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A. O. Smith reports record sales, strong growth in net earnings

MILWAUKEE, April 27, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Water technology company A. O. Smith Corporation AOS, -2.30% today announced record first quarter net earnings of $73.5 million or $.83 per share on record first quarter sales of $636.9 million. First quarter 2015 net earnings were $58.4 million or $.65 per share.

Sales in the quarter ended March 31 grew approximately three percent compared with sales of $618.5 million during the same period in 2015. Sales increased approximately five percent when adjusted for the impact from the stronger U.S. dollar against the Canadian and Chinese currencies.

"We achieved earnings growth of 26 percent in the first quarter despite lower U.S. residential water heater volumes than a year ago," noted Ajita G. Rajendra, chairman and chief executive officer. "Lower volumes were primarily due to a pre-buy in the first quarter of 2015 ahead of an April 2015 price increase."

"China growth remained strong with sales up 17 percent in local currency during the first quarter, thanks to increased sales of water heating, water treatment and air purifier products," observed Rajendra.

North America segment

First quarter sales for the North America segment, which includes U.S. and Canadian water heaters and boilers, declined modestly to $423.9 million compared with first quarter 2015 sales of $429.2 million. Higher prices in the U.S. and Canada for residential and commercial water heaters, as well as higher boiler sales were more than offset by lower volumes of residential and commercial water heaters in the U.S.

Segment operating earnings of $91.9 million were nearly 30 percent higher than the $71.2 million earned in the first quarter last year. Higher prices in the U.S. and Canada and lower material costs contributed to the significantly improved segment performance. The impact to profits from lower residential and commercial water heater volumes in the U.S. and approximately $3 million of incremental costs associated with the ERP implementation partially offset these favorable factors. As a result, first quarter 2016 operating margin was 21.7 percent, which was higher than the first quarter 2015 operating margin of 16.6 percent.

Rest of World segment

Sales of this segment, which is primarily comprised of China, Europe and India, increased approximately 11 percent in the first quarter of 2016 to $217.4 million from $195.9 million in the year ago quarter. Continued strong customer demand for the company's premium water heating and water treatment products, and seasonal demand for air purifier products, drove China sales 17 percent higher as measured in local currency and over 12 percent higher as measured in U.S. dollars.

Operating earnings for this segment were $26.9 million compared with $26.2 million earned in the 2015 first quarter. The impact to profits from higher China sales was partially offset by higher selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses in China, as well as a larger loss in India. Segment operating earnings were reduced by approximately $1.5 million due to China currency translation. Higher selling costs to support expansion in tier 2 and 3 cities and the e-commerce platform in China, as well as higher development costs associated with new products including expansion of the company's air purification product portfolio in China, were the primary drivers of higher segment SG&A expenses. As a result of these factors, first quarter 2016 operating margin of 12.4 percent was lower than the 13.4 percent operating margin in 2015.

Share Repurchase and Other Items

During the first quarter of 2016, the company repurchased approximately 430,000 shares of common stock at a total cost of $30.5 million. Approximately 2.15 million shares remained on the existing discretionary authority at the end of the quarter. Due to lower than originally forecasted capital spending in 2016, the company increased its aggregate expected 2016 share repurchase spending from $150 million to $175 million.

Total debt as of March 31, 2016, was $287.3 million, resulting in leverage of 16.3 percent as measured by the ratio of total debt to total capital. Cash and investments, located outside the U.S., totaled $640.8 million at the end of the...