Charge hurts UPS profit, but US business surges

AP News
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Posted: Jan 31, 2012 5:59 PM
Charge hurts UPS profit, but US business surges

The tide has turned in UPS' global business. Earnings at the world's largest package delivery company are now being powered by an economic "uplift" in the U.S., while growth in the formerly red-hot international division has slowed.

UPS said a stronger than expected U.S. economy and a surge in online holiday sales led operating profit higher in the fourth quarter of last year. While net income was lower due to an accounting charge, adjusted profit rose 21 percent and topped Wall Street's expectations.

UPS expects to see faster growth this year in the U.S. economy than in 2011. That will be in contrast to other parts of the world, where UPS predicts the pace of growth will slow.

The Atlanta company said results in the U.S. _ a 30 percent rise in operating profit and 7 percent increase in revenue _ improved twice as fast as other segments in the last three months of the year. The U.S. segment primarily ships small packages between businesses and consumers. It separates the shipments of heavier goods like refrigerators into its supply chain and freight segment.

"While I wouldn't call it a robust economy right now, I do think the small package market is performing better than we would have thought four and five months ago," UPS Chairman and CEO Scott Davis said in a conference call.

UPS has also cut costs in its core U.S. business since the recession. That includes reducing the number of workers and trucks. Higher prices helped, too.

Meanwhile, the international business, which had been wracking up double-digit quarterly gains, has slowed down. UPS noticed a falloff in shipments from Asia to the U.S. and Europe last summer, said CEO Scott Davis. The company cut flying out of Asia by about 10 percent in the fourth quarter.

Two significant events _ the Japan tsunami in March and flooding in Thailand later in the year _ affected exports from Asia in 2011. UPS said part of the reason that trade from Asia to the U.S. slowed is that some businesses are choosing to locate manufacturing facilities in Mexico or other countries closer to home, to keep a tighter handle on inventory.

Still, the company's international division earned more than half a billion dollars in the fourth quarter. And UPS notes that growth in Asia, while slowing, "is projected to outpace the rest of the world."

Across all segments in the fourth quarter, United Parcel Service Inc. earned $725 million, or 74 cents per share, compared with $1.3 billion, or $1.02 per share a year earlier. Excluding a charge tied to how it accounts for pensions and retirement plans, UPS earned $1.28 per share in the latest quarter. Analysts expected an adjusted profit of $1.27 per share.

Revenue rose 6 percent to $14.17 billion. UPS said the holiday season was its busiest ever. It shipped 480 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For the full-year, the company earned $3.8 billion, or $3.84 per share, compared with $3.33 billion, or $3.33 per share, in 2010. The full year 2011 results also include the impact of the accounting change.

Excluding one-time charges, UPS made more money in 2011 than any year since before the recession. Adjusted full-year profit was $4.35 per share. It made $4.17 per share in 2007, excluding one-time items. The recession began in December of that year.

For 2012, the company expects to earn between $4.75 and $5, an increase of 9 to 15 percent over adjusted 2011 results. Analysts currently expect $4.80 per share.

UPS shares fell 50 cents to $75.65.