PPG Industries Warns of Intensifying Inflation Pressures and Weakening Demand

{Originally published on One-Twenty Two by Dr. Duru}

““As we look ahead, we currently do not anticipate any relief from inflationary cost pressures in the third quarter. We expect aggregate global economic growth to remain positive with end-use market activity comparable to the second quarter, adjusted for traditionally lower seasonal demand. However, uncertainties exist regarding global trade policies, which may create uneven demand by region and in certain industries. Specific to PPG, we expect that the previously announced architectural customer assortment change will lower our third quarter year-over-year sales volume growth rate by between 120 and 150 basis points. We remain confident that our leading-edge technologies and products, which are bringing value to our customers, will facilitate our growth going forward….

Currently the new tariffs are starting to add some modest cost to our raw materials. Based on the strength in the US dollar in the second quarter, we expect foreign currency exchange rates to have an unfavorable impact to our sales in the third quarter”

This was the essence of the guidance industrial paint company PPG Industries (PPG) provided in its 2nd quarter earnings report. I added the emphases because the warnings on inflation and international demand were clear precursors to the company’s pre-earnings warning tonight. The stock traded down about 10% in after market trading in response to significant cuts in revenue and earnings guidance. I was most interested in the explanation which made the second quarter’s caution come to life (emphases mine)…

““In the third quarter, we continued to experience significant raw material and elevating logistics cost inflation, including the effects from higher epoxy resin and increasing oil prices…These inflationary impacts increased during the quarter and, as a result, we experienced the highest level of cost inflation since the cycle began two years ago.

“Also, during the quarter, we saw overall demand in China soften, and we experienced weaker automotive refinish sales as several of our U.S. and European customers are carrying high inventory levels due to lower end-use market demand…Finally, the impact from weakening foreign currencies, primarily in emerging regions, has resulted in a year-over-year decrease in income of about $15 million. This lower demand, coupled with the currency effects, was impactful to our year-over-year earnings and is expected to continue for the balance of the year.”

Instead of moderating, inflationary pressures are mounting on PPG. The weakness in China is telling in the context of the trade war with the U.S. The lower “end-use market demand” points to the trickle-down impact of “peak auto.” These warnings are each important given PPG has a market cap of $26.5B and trailing 12-month revenue of $15.4B. I fully expect other industrial companies to deliver similar news this earnings season.

Interestingly, Credit Suisse downgraded the stock in late September and the market responded by taking PPG down 2.8% on relatively high trading volume. The gap down confirmed the end of PPG’s post-earnings run and breakout above 200-day moving average (DMA) resistance. Until the downgrade the stock finally looked ready to challenge its 2018 high.

PPG Industries (PPG) never quite recovered from the February swoon. The recent breakdowns below 50 and 200DMA supports now look like fresh warnings.
PPG Industries (PPG) never quite recovered from the February swoon. The recent breakdowns below 50 and 200DMA supports now look like fresh warnings.

Source: FreeStockCharts.comThe market is supposed to be a forward-looking mechanism, so it is natural to wonder why PPG was rallying so well in the first place. I do not put all the blame on investors. I assume the company itself was partially responsible through its sizable share repurchase program. For the first half of 2018, PPG spent $1.1B on its own shares: 4.1% of the company’s current market capitalization. With this kind of aggressiveness, PPG should quickly move in on the new 52-week low to add to take out even more shares.

As earnings season unfolds, I will be paying close attention to company commentary on trade woes and inflation. The stock market has spent most of the past several months ignoring risks, so there are a good group of over-priced stocks out there waiting their turn for a douse of realty. Collectively, these warnings could be the catalyst that delivers the oversold market conditions I am anticipating.

Full disclosure: no positions

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Acuity Brands: Wage and Tariff Inflation and Resulting Business Uncertainties

(Originally published on One-Twenty Two by Dr. Duru)

I last mentioned Acuity Brands (AYI), a lighting and building management solutions company with $3.7B in net sales in 2018, three months ago. At that time, I described a good risk/reward setup to go long the stock post-earnings. AYI shot nearly straight up from there. The stock broke through resistance at its 200-day moving average (DMA) and gained as much as 34.7% before peaking intraday in September. While I only participated in a portion of that run-up, I am glad I did not overstay my welcome. Fast forward to last week: AYI suffered a massive post-earnings gap down. The stock lost 16.3% and sliced right through 200DMA support after the 50DMA gap down. Sellers closed the week confirming the bearish breakdown. AYI has now almost erased its entire incremental gain from July earnings.

Acuity Brands (AYI) looks set to reverse all its previous post-earnings gains after a disastrous earnings report that sent the stock crashing through its 50 and 200DMAs
Acuity Brands (AYI) looks set to reverse all its previous post-earnings gains after a disastrous earnings report that sent the stock crashing through its 50 and 200DMAs

Source: FreeStockCharts.com 

This moment is critical for the stock. AYI hit an all-time high in August, 2016 and sold off pretty steadily from there (on a monthly basis) until reaching a 4-year low in May, 2018. If AYI completes a full reversal of its gains from July earnings, then the stock greatly increases its risk of resuming the downtrend from the all-time high.

AYI’s earnings report was interesting for a lot more than the technical disaster. The company also delivered some telling remarks about today’s inflationary environment. The company begain its conference call by launching right into the bad news. From the Seeking Alpha transcript:

“While our results for the fourth quarter and the full year were records, we had higher expectations coming into 2018. Market conditions for growth were far more subdued than most had originally anticipated, especially for larger commercial projects and deflationary pricing persisted throughout the year, while cost pressures were far more significant than most had forecast, particularly in the fourth quarter.”

The general market environment hindered the business:

“Based on the information from various data collection and forecasting organizations, we believe the overall growth rate for the fourth quarter as measured in dollars for lighting in North America was flat to slightly down, continuing the sluggish trend over the last several quarters…

We believe the lighting industry will continue to lag the overall growth rate of the construction market, primarily due to continued product substitution to lower priced alternatives for certain products sold through certain channels.”

For the fourth quarter and full-year, the company sported record revenues and diluted earnings but significantly lower operating profit and margin. The cost pressures came from multiple inflationary fronts including tariffs and wages. Emphasis mine…

“Another significant factor impacting our adjusted gross profit and margin was higher input cost for certain items, including electronic and certain oil-based components, freight and certain commodity-related items, particularly for steel. Many of these items experienced dramatic increases in price in the fourth quarter due to several economic factors including enacted tariffs and wage inflation due to the tight labor markets.

We estimate the inflationary impact of these items reduced our adjusted gross profit in the quarter by more than $20 million, lowering our adjusted gross profit margin by 200 basis points and reduced adjusted earnings per share this quarter by $0.38…

…we expect employee-related costs will continue to rise as we enter fiscal 2019 as markets for certain skills remain tight contributing to a rise in wage inflation…”

AYI also explained that it sources from China about 15% of its components and finished goods which are subject to the new import tariffs.

Freight costs are an increasing burden. The combination of rising oil prices and the rising wages that come from a severe shortage of truck drivers are driving freight rates skyward. Shipping a lower-value product mix is exacerbating the shipping burdens.

As we would expect, AYI is scrambling to mitigate these costs by finding alternative suppliers and production sources, improving productivity, and increasing prices. The company announced price hikes last month and new price increases go into effect on October 15th. Assuming the new 25% bump in tariffs on Chinese imports goes into effect on January 1, 2019, AYI will raise prices yet again. IF AYI makes these price hikes stick without losing much demand, then the stock could represent a great buying opportunity. Better margin numbers should start appearing by the second fiscal quarter 2019.

AYI cautioned that a lot uncertainty surrounds the potential impact of the cost pressures. For example, the inflationary pressures from tariffs caught the general industry by surprise as participants have experienced a deflationary environment for a “handful of years.” The demand impacts are hard to assess: “It is not possible for us to precisely determine what the potential impact tariffs will have on demand as it is a very complex situation impacted by numerous factors including currency fluctuations and political outcomes.”

As the inflationary adjustments unfold, I will watch the technicals for signs of renewed buying interest. The company itself is one source of buying. AYI repurchased 2M shares at a cost of $298.4M in its fiscal year 2018. AYI still has 5.2M shares left under its repurchase authorization. I have to assume the company will aggressively buy shares in the coming months given the current stock price of $130.99/share is well below the average cost basis of $149.20/share of the to-date repurchased shares.

Finally, it is possible tariffs could HELP AYI although the company did not specifically say so. In the conference call AYI pointed out that the Chinese government is subsidizing lighting companies who are undercutting price for lower-value fixtures. This competitive pressure is important because, as noted earlier, some of AYI’s customers are downshifting to these lower-valued products. AYI is determined to compete – “We will not yield this space for many strategic reasons” – and this competition represents one more important risk factor for the business.

Overall, AYI is one more cautionary tale about the unanticipated impacts of today’s new inflationary environment. Given that financial markets are generally ignoring most potential fallouts from the expanding trade war between the U.S. and China, this earnings season should deliver many more surprises like AYI’s.

Be careful out there!

Full disclosure: no positions