Johnson Controls Management's 5 Things to Do in 2016

By Lee

Automotive parts and building components maker Johnson Controls Inc has been in transformation mode for the past couple of years, and its fiscal 2016 promises more of the same. The company is best known as a major automotive interior manufacturer, but CEO Alex Molinaroli has increasingly focused on its building efficiency segment while investing in expanding power solutions (automotive batteries). Meanwhile the automotive experience segment is set to be spun off next year. With this in mind, let's take a look at five things management wants you to know aboutJohnson's future plans.

The automotive experience spin-off is comingThe spin-off is intended to take place in October 2016, and it appears to be a large and complex separation. As CFO Brian Stief alerted investors, "the separation costs in fiscal 2016 will likely be significant," and promised to give more color in December's investor meeting.

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Moreover, Executive VP Bruce MacDonald would later caution that the spin-off would not be straightforward. "Here we have to do all the separation work, but also set up the corporate functions starting from scratch," he said. "And so that's a big work-stream."

It's hard to put a dollar value on "significant," but I suspect the separation costs are going to make inroads into EPS in 2016 -- something investors should look out for in the company's guidance in December.

Building efficiency order delaysI've already outlined how Johnson Controls saw its orders from the federal government decline 37% in the fourth quarter. Molinaroli expressed hope that "some of this work will come back over the next few months, and that assumes a constructive resolution in Congress around the federal budget" -- but there is obviously no guarantee.

The decline in orders is disappointing, but this sort of volatility shouldn't surprise investors too much. Institutional markets are part of Johnson Controls' core clientele, and government spending is always subject to political risk.

Power solutions growth prospectsIt's within the power solutions (automotive batteries) segment that Johnson Controls appears to have its strongest near-term growth prospects. Although the recent results were disappointing, with original equipment sales increasing 2% in the quarter and aftermarket sales up just 1%, its absorbent glass mat, or AGM, battery shipments were up 44% compared to same period last year.

AGM batteries are high-end products that offer reliability and performance improvements, and according to Molinaroli, sales are so strong that the company is "capacity constrained."

In that vein, MacDonald spoke about the company's capacity expansion plans in power solutions "opening up our plant in China, our partnership AGM batteries out of China. So there is going to start to be some heavier investment in China next year versus this year around some of those new capacity adds."

ChinaThe country looms large in the prospects for all three segments, and management took the time to address fears relating to its economic slowdown. Regarding power solutions, Molinaroli referenced the potential for AGM batteries in China, and on previous earnings calls management has highlighted the importance of aftermarket sales there -- they are less cyclical than original equipment sales, which are tied to car production rates.

With regard to its automotive efficiency business, Johnson Controls is heavily tied to the passenger car market, which MacDonald believes is "is holding up better than the overall market" and went on to express optimism that "the worst is behind us here in China and we're going to start to see modest to mid-single digit type growth."

GuidanceEPS guidance for the first quarter was set at $0.80 to $0.83, compared to analyst estimates of $0.83. That guidance looks OK, but doesn't include any "transaction, integration and separation costs." Clearly, management will disclose a lot more about its projections for 2016 in the December investor meeting.

Where next for Johnson Controls?The company is set for more restructuring next year and, following the automotive efficiency spin-off, will exit 2016 as a more balanced company focused on car batteries and building. The key to the company's growth will be restructuring in building efficiency -- plus filling orders delayed by the budget standoff -- and growth in car battery capacity and sales.

However, the spin-off is going to come with "significant" costs, and also has risk involved in relation to the segment's exposure to China auto markets. Johnson Controls has a lot to do in each of its segments in 2016.

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Lee Samaha has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson Controls,. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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