It's a new year, investors, and what better way to start off a new year than with a new CEO?
That, at least, appears to be the thinking at United Technologies (NYSE:UTX), where the board of directors recently replaced CEO Louis Chenevert after his abrupt retirement, promoting CFO Gregory Hayes to take his place. And so far, so good.
Last month, Hayes stepped up to the mic to tell investors 2014 is still looking like "a solid year." Furthermore, the new CEO promises that "with strong backlog and orders momentum exiting the year, we anticipate continued organic sales growth in 2015 across each of our businesses."
"Despite a slow-growth global economy," said Hayes, the company remains on target for 4% organic sales growth in 2014, with companywide sales approximating $65 billion. Earnings will fall in the middle of UTC's previously promised range -- $6.80 per share.
This was Hayes' first, and probably most important, big reveal in his big new job: The old CEO didn't depart because UTC is falling apart, so investors can relax -- as of today, everything's steady as she goes.
Happy new year?
What may worry investors more is what happens in 2015. On one hand, Hayes says per-share profits will range between $7 and $7.20, for 3% to 6% total growth. (That's unlikely to inspire any New Year's celebrations, given that 2014 earnings growth was about 9%.) On the other hand, Hayes noted that 2015 sales will rise to between $66 billion and $67 billion.
But here's the thing: While Hayes says sales growth will include 3% to 5% organic growth, the projected rise from $65 billion to $66 billion or $67 billion implies only 1.5% to 3.1% growth in total revenues.
That's curious. Ordinarily, companies ossify with age, posting slower "organic" growth in core operations, and supplementing that with revenue from new acquisitions -- "inorganic growth." But at UTC, the reverse seems to be happening. Somehow, the company expects to grow faster organically than it grows overall.
Growing by shrinking?
The only way this makes sense is if Hayes is planning to sell off bits and pieces of United Technologies. That way, core revenues can grow at 3% to 5% even as overall revenues don't ... because subsidiaries and their revenue streams are being sold off. Indeed, according to The Wall Street Journal, Hayes is reviewing his company's "myriad businesses" for potential sales. (He even joked that he'd sell off something as key as Otis elevators "at the right price.")
Currently, "major" sales aren't planned, but there could be some minor tweaks. These might include, one imagines, such business lines as Taylor Company, which makes frozen yogurt machines, or Kidde, which sells residential smoke alarms and related equipment. Such minor divestitures could shave a percent or two off total revenue growth, without giving up much organic growth in the company's core aerospace and building systems businesses.
Meanwhile, longer term, the Journal notes that Hayes is still "hunting for a major acquisition" to replace revenues lost via small divestitures, and continue the company's march toward a promised "$100 billion in revenues" by 2020.
So to sum up? If you're a UTC shareholder, the three big things your new CEO wants you to know are:
- The ship is not sinking. Profits for this year remain intact.
- Tweaks to the business are in the works.
- Up to and including one very major acquisition, that could transform the business and get United Technologies stock (which is currently lagging the S&P badly) growing once again.