quarter.
Tiffany Chief Financial Officer James Fernandez said the retailer plans to triple the number of stores in mainland China to between 25 and 30 outlets, from nine, within five years.
Most retailers have reined in inventory levels to try to avoid steep discounts on extra merchandise. Tiffany's inventories were down 6 percent from year-earlier levels.
Tiffany raised its outlook for full-year profit from continuing operations to between $1.88 and $1.98 per share. It previously had expected $1.65 to $1.75. Analysts had forecast earnings of $1.77 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Earnings edged down to $43.3 million, or 35 cents per share, in the third quarter ended on Oct. 31 from $43.8 million, or 35 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, Tiffany's profit came to 33 cents per share, beating the average of analysts' views at 24 cents.
Sales fell 3 percent to $598.2 million from $616.2 million. Analysts had forecast $575.1 million.
The company operated 215 Tiffany & Co stores and boutiques globally at the end of the third quarter. (Editing by Michele Gershberg, Lisa Von Ahn and Tim Dobbyn) ((firstname.lastname@example.org ; +1 646 223 6128; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com ) ((Multimedia versions of Reuters Top News are now available for: * 3000 Xtra: visit topnews.session.rservices.com
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