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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Imperial Sugar squeezed by poor demand and high sugar prices

Last week, Imperial Sugar (IPSU) lost 59% of its value in one day after reporting extremely poor earnings. The stock has continued to sell-off over a week later losing an additional 20%. The reason? IPSU is experiencing the worst of all operating squeezes: higher input costs (sugar) and the inability to raise prices to accommodate those costs. In this case, competitive pressures are to blame.

From the earnings report:

“Our inability to increase prices in the face of higher raw sugar costs because of competitive pressures from domestic and Mexican sources was the principal driver of the quarter’s disappointing results,” commented John Sheptor, president and CEO of Imperial Sugar. “Raw sugar purchased during the quarter was priced largely against the March and May futures contracts, which peaked near $40 per hundredweight prior to the USDA import quota announcement in early April. The subsequent decline in the raw sugar futures market which occurred after the quota announcement was only temporary and the raw market has rallied back to near the same level. Our raw sugar costs in the fourth fiscal quarter should see little relief, while sales prices thus far in the fourth quarter have only improved modestly.”

Higher manufacturing costs also hurt operating results in the previous quarter.

Note that last week, the International Sugar Organization (ISO) confirmed that no relief is in sight from higher sugar prices.

IPSU crashes after reporting very disappointing earnings

IPSU crashes after reporting very disappointing earnings


Source: Stockcharts.com


Blue Nile hit by high diamond and metal prices

Diamond prices have been going up, and Blue Nile is feeling the pinch. The online diamond retailer highlighted high diamond prices as well as high metal prices in its latest earnings report (August 4, 2011):

“While we delivered record second quarter sales and non-GAAP adjusted EBITDA, our results were impacted by rapidly rising diamond and metal prices amid a weakening consumer environment in the U.S. Despite these external headwinds, we achieved sales growth across all product categories, including double-digit sales growth in the non-engagement category.”


Seagate warns that its margins are being hit by a “bubble” in rare earth prices

Hard disk manufacturer Seagate Technology reported earnings last night (July 20) and indicated that margins are getting hit by the rising prices of rare earths. Rare earth prices have risen particularly fast in the last 60 days. From the Seeking Alpha transcript of the earnings conference call:

“We do, however, expect a positive margin impact of a more stable pricing environment to be offset by the following factors: the costs of many upstream materials, especially rare earth elements, which have increased significantly. These costs are expected to adversely impact gross margins by at least 200 basis points…”

Seagate has been unable to offset these costs, but over the long-term believes there are no supply problems:

“In regards to the increasing cost of upstream materials, Seagate has historically been able to absorb these cost increases and insulate our customers. However, the recent dramatic increase in the cost of rare earth elements, combined with a pre-existing upward trend for a broad base of other commodities, far exceeds our ability to find offsetting cost reductions. While we are exploring opportunities to reduce the content of certain rare earth elements that are used in the manufacture of hard disk drive components, we will be discussing with our customers, passing through what we hope are temporary surcharges related to upstream earth-based commodities. It’s important to note that for the relevant rare earth materials, there does not appear to be a significant supply constraint. And while we have a short-term concern over margin impact, we do not currently have a long-term concern.”

During the Q&A session, Seagate management explained that rare earths are about 2% of the cost of a hard drive due to usage of rare earths in the the VCM magnet and the motor. Management also indicated there remains high uncertainty as to whether the company can pass on the higher costs of rare earths to customers although Seagate does not need to wait for demand of its drives to surpass supply in order to raise these prices.

Seagate appears very optimistic that no real supply issue exists with rare earths. Management is particularly optimistic that U.S. mines alone (presumable Molycorp?) will solve the problem and bring prices down. They even went so far as to call current prices a “bubble”:

“…it doesn’t appear that there’s a true supply constraint here. There’s a lot of dynamics around owners of rare earth materials and processors of rare earth materials and who is controlling inventories at what level, as opposed to there’s fundamentally some shortage. If there was fundamentally a shortage, then I would think that the fact that price is supposedly representing supply and demand. If you effectively reduce supply or enormously increase demand, that would mean that there’s a sustained increase in price. I think this feels a little bit like a bubble…So I think our point is that right now, since it doesn’t feel like there’s a fundamental supply issue, that it probably works itself out. And by the way, if these prices stay high, guess what, there’s a bunch of U.S.-based mines that are going to come online again, and it will solve itself. It’s not like the stuff doesn’t exist. It’s just that a lot of mines were closed down when the prices fell below $75, whatever the magic price is, and we’re well above that right now. So I don’t think it’s a long-term issue.”

Management compared the price run in rare earths to a run they experienced with ruthenium in 2006 that lasted for 2006. I do not know about the dynamics of that market. I will need to research more closely what happened in 2006 to understand the specific similarities to today’s rare earth market. Stay tuned…

Disclosure: Author is net long Molycorp (MCP)


Wendy’s/Arby’s Group plans to implement “prudent” and “strategic” price increases

Even fast food restaurants have determined that the market can accept some price hikes. In its latest earnings report, Wendy’s/Arby’s Group (WEN) provided an outlook that includes plans to implement “prudent” and “strategic” price increases to at least partially offset rising commodity prices, especially in beef (emphasis mine):

“We expect to generate strong sales growth at Wendy’s for the remainder of the year driven by exciting new product introductions, including hamburgers, chicken and salads, in addition to strategic price increases…Margins will be negatively impacted by increases in commodity costs primarily driven by unprecedented beef prices that are affecting the restaurant industry. We have reaffirmed our same-store sales outlook and expect to offset some of these commodity increases with prudent price increases, while protecting transactions and market share…”

WEN expects improved sales trends through the rest of the year, and this must help give them the confidence to raise prices.

The company’s confidence really shines through as management discusses future prospects further in light of higher commodity costs:

“Although we have revised our outlook for the year to reflect higher expected commodity costs, we continue to make significant strategic progress improving our core menu offerings including breakfast. We are also pleased with our progress developing Wendy’s international business, which represents a significant opportunity. The Arby’s turnaround is progressing nicely and we plan to resume our stock buyback program after the conclusion of the strategic alternatives process, subject to market conditions. As we’ve said before, 2011 is a transition year and we are confident that the investments we are making will position Wendy’s for 10% to 15% average annual EBITDA growth in 2012 and beyond…”

Despite on of its best days in months, Wendy's stock has not gone anywhere in a long time!

Despite on of its best days in months, Wendy's stock has not gone anywhere in a long time!

Disclosure: author owns WEN


Dean Foods focuses on “efficient pricing mechanisms” to battle rising input costs

Dean Foods (DF) is yet one more company demonstrating confidence in its ability to wield pricing power. DF reported earnings Tuesday that showed weak pricing in milk but a strong focus in raising prices to battle rising input costs (emphasis mine):

“…First, we have stepped up our agenda to reduce costs and improve profitability. Second, because input cost volatility is here to stay, we are focused on pricing to offset inflation through efficient pricing mechanisms. We are working hard to maintain, and where necessary, improve our pricing tools…”

I liked how the earnings announcement avoided direct mention of raising the prices of non-milk products.

The market liked the announcement too. The stock soared 11.5% on the day.

Dean Foods jumps to 10-month highs on a positive reaction to its latest earnigns release

Dean Foods jumps to 10-month highs on a positive reaction to its latest earnigns release


Peet’s Coffee promises not to “overreact” to the rising cost of coffee

Peet’s Cofee (PEET) reported earnings results this evening. The company reaffirmed revenue targets for the year but lowered earnings guidance because of the rising cost of coffee (emphasis mine):

“Reaffirms full-year total net revenue growth in the 8% to 10% range. Lowers full-year diluted earnings per share guidance by $0.10 to the $1.43 to $1.50 range, driven entirely by the significant rise in coffee costs during the last three months

Interestingly enough, PEET implied that the run-up in coffee prices is overdone. This news should provide some reassurance and relief to coffee fans, especially since it seems PEET is resisting the urge to ramp up its own prices to keep up with the rising input costs (emphasis mine):

“While we expect to offset most of the year-over-year coffee cost increase we’re experiencing, we will continue to act in the long-term best interests of our business and not overreact to the recent run-up in world coffee prices.”

PEET has more than doubled in two years

PEET has more than doubled in two years