Rust-Oleum, Bondo, DAP... all of these products have something in common: They help keep your stuff from falling apart. Heck, I've seen entire automobiles that looked like they were basically just Bondo-molded around a drive train.
Now, what about the company behind all of these well-known do-it-yourself brands? Well, times are a bit challenging of late for RPM International
Overall sales growth at RPM International in the third quarter was tepid -- up 8.9%. While the industrial business was a bit stronger (as-reported growth of 10.7%), the consumer segment's growth was only 6.7%. Given that this quarter is usually the worst in terms of sales, that's not a bad result. The problem, though, is on the expense side.
Excluding a $15 million charge for ongoing asbestos issues, the company's operating margin was 3% for the quarter -- down from 3.6% a year ago. I know that 60 basis points doesn't seem like a lot, but when you deal with a low-margin business, it makes a big difference. While the company did a good job of controlling selling, general, and administrative expenses, higher costs punished the gross margin line because the company wasn't able to recoup all of it through higher prices.
So does management need to apply some Bondo to the business?
All jokes aside, RPM International might be a company worth watching as a turnaround candidate. If you strip out the asbestos costs, business hasn't been too terrible over the past few quarters. What's more, there is a time lag in the company's cost-recovery efforts. While management believes it can recoup higher materials costs (through price increases) in the industrial business with about a three-month lag time, it takes on the order of nine months to recoup costs in the consumer business.
Turning to the asbestos matter, it's easy to get scared. After all, the number of active cases continues to grow rapidly, and the company has had to set aside nearly $100 million in liability reserves. Nevertheless, RPM International has had a pretty good record in adjudicating these claims, and it may be that we're seeing the crest of the wave with respect to filed claims.
What's more, the company sports a good dividend (yielding about 3.3%) and still has positive free cash flow. With strong brands in both the consumer and industrial markets, RPM International might just deserve a spot on the watch lists of value-oriented investors.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).