Harley-Davidson profit sputters as U.S. motorcycle sales lag

MILWAUKEE — With U.S. sales still in a slump, Harley-Davidson’s profits are sputtering.

Growth overseas has helped offset the decline in the U.S. motorcycle market somewhat. But Harley’s international sales were also down in the recent quarter, hurt by weak performance in Japan, Australia and Mexico.

“The continued weakness in the U.S. motorcycle industry only heightens our resolve and the intensity we are bringing to the quest to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders,” CEO Matt Levatich said in a statement.

The motorcycle maker, which is struggling to attract Millennial buyers, said Tuesday its profit fell 40% in its third fiscal quarter to $68.2 million. On a per-share basis, the company earned 40 cents, down from 64 cents a year earlier.

The results met Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was also for earnings of 40 cents per share.

Harley reported $1.15 billion in revenue, down about 9% from the third quarter of 2016.

The company said its worldwide retail motorcycle sales fell nearly 7%, primarily because of its U.S. slump.

In some respects, Milwaukee-based Harley is caught between two customer demographic trends: Millennials who aren’t widely embracing the motorcycling lifestyle and Boomers who are aging out of riding.

It feels like the heavyweight motorcycle industry is in recession, analyst Robin Diedrich with brokerage Edward Jones said.

The decline in international sales is of increasing concern for Harley, according to Diedrich.

“International is really soft, and that definitely had been a bright spot for them,” she said.

Entering Tuesday, Harley-Davidson shares had decreased 20% since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had climbed 14%. The stock had fallen 6.5% in the last 12 months.

In May, the company upset its unionized workforce when it announced plans to operate a motorcycle assembly plant in Thailand.

Harley said the plant was necessary for the Asian market, partly because the Thailand tariff on motorcycles assembled in the U.S. is about 60%.

Union officials argued it would take work from the United States and that it was one of multiple steps the company had taken to weaken its unionized workforce.

Temporary furloughs are expected at U.S. plants this fall, including the Menomonee Falls, Wis., plant that employs about 1,000 production workers.

The company earlier  said it was eliminating about 180 production jobs, with the Menominee Falls and Kansas City locations expected to be hit the hardest.

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