Here's a big-picture look at how the business results stacked up against the prior-year period:
|Metric||2014 Q1||2015 Q1|
|Revenue||$3.7 billion||$3.5 billion|
|Profit||$0.68 per share||$0.29 per share|
Sinking profit, flat sales
Net income tanked, falling from $265 million to $109 million. But that was almost entirely due to a one-time asset writedown at subsidiary Diamond Offshore Drilling (NYSE:DO).
The oil and gas drilling contractor took a $158 million charge on several rigs in its mid-water fleet that management believes have "no foreseeable employment prospects." The industry is suffering through a prolonged downturn, and Diamond Offshore decided to take this excess capacity off of its books. Also hurting overall profits was a drop in trading gains. Loews' investment portfolio generated just $8 million this quarter, down from $24 million last year.
Loews got mixed contributions from its other businesses. Insurance giant CNA Financial saw 18% higher profit as catastrophe losses fell. And the Loews hotel chain booked stronger earnings thanks to new properties in Chicago and San Francisco. Detracting from those gains were weaker results at Boardwalk Pipeline, which struggled under lower natural gas demand.
Huge cash pile
Loews' cash pile continues to balloon, rising to $5.5 billion from $5.1 billion. That represents roughly one-third of the company's entire market capitalization that isn't being productively deployed.
However, consistent with their value-investing principles, management isn't itching to spend that capital until it finds the right assets for the right price. "While we acknowledge that cash can be a drag on Loews short term returns," CEO Jim Tisch said in a conference call with investors, "we feel that having the flexibility to be opportunistic and not rely on financing markets has served our shareholders very well over the long term."
In the meantime, Loews plans to keep its cash ready to invest should prices fall into the range that management is targeting. It will also continue to finance its existing businesses. Management plans to use stock buybacks to funnel excess cash back to shareholders. The company spent $700 million over the past year on stock repurchases, and investors can expect that number to grow, especially while Loews' shares stay depressed even as its book value inches higher.