Newell's profit up, Americas push planned for 2013
(Reuters) - Newell Rubbermaid Inc (NWL.N) reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit on Friday, but gave a forecast that 2013 could fall short of Wall Street expectations as the consumer products maker spends more on advertising to increase business in North American and emerging markets.
Under Chief Executive Mike Polk, who took the Newell helm in July 2011, the maker of Sharpie markers and Rubbermaid storage containers has cut jobs, consolidated manufacturing and distribution facilities, and reduced the number of business units to control costs.
Newell, which also makes Graco strollers, Calphalon cookware and Paper Mate pens, has now met or exceeded Wall Street expectations for profit and sales for six consecutive quarters.
Now, the company is preparing for some of its biggest marketing pushes yet, including more in-store promotions of its Rubbermaid food and beverage storage containers.
Newell is placing its biggest investment bets in the Americas, including North America and faster-growing markets in Latin America, and is also preparing for expansion in Asia, Polk said in an interview.
The company said it expects earnings of $1.78 to $1.84 per share for the year, excluding special items, while analysts were looking for $1.82, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"We expected conservative 2013 guidance and believe the investments will pay off," said BMO Capital Markets analyst Connie Maneaty, who has an "outperform" rating on Newell shares.
The company's shares were down less than 1 percent at $23.33 in afternoon trading after rising to $23.87, their highest level since April 2008. The shares rose 37.9 percent last year.
"We remain bullish on the shares, as we believe the company's turnaround remains on track" and should lead to faster sales and profit growth over time, said Oppenheimer analyst Joseph Altobello.
MORE IN-STORE PROMOTIONS FOR RUBBERMAID
In the past, Newell has made its big in-store promotional push for its Rubbermaid food storage products just once a year, after Thanksgiving on the busy Black Friday shopping day. This year, it is adding four more events, starting with the Super Bowl, then Easter, July 4th, and the back-to-school season.
"It's either connected to a big family event, where there's food and food leftovers, or it's connected to a moment in time when mom refreshes her kitchen," Polk said.
The company is able to do such promotions without resorting to deep discounting, keeping margins at levels that should please retailers and the company itself, he added.
Newell did not give an advertising budget for 2013.
Fourth-quarter net income rose to $101.9 million, or 35 cents per share, from $80.4 million, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items such as restructuring costs, Newell earned 43 cents per share, beating analysts' average estimate by a penny. The tax rate on those adjusted earnings declined to 20.7 percent from 23 percent a year earlier.
Fourth-quarter net sales rose 1.6 percent to $1.52 billion, meeting analysts' expectations. Excluding the impact of foreign currency fluctuations, sales rose 2.2 percent.
The company said that adjusted earnings in the current first quarter are likely to come in below last year's adjusted 33 cents per share, which included about 3.5 cents from a shift in orders related to a European SAP software conversion. Analysts' average forecast had been for 34 cents per share.
Newell said this year's sales should rise 1 percent to 3 percent, or 2 percent to 4 percent excluding foreign currency fluctuations.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; editing by John Wallace and Carol Bishopric)