The fiscal year has just wrapped up for agriculture equipment maker Deere & Company (NYSE:DE), and investors are likely relieved. Expectations were low for the company as a result of some stiff industry headwinds, such as collapsing corn prices, but the company nevertheless had some great things to say.
With the fourth quarter and fiscal 2013 in the rearview mirror, all eyes are now on what Deere sees next year. Despite notable industry headwinds, there are some key takeaways from Deere's report that should give investors a great deal of confidence heading into 2014 and beyond.
Fallout from falling corn prices
Leading up to Deere's fourth-quarter and full-year earnings results, attention focused on how hard the company's profits would be affected by falling corn prices. Indeed, commodity prices are an important aspect of Deere's profitability, and there's no denying that cratering corn prices would take a bite out of Deere's results. After all, corn prices have plunged 44% over the past year, and recently fell to a near three-year low.
Fortunately, Deere's revenue fell 3% in the fourth quarter, but was actually up 5% for the full year. Moreover, thanks to strong cost controls, Deere's earnings per share rose 20% in the fourth quarter and 19% for all of 2013. Deere's ability to thrive in the tough environment for agriculture is echoed by other industry giants. For example, poor commodity pricing didn't stop chemicals maker DuPont (NYSE:DD) or seed giant Monsanto (NYSE:MON) from producing great results this year.
DuPont's most recent quarter saw agriculture sales rise 15% driven by higher sales volumes, and overall diluted earnings are up a whopping 77% through the first nine months of the year. And, due to the strong economic drivers of the agriculture industry, DuPont believes it will produce 12% annual earnings growth for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Monsanto is simply firing on all cylinders, as it sees strong demand across its product lines. Monsanto grew sales in both its fiscal fourth-quarter and full fiscal year. Diluted earnings clocked in at $4.60 per share, up 21% year over year. And, next year is expected to be another year of growth. Monsanto guides investors to expect at least $5.00 per share in 2014 earnings, which would represent another 9% increase.
Future outlook shows promise
Thankfully, Deere's perspective on the agriculture industry wasn't all that bad. The company provided a 2014 outlook that should actually give investors confidence. Unfortunately, Deere doesn't promise anything regarding corn. Pricing will still put downward pressure on future results, just as it did on this year's figures. To that end, worldwide sales of agriculture and turf equipment are expected to fall 6% next year.
However, other markets are performing well, including housing, which is why Deere forecasts 2014 construction equipment sales to rise 10%. In all, Deere expects 2014 profits of $3.3 billion, which was better than the Wall Street estimates of $3.04 billion. This indicates that Deere's agriculture business will at least hold up decently, with construction serving as a nice offset.
Bottom line: Deere is a solid buy
Deere trades for 9 times its full-year 2013 earnings per share, about half the multiple the broader market enjoys. This seems to be an overly pessimistic multiple for a company that just had the most profitable year in its history. To be fair, there are notable industry headwinds facing agriculture, including softening commodity prices and a weak outlook for farm profitability. It's true that Deere's earnings are expected to decline next year, but by less than 10%. To me, that seems to be a manageable dip rather than a true reason to avoid the stock.
Plus, Deere provides a solid 2.5% dividend yield, which beats the yield on both the 10-Year Treasury Bond and the S&P 500 Index. And, Deere is committed to growing its dividend every year. As a result, for a well-run business that provides multiple margins of safety, look no further than Deere & Company.
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