Consolidation, Free Offer Cut into H&R Block's Earnings
June 27, 2012 (The Kansas City Star, Mo.) A costly marketing campaign cut into H&R Block Inc.'s earnings last tax season, and its end may hit customers' pockets next year.
Bill Cobb, chief executive of the Kansas City-based tax preparation company, told Wall Street analysts Tuesday that the refund anticipation checks Block offered customers for free this past tax season won't be free next year.
The checks make collecting an anticipated refund easier than waiting for the Internal Revenue Service. And Block traditionally charged a fee for the checks.
Block waived those fees this past tax season to battle for customers, giving up $40 million in revenue in the process.
The promotion worked, along with other efforts, in helping Block to serve a record 25.6 million clients last year. It also cut into earnings, as did several other costs and changes at the company.
Block said its earnings fell by 11 percent during the company's fourth quarter, and that left its profit for the year down by a third.
The company said earnings suffered from the lost refund anticipation check revenue and from charges related to 350 job cuts and 200 tax office closings the company announced in late April. Its annual earnings also suffered from a loss on its December sale of RSM McGladrey.
Fourth quarter profits totaled $586.1 million, or $1.99 a share, down from $658.6 million, or $2.14, in the same period a year ago.
Revenue for the quarter just topped $2 billion, pushing the year's total to $2.89 billion, which was down 1.7 percent from the prior year's total.
Block shares had closed at $15.09, down 12 cents, before the earnings news.
Block's tax business traditionally posts its profit in the final quarter of the company's fiscal year. It tends to post losses in its other quarters.
For all of its fiscal year, Block earned $265.9 million, down 34.5 percent from the $406.1 million it earned in the prior year.
The recent results include $30.8 million in charges to cover severance benefits, lease termination fees and other expenses from the downsizing. Block had also lost $36.9 million on its sale of RSM McGladrey in December.
Cobb characterized the company as leaner and more nimble when it comes to serving customers. He put off details about the company's plans for next tax season until a Dec. 6 conference in New York.
Perhaps there will be a tie-in to the rock band The Who.
Twice during a call with analysts, Block executives said the company was the only one offering clients tax preparation services "anyway, anywhere and anyhow they choose," a rough paraphrase of lyrics to a Who song from the 1960s.
Block thinks it has built a pipeline of future customers through its marketing deals of the last two tax seasons, including the free refund anticipation checks.
It also offered free 1040EZ filings two years ago and said more than a fourth of those customers came to Block this year and filed a more complex form, which earns money for the company.
On the tax front, Block prepared 22.338 million returns in the recent tax year, a 4.2 percent increase from a year ago and the second year in a row its total increased. It included 4.4 million online returns, an 18.7 percent increase.
Block's tax offices still handled the bulk of its clients, preparing 14.9 million returns in the recent tax season, compared with 14.76 million a year earlier.
The company had noted its business gains in late April when it announced plans to eliminate jobs and close tax offices.
Tuesday's earnings report and the session with analysts provided no new information on the job cuts and office closings. The company declined a request for an interview.
Management's expectation was that cutbacks would save between $85 million and $100 million.
Block has also opened three tax offices in India, where the company targets 30 million to 35 million taxpayers.
"It's a 10- to 20-year play for Block," Cobb told analysts.