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(Adds analyst and CFO comments; Updates shares)
By Praveen Paramasivam
May 24 (Reuters) - Ralph Lauren Corp on Tuesday forecast improved full-year margins as demand for its luxury apparel in its biggest markets in North America and Europe stays strong at a time when inflation is denting profits at major U.S. retailers.
The spending power of higher-income customers has stayed unaffected by higher prices of essentials, and they are now splurging on fashion as they return to old routines and venture out more.
"Our consumers are resilient. They're at the higher end of income demographics, and they've proven through COVID that their desire for the brand has increased," Chief Financial Officer Jane Nielsen said on an earnings call.
The 55-year-old brand also forecast revenue to increase in high single digits, versus Wall Street's expectation of a 3.6% increase, according to Refinitiv IBES.
Ralph Lauren, which said it could raise prices further to counter increased freight and product costs, forecast fiscal 2023 gross margin to increase 30 to 50 basis points on a comparable, constant currency basis.
Major discount chains, meanwhile, have seen their profits dwindle. Walmart Inc, Target Corp and Kohl's Corp have reduced their earnings expectations.
Ralph Lauren's shares fell marginally amid broader declines, after the company also forecast gross margin to be down for the first half of fiscal 2023 due to higher expenses and a strong dollar.
The brand said its forecasts take into account a potentially softer European consumer sentiment and the impact of Chinese lockdowns. But it expects its China business to grow this year.
For Ralph Lauren, which increased its quarterly dividend by 9%, fourth-quarter net revenue rose 18% to $1.52 billion, beating estimates of $1.46 billion. Adjusted per-share profit was 49 cents, above estimates of 36 cents.
"We think the company could hold up well amid the current macro uncertainty (benefiting from return-to-office, return-to-events, etc.)," Wedbush analyst Tom Nikic said. (Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)