When both the snow and the temperature are falling, it is easy to feel blue. However, there are things you can do to protect your health and perk up your moods. Similarly, there are ways you can protect your portfolio from the winter blues by looking up specific industries and companies that profit by helping us cope with the winter months.
Not that any winter can be pegged as "typical", but what many Americans saw in 2010 dwarfed expectations. Experts reported as much as five feet of snow burying much of the nation - from Texas through the upper Ohio Valley, to the Mid-Atlantic Coast, and lower New England - in successive storms. (For more, see 5 Ways Winter Can Help Your Portfolio.)
IN PICTURES: 9 Simple Investing Ratios You Need To Know
Generac Holdings Inc. (NYSE:GNRC) makes back-up power generation products. GNRC reported net sales in 2009's fourth quarter (ending in December) of $154 million, compared to $144.3 million in the third. Despite increased sales, profits were slightly off in quarter four 2009, dropping to $11.9 million from $14.3 million in quarter three.
Milwaukee-based Briggs & Stratton Corporation (NYSE:BGG) is also into devices like power generators, but it has a separate division devoted exclusively to snow blowers. It profited from that division in the fourth quarter ending in December 2009, making $3 million based on net sales of $393 million. The previous quarter showed sales of "only" $324.6 million, and a net loss of $8.7 million. Company literature seems to indicate that BGG's snow blower team more than pulled its weight to increase the company's bottom line.
"In general," last year's quarterly report reads, "all lawn and garden product volumes were less than those in the same period a year ago, except for stronger snow blower shipments." (To learn more, see Footnotes: Start Reading The Fine Print.)
Another of winter's hazards involves the way water turns to ice on the roads. One of the largest publicly traded companies making de-icing products is Kansas-based Compass Minerals International Inc. (NYSE:CMP), which produces salt and magnesium chloride for use by road crews and operates 11 production and packaging facilities worldwide.
CMP reported net earnings for 2009's last quarter of $62.5 million, on sales of $312.2 million. This was higher than the $25.7 million earnings in the previous quarter on sales figures of only $182 million.
IN PICTURES: 5 Tips To Reading The Balance Sheet
The Travel Bug
One would think that a growth industry during the winter months would be the airline industry. Snowbirds are usually eager to get away from the cold, ice, snow and darkness, and work on their tans beneath palm trees. But last winter, snow piled up around airports in many of the nation's major centers causing a huge number of cancellations. Continental Airlines Inc. has since merged with United Airlines to create United Continental (NYSE:UAL). American Airlines (NYSE:AMR) also took flights off the board - due in large part to a single-day record one-foot snowfall that closed down flight operations (and most of the rest of the area) at Dallas-Fort Worth International (AMR's home terminal).
Although it also had its share of cancellations in the midst of those storms, the best candidate appeared to be Houston-based Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV), which showed a solid profit over winter 2009-10 in spite of the weather.
For investment purposes, last year's results are just that - last year's. But in a troubled industry, consider that LUV reported $115 million worth of black ink in the last quarter of 2009, contrasted with a third-quarter 2009 net loss of $16 million. This was with revenues relatively constant in both final quarters at $2.6 billion. The profit figure brought the full-year profit for the airline to $99 million and enabled the carrier to extend its string of annual profits to 37 years. Even Brett Favre can't boast a streak that long!
The Bottom Line
Just as it's very difficult to gauge the weather three months or so in advance, it's challenging to determine with any clarity what will be the big winners among "winter" stocks. Remember, too, that this year's big winner is very seldom the big winner next year. Hopefully, though, the aforementioned stocks will give you some idea of what to look for to warm up your portfolio when temperatures plunge. (For more, see 5 Businesses That Rise As The Temperature Falls.)
For the latest financial news, see Water Cooler Finance: Lions And Diapers And Dows, Oh My!