FedEx Plunges Most Since 2008 as Outlook Cut Spurs Analyst Scorn

(Bloomberg) --

FedEx Corp. Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith blamed the company’s disappointing outlook on a weakening global economy dragged down by President Trump’s trade war. Wall Street isn’t buying it.

At least five analysts downgraded the shares, taking Smith to task for what Deutsche Bank AG called a series of “missteps’’ in recent years. The shares plunged Wednesday by the most in a decade.

FedEx hasn’t moved fast enough to reduce capital expenditures and cut capacity at the air-shipping business, critics said. A $4.8 billion acquisition in Europe has turned into a money pit. And the courier is incurring extra costs to boost efficiency to handle the surge in e-commerce deliveries -- all while cutting longstanding ties with Inc.

FedEx Plunges Most Since 2008 as Outlook Cut Spurs Analyst Scorn

“While some may view this as the bottom in shares, we don’t see any support until management takes responsibility for recent performance and clearly articulates a credible path to better results,” said Deutsche Bank’s Amit Mehrotra, who downgraded the stock. “In the meantime, share will continue to melt lower, and rightfully so,” he wrote in a report titled “Lost confidence in FDX.”

The shares tumbled 13% to $150.91 at the close in New York, the biggest drop since December 2008. United Parcel Service Inc. fell 1.1% while Deutsche Post AG slipped 1.2%.

FedEx’s slide wiped out its year-to-date gain. Even before the drop, the shares were already lagging UPS and a Standard & Poor index of U.S. industrial companies.

Deutsche Post responded to FedEx’s warning by saying that it hasn’t seen changes in volume trends since its most recent comments in August. UPS said it hasn’t detected a broad-based slump.

“UPS has seen softening in some markets as customers react to trade uncertainty, but has not experienced broad dampening,” the Atlanta-based courier said in a statement. “The company continues to manage costs and adapt its network to take advantage of growth opportunities as sourcing patterns shift among markets.”

FedEx surprised investors by slashing its profit outlook for the fiscal year ending in May to as low as $11 a share, 25% lower than analysts’ expectations. Smith and his lieutenants also drew fire for a combative conference call late Tuesday.

While Smith asserted that “FedEx will unquestionably be the low-cost producer” for domestic air deliveries, the company said the new outlook didn’t count on any additional weakening in the global economy. In other words, there could be more downside.

‘Lost Their Way’

“They were saying, ‘Yes, it’s tough out there and challenging. These are the actions we’re going to take. Trust us,’ ” said Kevin Sterling, an analyst with Seaport Global Holdings. “They’ve kind of lost their way here for it seems like a year or so. People are becoming more skeptical.”

FedEx cited global economic weakness “driven by increasing trade tensions and policy uncertainty,” and the company is hardly alone in feeling anxiety. The Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Index fell in the third quarter to the lowest since late 2016, the group said Wednesday.

More than half of CEOs said U.S. trade policy and retaliation from other countries had a negative effect on sales over the past year, while a third said it was having a similar impact on hiring.

But FedEx took criticism from analysts for sticking with a capital-spending budget of $5.9 billion, including $350 million to finish the work to combine FedEx’s network in Europe with TNT Express, a Dutch-based company it bought in 2016.

‘Execution Challenges’

Whether those efforts turn into higher profit remains to be seen, said Todd Fowler, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets, who also downgraded the shares.

“We anticipate a ‘wait-and-see’ approach with respect to expected margin and earnings improvement given recent execution challenges,” Fowler said in a note to clients.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says:

“FedEx is facing a number of near-term headwinds on top of the pressures from slowing economic growth.

“While fiscal 2020 will be a transition year for the company, we still believe longer-term prospects should turn positive once benefits from TNT and investments in technology and equipment are realized.”

- Analysts Lee Klaskow and Adam Roszkowski

- Click here for the research

TNT is turning into a particular sore spot. An economic slowdown in Europe is hampering FedEx’s effort to turn around operations after what is already a slow, costly integration. Running both the TNT and FedEx networks drives up costs, Sterling said.

“This global macro weakness couldn’t hit them at a worse time. They’re kind of getting exposed,” Sterling said. “The international weakness hit them faster than they realized. It was just three months ago that they lowered guidance and now again they’re coming back to do it. The ultimate question is when is the bottom.”

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