Yesterday I listened to the FDX 2Q11 earnings conference call, which was held before the market opened in New York last Thursday.
FDX reported earnings of $1.16 a share on revenues of $9.63 billion. The revenues were up by 12% year on year, the eps less than half that. Earnings per share also just barely hit the bottom of the range of $1.15 – $1.35 that FDX guided analysts to when it reported 1Q11 results on September 16th.
Despite the close call, FDX raised its guidance for the full fiscal year from a range of $4.80 – $5.25 a share to a new range of $5.00 – $5.30.
The company did caution that its third fiscal quarter is always vulnerable to bad weather, of which the midsection of the US has already had plenty so far this month. So it’s not yet clear what the quarterly breakout of the earnings will be.
The International Priority (IP) business, notably deliveries from Asia to the US, continued to grow rapidly, with revenues expanding by 14% over a year ago. Notably, the domestic parts of the FDX distribution chain grew at about the same rate, and benefitted from improved operating efficiencies.
So what went wrong?
1. After what was reported as only three hours of deliberation, a jury in Indianapolis awarded now-defunct airline ATA $65.9 million in its suit against FDX that it wrongfully terminated a long-term contract with ATA to transport US troops. A reserve for this judgment–FDX said nothing on the call about a possible appeal–clipped about $.15 from eps. That’s also the main reason the IP business had flat year-on-year operating income.
2. FDX overestimated the strength of the IP business during the second quarter. It extrapolated the frantic rate of shipment growth of the spring and summer into the fall. But that didn’t happen. Revenues in the IP segment grew by 23% y-o-y in 1Q2011 after an almost 30% gain in 4Q10–but decelerated to 14% growth in 2Q11. (True, comparisons are affected by the fact that FDX’s business really began to pick up from recession lows in the second quarter of last fiscal year. But FDX guidance still anticipated better than what it got.)
3. FDX is now projecting a better full year than it was three months ago. I’ll get to this in a minute. Because of this, it is also projecting bigger bonus payments to employees than it was. Therefore, it made a higher provision for bonuses in 2Q, and presumably also had to make a catch-up accrual for 1Q. FDX mentioned this as a factor but gave no further details.
why the slowdown in the international business?
In ordering from suppliers, a merchant faces two complementary inventory risks:
–he can order what he is confident he can sell plus some more, and risk the expense of holding excess inventory for longer than he wants or selling it at clearance prices, or
–he can order only what he knows for sure will sell–or maybe less, and risk losing business as customers come into the store and find the shelves bare.
FDX wasn’t 100% clear on the point, but it seems to believe that retailers got cold feet as they planned for the holiday selling season. They collectively made the cautious decision that the risk of being out of stock was much more acceptable than the risk of having excess inventories. So they slowed down the pace of their new orders from Asia.
They are now finding out, too late to do anything about it, that customers are in a much better spending mood than anticipated. As a result, store inventories will be severely depleted by the end of December. This means, in FDX’s view (I think they’re right) that there’ll be a mad rush to restock early in the new year. That will be very good for FDX.
In addition, FDX clearly believes that world economic growth is beginning to gain momentum and will continue to do so for at least this year and next.
I haven’t done enough work on FDX to have an opinion about it as a stock. Clearly, earnings are going to improve, both as the global economy expands and as the costs of resuming normal operations–restoring pay and benefit cuts for employees and reactivating planes mothballed in the desert during the recession–now being charges against income–fade from the financials over the next couple of quarters. To me, the real question is how much of that good news is already reflected in today’s stock price.
Be that as it may, FDX is a large, sophisticated company. Because of the business it’s in, it has unusually good insight into the workings of the world economy. It sees, directly or indirectly, manufacturers’ production plans and retailers sales experience. And it must already have a good feel for the tone of business for the next several months. I happen to think the company’s view of world economic growth is correct. But, unlike my guesses, theirs is based on a wealth of commercial data that few other entities have. So I think FDX is evidence that it’s still right to be bullish.