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Can Johnson Controls, Inc (JCI) Shake off European Worries?

Johnson Controls, Inc. (NYSE:JCI)The grim economic picture in Europe has slowed industrial activity on the continent and weighed down large multinational manufacturers. Growing sales from emerging economies haven’t been enough to offset the slide. The ugly reality has hit conglomerates especially hard, which generally tolerate inefficiencies across their massive holdings. That is all about to change.

Johnson Controls, Inc (NYSE:JCI) is one such technology conglomerate scrambling to improve profitability in the face of European woes. The company’s second-quarter earnings released this week could be summarized as “higher (financial metric) in (choose market) was partially/more than offset by lower (financial metric) in Europe”. Shares have waddled sideways in the past five years, underperforming the S&P 500 by 18%. Will higher demand elsewhere be enough to shake off European worries?

Is the sky really falling?
Things are bad, but they may not be as bad as they seem. Despite the dismal state of affairs in the European theater, Johnson Controls, Inc (NYSE:JCI) has reaffirmed its earnings guidance for 2013. Already halfway through its fiscal year, expected EPS of $2.60-$2.70 is well above the $2.15 watermark set last year. Consolidation efforts and an increased focus on growth assets look to be paying off so far.

The company operates three key businesses: building efficiency, automotive experience, and power solutions. All were hit by declining European sales, although each had bright spots elsewhere. Building efficiency sales dropped 3% from the prior-year period, but gross profit grew 3%. The good news is that revenue will pick up in the second half of the fiscal year as the weather improves in North America and China and restructuring benefits take root.

A worker packages car batteries – the product most associated with Johnson Controls – after assembly. Source: Johnson Controls

Automotive experience didn’t fare so well, which should come as no surprise to investors. Nearly all major automakers are struggling in Europe despite improving sales elsewhere. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) lost $1.75 billion in the continent in 2012 and expects to see the red ink tally $2 billion this year. If automakers can’t sell cars, then they have less incentive to build them. That hurts electronics technology companies such as Johnson Controls and explains big drops in auto-related income – even with Chinese sales soaring 31%.

Power solutions grew sales 10% to $1.6 billion and income 11% compared to the prior-year period. The segment made up 15.4% of total revenue for the quarter, which should grow in coming years. The company completed the ramp-up of its automotive battery recycling facility and is on pace to complete its second battery factory in China.

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