It's always bittersweet when a company reports good news and then goes on to predict bad news in the year ahead. This is the story with agricultural machinery companies AGCO (NYSE:AGCO), CNH Industrial (NYSE:CNHI), and Deere (NYSE:DE), which all recently reported strong quarters while expressing worry about the upcoming year.
AGCO and Deere both reported record quarters for sales and earnings, with AGCO expecting both to be flat in 2014 and Deere expecting an actual decline, while CNH similarly had a strong quarter in its agricultural division but expects 2014 to be rough.
The reason for the season
One big reason for the pessimism is farmers in the United States are not expected to do much equipment purchasing this year -- and that's putting it lightly. In January, Farm Journal surveyed more than 1,500 farmers and ranchers and asked how many pieces of farm machinery they planned to purchase this year. A whopping 39% said none, while another 25% said they only planned to buy one piece of equipment.
This is especially bad news for Deere, which received 63% of its total sales from the United States and Canada in 2013, so much that it doesn't even bother reporting other geographic areas, simply lumping everything else into "Outside the U.S. and Canada." I've brought this complaint up several times in the past, because even though the United States is a huge market for farm equipment -- it is, after all, the breadbasket of the world -- long-term growth is going to come from less-industrialized regions like Africa, where very few farmers have advanced machinery and produce low crop yields as a result.
While the Farm Journal survey only looked at farmers in the U.S., their reluctance to buy is likely because commodity prices are simply lower than they were a year ago, which translates into lower profits for farms to reinvest in machinery. This is a global problem, so even the more-diversified CNH and AGCO are expecting trouble this year.
The silver lining
The good news is that these companies are not expecting severe declines, and they are coming off record years, so even a modest decline is still a solid performance. CNH estimates revenues for the year will be flat at worst, and may even be up 5%. Deere had the hardest projections, but still reaffirmed its full-year guidance Wednesday, despite analyst expectations that it would revise them about 6% lower.
Over the longer term, agricultural machinery will be very important to feed a growing global population, especially in the less-industrialized areas AGCO is focusing on, areas like China, Africa, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. While the year ahead may be disappointing, any drop in the stock prices of these companies will just be a buying opportunity for investors who can think in years, or even decades, as opposed to just months.