Tupperware Changes Strategies: Moving From Parties to Brutalizing Shareholders

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Tupperware Brands Corp. (NYSE: TUP) looked to be among the worst of the worst of January’s earnings season. The company may now only have a $1.3 billion market valuation, but that is after shares have been cut in more than half from last year’s highs. And a drop of almost 30% in one day should tell you how investors feel here. Let’s just say there is no party for Tupperware at this time.

When Tupperware announced its fourth-quarter 2018 operating results, the one message that bled through on top of a large drop in revenues was that Tupperware was slashing its dividend by 60%. While the dividend yield would have been above 7% prior to the drop, it would have been a 9.9% yield as of now had the prior dividend been maintained. Obviously that is too high for a company to be expected to pay out. Still, that dividend likely was the only reason that many investors were sticking with Tupperware shares at all.

There is a rule of investing, and that is that investors love dividends. What they really love is when the companies they have owned for years keep raising their dividends. But when companies slash their dividends handily, many investors view the news as a bloodbath and a sign that things are unlikely to get better. To back that up, companies frequently use a dividend as an enticement to own the stock and steady or rising dividends are meant to offer positive views about a company’s future.

The numbers for Tupperware are just bad. Fourth-quarter sales were down 14% from the same period in 2017, and that was still a drop of 7% in local currency terms. Earnings were also worth questioning after its adjusted earnings per share of $1.33 was shown to be down 6% in local currency terms. While the earnings were within the guidance range, Tupperware said that this quarterly report included a benefit of $0.17 per share due to a lower than expected tax rate.

Tupperware’s new $0.27 per share dividend for the quarter compares with a prior $0.68 per share quarterly payout. The company indicated that it now plans to redeploy $80 million from the annual dividend payments back into the company toward growth and transformation initiatives.

The company also included a note that some of the redeployed capital would go toward potential share repurchases. That said, Tupperware did not repurchase any shares during the fourth quarter but the company said that it may repurchase up to $100 million worth of shares opportunistically in 2019. That’s against a $1.3 billion market cap after this earnings drop.

One problem area in the quarter was emerging markets. That now accounts for 67% of sales, and the drop was 15% on the surface and down 5% in local currency terms. Tupperware signaled that the units with the most significant local currency sales growth were Argentina, China, Commonwealth of Independent States, and Mexico. The company noted significant decreases in India and Indonesia. All sales combined in the Asia Pacific segment were down 16% in the fourth quarter, or down 11% in local currency terms. South America sales were down 22% in the fourth quarter, or down 1% in local currency terms.

Sales in Europe were down 12%, or 7% local currency terms. While sales in North America were down just 7% in the fourth quarter, or 4% in local currency terms, Tupperware’s U.S. and Canada sales were down 8%, and the company cited lower recruiting and average active sellers.

Tricia Stitzel, president and CEO of Tupperware, tried to explain the situation as positively as the circumstances would allow:

While we achieved our earnings per share expectations in local currency, our sales and segment profit results in the fourth quarter were not what we expected, leading to our desire to accelerate the business transformation to capitalize on our Global Growth Strategy. We continue to operate with a sense of urgency and remain confident that, over time, our initiatives will ensure our major units deliver consistent sales and profit growth and create enhanced value for our shareholders.

To enable a more aggressive investment in our growth strategy initiatives and potentially fund share repurchases, we have made the decision to redeploy approximately $80 million in annual cash flow that had previously been paid out in quarterly dividends. The Board declared a 27 cents per share quarterly dividend, which results in an approximate 3% yield on a full year basis, and places us in the 70th percentile of dividend payors in the S&P 400. The investment into the business is expected to total approximately $100 million through 2022, enabling sales growth and providing direct annualized cost savings of about $50 million when fully implemented.

Tupperware shares were down over 28% at $27.12 in midday trading on a day where the Dow Jones industrial average was up nearly 400 points. According to Dow Jones News, this was the largest percentage decrease on record for this stock (at least back to 1996) and is a low not seen since 2009. It now has a 52-week range of $27.00 to $60.89. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, things are even worse when you consider that Tupperware was a $90 stock at the end of 2013.

It has been a long time since most people have heard the term “Tupperware party.” Based on the reaction to lower sales and a total gutting of the dividend, maybe that term doesn’t even exist any longer. Perhaps Tupperware should try to hijack the slogan “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

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