* Posts Q2 EPS ex-items of 59 cents vs 41 cents estimate
* Finance unit swings back to profitability
* Worldwide sales continue to fall, though at slower rate
* Company warns conditions “remain challenging” (Adds details on sales and shipments)
CHICAGO, July 20 (Reuters) - U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc (HOG.N) reported better-than-expected quarterly results on Tuesday, lifted by a return to profitability at its in-house finance arm.
The results came as worldwide retail sales of the company’s bikes continued to weaken, led by an 8.4 percent drop in the United States, Harley-Davidson’s largest market.
The Milwaukee-based company said it believes “conditions will remain challenging this year for new motorcycle purchases,” and reiterated its expectation that it will ship 201,000 to 212,000 motorcycles to dealers and distributors in 2010 — 5 percent to 10 percent fewer than in 2009.
Harley-Davidson said it earned a net profit of $71.2 million, or 30 cents a share, during the second quarter, up from $19.8 million, or 8 cents a share, last year.
The company, which is in the middle of a massive restructuring, reported a profit excluding items, of 59 cents a share.
On that basis, analysts, on average, expected Harley to post a profit of 41 cents a share.
Sales of its bikes and related products were little changed at $1.14 billion during the quarter.
But revenue at its financial services arm, which helps more than half of Harley’s customers pay for their motorcycles, jumped 40 percent.
As a result, the unit, which reported an operating loss of $90.5 million during the comparable quarter last year, posted a $68.1 million profit this time around. (Reporting by James B. Kelleher, editing by Maureen Bavdek)