Update August 19, 2016. It’s not often that you’ll see a stock climb 13.49% on the day when the company announces that full year sales will fall 10%, worse than the 9% drop it had forecast earlier.
But that’s the story today for Deere (DE.) The stock’s move, I think, says as much about the market consensus about economic and earnings growth–or actually the lack thereof–as it does about Deere itself.
Deere announced today, August 19, earnings of $1.55 a share for the June quarter, up a scant 2 cents a share from the $1.53 that Deere earned in the June quarter of 2015.
That scant earnings growth, however, was hugely better than the 94 cents a share that Wall Street analysts had been projecting. Analyst pessimism was fully justified because Deere’s business is at a cyclical low. A record corn crop this year has sent grain prices–and farm incomes–falling and sales of Deere’s farm equipment closely track the rise and fall of farm incomes. Tractor inventories are a a seasonal record and there’s no sign of an early turn around in sales. Revenue fell to $5.86 billion for the quarter, from $6.84 billion in the June quarter of 2015, and well short of the $6.06 billion in revenue forecast by Wall Street.
What analysts did under-estimate, though, was Deere’s ability to cut costs and then cut them some more. For the quarter Deere managed a 16% reduction in the cost of sales. That isn’t a one-time reduction either. By the end of 2018 Deere expects to boost pretax income by at least $500 million–even if the current farm downturn continues, Deere CFO Rajesh Kalathur said in a post-earnings release conference call. Today the company raised its forecast for net income for the full fiscal year that ends in October 2016 to $1.35 billion from a May forecast of $1.2 billion.
Is this kind of earnings growth based on cost-cutting worth a 13.49% one-day jump in the share price? Maybe not in an economy and stock market were companies are finding it easy to grow top line revenue and bottom line earnings.
But that isn’t the economy or the stock market we have right now. Earnings for the Standard & Poor’s 500 stocks were down again this quarter and are now forecast to fall again in the third quarter, although by a smaller percentage. A drop in third quarter earnings would mark a sixth straight drop in quarterly earnings. That’s a real earnings recession.
In that context earnings from cost cutting (or any source, in fact) look really good–especially if a company can produce a cost reduction in the neighborhood of 16% and also forecast that it believes that it can continue to cut costs even as the company’s business continues to limp along the bottom of a deep cyclical downturn.
Deere has been a member of my 50 stocks portfolio since December 30, 2008. The shares are up 131.93% in that period as of the close on August 19. The stock comes with a decent 2.75% yield.
Given the kind of cost cutting that Deere has promised and that management looks capable, on the record, of delivering, I’d certainly hold onto these shares. The trailing 12-month PE ratio is just 16.92. The shares are down 2.1% over the last year and up only 14.49% for 2016 to date.