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Demand Worries Hit Harley-Davidson

Banc of America downgrades the stock and cuts its estimates on the motorcycle maker.



said on Monday that it expects second-quarter retail registrations to grow faster than the overall motorcycle industry and that it's happy with the recent sales performance of its bikes.

But data released later in the day by the Motorcycle Industry Council, an industry trade group, said overall motorcycle unit sales fell 3% in May, compared to an expected 2% drop and an increase of 4.7% in April.

Following the news, Harley was downgraded and its estimates cut Tuesday by a Banc of America Securities analyst who believes that despite the company's belief that its registrations will increase more quickly than the industry, its second-quarter retail sales remain weak.

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Shares of the company were falling about 6%, at $41.84, in early afternoon trading.

Milwaukee-based Harley, which usually doesn't release midquarter financial information, said in a statement Monday that an executive had made a comment regarding the prospect of strong June retail sales of motorcycles. The comment was based on 10 days of June retail data, Harley said.

"We do know that many stakeholders attempt to use motorcycle industry data to estimate performance of our U.S. dealers," said Chief Executive Jeffrey L. Bleustein. "We caution investors that retail sales data can be volatile over short periods of time and that positive or negative comparisons of weekly, monthly or sometimes even quarterly performance need to be taken with a grain of salt."

Banc of America analyst Gary Cooper cut the company's rating to neutral from buy, saying, "The gap between Harley's supply and demand has collapsed and it has done so during its 100th anniversary model year." Cooper believes the company has a building inventory and that retail sales will be lower than its wholesale shipments in the second quarter. He cited the weak economy, the weather and the war.

Harley, however, will meet its second-quarter guidance and might meet its full-year 2003 forecast, Cooper said. June was "reasonably strong," but "the business faces some significant headwind in fiscal year 2004." Cooper lowered his 2004 EPS estimate to $2.60 from $2.70. Analysts expect $2.32 a share, on average. He also cut the company's price target to $39 from $50.

"Harley will face the uncertainty of demand that it has not had to endure in the past," the analyst said. "Although the stock may appear reasonably valued, we believe this uncertainty of demand warrants a lower P/E multiple."