Herbalife Earnings Are Less Than the Full Story

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Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE: HLF) reported first quarter 2014 results after the markets closed Monday. The nutrition and weight loss company posted adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.50 on revenues of $1.3 billion. In the same period a year ago, Herbalife reported EPS of $1.27 on revenues of $1.12 billion. The Thomson Reuters estimates called for EPS of $1.29 and $1.23 billion in revenue.

And as much as Herbalife and its major shareholders, including activist investor Carl Icahn who now holds five board seats at the company, may wish it, Herbalife’s earnings are not the central issue for the company these days. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an investigation into the company’s multi-level marketing practices while other states and federal agencies are thinking about launching their own investigations.

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While the company’s stock is up 50% over the past 12 months, year-to-date it has fallen from a peak of around $83.50 to close today at $58.85, down about 30%. That decline can’t be attributed to weak earnings or missed estimates. The company has beaten EPS estimates for the past five consecutive quarters.

In an effort to drag the attention away from Bill Ackman and the investigations, Herbalife raised its guidance both both for the full-year and for the current quarter. For the quarter ending in June the company now forecasts EPS of $1.51 to $1.55, not including costs for defending itself Ackman’s charges, expenses related to the FTC inquiry, and non-cash interest costs. The consensus estimate had called for EPS of $1.55. For the full year the company estimates EPS at $6.10 to $6.30, above the current estimate of $6.05.

Herbalife is also accelerating its share buyback program (thank you, Carl Icahn!). The company now expects to repurchase $581 million of outstanding common stock in the second quarter as part of its original $1.5 billion buyback program. The program has not been expanded, just sped up. Icahn apparently wants some cash back now before it all gets spent on lawyers.

The company’s CEO said:

We continue to achieve record earnings, strong sales growth and enhanced profitability. Our performance reflects the demand for our exceptional products, as well as the hard work of our independent members who continue to cultivate and grow their base of satisfied customers worldwide.

The important thing about Herbalife’s earnings are the reactions by the short seller (Ackman) and Icahn and the rest of the long investors. Herbalife’s numbers almost don’t matter with the investigations overhang stirring up uncertainty about the company’s future.

Herbalife shares closed at $58.55 today in a 52-week trading range of $38.24 to $83.51. Shares are up about 1.1% in after-hours trading at $59.49. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $85.50 before today’s report.

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