Nielsen Holdings plc (NLSN - Free Report) reported fourth-quarter 2017 net earnings of 52 cents per share, which increased 18.2% year over year.
The earnings figure excludes a provisional non-cash tax charge of 29 cents per share.
Shares of Nielsen have lost approximately 10.7% in the past 12 months, underperforming the industry’s gain of 23.5%.
Reported revenues came in at $1.761 billion, increasing 6.3% year over year. The increase was driven by contribution from the acquisition of Gracenote, continued strength in the company’s Watch segment, and growth in emerging markets, partially offset by weakness in the U.S. Buy segment.
On a constant-currency basis, revenues increased 4.2%.
However, revenues were more or less in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.762 billion.
Revenues by Segment
Watch business revenues were $913 million (52% of total fourth quarter revenue), reflecting an increase of 15.9% year over year or 14.8% on a constant-currency basis. The increase came on the back of continued strength in Audience Measurement and Marketing Effectiveness, which improved 20.6% and 19.2%, respectively, on a constant-currency basis. Excluding the acquisition of Gracenote, Watch revenues increased 7.4% or 6.4% on a constant-currency basis.
Buy business revenues were $848 million (48% of total revenue), reflecting a decline of 2.3% year over year and 5.3% on a constant-currency basis. Excluding foreign currency impact, revenues from the Developed market declined 6.7% on a constant-currency basis due to softness in the U.S. market. However, revenues from emerging markets were up 7.4% or 4.8% on a constant-currency basis, driven by coverage expansion and broad product offerings.
Reported gross margin was 58.3%, down 120 basis points (bps) from the year-ago period.
Nielsen’s operating expenses, namely selling, general and administrative expenses of $475 million, increased 3.3% from the year-ago figure. Therefore, operating margin decreased 30 bps year over year to 20.3%.
Adjusted EBITDA was $579 million in the fourth quarter, increasing 5.7% year over year or 3.8% on a constant currency basis.
On a GAAP basis, Nielsen registered net profit of $81 million or 23 cents per share compared with $159 million or 44 cents in the year-ago quarter.
Balance Sheet & Cash Flow
Nielsen exited the quarter with cash balance of approximately $656 million compared with $662 million in the last quarter.
Net debt (gross debt excluding cash and cash equivalents) was $7.79 billion and net debt leverage ratio was 3.83x at the end of the quarter.
Cash flow from operations decreased to $506 million in the fourth quarter from $538 million in the prior quarter and $543 million in the year-ago quarter. Capex was $156 million in the reported quarter. Free cash flow was $350 million in the fourth quarter compared with $425 million in the previous quarter and $476 million in the year-ago quarter.
The company repurchased $140 million of shares in 2017. It has a total of $298 million remaining for repurchase under the existing share repurchase program.
For full-year 2018, management maintained its guidance. It expects total revenue growth on a constant-currency basis of 3%, adjusted EBITDA margin growth on a constant-currency basis of approximately 60 bps and GAAP net income per share in the range of $1.40-$1.46. Also, free cash flow is expected to be approximately $800 million.
Nielsen Holdings is an information and measurement company, which offers media and marketing information on what consumers watch and buy locally.
Continued share repurchase reflect Nielsen’s financial strength and commitment toward returning value to its shareholders. Also, the company's product launches are progressing well and should drive revenues in the near term.
However, continued investments in technology and infrastructure could weigh on margins and profitability, going forward.
Nielsen carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked stocks in the technology sector are PetMed Express (PETS - Free Report) , Teradyne (TER - Free Report) and Mercadolibre (MELI - Free Report) . While PetMed and Teradyne sport a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), Mercadolibre carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.
Long-term earnings per share growth rate for PetMed, Teradyne and Mercadolibre is projected to be 10%, 12% and 25%, respectively.
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