FedEx Slides as Labor Costs, TNT Struggles Lead to ‘Messy Start’

(Bloomberg) -- FedEx Corp. dropped the most in more than five years after increased labor costs and a bumpy integration effort for the company’s TNT Express acquisition weighed on profit.

The weak performance got FedEx off to a “messy start” in its new fiscal year, Morgan Stanley said in a note to clients. But FedEx is betting on a rebound, raising its full-year earnings target by 20 cents a share as much as $17.80. That puts pressure on the company to perform much better in the busy upcoming holiday season and the rest of its fiscal year ending May 31.

“The end result is that the guide is even more back-half loaded and highly dependent on the successful capture of expected TNT synergies and improved revenue mix at TNT,” Jack Atkins, an analyst with Stephens Inc., said in a note on Tuesday.

For a look at Wall Street’s reaction to FedEx earnings, click here

FedEx fell 5.5 percent to $241.58 at the close in New York, the biggest one-day drop since March 2013. The shares have dropped 3.2 percent this year through Tuesday, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has gained 8.6 percent.

Increased compensation reduced earnings by $170 million, or 48 cents a share, during the fiscal first quarter, dragging results below analysts’ estimates. The courier is also struggling to boost profit at TNT, a European operation that FedEx bought in 2016 for $4.8 billion. The unit suffered a cyberattack last year that drove away customers and increased costs.

Salaries and benefits jumped 11 percent in the quarter and will show large gains in the fiscal second quarter because, with the U.S. corporate tax cut, FedEx decided to accelerate wage increases to April instead of October, said Helane Becker, an analyst with Cowen & Co. FedEx also faced fuel costs that rose 40 percent, she said.

‘Tough’ Comparisons

“You have very tough year-over-year comps in that line item for six months,” Becker said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. Later this year, “the numbers won’t look so huge.’’

FedEx also said that economic activity is beginning to moderate in China as uncertainty increases around U.S. tariffs. The direct U.S.-China trade lane represents about 2 percent of FedEx’s total sales, the company said.

“There’s a lot of conversation about the trade issues these days, and they are very worrisome,” FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith said on a conference call Monday. “And clearly, the U.S.-China trade dispute that took on even greater prominence today with the administration’s announcement, is worrisome to everyone.’’

Earnings climbed to $3.46 a share in the first quarter, trailing the average of analysts’ estimates by 34 cents. Sales of $17.1 billion outpaced expectations of $16.9 billion.

For the full fiscal year, earnings will be $17.20 to $17.80, FedEx said.

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