Xerox Corp chopped its first-quarter earnings forecast by as much as 85 percent, as the slowdown in office equipment spending badly hurt revenue and thwarted its cost-cutting efforts.
Shares of Xerox, the world's top supplier of digital printer and document management services, fell 20 percent after its outlook made clear the toll that falling sales of equipment and printer-based supplies is taking on the company. Standard and Poor's lowered its ratings outlook for Xerox to negative.
In the first two months of the year, Xerox said, revenue dropped 18 percent from a year ago. The company plans to take more drastic cost-cutting measures -- including freezing salaries and suspending its contributions to 401(k) plans for U.S. employees -- to offset the revenue declines.
The Xerox warning comes on the heels of downbeat comments this week by two other household names, FedEx Corp and Nike Inc. These warnings suggest many corporations are still in the thick of the recession and it could be some time before their earnings rebound.
Earlier this month, hopes about a recovery had been lifted by optimistic comments by Bank of America Corp, JP Morgan Chase & Co and others in the troubled banking sector.
DERAILED BY RECESSION
With technology spending staggering, Xerox forecast first-quarter earnings of 3 cents to 5 cents per share, compared with an earlier outlook of 16 cents to 20 cents. Analysts had looked for 17 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.
We expect that global economic weakness, reduced information technology spending, and highly competitive industry conditions will pressure Xerox's revenues, operating earnings, and leverage profile in fiscal 2009, Standard & Poor's credit analyst Lucy Patricola said in lowering the company's outlook. S&P maintained its BBB long-term rating.
Spurred by solid profits and improved market share, the Norwalk, Connecticut-based company, whose rivals include Oce NV, Canon and Ricoh, had rebounded from severe financial troubles earlier this decade.
However, efforts to boost revenue have been derailed by the recession. In recent months, some large clients have been hesitant about purchasing higher-end technology, analysts have said. Increased sales of lower-priced products have hurt Xerox's gross margins.
Shares of the company, down about 33 percent for the year prior to the announcement, dropped a further 20 percent to $4.25 in early trade before climbing back to $4.48.
Chief Executive Anne Mulcahy, who was an economic adviser to Barack Obama during the U.S. presidential transition, said Xerox would continue to increase market share yet cautioned in a statement that enterprise spending on technology will continue to decline this year.
As a result, Xerox plans to cut $300 million in costs, on top of the $250 million in savings it previously planned. As part of a restructuring late last year, Xerox cut about 3,000 job cuts.
It said the current cost savings plan would bank on cutting travel expenses, freezing salaries and promotions in 2009, temporarily suspending matching for its U.S. 401(k) plans, cutting overtime pay and halting any new hiring. No additional job cuts are planned at the moment, a spokesman said.
Xerox also said it would cut total debt during the first quarter and would continue to do so throughout the year. It said it has a $2 billion line of credit and would tap credit markets only on an opportunistic basis.
Xerox is due to release first-quarter earnings on April 24.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; editing by Steve Orlofsky and Derek Caney)