Three companies provided earnings and operations updates last week from senior management, and for the most part the news was good across the board. Here is a look at the three, with my recommendations for your portfolio actions.
PriceSmart (NASDAQ:PSMT) earned 68 cents per share in its second quarter, up from 60 cents per share a year ago. That’s 2 cents below analysts expectations, and the reason is that the company continues to sacrifice margin to build its top line, as sales increased 22%. At the same time, warehouse gross margins fell slightly to 14.7% from 14.8%. Also hurting the bottom line were a 24.5% increase in warehouse operating expenses and a higher tax rate (32.7% versus 30.8% last year).
In general, I do not see anything in the numbers that concerns me. The company takes a very long-term view of business, and a quarter here and there with earnings slightly below expectations does not change my outlook, especially when sales growth is strong.
Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) held an Analyst Day last week, and the takeaways were mostly positive. CEO Mike Splinter was optimistic about the company’s long-term position in semiconductor equipment, with the rapid growth in mobile devices leading to quicker technology ramps and thus rapid investment by semiconductor companies like Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).
In addition, AMAT believes the market share it gained with the largest spenders last quarter will continue, a result in part of the company’s efforts to have deeper and earlier engagements with these companies and work more closely with them on their technology road maps. While this business will have its cycles –as we just talked about with a possible slowdown in the growth of wireless devices right now –the long-term trend remains favorable with one billion consumer electronic devices expected to be connected to mobile broadband networks by 2016.
AMAT also provided some optimism for its energy and environmental services business, which makes semiconductor wafer systems used in the production of solar panels. This industry is still beset by overcapacity, but it is growing. Management hopes that supply and demand will be more closely aligned in the next 12 months. That should lead to better results for the unit, which has been weak in the current fiscal year. In the display segment, AMAT expects to remain profitable in 2012. There will be modest unit growth in televisions, where a lot of excess capacity has already been eliminated, while touch screens and mobile displays will drive future growth.
Guidance for the current fiscal year (ending October 2012) left open the possibility of earnings coming in short of current analysts’ estimates. AMAT is looking for 85 cents to 90 cents per share, and the consensus expectation among analysts is 95 cents. However, it’s important to note that guidance is still well above the expectations of 76 cents just two months ago before the strong first quarter.
The analyst day confirmed my outlook, and I view AMAT as a good long-term holding. Sales of semiconductor equipment accounted for 77% of revenues in the most recent fiscal year, and the company should remain dominant in this cyclical but growing industry. Plus, the 2.9% dividend is above average, and management expects to raise both the dividend and share buybacks over the next few years.
If you own the stock, continue to hold AMAT. Until I have a better feel for 2013 fiscal earnings, I would look to put new money into other opportunities first, so I’m leaving AMAT a hold.
Ford (NYSE:F) reported North American sales increased 5% in March, their best showing in five years. As we have seen in recent reports, sales were consistent across all platforms of cars, trucks and SUVs; cars and trucks were up 5.6%; and SUVs, 3.3%. The flagship car, the Fusion, had its best month ever with 28,562 sold. The small Ford Focus had its best March ever as well at 28,293 vehicles. Core F Series truck sales were up 9% to 58,061, the best March performance since 2007. Among SUVs, the Edge had its best March ever with 14,058 vehicles sold.
The company did not change guidance for production in the current quarter, so expectations remain for 3% growth. To some extent, demand was helped by warm weather as well as an improving jobs picture, so it is not surprising to see management be somewhat conservative with regard to future production.
F was down with the overall market, more because of European concerns. While North American sales were encouraging, investors will have a very close eye on European results when Ford reports earnings later this month. Sales in Europe were very rough in March, with Italy, France and Spain down 26.7%, 22% and 4.5% respectively. There were some mitigating factors to keep in mind, including an auto workers transport strike in Italy and the lack of incentives in France that were present a year ago. Sales in Germany were positive, up 3.4%.
Ford is up over 15% so far in 2012, with much of that coming early in the year. The stock traded between $12 and $13 most of the first quarter, so it has been kept in check by European fears, but it has also held up relatively well. The news out of Europe will ebb and flow, but the long-term trends remain positive for Ford.