Newell Brands reported strong growth for Coleman, Marmot Mountain, Contigo and its own Team Sports segment in the fourth quarter of 2017. Slightly offset by declines in the Fishing segment, they helped lift ”core sales” at its Play division by 5.4 percent during the period. Adding assets that are due for disposal, the division's sales grew by 6.6 percent to $563 million.
The segment's operating margin improved to 9.1 percent from 7.1 percent in the year-ago quarter. On a normalized basis, it went up to 11.0 percent from 9.2 percent. The company attributed the improved profitability mainly to a positive mix, cost synergies and a lower accrual for management bonuses.
Most of the brands in Newell's Play segment were acquired in 2016 from the former Jarden Corporation. Adding those already in Newell's portfolio, their combined sales grew by 38.1 percent in the full 2017 financial year to $2.58 billion, generating a normalized operating margin of 12.0 percent against 11.6 percent in the previous year.
In commenting on these results, Newell's management noted that the brands in its Play segment largely improved their market shares in the U.S. last year, growing in spite of the significant disruption of the American retail landscape. Notably, it claimed increases in market share of 1.09 percentage points in outdoor and recreation equipment, 1.80 percentage points in food storage, 3.0 percentage points in fishing and 4.18 percentage points in team sports.
Newell's management outlined a new transformation plan last month that would involve, among other moves, the possible disposal of various brands including Rawlings and Rubbermaid Outdoor. The group had already divested K2, Völkl and other winter sports equipment brands.
The new portfolio realignment would reduce by 50 percent the number of factories and warehouses that it working with, while consolidating 80 percent of its global sales on two ERP platforms by the end of 2019.
Prior to the release of the company's results, two co-founders of Jarden, Martin Franklin and Ian Ashken, announced their resignation from Newell's board of directors along with Domenico De Sole, the former chief executive of Gucci, criticizing the ways in which Jarden's former operations have been integrated under the management of Newell's chief executive, Mike Polk.
They and others have formed a new company, J2 Acquisition, that has raised more than $1.25 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile Starboard Value, an investment company that owns about 4 percent of Newell's shares, is proposing to nominate them and eight other candidates for election at the group's next annual meeting. One of them is James Lillie, the former CEO of Jarden.
Reportedly, Franklin was particularly critical of the fact that Newell has placed executives in charge of larger business units without any real expertise or accountability. Without directly addressing these and other complaints, Polk noted that Newell has saved $350 million by restructuring the group from 32 business units to 15 operating divisions.
He admitted that Newell had not reached the expected results last year, but stressed that it had built up an organization that will be able to outperform the competition with its design, innovation and e-commerce capabilities.
The company's final results for 2017 show a net profit of $2,748.8 million, up sharply from $527.8 million in 2016, boosted by a tax benefit of $1.45 billion from the new tax act in the U.S. Net sales went up by 11.1 percent to $14.7 billion, but the normalized operating margin declined to 14.2 percent from 15.6 percent.