W.W. Grainger, Inc. (GWW)

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W.W. Grainger (GWW)

Q3 2013 Earnings Call

October 16, 2013 8:00 am ET


Laura D. Brown - Senior Vice President of Communications & Investor Relations

William D. Chapman - Senior Director of Investor Relations


Laura D. Brown

Hello, this is Laura Brown, Senior Vice President of Communications and Investor Relations. With me is Bill Chapman, Senior Director of Investor Relations. The purpose of this podcast is to provide you with additional information regarding Grainger's 2013 third quarter results. Please also reference our 2013 third quarter earnings release issued today, October 16, in addition to other information available on our Investor Relations website to supplement this podcast.

Before we begin, please remember that certain statements and projections of future results made in the press release and in this podcast constitute forward-looking information. These statements are based on current market conditions and competitive and regulatory expectations and involve risk and uncertainty. Please see our Form 10-K for a discussion of factors that relate to forward-looking statements.

For purposes of this podcast, we are excluding the $76 million in reserves, or $0.66 per share, we announced in last year's quarter related to litigation with the General Services Administration and United States Postal Service. Today, we narrowed our guidance for the full year and now expect sales growth of 5% to 6%, and earnings per share of $11.45 to $11.65. While we expect to achieve record results for the year 2013 with 10% to 12% EPS growth, this year has been a tale of 2 halves. In the first half of the year, we experienced solid operating margin expansion, increased gross margins and strong earnings leverage. As our growth initiatives and IT projects spending have accelerated and our gross margin expansion has eased, the second half of 2013 is resulting in more modest operating leverage. For the 2013 third quarter, we were pleased with the volume growth in our U.S. business, given the challenging economic environment. Earnings growth in the United States was in line with our expectations. However, our businesses outside of the United States remain affected by weaker macroeconomic conditions and unfavorable foreign exchange rates, and performed below our expectations.

With that as a backdrop, let's review the 2013 third quarter. Company sales increased 5%, 4% on a daily basis. There were 64 selling days in the quarter, 1 more than in 2012. Operating earnings increased 5% and net earnings increased 4%. Earnings per share were $2.95 for the quarter, an increase of 5% versus the 2012 third quarter. We also narrowed our guidance ranges for both 2013 sales and earnings per share, which Bill will cover in detail at the end of the podcast.

Let's walk down the operating section of the income statement in more detail. Gross profit margins increased 20 basis points to 43.8% versus 43.6% in 2012, primarily driven by Canada and the Other Businesses. Company operating margin was flat, with the prior year at 14.5%. Operating expenses increased 6%, including $40 million in incremental growth-related spending versus the 2012 third quarter. These growth investments include additional sales coverage, eCommerce, inventory management, advertising, IT systems and expansion in the company's distribution center network. We are currently forecasting approximately $36 million in growth spending in the 2013 fourth quarter, which brings our full year forecast to $135 million. In the quarter, we added approximately 100 new sales representatives in the United States, bringing our year-to-date total to nearly 200. eCommerce sales continued to grow faster than the rest of the business, and currently represents 33% of total company sales. We also added more than 4,000 KeepStock installations in the quarter, bringing our year-to-date total to more than 11,000 installations in the United States. These KeepStock installations include Vendor Managed Inventory, Customer Managed Inventory, and Vending solutions.

Let's now focus on performance drivers during the quarter. In doing so, we'll cover the following topics: first, sales by segment in the quarter in the month of September; second, operating performance by segment; third, cash generation and capital deployment; and finally, we'll wrap up with a discussion of our 2013 guidance and other key items.

As mentioned earlier, total company sales for the quarter increased 5%, 4% on a daily basis. The 4% increase in daily sales in the quarter consisted of 4 percentage points from volume and 1 percentage point from acquisitions, partially offset by a 1 percentage point decline attributable to unfavorable foreign exchange. By month, daily sales increased 4% in July, 4% in August, and 2% in September.

Let's move on to sales by segment. We report 2 business segments, the United States and Canada. Our remaining operations, located primarily in Asia, Europe and Latin America, are reported under a grouping titled, Other Businesses. Sales in the United States, which accounted for 78% of total company revenues in the quarter, increased 7%, 6% on a daily basis. This daily sales growth was driven by 5 percentage points from volume and 1 percentage point from acquisitions. Daily sales increased 6% in July, 5% in August, and 5% in September.

Let's review sales performance by customer end market in the United States for the quarter. Light Manufacturing was up in the high single digits. Heavy Manufacturing, Commercial and Natural Resources were up in the mid-single digits. Government, Contractor and Retail were up in the low single digits, and Reseller was down in the low single digits.

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