Herman Miller, Inc. (MLHR), Knoll Inc (KNL): Why Steelcase Inc. (SCS) Earnings Could Use a Much-Needed Boost

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Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCSwill release its quarterly report on Wednesday. Investors have been reasonably satisfied with the performance of its stock recently, but growth in earnings has been hard to come by. Could an improving economy finally give the company better growth prospects ahead?

Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCS) has as its goal helping businesses operate more efficiently, with an emphasis on the furniture and architectural designs that are best at promoting greater productivity and team collaboration while emphasizing comfort and ergonomics. Yet as valuable as its products are to businesses, constant cost-cutting among its corporate customers puts Steelcase in the position of continually having to defend its sales from the budgetary knife of its clients. Let’s take an early look at what’s been happening with Steelcase over the past quarter and what we’re likely to see in its report.

Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCS)

Stats on Steelcase

Analyst EPS Estimate $0.26
Change From Year-Ago EPS 4%
Revenue Estimate $773.33 million
Change From Year-Ago Revenue 3.8%
Earnings Beats in Past 4 Quarters 2

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Can Steelcase earnings recover this quarter?

Analysts have trimmed their views of Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCS) earnings a bit in recent months, snipping a penny per share from their August-quarter estimates and $0.02 per share from their full-year fiscal 2014 projections. The stock has gained 6% since mid-June but has fallen back somewhat from even greater gains earlier in the quarter.

Steelcase’s May-quarter financials actually held the stock back considerably, as shares dropped more than 10% after its report. Although earnings matched expectations, a 1% drop in revenue was surprising in light of the roughly 2% gain that investors had thought the company would post. Sluggish guidance due to weak sales in parts of Europe added to the gloom and raised questions about whether tough global macroeconomic conditions will keep holding Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCS) back.

Steelcase is also going through a leadership transition, as longtime CEO Jim Hackett announced in July that he would retire in February 2014. That gives the company only a few more months to make a decision that will be instrumental in determining the future course of its strategic vision.

Yet Steelcase Inc. (NYSE:SCS) seeks to build a competitive advantage by integrating design with functionality. Rival Herman Miller, Inc. (NASDAQ:MLHR) is arguably best known for its Aeron chair, which is designed to fit workers of all body types and actually has a place in the Museum of Modern Arts. Similarly, Knoll Inc (NYSE:KNL) make products that are visually pleasing and aim at delivering what the company calls a “seamless aesthetic.” Steelcase, on the other hand, recently won an award for its Gesture chair, which is designed not just for general comfort but to provide specific support depending on what type of work you’re doing. As employees need to work with tablets, keyboards, and other devices as well as traditional business interactions, Steelcase’s award-winning design shows its attention to pragmatic detail.

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