Editor's note: The company will release quarterly earnings on Jan. 9. A previous version of this article contained an incorrect date.
Industrial lubrication and chemicals manufacturer WD-40 (WDFC -0.14%) plans to release results from its fiscal first quarter of 2020 to investors on Jan. 9 after the markets wrap for trading. The small-cap multinational booked a disappointing 2019 from a share price perspective, as its 6% appreciation underperformed the Russell 2000 index (of which it is a component). The Russell 2000 chalked up appreciation of nearly 24% last year. Below, let's walk through three items investors should focus on in next week's filing to grasp WD-40's potential to catch up to peers in 2020.
1. Sales growth -- steady but anemic
WD-40 recorded top-line year-over-year expansion of just 4% in fiscal 2019. This growth exemplifies the predictability of the company's revenue due to the enduring popularity of its namesake WD-40 Multi-Use household lubricant. Steady sales of WD-40 Multi-Use seem to ensure a base of low-single-digit growth for the company year after year. But 4% expansion also underscores investors' desire for a bit faster pace of revenue improvement.
For fiscal 2020, the company has outlined a revenue expectation of $436 million to $453 million, which translates into anticipated growth of 3% to 7% over fiscal 2019. In the first quarter, if the organization hits the top of (or exceeds) this range, the WDFC symbol will likely enjoy a positive reaction.
Such a revenue surprise, if any, will probably come from either of the company's two growth regions: EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and Asia. These regions have recently outperformed WD-40's Americas segment (which includes North America as well as certain Latin American countries). The Americas segment, which accounts for 46% of total company sales, saw annual revenue growth of just 1% last year. Conversely, EMEA and Asia each chalked up revenue improvement of 6%.
WD-40 has achieved particular success in Asia over the last few quarters. By expanding Asian distributor markets, ramping up e-commerce sales, and building a greater presence in China, the organization is generating momentum -- revenue in this division jumped 22% year over year last quarter. WD-40 has used pricing and promotional tactics to introduce and scale its products in this promising market. Though it currently accounts for just 16% of the company's top line, Asia is rapidly increasing in prominence as a possible long-term growth catalyst.
2. Rebounding per-share earnings
In fiscal 2019, WD-40 netted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $4.02, against EPS of $4.64 in fiscal 2018. This differential was primarily due to an $8.7 million reserve tax adjustment the company booked in the fourth quarter of 2019. For fiscal 2020, WD-40 anticipates diluted EPS of between $4.73 and $4.83, representing a return to -- and slight growth against -- fiscal 2018 earnings levels.
To achieve this goal, the company will need to meet its anticipated 2020 gross margin target of 54% to 55%. This is in line with its 54.8% gross margin in 2019, and it will produce the targeted EPS growth should the company scale its top line as anticipated.
As for per-share results for the first quarter, look for WD-40 to equal or exceed the diluted EPS of $0.95 it booked in the first quarter of fiscal 2019.
3. The state of product innovation
One of WD-40's top priorities over the last fiscal year has been the allocation of resources to speed up innovation while also investing in manufacturing capabilities to churn out new product variants. A prime example is the company's Smart Straw innovation, which is essentially an improvement on the ubiquitous red straw used on current WD-40 cans. The Smart Straw features an ergonomic design, the ability to flip between spray and stream settings, and a toolbox lock feature that prevents a can from discharging accidentally.
During the organization's fourth-quarter 2019 earnings conference call, CFO Jay Rembolt noted that the company plans to expend the majority of its $25 million capital budget in 2020 "to procure the proprietary machinery and equipment needed to manufacture [WD-40's] next-generation Smart Straw delivery system."
Once this additional capacity is brought online, the increased availability of Smart Straw-enhanced lubricant cans is likely to catalyze sales and assist the company in reaching the high end of its 3% to 7% revenue growth range for this year. Shareholders will look for details on Smart Straw manufacturing progress, along with other product innovation updates, during the company's upcoming call following the earnings release on the 8th.