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Titan International calls time on ag machinery downturn

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Tyre-maker Titan International called time on the downturn in its key agricultural machinery markets, seeing a flat performance in the large equipment sector, and growth in smaller tractors.

The group, which sells under brands such as Goodyear Farm Tires, said that a fall in the pace of sales decline in the October-to-December period to 19%, compared with a 2015 average of 26%, showed that "Titan is nearing the bottom in its markets".

For the so-called "big iron" sector, which comprises combines, sprayers and larger tractors, above 250 horsepower, "I believe sales in North America will be flat in 2016", said Maurice Taylor, the Titan International chairman and chief executive.

In the market for smaller tractors, of 100 horsepower and below, "we see market growth in 2016, up to 15% over 2015.

"Titan has a large share of tyres and wheels in this market and we look to increase it" with new products, Mr Taylor added.

Industry forecasts

The outlooks appear a little more upbeat than estimates farm equipment makers themselves, with CNH Group, for instance, the maker of Case and New Holland machinery, forecasting a drop of 5% in industry tractor sales in North America this year, and a 15-20% slide in combine volumes.

Agco, owner of marques such as Fendt and Massey Ferguson, has forecast a drop of 10-15% in industry tractor sales in North America this year.

In fact, January brought a 5.9% drop year on year in industry tractor volumes in the US, but a 21% jump to 419 vehicles in sales of combines, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

In Canada, tractor volumes in the month fell by 4.5% - despite a more than doubling in sales of high horsepower vehicles, while combine sales eased by 1 to 389 units.

Margin prospects

Mr Taylor added that Titan was poised to raise revenues this year, helped by new products, but also the extension to Europe and Russia of its control of the Goodyear brand.

And, with the company having cut costs through measures including the scrapping of 2,500 jobs, "with the changes that we have made to the business, even a slight upturn in revenue will produce a disproportionate increase in profitability".

In 2015, "despite a 26%, $500m, drop in sales, our gross margin percentage increased," he said.

"I have never seen a period where our markets have dropped like they have, but I have also never seen a time in history where Titan has been this well positioned going forward."

Loss narrows

However, the comments came as Titan unveiled a loss for the October-to-December quarter which, while down 32% year on year to $57.4m, was a little larger than investors had expected.

The loss, on sales down 19.7% at $307.8m, equated to an underlying $0.38 per share, compared with market expectations for a $0.33-per-share loss.

For the full year, Titan unveiled an underlying loss of $0.13 per share, on revenues down 26% at $1.39bn.

For 2016, Wall Street has pencilled in a decline in Titan sales to $1.37bn, and an underlying loss per share of $0.33 per share.


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