January 10, 2006

Product Warranty Trends:

2005 is shaping up to be a $27 billion year for the warranty industry, though claims still represent only 1.7% of sales. More than a dozen companies have cut their claims rates. Some manufacturers, however, have seen their claims rates soar into the danger zone.

During the first nine months of 2005, U.S.-based manufacturers have reported just under $20 billion in worldwide warranty claims, and that doesn't even include figures for the just-concluded fourth quarter of 2005. Warranty claims are up 7.5% for the first three quarters of 2005, and if that increase holds true for the final quarter, warranty claims are likely to exceed $27 billion for the whole year. The total in all of 2004 was $25.1 billion, up from $24 billion in 2003.

In all the year-end reporting we did on product warranty trends in seven different industries, we forgot to include these totals for claims reported by all manufacturers in all industries. So while what follows may overlap some of the information included in the newsletters published between November 9 and December 20, 2005, most of it will be completely new.

During the quarter ended September 30, just under 650 manufacturers reported just under $6.8 billion in warranty claims. As shown in Figure 1, this represents a substantial increase over the three previous quarters, which were just above or just below $6.6 billion in claims. And in anticipation of a repeat of the fourth quarter claims surge we saw in 2003 and again in 2004, we're expecting a $7 billion total for the final three months of 2005. But we won't know for sure until all those annual reports are filed in late March or early April.

Figure 1
All U.S. Manufacturers
Warranty Claims & Accruals
in % of Sales & $mil per Quarter
1Q 2003 to 3Q 2005


While warranty claims are up, so are product sales. Therefore, as a percentage of sales, warranty claims are at right about the same spot as they were a year ago. As of September 30, 2005, manufacturers as a whole were paying out just under 1.7% of their product revenue to satisfy warranty claims. A year before, they were paying out an average of 1.65%. In fact, as the following chart illustrates, during the past 11 quarters the claims rate has never gone above 1.85% nor below 1.6%. Claims rates were highest in 2003 and lowest in 2004, with 2005 coming in somewhere in the middle.

Figure 2
U.S.-based Manufacturers
Claims Rate & Warranty Reserves
in % of Sales & Months
1Q 2003 to 3Q 2005


Source: Warranty Week from SEC data

The horizontal axis measures claims as a percent of sales. The vertical axis measures the capacity of all manufacturers' warranty reserve funds, expressed as a multiple of the most recent month's total warranty claims. Therefore, if a manufacturer has $20 million in their reserve and in the most recent month it spent $1 million on warranty claims (equal to $3 million per quarter), then the company's warranty reserve has a capacity of 20 months.

The third and fourth quarters of 2003 show the highest claims rates and the lowest reserve capacities of the 11 quarters included in the chart. Meanwhile, the first and second quarters of 2004 show the highest reserve capacities and the lowest claims rates. In fact, one could expect over time that more and more dots will land very close to the diagonal line drawn from the upper left to the lower right corners. Therefore, the first and second quarters of 2003 may prove to be anomalies, with a combination of high reserve levels and high claims rates.

Top Warranty Providers

Finally, we're adding a new twist to an old chart. Several times in the past three years we've run a table of the top 50 warranty providers, and more recently we've included year-over-year comparisons. We're including that again below, but this time the change from one year to the next is expressed as a percentage of a percentage. In other words, if your claims rate goes from 2% to 4%, it's a 100% increase. If it goes from 5% to 4%, it's a 20% decrease.

On that basis, 16 manufacturers reduced their warranty claims rates during the first nine months of 2005 while 29 saw an increase and five remained unchanged. However, the reason they remained unchanged is a lack of data. Since Black & Decker, Eaton, General Electric, Motorola, and Textron report their warranty expenses only once a year, we're still using 2004 figures as placeholder estimates. Therefore, there is no change in the claims rates.

One advantage of waiting until the new year to provide aggregate totals for all manufacturers is the fact that almost all the data we're expecting has arrived. There is little missing, and therefore little need for guesswork. Among the top 50 warranty providers, only Terex Corp. has failed to file its quarterly financial reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. They are therefore excluded from this tabulation, with Rockwell Collins taking their place. All the others, including Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies, Rockwell Collins, and Tyco International, which each end their fiscal years on or around September 30, have had enough time to finish their annual reports.

Top 50 U.S.-based Warranty Providers
First Nine Months of 2005
Improvement in Claims Rates vs. 2004
(in $ millions and percent)

   Warranty  Claims as  Change 
  Claims Pct of Since
  Company 9 mo. '05  Prod Sales  2004
  Seagate Technology $76m 1.1% -47%
  Boeing Co. $116m 0.7% -45%
  Lennar Corp. $112m 1.2% -40%
  Nortel Networks Corp. $183m 2.8% -29%
  American Standard Cos. $107m 1.4% -22%
  Rockwell Collins Inc. $42m 1.7% -18%
  United Technologies Corp. $318m 1.4% -16%
  Danaher Corp. $54m 0.9% -16%
  Paccar Inc. $175m 1.8% -14%
  Lucent Technologies Inc. $74m 1.2% -12%
  Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd. $64m 0.9% -10%
  Tyco International Ltd. $96m 0.4% -8.9%
  Hewlett-Packard Co. $1779m 3.5% -7.4%
  Sun Microsystems Inc. $245m 4.9% -5.1%
  Honeywell International $148m 0.9% -2.5%
  York International Corp. $67m 1.9% -0.4%
  General Electric Co.(1) $629m 5.1% 0%
  Motorola Inc.(1) $195m 1.1% 0%
  Textron Inc.(1) $114m 1.6% 0%
  Eaton Corp.(1) $71m 0.9% 0%
  Black & Decker Corp.(1) $69m 1.8% 0%
  Cisco Systems Inc. $287m 1.9% +2.3%
  Lexmark International Inc. $128m 8.8% +2.6%
  Brunswick Corp. $89m 2.4% +3.7%
  General Motors Corp. $3542m 3.0% +6.5%
  Apple Computer Inc. $153m 1.6% +7.7%
  Ford Motor Co. $3032m 2.7% +7.8%
  Navistar International Corp. $199m 2.4% +7.9%
  Whirlpool Corp. $264m 2.8% +8.1%
  Maytag Corp. $102m 3.1% +8.2%
  Maxtor Corp. $135m 4.9% +9.4%
  Caterpillar Inc. $524m 2.1% +9.4%
  Agilent Technologies Inc. $59m 1.4% +10%
  Eastman Kodak Co. $60m 1.5% +11%
  Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. $68m 3.4% +11%
  Pulte Homes Inc. $93m 1.0% +12%
  EMC Corp. $75m 1.6% +14%
  Dell Inc. $1071m 3.1% +15%
  Deere & Co. $305m 2.2% +21%
  Palm Inc. $61m 6.3% +26%
  IBM Corp. $633m 3.6% +33%
  Novellus Systems Inc. $63m 6.7% +45%
  AGCO Corp. $91m 2.9% +49%
  Cummins Inc. $218m 3.0% +52%
  Beckman Coulter Inc. $50m 5.7% +63%
  Delphi Corp. $124m 0.6% +66%
  Applied Materials Inc. $146m 3.4% +102%
  Goodrich Corp. $44m 1.1% +152%
  Medtronic Inc. $48m 0.6% +193%
  Guidant Corp. $50m 1.8% +342%

Source: Warranty Week from SEC data   

Most of the other manufacturers concluded their fiscal years on December 31, although Dell's fiscal year ends January 31 and Hewlett-Packard's ends on October 31. We expect that by early April 2006, we'll have enough data on hand to provide full-year comparisons for 2003, 2004, and 2005.

The good news arrives courtesy of the 12 companies which cut their claims rate, particularly the five who kept it below one percent: Tyco International, Boeing, Honeywell, Ingersoll-Rand, and Danaher. These five have reported $478 million in warranty claims so far in 2005, down from $567 million during the same span in 2004. However, we should also note that at Ingersoll-Rand claims actually rose, as measured in dollars. Fortunately, sales rose faster. Claims paid also rose at Paccar, Lennar, York International, and American Standard, but again, sales rose faster.

So far in 2005, there have been a few surprises, both in terms of what did and what didn't happen. For instance, note that despite all the dire headlines about mounting recalls and alleged product defects, the claims rates at Ford, Apple, and GM are up by only 6% to 8%. Ford went from 2.5% to 2.7%. Apple went from 1.5% to 1.6%. And GM went from 2.9% to 3.0%. Comparatively, that's not an enormous increase. We'd suggest that the sky is not falling.

Pacemaker Problems

Look further down the chart, however, and you'll see some enormous increases. Guidant Corp., which conducted a massive recall of its pacemakers last year, saw its claims rate more than triple. First it was driven into a merger with Johnson & Johnson, but was outbid by Boston Scientific. Now Johnson & Johnson has apparently sweetened its bid, despite the recalls. For the first nine months of 2005, Guidant paid out $50 million in claims, as compared to $12 million during the same period of 2004 and $6 million during the first nine months of 2003.

Incredibly, though, there were three others for whom the claims rate more than doubled: Applied Materials, Goodrich, and Medtronic (another pacemaker manufacturer). And there were three manufacturers for whom the claims rate surged over 5%: Novellus, Palm, and Beckman Coulter (Lexmark has always been above 5%). In fact, as is noted in the headlines to the right, Morgan Stanley recently nailed Novellus about its high-and-going-higher warranty claims rate, causing the stock price to drop 3% today alone.

On the good news side of the ledger, Sun Microsystems has once again crossed below a 5% claims rate, having cut both the dollars and the percent of revenue that it spends on warranty. HP has also cut its claims rate, primarily by keeping claims dollars level while sales grew. And Nortel Networks, which had a rough 2004, is once again back to what appears to be its baseline claims rate.

While it's still impossible to compare one manufacturer's claims rate to another's, after almost three years of financial disclosures it's becoming easier and easier to compare one manufacturer against itself. Once we know the baseline, and once we know what's normal, high, and low for a given product or a given industry, we can readily spot the anomalies. And while three or four years ago warranty was a thickly cloaked mystery, today it's becoming an actionable item for analysts and investors. That's a big change.

Back to Part Seven    

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