Where Deere Came Up Short

Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE) reported fiscal fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 results before markets opened Wednesday morning. For the quarter, the farm and heavy equipment maker posted diluted earnings per share of $2.42 on revenues of $9.42 billion. In the same period a year ago, the company reported earnings per share (EPS) of $1.57 on revenues of $8.02 billion. Third-quarter results compare to consensus estimates for EPS of $2.45 and $8.57 billion in revenues.

For the full year, Deere reported EPS of $7.24 and revenue of $37.36 billion compared with 2017 results of $6.68 in EPS and revenue of $29.74 billion. The consensus estimate called for EPS of $9.53 and revenue of $33.62 billion.

Excluding unfavorable effects related to changes in U.S. tax law, fourth-quarter adjusted EPS totaled $2.30 on net income of $748 million. For the full fiscal year, the company’s net unfavorable provisional tax expense came to $704 million.

Year-over-year quarterly net sales in the worldwide equipment operations group rose 18%. Operating profit rose from $680 million in the year-ago quarter to $862 million. Deere’s acquisition of Wirtgen added operating profit of $79 million in the fourth quarter and $116 million for the full year.

For the 2019 fiscal year, Deere estimates net sales to rise by about 7% compared to 2018 results. That pencils out to $39.98 billion, well above the current consensus estimate of $36.04 billion. Net income is forecast to rise from around $2.4 billion in 2018 to $3.6 billion in 2019. The company did not offer an EPS estimate, but analysts are looking for $11.64.

CEO Samuel R. Allen said:

In the fourth quarter, farm machinery sales in the Americas made further gains while construction-equipment sales continued to move higher, helped in part by our Wirtgen road-building business, whose financial contribution has exceeded our original forecasts. At the same time, the company has continued to face cost pressures for raw materials such as steel, which are being addressed through pricing actions and ongoing cost management. … In our view, the company remains well-positioned to capitalize on growth in the world’s agricultural and construction equipment markets. The replacement cycle for farm machinery is very much alive, despite tensions over global trade and other geopolitical issues.

The miss on adjusted EPS is having some impact on Deere’s share price this morning, but the more significant issue is the company’s forecast for North American sales growth next year. Deere expects flat to 5% growth in its largest market and in no geographic market are equipment sales forecast to rise more than 5%. Can Deere raise prices enough and wring out enough costs to meet even these uninspiring goals? Investors are extremely picky now, and Deere shares are likely to feel some pain in today’s trading session.

Shares of Deere traded down about 4% at $133.00 in the premarket Wednesday morning. The stock’s 52-week range is $129.34 to $175.26, and the consensus 12-month price target was $173.28 before the report, and the high target was $221.00.