ST. LOUIS — Emerson announced net sales were up 10 percent in the third quarter ended June 30, 2018, with underlying sales up 8 percent excluding favorable currency of 1 percent and an impact from acquisitions net of divestitures of 1 percent. Strong global demand continued in the quarter as both mature and emerging markets delivered high-single digit underlying growth. Emerson’s trailing three-month underlying orders growth remained in the 5 to 10 percent range throughout the quarter, with June three-month underlying orders up 9 percent.
All profitability measures improved in the third quarter. Gross profit margin of 43.7 percent improved 220 basis points compared with the prior year, driven by leverage on higher sales and the benefit of prior year restructuring actions. Both pretax margin of 17.2 percent and EBIT margin of 18.1 percent improved 180 basis points. GAAP earnings per share from continuing operations increased 78 percent to $1.12, and were $0.88, up 40 percent, excluding a one-time tax benefit related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Operating cash flow from continuing operations was $924 million in the quarter, up 19 percent compared with the prior year, and free cash flow from continuing operations was $804 million, up 20 percent. Year to date operating cash flow from continuing operations was up 5 percent to $1.9 billion and free cash flow from continuing operations was up 5 percent to $1.6 billion, reflecting approximately 100 percent conversion of net earnings from continuing operations.
“Our third quarter results reflect broad-based momentum across our end markets and the strength of our global competitive position, as Emerson continues to be the clear industrial partner of choice,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David N. Farr. “This quarter marks our fifth consecutive quarter of strong net and underlying sales growth and sixth quarter of positive underlying orders, pointing to a steady trend that we believe sets Emerson up for a strong fourth quarter and start to fiscal 2019.”
Business Platform Results
Automation Solutions net sales increased 18 percent in the quarter, with underlying sales up 12 percent excluding favorable currency of 2 percent and an impact from acquisitions of 4 percent. Growth continued to reflect strong short cycle repair and maintenance (MRO) demand and projects focused on expansion and optimization of existing facilities. Trends were positive across all key market verticals and world areas, with double digit growth in both mature and emerging markets.
North American underlying sales were up 16 percent reflecting strong investment in oil and gas production and midstream infrastructure, as well as continued favorable trends across process, hybrid and discrete verticals including chemical, power, life sciences and mining. Asia underlying sales were up 13 percent, with China up 28 percent, driven by capital investment in both China and India, as well as continued strong demand across process, hybrid and discrete markets. Europe was up 6 percent, Latin America was up 5 percent and Middle East/Africa was up 8 percent. Trailing three-month underlying orders growth was very strong throughout the quarter, with June up 12 percent. Margin increased 170 basis points to 17.2 percent compared with the prior year, driven by leverage on higher sales, restructuring benefits and favorable price-cost.
Commercial & Residential Solutions net sales were down 1 percent and underlying sales increased 2 percent excluding favorable currency of 1 percent and an impact from divestitures net of acquisitions, which deducted 4 percent. Underlying sales in North America were up 2 percent as strong demand for professional tools continued, and air conditioning demand improved compared with the prior quarter. Underlying economics in air conditioning markets remain positive, and we expect strong demand through the end of the year. Asia grew 1 percent, with China down 5 percent, as strong demand in air conditioning and cold chain markets was offset by lagging heating demand in China due to the timing of government subsidies. Europe was up 5 percent, reflecting continued favorable demand in air conditioning and construction-related markets. Trailing three-month underlying orders growth stayed in the low single digits throughout the quarter, with June up 3 percent. Margin continues to run at a high level, but decreased 80 basis points to 24.3 percent compared with the prior year. Sequentially versus the second quarter, margin improved 70 basis points, reflecting strong leverage on higher sales.
The Company is raising full-year sales and earnings per share guidance based on strong performance, as well as updating for recently closed acquisitions and certain non-operating items discussed below.
Total Emerson net sales growth is now expected to be approximately 14 percent, with Automation Solutions up 21 percent and Commercial & Residential Solutions up 3 percent. Excluding a 7 percent impact from acquisitions, divestitures and currency translation, total Emerson underlying sales growth is expected to be approximately 7.5 percent, with Automation Solutions up approximately 9 percent and Commercial & Residential Solutions up approximately 4.5 percent.
GAAP earnings per share guidance is increased to $3.30 to $3.40 from prior guidance of $3.10 to $3.20. Expected GAAP earnings per share guidance of $3.30 to $3.40 reflects improved performance and is supported by continued strong orders trends. In the third quarter, the Company updated its initial estimates related to adoption of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and increased net foreign tax credit carryforwards by $150 million, resulting in a $0.24 per share tax benefit. As a result, management expects the full year tax rate to be approximately 19 percent. In 2019 and thereafter, the tax rate is expected to be approximately 25 percent. In the fourth quarter, management expects Tools & Test and Aventics restructuring and first year acquisition accounting charges of ($0.06) per share. Lastly, in response to U.S. tax reform legislation, the Company has made numerous enhancements to its compensation and benefits packages in the U.S., including improvements to health and welfare plans, paid parental leave and vacation benefits, and retirement savings plans. Most recently, the company approved a special retirement account contribution in the amount of one thousand dollars per U.S. employee at a total cost of $24 million, or a ($0.03) per share impact in the fourth quarter.
“As we enter the fourth quarter, we have high confidence in the strength of our end markets and in the ability of our global teams to execute, and we have increased our outlook accordingly,” said Farr. “Thanks to the ongoing benefits of U.S. tax reform, which continues to strengthen the U.S. economy, we’ve made a number of improvements to our U.S. wage and benefits packages. As we noted in our first quarter earnings release, we believe such improvements ensure that Emerson will remain competitive in a growing economy. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to enact these changes, including increased wages, health plan enhancements and improved parental leave and paid time off.”Tagged with Emerson, financial