What's Not So Good About UPS Earnings

United Parcel Service Inc. (NYSE: UPS) reported third-quarter 2018 results before markets opened Wednesday. The package delivery service posted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $1.82 on revenues of $17.44 billion. In the same period a year ago, FedEx said it had EPS of $1.44 on revenue of $16.17 billion. Third-quarter results compare to consensus estimates for EPS of $1.82 and $17.49 billion in revenue.

UPS stock will take a hit on these numbers because they sum to a weaker-than-expected quarter. Investors have lately shown little patience with results like this.

The company forecast full-year EPS guidance in a range of $7.03 to $7.37. Free cash flow for the year is expected to top $5 billion, and capital spending continues to be forecast at $6.5 billion to $7.0 billion.

Adjusted operating profit for the quarter dropped from $2.04 billion a year ago to $1.82 billion, including $97 million in costs for the company’s transformation strategy announced in September and $24 million income tax expense.

Chair and CEO David Abney said:

Our business strategies position UPS to improve operating leverage and many of our actions are already contributing to performance gains. We generated another quarter of industry-leading margins and strong free cash flow and we are confident in the outlook for the business.

UPS has repurchased 6.6 million shares of stock so far this year at a cost of approximately $750 million.

Then there was this statement: “Third quarter results benefited from several discrete items, including tax that helped to offset unplanned International headwinds from currency and fuel.”

But that doesn’t seem to be an issue for the fourth quarter: “As previously guided, UPS expects 4Q18 adjusted EPS to increase about 15 percent, despite anticipated currency headwinds in emerging markets and one less operating day during peak season.”

What about fuel costs? Oil is trading off its recent peaks, but volatility remains. UPS appears to be hoping for the best when it comes to fuel costs. If the best fails to materialize, well, there are plenty of excuses.

Shares traded down nearly 3% in Wednesday’s premarket, at $111.00 in a 52-week range of $101.45 to $135.53. The 12-month consensus price target on the shares was $129.04 before today’s report.