3 Earnings Reports That Caught My Attention Last Week

As we near the kick-off of earnings season in the second quarter, I can't help but point out that the majority of earnings reports we've covered over the past year have been better than expected. With so many companies reporting during the weeks that comprise earnings season, it's easy for some earnings reports to fall through the cracks.

Each week for the past year, I've taken a look at three companies that could be worth further research after either beating or missing their profit expectations. Today, we'll take a gander at three more companies that reported earnings last week. They may have slid under your radar, but they deserve a look.

Company

Consensus EPS

Reported EPS

Surprise

RPM International (NYSE: RPM)

$0.06

$0.07

17%

ConAgra (NYSE: CAG  )

$0.56

$0.55

(2%)

Conn's (NASDAQ: CONN  )

$0.56

$0.54

(4%)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

RPM International
With the housing sector on the mend, I fully expected positive results from sealant, coating, and building materials manufacturer RPM International -- and its third-quarter results didn't disappoint. RPM's net sales increased 9% to $843.7 million as its adjusted EPS jumped 40% from the year-ago period. Responsible for the sales boost was a mix of benefits ranging from acquisitions, which tacked on 4.5% growth; positive foreign exchange rates, which added 1.2%; and organic growth of 1.6%.

Not all investors were pleased, though, as RPM's report also featured a sizable one-time charge of $68.8 million that pushed the company's GAAP results into the red. The company's building solutions group had an ongoing lawsuit pending with the Department of Justice and the U.S. General Services Administration involving its pricing of certain products sold to the government.

However, with this lawsuit now in the rearview mirror and both the consumer and industrial sectors seeing a turnaround, RPM's outlook appears bright. European troubles will continue to weigh on margins, so temper those expectations a bit, but consider RPM's 39-year streak of raising its dividend well intact.

ConAgra
Consumer and commercial food producer ConAgra has risen about 50% since August. Needless to say, following the early closure of its acquisition of Ralcorp, expectations for its third-quarter report were high. Unfortunately, unlike the results from RPM above, they left me (and some investors) highly disappointed.

ConAgra's consumer foods segment, which accounts for 60% of total sales, delivered 7% sales growth, but that was entirely based on 7% acquisitions growth and a 3% boost in prices. The actual volume purchased by consumers dipped 3% and would indicate that consumers are being more particular with their purchasing habits. If you think this is a sectorwide problem, it's not. Kellogg's (NYSE: K  ) purchase of the Pringles brand from Procter & Gamble in 2012 helped push results higher, but Kellogg still delivered 2.5% organic growth helped out by growth in Latin America. 

ConAgra's valuation and volume struggles could become a serious concern for investors if the company isn't careful. Volume declines in both the consumer and commercial segments point to global, not just domestic, weakness, and a strategy that involves boosting prices and its marketing budget will only serve to tighten ConAgra's already pressured margins -- especially if its higher prices send consumers to its competitors. I believe there's a lot of profit-miss potential baked into ConAgra's EPS figures this year, and I'd highly suggest reevaluating its growth strategy before considering your purchase.

Conn's
Big-box retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) had a phenomenal quarter, reviving its share price from certain doom after announcing a price-matching policy that should put an end to most showrooming and put it on a more competitive level with regard to smartphone and tablet marketing. Conn's, on the other hand, has left Best Buy in the dust despite also being heavily reliant on consumer electronics in the past. Its path to success, though, has been considerably different.

Conn's fourth-quarter EPS actually fell $0.02 shy of estimates and, following the amazing run it's had, would normally have sacked the stock. However, Conn's raised guidance for fiscal 2014 changed all that and sent the stock shooting higher. Conn's attributes its outperformance to a remodel/refocus of some of its stores to HomePlus locations, and to the boost in sales in furniture and mattresses. Product margins on furniture sales and mattresses rose 11.1% to 46.7% alone during the quarter, while consumer electronics sales dipped 3% over the year-ago period.

And still, I balk at the concept that Conn's has turned the corner. Mattress-only firms Tempur-Pedic and Mattress Firm have struggled mightily, so I don't foresee mattress sales at Conn's outperforming these peers for much longer. In addition, low housing inventory, higher payroll taxes, and delayed tax refunds could ravage its furniture sales in the coming quarter. Tack that onto already weak electronic sales -- and a resurgent Best Buy -- and you have a recipe for concern.

Foolish roundup
Sometimes an earnings beat or miss isn't as cut-and-dried as it appears. I've given my two cents on what's next for each of these companies -- now it's your turn to sound off. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and consider adding these stocks to your free and personalized watchlist.

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