TIF’s 4Q11: supply your own adjective

the results

Just before the open on Tuesday March 18th, TIF reported earnings results for fiscal 4Q11 (TIF’s accounting year ends in January of the following calendar year). Sales came in at $1.19 billion, up 8% year on year. Profits were $178 million, or $1.39 per share, a drop of 2% from 2010.

For the full year, sales were $3.64 billion, a yoy advance of 18%. Eps were $3.60, or + 23% yoy.

In a lackluster market, the stock was up more than 6% on the news.

details

Sales for 4Q in the Americas were up 5% yoy; in Asia-Pacific they were up 19%, up 13% in Japan and 3% in Europe.

In early January, TIF had warned that its business had slowed significantly from the torrid pace of the first three quarters of 2011 (see my post). Overall, the results TIF actually reported were slightly better than it signaled at that time. Thanks to a small rebound in January, sales in the Americas were 1 percentage point higher than TIF was figuring, and Europe—of all places—was 2% better.  No change in trend elsewhere.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but 4Q11 eps would probably have been at least flat with 4Q10 and maybe up a penny, were it not for a year-end upward adjustment of the company’s tax rate. Without going into all the details,  a greater proportion of TIF’s sales than anticipated came from high-tax areas like the US and EU. Put another way, the tax rate adjustment is a consequence of the fact that sales in Asia-Pacific fell off more in 4Q11 than the rest of the world did.

TIF also gave its initial guidance for fiscal 2012—sales growth of 10%, earnings per share growth of 10%-13%–resulting in eps of about $4 for the year. The company thinks the bulk of the advance will come in 4Q12.

During the first half of 1Q12, results are tracking in line with TIF’s expectations.

During the quarter TIF spent $35 million buying back stock, at an average price of $67.26. That’s about 30% less than TIF averaged over the first nine months of the year. To me, it looks like all the buying came before the company’s profit warning. If so, I certainly can’t be too critical since I had no enthusiasm for buying, either.

Arguably, continuing to buy below $60 at the same time the company knew its sales shortfall would mean a lot of money tied up in unsold inventory would be too risky. But it certainly implies to me that TIF is not shrugging off the current sales slowdown as something that will soon be behind it.

my thoughts

TIF’s 4Q11 has played out pretty much as I thought it would in January. The only new news from the company announcement is that the situation appears to be stabilizing at the lower rate of sales growth TIF experienced in 4Q11. All in all, I don’t get the market reaction of aggressively bidding up the stock on this information.

Contrary to what I would have expected, TIF shares have also recovered all they had lost vs.the S&P after their January swoon.  And that’s before this week’s earnings report.

The stock now trades at around 18x this year’s earnings. That’s not wildly expensive for a company like TIF. But it’s not cheap, either, especially with perhaps three quarters of lackluster earnings comparisons in prospect.

There’s certainly a risk that my incorrectly lukewarm attitude to the stock at $59 will color my opinion now. Nonetheless, I’m happier on the sidelines now than buying. And I’ve got to at least consider the idea of selling some of what I own into any strength.

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