"Our dealer checks over the last two weeks suggest that foot traffic has been mixed if not weak in the first two months of the second quarter -- less than half of the dealers surveyed responded that foot traffic had improved in recent months vs. last year, with many citing poor weather, and slow traffic unless there is a promotional event being held," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Patrick Archambault in a note Monday. He downgraded his rating on the stock to hold from buy.
The analyst said that if Harley-Davidson's U.S. registrations fall in the second quarter it would be the seventh consecutive quarter of year-over-year sales declines.
"Concerns about long term brand relevance, and demographic headwinds that we thought would be offset by the strength of the cyclical recovery could continue to take center stage once again, muddling our buy thesis," Archambault added.
Harley-Davidson just can't seem to catch a break on Wall Street despite its compelling sales momentum in overseas markets.
Shares have fallen about 2% in the past three months compared to a 5% gain for the S&P 500. Over the past two years, shares have shed roughly 35% vs. an 8% gain for the S&P 500 as sales and profit have been hurt by foreign bike makers offering discounted bikes in the U.S. and Polaris' Indian brand gaining some traction. Harley-Davidson managed to notch a better-than-expected start to the year thanks to momentum overseas, but apparently Wall Street remains fixated on the company's largest market in the United States.
The legendary motorcycle maker reported first-quarter earnings of $1.36 a share, handily beating Wall Street estimates of $1.29. Spurred by sales gains in Asia, Europe and Canada due to increased marketing and new product introductions, overall revenue rose 4.3% year over year to $1.58 billion. Analysts expected $1.5 billion in sales. The company said in April it still expects to ship 269,000 to 274,000 motorcycles this year, an increase of about 1% to 3% from 2015. Operating profit margins are also anticipated in a 16% to 17% range.
Harley-Davidson's U.S. market share at the end of the first quarter stood at 50.9%, down from 51.4% in the fourth quarter. In the year-earlier first quarter, Harley-Davidson's U.S. market share was 51.4%. First-quarter sales in the U.S. fell 0.5%, even as the company ramped up its marketing efforts. Harley-Davidson pinned the blame on increased discounting by competitors and continued weakness in areas of the country that are dependent on the oil industry.