Spring blooms early for Toro's results and stock price

The Bloomington company beat estimates, raised its outlook and told of a pending stock split.

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Toro’s professional segment, which sells to the agricultural, golf and landscaping markets, had a strong six months.

Photo: ., Photo courtesy of Toro

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The early spring and a resurgent U.S. golf industry helped make Toro Co. one of the best performers on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.

Shares of the Bloomington-based company rose nearly 10 percent to a record $74.69 per share close as the company reported better-than-expected results for its second quarter, which ended May 4.

Toro also signaled an improved full-year 2012 outlook, and announced plans for a 2-for-1 stock split on June 29 to shareholders of record on June 15.

CEO Michael Hoffman said the company's golf; landscape and grounds; and micro-irrigation businesses in the United States all had a very strong first six months to the fiscal year. He said that has offset challenges in Toro's international business created by the economic issues in Europe.

Toro reported second-quarter net income of $68.8 million, with earnings per share up 20 percent to $2.26. That beat analysts' consensus forecast of $2.13, as compiled by Bloomberg.

Revenue grew 9 percent to $691.5 million.

Toro raised its fiscal 2012 financial performance expectations to $4.30 per share on annual revenue that should rise 7 to 8 percent to a record $2 billion.

Toro's stock has run from $45 per share last October to nearly $75, already breaking through the consensus target price for 2012 of analysts who follow the company.

Leah Villalobos, an analyst at Longbow Research in Ohio, said in an update Thursday that she was "neutral" on the stock because of the recent rapid price movement that has captured the expected good news for this year.

Glenn Johnson -- a portfolio manager at Mairs & Power Growth Fund in St. Paul, a longtime owner of Toro -- said a recovery among golf course operators and housing contractors is driving the sales of mowers, landscaping and irrigation equipment. That domestic business is offsetting some weakness in China and Europe.

The golf industry reports that the number of rounds played was up 30 percent in March and 20 percent nationally so far in 2012. Hoffman said that has inspired year-round golf clubs in California, Arizona, Florida and the Carolinas to invest in new mowers and landscaping.

"They are running the business awfully well," said Johnson, noting that good expense management helped widen profit margins slightly in the second quarter.

In a conference call with analysts Thursday, Hoffman said the company raised 2012 performance expectations, even though it anticipates a "soft snowthrower preseason ahead of us," thanks to light winter snows of 2011-12. An average winter should help 2013 sales, but customers won't be buyers until the snow flies.

"We know the preseason will be soft and we're counting on a better 'in-season,'" Hoffman said.

Europe accounts for less than 15 percent of Toro's business, but Hoffman said the slowed economy has not kept some successful golf clubs from investing in equipment.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144

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