As is typical for firms reporting their fourth-quarter earnings, Sonoco includes both the results for Q4 2005 and full-year 2005. But since we only get this chance once a year, let's skip right past the quarterly results and instead focus on Sonoco's full-year performance. Here's a quick rundown.
Sonoco's revenues grew 12% year over year. Yet somehow, for all you've been hearing about rising raw materials costs, the firm's cost of goods sold grew only 11%. Sonoco gave back part of its gross profits -- as a result of allowing operating costs to rise faster than either of those numbers -- yet when all was said and done, operating profits still grew by 15%. Unfortunately, all of this occurred before Uncle Sam came calling. Like many other international outfits, Sonoco took advantage of the American Jobs Creation Act this year, repatriating $125 million of its profits from outside this country's borders, and paying a beneficial (yet still sizeable) tax rate on the same. In part because of these additional taxes paid, Sonoco netted just 7% more in 2005 than it did in 2004 -- $1.61 per share, diluted. The firm then used the bulk of these profits to pay down its debt, which it reduced by $118 million this year.
On the cash flow front, the news wasn't as good -- this year. In 2005, Sonoco generated 10% less cash from operations than in 2004: $227 million (a number dragged down by the firm more than doubling its pension contributions). Of that, the firm paid out $129 million for capital expenditures, leaving it with $98 million in free cash flow -- a 25% drop from last year, marking the second consecutive year of declining free cash flow. It did, however, manage to pay $90 million in dividends for the year.
On the other hand, had Sonoco put off paying additional contributions into its pension fund, the firm could have thereby artificially inflated its free cash flow and prevented the two-year declining streak. Sonoco didn't do that; thus, it now boasts a fully-funded pension fund.
Forward guidance was another bright spot. Sonoco predicted that it will average $300 million in cash from operations over each of the next several years (it's unusual -- and unusually reassuring -- for a firm to predict its success that far out). Assuming that capital expenditures approximate their 2005 numbers over that time period, we're looking at a firm that could easily generate $150 million-plus in annual free cash flow.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of Sonoco.