Newell Rubbermaid Earnings Call Insights: Divestitures and Weather Impact

Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE:NWL) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Divestitures

William Chappell – SunTrust Robinson Humphrey: Maybe just to go back to the divestures and since this is kind of desperate businesses between Teach and Hardware. I mean, is this kind of a clean sweep throughout the business of once and done or will you continue to look at other aspect and potentially sell things here and there?

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Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: Let me make sure we are clear. We’ve got two separate processes working on the Teach platform and the Hardware platform because obviously those businesses don’t work together. Obviously, Hardware has the opportunity to participate in what will eventually be a resurge in economy and Teach also benefits from that as school budgets and municipality budgets improve, but they are separate processes. I have said all along if you recall back-to-school conference in 2011. I said there were about $300 million worth of business that didn’t fit within our portfolio. It wasn’t really connected to our core strategies and what you see today is the outcome of that observation. We are going to work hard to strengthen our portfolio over time. Obviously, our energy is focused on our organic performance. So, I think this is for now the right set of steps to take to strengthen the portfolio. It makes the Company faster growing and higher-margin and more focused. I wouldn’t rule out in the future as either seeding the portfolio and doing some more weeding. I think that that’s not on the agenda in the very near-term. So, our focus is on strengthening the agenda, driving the growth game plan, strengthening our organic performance, driving the growth game plan into action and building the capabilities that we’ve talked about building over the last number of months.

William Chappell – SunTrust Robinson Humphrey: Then just follow-up. On the Writing instruments historically you haven’t had that much of co-relation with what’s going on in the office market. Can you maybe give us some color of, are you expecting half of the store base between OfficeMax and Office Depot to close or are you just seeing worsened trends or what are you seeing where that’s co-relating a little bit more?

Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: Well, we don’t see anything at this point till the deal is not done and they are going to be drawn out into the second half of the year is best I can tell. You’ve seen their reported results and you’ve seen some of our competitors who reported last week in Writing, talk to the channel dynamics. I mean I think their general assessment as a channel dynamics are accurate. We have the benefit of stronger brands and good marketing and innovation plans in place, but certainly feel the effects of that in our numbers. I think as back-to-school, the back-to-school window kicks in, we’ll see some of that strengthen as our spending increases on the brands as category leader in the U.S. we have a responsibility to drive category growth, and you’ll see us do that as Doug and I mentioned in Q3. But I think it’s going to be a tough year for the U.S. superstore channel. Now with respect to what happens post the closure of the deal we can only speculate obviously. The thing that we want to make sure we do from a planning perspective is not – put our head into sand with respect to what I would do if I were in their shoes. You bring two companies together, you likely would go after the distribution network efficiencies and with respect to store locations close to each other you’re not going to have redundancies there. So there’s going to be – as I said in CAGNY and on the prior calls, there is going to be a, probably a 90 to 120 day period where they’re going to go through the rationalization that you need to go through to deliver your synergies and that will affect all of us in the market. Now what I’m saying to you today is that we’re going to plan for that. We’re not going to have that happen to us because you can get into all kinds of inefficient discussions if you don’t go proactive, and so the reason there is a governor on our growth in the full-year in Writing is in part related to that. And in part related to the fact that we’re going to replicate the pipeline fill associated with the launch of InkJoy and Ingenuity.

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Weather Impact

Joseph Altobello – Oppenheimer: First question, I wanted to see what you thought the impact of weather was in the quarter. You did adjust for the pull forward last year, but I know last year obviously you did benefit a little bit as well from the early onset of spring, so I’m curious if you guys have quantified what the impact might have been year-over-year?

Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: Joe, I didn’t ask the team to sort of figure that out. I asked the team to spend their time focusing on how to deal with it in this year’s performance. Clearly, last year in the U.S. you’d all recall that the right half of the country benefited from the warm spring and everybody benefited from that all the home centers and we did. You can’t do anything about the weather. I used to run an ice cream business and a ready-to-drink tea business, and you really could get screwed up with weather challenges. But you can’t do anything about it, so you have to overcome it. What I’m really pleased about in the first quarter is that our commercial business delivered 6.1% growth adjusted for SAP and the Tools business delivered 5.1% growth adjusted for SAP, and that’s well ahead of sort of my midpoint plan for the quarter. Writing, a little bit worse on the office channel challenges. Based on what I see in our peer companies report, it’s generally better than what others have reported. So it just speaks to the underlying momentum and the good leadership that my Tools and Commercial team delivered…

Joseph Altobello – Oppenheimer: Just moving to the tax benefit $0.03 in the quarter. Did you guys know about that early on in the quarter and adjust your spending to that or was that a late quarter surprise?

Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: I’ll let Doug handle.

Douglas L. Martin – CFO: Yes, I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, Joe. It’s one of the period type of tax adjustments that are required to be made by companies like ours. We did have some visibility to it as we get to the middle part of the quarter. As Mike said, we’ll use that to help above the line activities through the rest of the year.

Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: Let me build on that. We definitely did not use it to fund incremental investments like we did in Q4. If you recall, we had some below-line benefits in Q4 that helped us deal with gross margin challenges in that window and still keep spending up. We went through a fundamental change in our marketing and R&D and design organization in the first quarter. I mentioned the fact that 30% of our people costs are going to come out of that area. In the context of that with new leadership, a new work design and people moving roles, there was no way I was going to spend a lot of money in the first quarter. In part, because a number of jobs changed for the key people that controlled that spend. So we pulled way back in the first quarter. So, I’m actually quite pleased with the core sales results in that context. We are going to spend it back obviously I mentioned in Q3 on the Writing business, so that we really play for a good pull through consumption period, but no, you wouldn’t see big spending in Q1 this year and against year, that was up against the InkJoy launch in North America. So, the year-over-year comparisons are quite meaningful, which is how in the context of an 80 basis point gross margin decline you get 40 basis points of normalized operating income margin benefit adjusted for SAP. So, the answer — the short answer to your question is no, we didn’t take the tax and spend. We are holding the tax as the benefit against the dilution effect associated with Hardware and Teach and then obviously, that helps you in the short-term, we got to do the cost work to sustain that benefit into ’14 and that’s why I say we’ll accelerate Renewal Savings as fast as we can. So, that when we get out of this fiscal year, we got a run rate that allows us to stay on the 2014 glide path, the EPS glide path that we’ve been on.

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Joseph Altobello – Oppenheimer: So, one last one on that ’14 glide path, what’s the use of proceeds that you expect for the divested businesses?

Michael B. Polk – President and CEO: Well, we don’t know what the proceeds will be yet. So until I know what the process will be I think I’ll hold off on answering that question, but there is obviously a number of different things that we can do and you can see through our behaviors over time that we strike the right balance between managing our capital structure and doing shareholder friendly things.

A Closer Look: Newell Rubbermaid Earnings Cheat Sheet>>