The winter months hardly seem like a profitable period for a lawn-care company. Scotts Miracle-Gro
Scotts says that its loss this quarter will be 15% to 20% greater than last year's $49 million because of "the timing of retailer purchases." Retailers want to bring inventory into their stores closer to the time when customers want to buy it. When most consumers' lawns are either dry and brown or covered in snow, those retailers don't want Scotts' inventory taking up valuable floor space.
While the lawn-care company will have sparse, scraggly profits this quarter, it should enjoy stronger subsequent results. The company expects 2006 adjusted net income to grow as much as 22% from 2005. That would improve upon last year's 12% increase in adjusted net income, to $151.4 million excluding one-time items.
I've previously noted that Scotts has routinely posted those "one-time items" in its financial statements, whether for restructuring charges, acquisitions, or divestitures. Over each of the past eight quarters, Scotts has had at least some kind of unusual charge in its income statement -- a two-year total of more than $42 million. Scotts has also had a charge in six of the last seven years, totaling more than $126 million. These "one-time" events are so frequent that investors analyzing the business may want to consider them part of the company's ongoing operations instead.
In addition to the Scotts brand of lawn-care products and Miracle-Gro plant food, the company also owns Ortho pesticides and Turf Builder fertilizer, and markets the Roundup brand of weed killer manufactured by Monsanto
The lawn-care business has been struggling lately. Sales have steadily dropped, and gross margins are flat to declining as well. Like roots spreading out in search of water, Scotts has been stretching its tendrils toward additional lines of profitable businesses, while simultaneously trying to boost shareholder value. It started paying a $0.25 quarterly dividend last year, announced a $500 million share buyback program, and split its stock two-to-one. As Fools know, a stock split is a non-event; it merely gives you more slices of the same pie. However, the markets generally view such moves as a favorable signal of management's optimism.
The first quarter doesn't close until the end of this month, so Scotts' actual results won't be known until sometime in January. In the meantime, investors might want to spend their time cultivating both their gardens and their portfolios.
We've cultivated further Foolishness:
Fool contributor Rich Duprey admits that Miracle-Gro is probably the only thing keeping his sole house plant alive. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.