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Another Back-Half Story for Tiffany?

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Real Money at 9:30 a.m. EDT on March 22. To see the latest commentary as it's published, sign up for a free trial of Real Money.

NEW YORK ( Real Money) -- Tiffany (TIF - Get Report) lowered earnings guidance in each quarter of 2012.

The most recent guide down came when the company posted disappointing holiday comparable sales numbers and suggested fourth-quarter earnings would come in at the low end of the expected range (the low end was $1.35 a share).

Well, EPS came in above that range at $1.40 and management did NOT take down the most recent 2013 guidance of 6%-9% earnings growth. The market cheered. Finally, no guide down. But to be fair, the 6%-9% growth issued in January was a guide down from the Street's 15% growth expectation at the time.

Before you celebrate, let's look a little deeper inside the blue box. First-quarter earnings are expected to decline 15%-20%, but don't worry, growth returns in the second and third quarters. Does any of this sound familiar? (This link requires a subscription.) When the company had a back-half story last year, it did not pan out.

Fourth-quarter holiday sales were basically in line with the exception of the New York flagship and Asia (both decelerated). Japan got a little better. But let's look at the two- year comp trend to put things in perspective. Worldwide comps decelerated to 5% on a two-year basis vs. 17% in the third quarter.  Americas went from 16% in the third quarter to 1% in the fourth quarter, while Asia went to 19% from 32% (the Flagship New York store went to -1% from 29%). The market that held up best was Japan (went to 6% from 9% two-year comp). But in this market we have to wonder what price adjustments due to a weak yen will do to volumes.

There were plenty of data points to keep expectations low going into the TIF report. Swiss watch exports in February decreased, Swatch has been notably less bullish than is typical, Chow Tai Fook (China's largest jeweler) comps decreased 7% and in general luxury players have been warning the no gifting trend in China has hurt big-ticket items.

Finally, maybe the biggest relief is not another guide down (if you don't count the first quarter).

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