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Leucadia Posts a Strong Finish to 2017

By Dan Caplinger - Feb 26, 2018 at 9:32AM

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Find out how pre-tax income nearly tripled from 2016 levels.

Companies that incorporate a large number of different unrelated businesses can be hard to understand fully, and Leucadia National (JEF -0.98%) has a wide assortment of different types of operations under its corporate umbrella. National Beef and Jefferies Group are its two biggest businesses, and it's hard to think of focus areas more different than beef cattle and financial brokerage operations.

Coming into Thursday's fourth-quarter financial report, Leucadia investors wanted to see a solid finish to the 2017 year for the conglomerate, and Leucadia did a reasonably good job of accomplishing that goal. Tax reform impacts weighed on the company's GAAP numbers, but corporate leaders are excited about its prospects for a stronger 2018. Let's take a closer look at Leucadia National and what's ahead for its business segments going forward.

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Leucadia handles tax hits

Leucadia's fourth-quarter report showed a lot of impact from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Net revenue climbed by 7% to $2.94 billion, which was relatively consistent with what the company's growth rate was earlier in 2017. Leucadia posted a substantial GAAP net loss for the period, but adjusting for tax reform and other extraordinary figures, adjusted net income of $178.9 million worked out to adjusted earnings of $0.48 per share.

Tax reform hit Leucadia in two ways. First, revaluing deferred tax assets cost the company $415 million. Second, the new law's requirement that companies pay deemed repatriation tax on overseas earnings imposed a charge of another $35.5 million.

Looking more closely at its main segments, Leucadia saw mixed performance during the period. Jefferies did extremely well, with an 11% rise in segment revenue resulting in an almost 50% rise in pre-tax profit. Yet the National Beef unit saw some struggles, suffering about a 30% decline in pre-tax income despite a 2% rise in sales for the segment.

Nevertheless, Leucadia was pleased with how things went for the full year. Both National Beef and Jefferies brought in record earnings for the full year, with Jefferies seeing strong investment banking numbers that proved to be a better growth opportunity than some other focus areas in the investing and brokerage world would have been. For National Beef, a positive environment for cattle supply and strong demand both in the U.S. and internationally helped produce record-breaking results. The opening of the U.S. beef supply to Chinese buyers for the first time since the mid-2000s bodes well for good supply and demand conditions for the business going forward. Good years for smaller businesses under the Leucadia corporate umbrella also added to overall performance.

Can Leucadia keep prospering in 2018?

Leucadia CEO Rich Handler and President Brian Friedman were happy with the way the year ended. "Our two largest businesses," Handler and Friedman said, "Jefferies and National Beef, have made remarkable progress." The executives noted that the combination of Leucadia and Jefferies is finally paying off the way that they had expected when they first made the deal in 2012.

What's particularly exciting is that so many of Leucadia's businesses are firing on all cylinders. Mortgage servicing and agency lending joint venture Berkadia benefited from low interest rates and extensive debt maturities, while the company's asset management arm enjoyed strong markets. The FXCM foreign exchange business saw some difficult conditions continue, and tighter credit conditions at Foursight led to slower growth there. But substantial progress in liquidating non-core assets at HRG Group helped get its share price in line with true value, while a variety of natural resource plays, including energy companies Vitesse Energy and Juneau Energy, wood products company Idaho Timber, and gold and silver miner Golden Queen, all contributed to Leucadia's overall efforts.

Shareholders seemed content with Leucadia's results, and the stock climbed 2% on Friday following the Thursday announcement. With conditions remaining favorable for the company's main business units, Leucadia is starting 2018 on the right foot and looks poised to see further success throughout the coming year.

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