Businesses across all industries have seen the impact of technological advances on their sales practices. HVAC system specialist Watsco (NYSE:WSO) might seem like the last company that would benefit from changes in technology, but it has taken advantage of tools that make it easier for its sales teams to serve customers and for those customers to get the help they need.
Coming into Thursday's fourth-quarter financial report, Watsco investors wanted to see the company bounce back from some of the hurricane-related headwinds it dealt with in the previous quarter. Watsco got things moving again, and it delivered a nice boost to its annual dividend that should keep shareholders happy. Let's take a closer look at Watsco and how it did during the quarter.
How Watsco finished the year
Watsco's fourth-quarter report showed how the company rebounded from past adversity. Sales rose almost 6% to $964.3 million, falling just shy of matching what most investors wanted to see from the company during the quarter. Adjusted net income of about $33 million was up roughly 12% from year-earlier figures after accounting for tax-related gains, but adjusted earnings of $0.90 per share couldn't match the $1-per-share consensus forecast among those following the stock.
Tax reform gave Watsco a clear boost. The company said that it got a $10 million benefit from the new tax laws, which worked out to a $0.21-per-share rise in its bottom line.
Fundamentally, Watsco saw mixed growth numbers throughout its business. The core heating, ventilation, and air conditioning equipment segment had the best performance, with its top line rising by 7% and making up about two-thirds of the company's total sales. Other HVAC products rose at a slower 4% rate. Commercial refrigeration actually posted declines of 4%, but the fact that the unit represents roughly $40 million in sales makes the hit less important to Watsco's overall revenue numbers.
CEO Albert Nahmad highlighted some positive trends during the period. "Watsco delivered another record quarter," Nahmad said, "with a resumption of strong sales growth rates for residential and commercial HVAC systems from increasing unit demand and an improved mix of higher-efficiency systems." He also pointed to investments in technology and 150 new employees that helped boost sales growth and the company's market share in the industry.
Can Watsco keep heating up?
In particular, the technological investments that Watsco made have paid off. Digitizing Watsco's marketplace into an e-commerce site opened up access through smartphone apps and websites to make it easier for professionals to get information about products. Customers who adopt the new technology have greater levels of contact with Watsco staff, who in turn have more information about the clients they're helping and how best they can meet their needs. The company believes that more than 250,000 contractors and technicians visit or call a location for products, and a 50% rise in online sales and a 57% boost in total online transactions point to the gains that Watsco has seen from embracing new technology.
Watsco celebrated the news in part by giving its shareholders a higher dividend. The board of directors announced a 16% rise in its dividend, which will amount to $5.80 per share on an annual basis going forward. The move is somewhat interesting given the fact that Watsco has been selling shares through an ongoing secondary offering program throughout the year, raising $248 million in part to help pay down debt.
The company has performed well throughout the past year, and only recently has its share price started to fall off its series of recent all-time highs. As the key spring and summer season approach, it'll be interesting to see how customers respond to the changes that Watsco has made in order to attract more business.