Nordson Corporation (NASDAQ:NDSN) is set to release fiscal fourth-quarter 2015 results later this week. With the adhesive-dispensing products company down around 10% so far in 2015 -- despite recouping much of its post-earnings drop after last quarter's weaker-than-expected results -- now's the time for investors to start thinking about what to expect.
Here are four things I'll be watching closely when Nordson's report hits the wires.
1. Continued macroeconomic headwinds
First, three months ago, Nordson CEO Michael Hilton reiterated his view that macroeconomic headwinds will probably remain his company's primary antagonist in the coming year. Nordson's current guidance calls for total sales volume to fall in the range of 3% to 7%, primarily driven by a negative-7% impact from foreign currency translation.
Meanwhile, Nordson says operating margin should remain flat sequentially at around 22%, which should translate to GAAP earnings per diluted share of $1.00 to $1.12. That's down from earnings of $1.15 per share in the same year-ago period and includes expectations of a roughly $0.14-per-share negative impact from currencies and a $0.01-per-share impact from a step-up in value of acquired inventory.
By comparison, analysts' consensus estimates call for Nordson's revenue to decline 4.7% year over year and result in earnings of $1.07 per share.
2. Positive organic growth?
More than anything, however, currency fluctuations are noise that distracts from the true state of Nordson's underlying business. For perspective, Nordson's revenue rose 1% on a reported basis last quarter but would have risen a much more impressive 8% if not for the negative effects of foreign exchange. Similarly, Nordson's backlog climbed 10% year over year to $270 million, including 6% organic growth and 4% growth from acquisitions.
This quarter, however, Nordson's guidance assumes organic volume will be in the range of down 1% to up 3% on a year-over-year basis. So Nordson will most likely reveal positive organic growth for the quarter, which Hilton was previously quick to point out would come despite the aforementioned macro headwinds and challenging year-over-year comparisons.
3. On cost-cutting initiatives
In light of limited visibility in this difficult economic environment, Hilton also told investors three months ago that Nordson would be "taking actions in areas we can control to improve normalized operating margin in 2016 and beyond, independent of sales volume leverage."
In fact, these actions already began in fiscal Q3 with the optimization of certain fluid management product lines in Nordson's Advanced Technology Segment. Going forward, Hilton promised additional details on other continuous improvement initiatives as they occur, including accelerating footprint consolidation, limiting headcount growth, and reducing other spending where appropriate. All told, Nordson is targeting at least a 200-basis-point improvement for normalized operating margin by 2017.
In the meantime, listen for any guidance on both Nordson's fiscal first quarter and all of 2016. The former will probably include a combination of expected per-share earnings and revenue growth (or declines) on a reported basis, including both organic volume growth, contributions from acquisitions, and any continued effects of foreign exchange.
The latter will almost certainly be clouded by Nordson's lack of long-term visibility, focusing instead on Nordson's efforts for continued operational improvement while generating top-line growth in excess of GDP. In the end, while that might be frustrating for analysts looking to accurately predict Nordson's top and bottom lines in the coming quarters, long-term investors should be able to rest easy knowing Nordson is hard at work maintaining its status as a steady builder of shareholder value.
Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nordson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.