Editor’s Note: The investment firm of Robert W. Baird & Co. issued a client newsletter on March 8 following release of the second-quarter financials by Thor Industries Inc., the nation’s leading RV manufacturer. Excerpts from the Baird newsletter follow.
Maintain Neutral rating. Earnings per share (EPS) fell short despite a low tax rate as Thor offered incentives to defend (market) share. We are cutting our estimates to reflect weaker retail demand, higher dealer inventory and further margin pressure. More broadly, we remain optimistic that demand will recover as negative equity evaporates, but remain selective on valuation – especially as inventory grows and market share erodes. We continue to see a recovery in the consumer discretionary sector but believe there are better opportunities outside the RV space.
EPS fall short. EPS fell short of our estimate (37 cents vs. 38 cents) despite a lower tax rate that added approximately $0.06. Consensus was 39 cents. Recall that Thor previously reported strong revenue growth (+24%) and a healthy backlog (+27%).
Discounting to defend share. Management continues to make the strategic decision to offer incentives to protect dealer lot space and market share. Consequently, margin fell short. RV earnings before taxes (EBT) margin improved 30bp, but fell short of our forecast (4.9% vs. 5.2%). Bus margin also came up short. Management indicated that second-half operating margins would be similar to the second half of 2012 – implying downside to expectations.
Inventory up 18%. RV dealer inventory increased 18% to 61,209 units (towables and motorhomes), consistent with our expectation for a 17% increase. Big picture, we believe dealers are in the early stages of a modest re-stocking cycle after a long de-stocking cycle – and consider inventory balanced in anticipation for a retail recovery. We note that dealer confidence measured by the Baird RV Dealer Sentiment Index is near an all-time high, fueling an appetite for more inventory.
Retail improving, but share eroding. Combined with the 17% increase in shipments, the data imply retail demand improved 3% in the January quarter. In 2012, Thor’s combined share of the towable market (travel trailers and fifth-wheels) fell to 38.1% from 38.6%, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. Motorhome share was flat in 2012 at 20.0%.
Cutting estimates. We cut our F2013 EPS forecast to $2.70 from $2.80 ($2.92 consensus). We model RV retail volume up 8%, with shipments outpacing retail by 9,400 units as Thor offers discounts (margin pressure) to defend lot space. We consider inventory balanced, but should retail fail to meet expectations, dealers may opt to cut orders, putting further pressure on revenue and profits.