Stronger-than-expected results on Thursday from motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc
The results came one day after the U.S. Federal Reserve said economic activity in some parts of the economy appeared to be stabilizing, and offered fresh hope -- however slim -- that the economy's steep descent is no longer building momentum.
Investors responded to the news by sending the two companies' shares, which had already doubled in recent weeks on nascent hopes of a rebound, sharply higher.
Harley-Davidson reported stronger-than-expected first-quarter earnings, affirmed its full-year shipment forecast and said it was mildly encouraged by sales trends in the United States, its biggest market by far.
To be sure, retail sales of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the United States, which accounts for 65 percent of the company's revenue, fell 9.7 percent in the quarter. But that represented an improvement over the fourth quarter of 2008, when U.S. retail sales tumbled 19.6 percent, and the third quarter of 2008, when U.S. retail sales fell 15.5 percent.
Citi analyst Gregory Badishkanian called the sales data better than expected.
Harley-Davidson also affirmed its plans to ship between 264,000 and 273,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles to dealers worldwide in 2009 -- avoiding the shipment or production cuts that the bike maker has been forced to make in the past and suggesting conditions are stabilizing.
Polaris also reported stronger-than-expected first-quarter earnings on Thursday and stood by its full-year earnings forecast, saying lower commodity costs and higher selling prices are helping it enjoy wider gross margins despite a downturn in sales.
The company, which makes all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and motorcycles, also provided some encouraging comment on early sales in April, the start of the industry's key spring selling season .
During a conference call to discuss the earnings, Bennett Morgan, Polaris' president and chief operating officer, told analysts we like what we've seen in the first 15 days of April. But he quickly added: We're going to be conservative and balanced about this and not get too high or too low based on weekly or monthly shifts in demand.
(Reporting by James Kelleher, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)