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Ulta Sparks Rout in Beauty Stocks on Warning of Slowing Demand

The company’s stock plunged as much as 15 percent, the most it has tumbled since March 2020.
Ulta Beauty store in Herald Square.
The retailer’s stock plunged as much as 15 percent Wednesday. (Ulta Beauty)

Ulta Beauty Inc. tumbled the most since March 2020 after executives signalled cooling consumer demand for beauty products, which weighed on the shares of industry peers as well.

The retailer’s stock plunged as much as 15 percent Wednesday. The slide came after the company said at a JPMorgan Chase & Co. conference that comparable sales for this quarter would likely be at the lower end of the guidance it gave last month for the first half of the year, assuming current sluggish trends persist.

Shares of firms whose goods Ulta sells also tumbled. Estee Lauder Cos. and Coty Inc. sank the most since the start of the year, while Elf Beauty Inc. slumped the most since October.

Ulta has seen both mass and prestige segments cool “meaningfully” from its fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 3, chief executive officer David Kimbell said at the conference. He described the slowdown as “a bit earlier and a bit bigger” than anticipated, and called out higher credit-card debt and the return late last year of student loan payments — after a three-year pause — as pressuring consumers.

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“We are surprised by the moderation, and, at this point, are unclear whether this represents just a shorter-term blip,” Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh, who rates Ulta outperform, wrote in a note to clients.

Illinois-based Ulta slid in March, following four months of gains, after providing an earnings update that disappointed investors. Some on Wall Street noted that meeting its full-year targets would depend on improvement in the back half of the year. Analysts project Ulta will post sales growth of about 5 percent this fiscal year, which would be the slowest pace in four years.

Some analysts called the reaction overdone.

Olivia Tong at Raymond James said she had already anticipated a more normalised growth trajectory in 2024 after several years of outsized expansion. She reiterated strong buy ratings on Ulta, Estee Lauder and E.l.f., and an outperform on Coty.

“Despite the slower start to the year, we expect beauty to continue to be one of the stronger sectors across the consumer sector, supported by innovation, new distribution, and increased marketing and engagement with consumers,” she wrote in a note to clients.

By Katrina Compoli and Janet Freund

Learn more:

Ulta Beauty’s Annual Profit Forecast Misses Estimates as Costs Climb

The company’s shares fell 4.5 percent in extended trading.

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