The housing market has come a long way since the end of the boom in the mid-2000s, and the recovery in home prices since the financial crisis has lifted shares of companies in all sorts of related industries. Paint and coatings specialist Sherwin-Williams (NYSE:SHW) has been one beneficiary of an improved housing picture, as homeowners and professionals alike have been in a better position to afford renovation, remodeling, and full-scale construction projects. Sherwin-Williams has international scope, and the strong U.S. dollar has weighed on its global results. Yet in its fourth-quarter earnings report, which it released Thursday morning, Sherwin-Williams gave investors a lot to look forward to in 2015. Let's take a closer look at what Sherwin-Williams had to say and what it means for the broader housing-market sector.
Sherwin-Williams produces bright results
Sherwin-Williams' financial results weren't perfect, but they still reflected strength in its core markets. Revenue climbed 4.6% for the quarter to $2.57 billion, which was slightly less than investors had expected. Currency-related effects were largely to blame for the shortfall, as weak foreign currencies reduced sales by 2.3%. On the income front, earnings per share weighed in at $1.37, which was up 20% from year-ago levels despite including a $0.16-per-share adjustment to reflect provisions for environmental issues and offsetting charges from its titanium dioxide settlement. For the full year, Sherwin-Williams grew sales by 9.3% to $11.13 billion, a new record, and earnings also set new highs at $8.78 per share.
Sherwin-Williams' various segments showed the cross-currents within the business. Domestically, Sherwin-Williams showed considerable strength, with the key Paint Stores Group boosting sales by 8% in the fourth quarter and 14.2% for the full year. Comparable-store growth for the fourth quarter was 7.5%, and segment profits soared 47% on the strength of higher architectural-paint sales volume. Similarly, the Consumer Group boosted its revenue by nearly 6% for the year, even though growth was more sluggish in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, Sherwin-Williams faced more difficulties abroad. The Global Finishes Group only managed to grow revenue by 1.1%, with the strong dollar costing it more than four percentage points of growth. Even with those headwinds, the segment managed to grow profits considerably for the quarter and the full year, thanks to initiatives to boost prices and improving its internal operating efficiency. The company's Latin America Coatings Group suffered the most, with revenue falling 6.7% for the quarter, and net income dropped by $4.9 million to $13 million for the quarter mostly because of poor foreign-currency performance.
CEO Christopher Connor was generally pleased with the results. In explaining the company's results, Connor highlighted its "great progress during 2014 on the integration of the U.S. and Canadian Comex stores, which performed better than expected." Connor cited "good cost control" as helping Sherwin-Williams' international divisions avoid further damage from the strong dollar while celebrating the milestone of having more than 4,000 stores in its network.
How will Sherwin-Williams look in 2015?
Sherwin-Williams has even higher hopes for the current year. Connor said that Sherwin-Williams expects mid-single-digit percentage revenue growth in the first quarter, equating to earnings per share of $1.30 to $1.45. For 2015 as a whole, earnings of $10.90 to $11.10 per share would represent 24% to 26% growth from 2014's full-year results.
Sherwin-Williams is also turning to marketing partnerships in order to promote further growth. The company has invested in a commercial tie-in through its HGTV HOME by Sherwin-Williams paint program, which it aims to offer at Lowe's. Sherwin-Williams clearly hopes that linking itself to the popular home-improvement television network will give it more exposure to a key demographic audience that's more likely to spend on premium products, and Connor praised the Consumer Group for reaching the agreement.
Shareholders won't necessarily be pleased with the improved picture that Sherwin-Williams presented, though. Already, investors had expected even better results in the first quarter, with projections for $1.55 per share in earnings and revenue growth of about 9%.
Despite those thwarted expectations, though, Sherwin-Williams has clearly benefited from the strengthening U.S. economy. Even though currency headwinds have held back its overall growth, the U.S. will continue to be the key driver of the paint specialist's results in 2015. If the housing market keeps performing well, then Sherwin-Williams could see another strong year of growth that lives up to even the company's more optimistic guidance going forward.