Analysts: Harley investors shouldn't sweat sales

NEW YORK (AP) -- A pair of analysts said Friday that while Harley-Davidson Inc.'s first-quarter sales may pale in comparison to those of a year ago, they still look pretty good and investors shouldn't worry.

THE BACKGROUND: Helped by early spring weather and a rebounding U.S. economy, the Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker posted a 20 percent increase in sales for the first quarter of 2012 that included a 26 percent jump in U.S. sales.

But the steep year-ago jump will make it tougher for the company to post a big increase for the first quarter of this year

THE OPINIONS: Citi analyst Gregory Badishkanian said that based on checks with Harley dealers, the company's February U.S. sales were likely flat in both January and February, which investors will probably view favorably given the steep sales jump a year ago.

But he noted that the company's March sales will be key in light of the fact that they generally represent about half of the company's first-quarter sales and mark the start of its spring selling season.

Badishkanian, who backed his "Buy" rating for the stock, added that sales comparisons should ease as the year progresses and the company should get a boost from innovative new 2014 model year products starting in the third quarter. He predicted a U.S. sales increase in the "mid- to high-single-digits" for the full year.

KeyBanc analyst Scott Hamann, who also rated the stock a "Buy," said he thinks the company's sales are currently running slightly below year-ago levels, which given the year-ago sales jump is fine.

Hamann said that at its current price, the stock remains attractive and the company has the potential to beat what he sees as "muted" early season expectations.

THE SHARES: Up 24 cents to $55.16, after peaking at $55.51 earlier in the session. That's the highest price since 2007. Since the beginning of this year, Harley shares have risen about 10 percent.