Acushnet Holdings Corp. (NYSE:GOLF) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript

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Acushnet Holdings Corp. (NYSE:GOLF) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript February 29, 2024

Acushnet Holdings Corp. misses on earnings expectations. Reported EPS is $-0.41 EPS, expectations were $-0.38. GOLF isn't one of the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds at the end of the third quarter (see the details here).

Operator: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Acushnet Holdings Corp 4Q 2023 earnings call, and thank you for standing by. My name is Daisy, and I'll be coordinating this call today. [Operator Instructions] I would now like to hand the call over to your host. I would now like to hand the call over to your host.

Sondra Lennon: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for Acushnet Holdings Corp's Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2023 Earnings Conference Call. Joining me this morning are David Maher, our President and Chief Executive Officer; and Sean Sullivan, our Chief Financial Officer. Before turning the call over to David, I would like to remind everyone that we will be making forward-looking statements on the call today. These forward-looking statements are based on Acushnet's current expectations and are subject to uncertainty and changes in circumstances. Actual results may differ materially from these expectations. For a list of factors that could cause actual results to differ, please see today's press release, the slides that accompany our presentation, and our filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Throughout this discussion, we will make reference to non-GAAP financial metrics, including items such as revenues at constant currency and adjusted EBITDA. Explanations of how and why we use these metrics and reconciliations of these items to a GAAP basis can be found in the schedules in today's press release, the slides that accompany this presentation, and in our filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Please also note that references throughout this presentation to year-on-year sales increases and decreases are on a constant currency basis unless otherwise stated. As we feel this measurement best provides context as to the performance and trends of our business. And when referring to year-to-date or full-year results or comparisons, we will refer to the 12-month period ended December 31, 2023 and the comparable 12-month period.

With that, I'll turn the call over to David.

David Maher: Thanks, Sondra, and good morning everyone. I am pleased to report on Acushnet's 2023 results and our outlook for 2024. As you see here on Slide 4, 2023 net sales of $2.38 billion and adjusted EBITDA of $376 million represent growth of 6% and 11%, respectively. The company also generated $372 million in operating cash flow for the year. These results are made possible, thanks to the talented and dedicated Acushnet team. Growth was fueled by Titleist golf balls, which increased 13%, led by strong demand for our new Pro V1 models. Golf Ball sales increased in all regions, with the U.S. and EMEA markets setting the pace. The continued strengthening of our Golf Ball supply chain and our team's ability to flex cast urethane production throughout the year were key contributors to the results.

Titleist golf ball usage across worldwide professional tours indexed at 73% last year and Titleist ball counts at the 2023 NCAA D1 men's and women's championships were 88% and 90%, respectively, affirming golfers' trust in the quality, consistency, and total game performance of Titleist. Titleist golf club sales of $659 million were up 10%, fueled by healthy gains in irons, Scotty Cameron putters, and medals. The Titleist golf club story is built upon our commitment to product innovation and custom fitting. And similar to golf balls, clubs benefited from continued supply chain optimization as our team met strong demand while achieving elevated quality and service targets. Our club business has great momentum, and Titleist has been the most played driver, iron, and wedge at every PGA Tour event this year.

Turning to Gear, sales increased 7% with gains in all categories and steady demand for custom gear products. Growth was led by the U.S., Korea, and EMEA regions. We talked on recent calls about excess footwear inventories on the channel, and I am pleased with how FootJoy has navigated the ensuing retail correction period. FootJoy finished the year down 2% as double-digit apparel gains helped to offset a footwear decline. FootJoy's unwavering commitment to performance, comfort, and design innovation are the foundation for FJ's longstanding claim to the number one shoe in golf. Acushnet's strong financial performance supported ongoing investment across our businesses and accelerated capital returns, with share repurchases and dividends totaling $332 million, and $52 million, respectively.

And furthering our commitment to return capital to shareholders, I am pleased to announce Acushnet's directors have approved a 10% increase to our quarterly dividend to $0.215 per share, and a $300 million increase to the company's share repurchase authorization, bringing this total authorization to $1 billion. These actions reflect the Board's confidence in Acushnet's ability to execute and generate cash flow and their positive outlook towards the company's strong position within the healthy golf industry. Now moving to Slide 5, you see an overview of our regional results. Our U.S., business was especially robust, with all reportable segments posting growth on the year. EMEA sales were off 1%, yet golf balls and clubs were vibrant, up 9% and 7%, respectively.

Given macro concerns about the region where we grew 20% in 2022, we are pleased with golf's resilience across EMEA and especially the UK market, which continues to benefit from very strong tourist demand. As you see, sales in Japan were flat for the year with golf balls again the highlight and up double digits. Korea was down 2% with gains in Titleist balls, clubs, and gear more than offset by declines in FootJoy and Titleist apparel. And lastly, our rest of world sales increased a healthy 12% with every segment posting gains. As we now look forward and plan for 2024, we are encouraged by strong golfer participation and enthusiasm for the game, including a U.S. golfer base that grew for the sixth consecutive year and where the fastest growing cohorts are juniors and women according to the National Golf Foundation.

Global rounds of play were vibrant in 2023, up about 2%, and led by the U.S. market, which increased 4% to more than 530 million rounds. Rounds are up double digits since 2019 in almost every region, with the U.S., Korea, and UK all growing by more than 20%. And the only down markets during this period are China and Southeast Asia. For context, the number of golf courses and rounds played annually in China are comparable to the golf profile here in the State of Massachusetts. Market fundamentals are strong, trade partners are financially stable, and channel inventories are seasonally in line. The past few years have seen expansive investment by golf courses and retailers seeking to improve their facilities and experiences to meet the evolving preferences of tomorrow's golfers.

As a result, it's a great time to be a golfer. Now, looking forward at our segments and starting with golf balls, we successfully launched new AVX, Tour Soft, and TruFeel models in the first quarter. Initial response has been favorable in sunbelt markets and we are in good shape to support our global launch over the next two months as Northern markets open up. Within Titleist golf clubs, we look to build upon our T-Series iron momentum and add energy with new Vokey SM10 wedges and Scotty Cameron Phantom putters. We expect these new products and the expanded execution of our fitting strategies will drive our first-half performance. Our Gear business is well positioned for growth, both organic and from the recent inclusion of Club Glove effective at the start of this year.

We have successfully integrated Club Glove into Acushnet and are committed to enhancing supply chain, B2B, and digital platforms in 2024 to then pave the way for accelerated investment and growth expectations for golf's leading travel brand. And with Club Glove's addition to the Acushnet portfolio, we have scaled back some of our Titleist branded travel gear offerings. However, even with this SKU reduction, still expect growth from Titleist gear in 2024. FootJoy is launching a wide range of new products in the first half, led by new PRO/SLX and Quantum golf shoes and several style updates to our leading premier franchise. Golfers will notice refinements to the FJ apparel line and additions such as our performance-oriented thermo and tempo series mid-layers and a new golf fitness collection as we continue to build upon FootJoy's unmatched authenticity in the golf wearable space.

And we're enthused about our opportunities to continue developing our shoes performance outerwear business and anticipate double-digit growth in 2024, driven by our golf product lines in the U.S. and UK and measured growth within ski. In addition to the full assortment of new products we have scheduled for the first half, our positive outlook is also shaped by several new initiatives as we adapt and invest to position the company for future success. First, our new Titleist golf ball and Vokey wedge selection apps will supplement our in-person fitting efforts. We are enthused about the opportunity to connect with a wider audience of golfers to help them make the best equipment choices for their games. In the coming months, we will mobilize FootJoy's proprietary new FitLab performance footwear system to help golfers select the best performing, best fitting, and most comfortable golf footwear.

A relaxed golfer in the company's lifestyle apparel, enjoying a leisurely round.
A relaxed golfer in the company's lifestyle apparel, enjoying a leisurely round.

We are confident that all golfers can benefit from this innovative and value-added fitting experience and are prepared to invest behind this initiative similar to our comprehensive ball and club fitting programs. Our investment in technology will also support trade partners as we implement improved B2B capabilities and empower their use of Acushnet's proprietary online pro shop to support their own D2C engagements, with emphasis on club logo and tournament opportunities. In 2024, we will begin operating a new state-of-the-art golf ball customization technology that our team has been developing for the past few years. This new automation will expand our throughput capabilities, resulting in greater efficiencies and faster lead times for custom imprinted Titleist golf balls.

Earlier this year, we started fulfilling orders from our new 500,000-square-foot distribution and custom embroidery center located in nearby Lakeville, Massachusetts. This facility is representative of the company's commitment to providing leading service and the highest quality distribution experience. Initially, we will fulfill wholesale demand for FJ footwear, Titleist gear, and Club Glove, and over time expect to support D2C and additional product groups from this new facility. We also recently expanded our apparel customization capabilities in the UK, bringing much of this work in-house to improve quality, reduce lead times, and meet growing demand for embroidered FJ and shoes products in this golf-rich region. And lastly, within golf footwear, we continue to progress towards our objective of establishing a more resilient and geographically diverse supply chain, and this year expect to produce roughly half our footwear in Vietnam as we leverage the expanded capability of our longtime JV footwear production partner to supplement our manufacturing.

We are confident these investments in golfer connection, technology, and supply chain will benefit golfers and trade partners while positioning the company for sustaining success. In summary, we are optimistic about the structural health of the golf industry, the great momentum behind our Titleist FootJoy shoes and Club Glove brands, and the resilience and engagement of the game's dedicated golfer. Thanks for your attention this morning. I will now pass the call over to Sean.

Sean Sullivan: Thank you, David. Good morning, everyone. Turning to the financial results for the quarter and the full year on Slide 8. In line with expectations, our fourth quarter net sales were down 8.6% when compared to 2022, with lower net sales across all reportable segments except for golf balls. Adjusted EBITDA was a loss of $1.5 million, approximately $27 million lower than Q4 of last year. The net sales decline in the quarter was primarily due to Golf Clubs and FootJoy, which were down 17% and 14% respectively. Golf Balls partially offset these declines with a 5% increase on higher sales volumes and average selling prices of our Pro V1 family of golf balls. In Golf Clubs, net sales were down as higher sales volumes of our newly introduced T-Series irons were more than offset by lower sales volumes of TSR drivers and fairways, which were launched in Q3 of 2022.

Lower footwear sales volumes in the quarter drove the decrease in FootJoy net sales. As David highlighted, for the full year 2023 net sales and adjusted EBITDA increased 6.2% and 11.1%, respectively, driven by increased net sales across all reportable segments except for FootJoy. The net sales increase for the full year was primarily driven by higher sales volumes in Golf Balls, Golf Clubs, and Titleist Gear, up 13.5%, 9.5%, and 7% respectively. FootJoy was down 2.1% compared to 2022 on lower sales volumes, mainly in footwear, partially offset by higher apparel volumes, which increased by a double-digit percentage. Sales volumes of products that are not allocated to one of our four reportable segments also decreased versus prior year. Turning to results by region, in the fourth quarter, the U.S. and Japan were down mainly due to lower net sales comparing to the prior year launch of TSR drivers and fairways previously mentioned, as well as lower footwear sales volumes in the U.S. Full year growth was led by the U.S. and Rest of World, with gains across all reportable segments in those regions.

Gross profit in the quarter was $210 million, down 6.2% compared to 2022, primarily due to decreased sales volumes in Golf Clubs and FootJoy. Gross margin of 50.8% was up 80 basis points, largely due to favorable manufacturing costs in golf balls and lower inbound freight costs. Gross profit for the full year was $1.3 billion up 6.2%, primarily resulting from increased volumes and average selling prices in Golf Balls, Golf Clubs, and Titleist Gear, as well as lower inbound freight across all reportable segments and lower royalty expense in golf clubs. Lower sales volumes in FootJoy and products not allocated to one of our four reportable segments partially offset the increase. Gross margin of 52.6% was up 70 basis points, mainly due to lower inbound freight costs.

SG&A expense of $213 million in the quarter increased $17 million or 8.8% across all operating expense categories, mainly due to higher employee-related expenses partially offset by lower IT expenses. R&D expense of $18 million was also up mainly due to higher employee-related expenses. SG&A expense of $888 million for the full year increased $55 million, or 6.6% from 2022, primarily due to higher advertising and promotional expenses across all reportable segments to support new product launches and higher employee-related expenses in selling and admin, partially offset by lower retail commission expense in Korea and lower IT related expenses. We also incurred about $12 million of one-time charges in 2023, of which $10 million related to the optimization of our distribution and custom fulfillment operations.

R&D expense of $65 million was up to support new product introductions. Our increase in intangible amortization was due to the acquisition of trademarks related to Titleist Golf Clubs and Golf Gear in the fourth quarter of 2022 and first quarter of 2023 respectively. Interest expense was up $6 million in the quarter and $28 million for the full year due to an increase in borrowings and interest rates, with a little more than half the increase coming from higher debt. Our effective tax rate in Q4 was 26.9% and our full year effective tax rate was 17.8%, down from 20.9% last year. Decreases in both periods were primarily driven by a shift in our mix of jurisdictional earnings. Moving to our balance sheet and cash flow highlights on Slide 9. Our balance sheet and cash flow positions continue to be very strong, allowing us to continue to execute our capital allocation strategy with our ongoing investments in the business and return of capital to shareholders being our highest priorities.

Our net leverage ratio at the end of 2023 was 1.9 times as expected inventories increased sequentially from Q3 in support of 2024 product launches but declined from year-end 2022. We are comfortable with our inventory quality and net position given the current state of demand and the supply chain as we move into 2024. Capital expenditures for 2023 were in line with expectations at $75 million and are projected to reach approximately $85 million in 2024. As David noted, in 2023 we returned roughly $384 million to shareholders with $332 million in share repurchases and $52 million in cash dividends. The quarterly dividend announced today of $0.215 per share will be payable on March 22 to shareholders of record on March 8, 2024. This increase in our quarterly dividend is the seventh increase since the dividend was implemented in 2017, which highlights our continuing confidence in the business outlook and cash flow generation.

During the fourth quarter, we repurchased approximately 2.3 million shares of our common stock for $127 million, bringing our full year repurchases to approximately 6.5 million shares for a total of $332 million. As mentioned, on February 15, our Board of Directors increased the share repurchase authorization by an additional $300 million, bringing the total authorization to $1 billion since the share repurchase program was established in 2018. As a result, as of February 23, 2024, the remaining share repurchase authorization was $359 million and the number of shares outstanding was 63.5 million. Turning to our full year 2024 outlook on Slide 10. Full year revenue is projected to be between $2.45 billion and $2.5 billion, up 4.3% at the midpoint on a constant currency basis compared to 2023, with growth across all reportable segments as well as growth both domestically and internationally.

Our full year adjusted EBITDA is expected to be between $385 million and $405 million. At the midpoint, our adjusted EBITDA growth would be 5% with an EBITDA margin of approximately 16%. As we continue to invest in the business to drive sustainable long-term growth, many initiatives are underway that will continue into 2024, including expanding our distribution and customization capabilities, increasing our fitting network for both balls and clubs, and technology investments to support B2B, D2C, and enterprise systems. As a result, full year SG&A growth will be a bit higher than our sales growth projections. And as we have mentioned, we have been diversifying our supply chain and footwear as we shift incremental production into Vietnam. As a result of these initiatives, we expect to incur transformation and restructuring charges in 2024.

We will provide more information on these charges on our first quarter call. Due to the investments and operating expenses in support of the strategic initiatives highlighted, the quarterly cadence of our financial results in 2024 will differ from historical patterns. With respect to the first half of 2024, we expect net sales to be up low single digits compared to first half 2023, with growth coming from Titleist golf balls, golf clubs, and golf gear and first half EBITDA to be about flat to first half of 2023 due to increased operating expenses and to a lesser degree, the unfavorable impact of changes in foreign currency exchange rates. We are also forecasting a modest impact in freight costs in the first half due to the situation in the Red Sea.

From a quarterly standpoint for the first half of 2024, as is typically the case, we expect net sales to be more weighted to the second quarter, while EBITDA will be even further weighted to Q2 as the first quarter will be burdened by continuing [indiscernible] and begin the year with a positive outlook for 2024, given the state of the industry, our consumer and our leading product portfolio, all while remaining focused on executing our strategic priorities. With that, I will now turn the call over to Sondra for Q&A.

Sondra Lennon: Thanks, Sean. Daisy, could we now open up the lines for questions?

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