Goodyear returned to the black last year-its first annual profit since 2000-but rising pension, retirement benefits and other legacy costs plus significant debt threaten the firm's ability to sustain or improve profitability.
Looking to build on the good news, Goodyear Chairman and CEO Robert Keegan said the company is ``positioned to accelerate our operating progress'' after stabilizing North American Tire (NAT) in 2003 and building momentum in 2004 in all seven business units.
For 2004, Goodyear posted net income of $114.8 million on sales of $18.4 billion-an earnings ratio of 0.6 percent-as all seven business units, including North American Tire, reported operating profits. The results contrast with an $807.4 million loss and sales of $15.1 billion in 2003.
Sustaining the momentum will be a challenge, however, analysts contend.
``The major external headwind remains high raw material costs, particularly for natural rubber and oil,'' wrote Merrill Lynch analyst John Murphy in a note to investors. ``The chief company-specific concern is Goodyear's high fixed cost structure in North America and legacy costs.''
Although pension expenses fell last year by about $62 million to $351 million, post-retirement benefit expenses grew $45 million to $292 million, according to Goodyear figures. The company's global pension contribution tripled to $230 million from $70 million in 2003, and the company put $160 million toward its domestic pension contribution in 2004 while it did not contribute in 2003.
This year, Goodyear anticipates those costs more than doubling to between $470 million and $505 million globally and $400 million and $425 million domestically. In 2004, Goodyear said its unfunded pension obligations also stood at $3.12 billion, up from $2.75 billion in 2003.
``While challenging, we certainly continue to believe that our legacy costs are manageable,'' Rich Kramer, executive vice president and CFO, told analysts during a conference call.
Calling Goodyear a ``work in progress,'' Mr. Keegan was upbeat about the firm's future.
``We have zero interest in playing in this tire industry of ours to survive,'' Mr. Keegan said. ``We are clearly playing to win, we are clearly playing to be the leader in our industry and that's how we're approaching our business quarter to quarter, year to year and strategically.''
Goodyear did not quantify its forecast for 2005, saying only it expects the benefits of new product introductions and cost containment and working capital initiatives to offset higher expenses related to raw materials, interest and tax payments.
For the fourth quarter, the tire maker's net sales rose 23.5 percent to $4.83 billion, and net income improved to $124.6 million vs. a loss of $427 million in 2003's quarter.
NAT followed the positive reports with sales of $2.02 billion for the quarter and $7.85 billion for the year, up 20.9 and 16.4 percent, respectively. Tire unit sales were up 1.3 percent for the year to 102.5 million units, with 69 percent sold as replacement. Unit sales jumped 4.1 percent in the quarter to 25.5 million units and the revenue per tire jumped 8 percent.
NAT operating income improved to $31.5 million for the year from a loss of $130.9 million. The quarter's profit also improved to $15.8 million from a loss of $14.7 million. The fourth quarter marks the third consecutive quarter for profits in NAT.
Combined segment operating income in 2004 more than doubled to $1.08 billion from $511 million in 2003, when NAT's $130.9 million loss dragged on the results.
While NAT contributed 41 percent of the total sales among the seven business units in 2004, it contributed only 2.9 percent of the profits. Other segments contributed a higher share of profits than sales, with Latin America Tire leading that pack with 6.5 percent of the sales yet 23.2 percent of income. Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa also posted 6.7 percent of sales and 17.9 percent of profits.
``As a result, increasing competition and unexpected changes in government policies or currency values in these regions could have a disproportionate impact on our ability to sustain profitability,'' Goodyear noted in its 10-K report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Goodyear said the unbalanced share at NAT was due primarily to legacy costs such as pensions and post-retirement benefits, but a spokeswoman said the company does not break down these costs by business unit.
Goodyear also has about $5.68 billion in debt, up 11.8 percent from year-end 2003, according to the company's 10-K. The increased level drove up interest expenses 24.5 percent to $368.8 million, but the tire maker is working to refinance more than $3.3 billion of the debt, which it expects to be completed by April.
An SEC investigation-plus investor lawsuits-arising from the company's restatement of earnings last year also is ongoing. Goodyear said in its 10K that it discovered ``material weaknesses'' that affected its internal controls over financial reporting.
Rising raw materials costs pose challenges to Goodyear, as they do to most tire makers, Mr. Keegan said.
``We're making significant progress in our turnaround efforts, but we fully recognize the significant challenges that lie ahead of us,'' Mr. Keegan told analysts.
Goodyear also has some positive forces in its stable in addition to the recently assembled leadership team. The company also has seen strong market share gains in the OE commercial truck segment.
The Assurance line of tires continues to benefit the company, and the new Fortera and Wrangler tires with SilentArmor technology are expected to do the same. Mr. Keegan said Goodyear sold about 2 million Assurance tires last year, compared with 1 million in its popular Aquatred's first year. Goodyear lost some share last year in the Dunlop brand, but new tires in the pipeline are expected to rejuvenate that brand.