It takes time to turn around a business, especially when the company in question has to significantly change the way it does business. Accordingly, I'm not tremendously surprised to see that results at Marsh & McLennan
Although reported revenue grew 2% for the second quarter, underlying revenue (that is, revenue without foreign exchange, acquisitions, or marketing service agreements) dropped 4%. Consulting results were pretty solid, but total risk and insurance revenues were down about 4%.
Looking at Marsh & McLennan's income, matters get no less tricky. Reported income came in at $166 million, or $0.31 per share -- well below the year-ago level of $389 million. Within the quarter, management identified about $0.12 per share in expenses it considered to be noteworthy but could have been left out. Excluding these restructuring, employee retention, and compliance expenses, earnings would have been $0.43.
I don't want to seem as though I'm quibbling too much about what should or should not be considered "unusual" cost items, but I've got some issues with treating employee retention and compliance as exceptional, because those will be important ongoing expenditures. What's more, while the concept of earnings quality is extremely fuzzy in general, I'm a bit concerned when I see that exceptional expenses make up a large percentage of the total result.
As these results might have already suggested, management acknowledged that the recovery in the business has been slow and that new business hasn't materialized to the extent previously hoped. Not helping matters, a new pricing model that was supposed to help the company overcome the loss of contingent commissions won't be used until the second half of the year -- meaning we won't see the extent to which this might help until 2006.
There are plenty of things for investors to worry about with Marsh & McLennan. Further regulatory sanctions could come, mutual funds arm Putnam is still deteriorating (though at a slower pace), and the company has had to battle to keep employees on board. What's more, nobody knows how profitable this new business philosophy will be.
All that said, when worries abound, there are sometimes real opportunities for patient investors. It's tough to value a company still in the midst of transition, but if Marsh & McLennan finds success with these new lines of business and new pricing models, this could prove to be an eventual value in the making.
For a wider look at insurance:
- A Quarter to Make Buffett Proud
- Prudential: A Prudent Purchase?
- Marsh & McLennan Still Stuck in Muck
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).