United Rentals Revenues Hold Up Amid Coronavirus Crisis

United Rentals in Stamford Connecticut
United Rentals in Stamford Connecticut

Stamford Advocate 4/30/20: United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment-rentals company, on Wednesday reported steady returns and profits for the past quarter, while it outlined a number of major changes it has made in response to the coronavirus crisis.

First-quarter revenues totaled approximately $2.1 billion, about the same as the total a year ago. Profits came to $173 million, compared with $175 million in the first quarter of 2019.

“Our business tracked as we expected through early March, when the outlook for 2020 became far more uncertain due to the pandemic,” United CEO Matthew Flannery said in a statement. “We’re in the strongest position in our history to respond to this crisis and to prepare for the recovery to come.

“This includes the strength of our balance sheet and cash flow, as we remain focused on disciplined capital allocation and cost management. We expect our free cash flow to remain substantially positive in 2020, even in our worst-case scenarios.”

All of United’s branches in the U.S. and Canada remain open. The company said it is working to ensure employees have adequate personal protective equipment and that it has implemented social-distancing practices and increased disinfecting of equipment and facilities.

“I’m incredibly proud of the way our team has responded to the COVID-19 crisis, and I want to thank them for their extraordinary efforts during this challenging period,” Flannery said. “Our highest priority is to ensure the safety of our employees and customers in our workplaces and at job sites. The modifications we’ve made to our operating protocols preserve our ability to serve the needs of thousands of communities, while retaining critical capacity for the return of end-market demand.”

At the same time, United has reduced overtime and temporary labor and anticipates a significant drop in capital spending this year.

Among other changes, the company suspended last month a $500 million share-repurchase program that had been approved in January. The company said it is unable to now estimate when, or if, the program would be restarted.

United’s shares closed Thursday at about $129, compared with a 52-week high of around $170.

The recent changes would also appear to slow the deal pipeline, which has driven the growth of the No. 379 company on last year’s Fortune 500 list.

In 2018, United acquired equipment-rental firm BlueLine Rental for about $2.1 billion and liquid-management firm BakerCorp International Holdings for $715 million.

Since 2009, United Rentals has approximately doubled in size, with about 19,000 employees. It is headquartered in the First Stamford Place office complex, in the city’s Waterside section.