Littelfuse (NASDAQ:LFUS) couldn't quite make it four-for-four. After posting on-target results through the first three quarters of the year, the electronics company today announced fourth-quarter earnings results that failed to meet the goal management set back in October. Yes, currency exchange issues were responsible for most of the quarterly earnings shortfall. But operating missteps also played a role. Let's take a look at the results.
A challenging quarter
Quarterly sales grew 4% to $207 million, right in line with Wall Street's projections. That improvement was again powered by growth in Littelfuse's automotive business. The segment jumped 10% in the fourth quarter on its way to a 22% revenue gain for the full year. Meanwhile, the company's two other product segments booked flat quarterly sales. The electronics business was the weak link overall, logging a 6% drop in 2014 as customers in the mining and solar industries ordered fewer products.
Littelfuse's profit came in below expectations thanks to foreign exchange moves and production problems. Adjusted earnings were $1.02 per share as compared to management's target, announced in late October, of $1.12 per share.
Most of the shortfall came from unfavorable currency swings against the U.S. dollar, which are a short-term risk for Littelfuse because it earns most of its revenue from international markets. CEO Gordon Hunter also called out "poor execution in a few areas of the business" as contributors to what he described in the press release as a "challenging quarter." Those challenges included performance issues at several plants that boosted expenses and lowered production volumes.
While it can't do much about the currency swings, management is taking other actions aimed at getting profit growth back on track. It will be raising prices, more aggressively cutting expenses, and accelerating its restructuring plans.
Littelfuse provided soft guidance for the first quarter and the rest of 2015, which could explain why the stock was trading lower immediately following the early morning earnings release.
Management now expects first-quarter sales of $207 million, representing no growth from the prior year and coming in 5% below Wall Street targets. That potential lack of growth shouldn't concern long-term investors since it would be almost entirely due to foreign exchange moves. In fact, on a currency-neutral basis Littelfuse is projecting a solid 4% sales gain for the year.
Profit growth will take a substantial hit this year, though. Littelfuse sees foreign currencies cleaving $0.40 out of per-share earnings in 2015, which should push earnings about 10% lower than expected. Wall Street had been targeting $5.41 per share in full-year profit heading into today's earnings announcement. But, with management now expecting closer to $5, or just 4% above the prior year, analysts will have to scale back their earnings growth targets.