Growth returned in full force for wheel and tire manufacturer Titan International (NYSE:TWI) in the third quarter of 2017, as reported before the market opened on Thursday. That didn't lead to a profitable quarter, partly because of weak demand in the large-equipment market, but broadly, the business appears to be improving. The recovery may be later than a lot of investors expected, but long-term holders should be rewarded when the business cycle improves. 

Here's a look at the highlights from the quarter. 

Bulldozer moving dirt.

Image source: Getty Images.

Titan International: The raw numbers

Metric Q3 2017 Q3 2016 Year-Over-Year Change
Sales $371.0 million $306.2 million  21.2% 
Net income ($12.9 million)  ($9.4 million)  N/A
Diluted EPS ($0.22)  ($0.17)  N/A 

Data Source: Titan International Inc's Q3 2017 earnings release. 

What happened with Titan International this quarter? 

Management doesn't break out a lot about its segment results, but we can get a feel for how the business is doing based on comments made in the earnings release. 

  • Both earthmoving/construction and agriculture segments showed growth in the quarter, albeit from a low base of revenue a year ago. 
  • Ag product mix was skewed to smaller products in the quarter as spending on large equipment remains weak. But management said that end-market demand is improving and that original equipment manufacturers should be ordering more tires in the near future as a result.
  • Material costs stabilized, helping push a 14% improvement in gross profit and a 64% increase in adjusted EBITDA to $18.9 million. 
  • A contingent liability of $6.5 million was included in the quarter because of a legal judgment. The company is appealing, but without that judgment, net loss would have been smaller than a year ago. 
  • Management has made an effort to lower operating costs, and if it weren't for the $6.5 million charge, SG&A (selling, general, and administrative) costs would have been down $3 million in the quarter to just 9% of sales. 

What management had to say

Most of management's comments in the press release related to the hope that the business turnaround that's been taking place for the last three quarters will continue. CEO Paul Reitz said: 

Titan continues to win new business in our aftermarket channels and this share gain, along with the benefits of product innovations, such as LSW, led us to substantial sales gains in the third quarter and a 14 percent gain in our year-to-date sales. 

If sales continue to improve, Titan International could regain profitability in the next few quarters, particularly if gross margins continue to improve. 

Looking forward

Management said that they expect net sales to grow 7% to 12% in 2018 and that gross profit will be up 25% to 40%. Both are big increases and should drive a significant improvement on the bottom line. 

While investors should be optimistic about the outlook, demand can be volatile and visibility isn't always as clear as Titan International would hope. For now, the pipeline appears to be strong, and if operating costs continue to come down, Titan International might be well positioned to capitalize on the growth. 

Travis Hoium has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Titan International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.