Johnson Outdoors Inc. reported total net sales for the fourth quarter declined 3.3 percent compared to a year earlier as lower shipments of Marine Electronics to distributors more than offset higher Outdoor Gear sales.

Sales declined 8.6 percent to $33.0 million in Marine Electronics, increased 8.1 percent to $7.4 million Outdoor Gear, declined 1.2 percent to $11.5 million in Watercraft and edged up 0.2 percent to $23.1 million in Diving. JOUT attributed the decline in Marine Electronics to a shift in shipment to distributors from the fourth of fiscal 2012 to the first quarter of fiscal 2013.

Gross margin increased 50 basis points to 38.0 percent from the fourth quarter of fiscal 2011.

Operating losses for the quarter declined to $3.1 million from $4.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 thanks largely to lower legal costs. On a percentage basis, operating losses increased in the teens at Marine Electronics and Watercraft. Operating results swung to a gain of $730,000 from a loss of $754,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011, while operating profits increase more than seven fold to $2.2 million in the Diving business. Net loss for the fiscal fourth quarter was $3.2 million, or 32 cents per diluted share, compared to net income for the prior year quarter of $17.3 million, or $1.77 per diluted share. The change was due primarily to the reversal of the company's tax valuation allowance. Adjusted net loss for the fiscal 2011 fourth quarter was $4.6 million, or 48 cents per diluted share. Interest expense for the quarter was 33.9 percent below the prior year period.

On a full fiscal year basis, JOUT reported net sales increased 1.2 percent to $412.3 million in fiscal 2012, compared to $407.4 million in fiscal 2011, due to record sales in Marine Electronics, which more than offset declines at its other businesses. On a constant currency basis, net sales were 2.5 percent above the prior year.

JOUT said its largest hunting and fishing retailers, including Cabela’s and Bass Pro, grew sales of its Marine Electronics brands (Humminbird, Minn Kota, etc.) by 19 percent. Major retail accounts increased sales of JOUT’s Outdoor Gear (Eureka! and Silva) and Watercraft (Necky, Ocean Kayak and Old Town, etc.) brands by the low double digits. Sales of Diving (SCUBAPro and Subgear) products were up 3 percent excluding the negative impact of currency translation.

Despite a 21 percent increase in operating profit, net income for the fiscal year fell 69 percent to $10.1 million, due largely to a one-time, non-cash tax benefit that caused after tax earnings to surge in 2011. Despite the negative impact of higher taxes, fiscal 2012 net income of $10.1 million was the second-highest ever reported by JOUT, even when compared to last year's record level.

The performance capped the end of a successful three-year planning cycle during which JOUT focused on paying down debt and reducing working capital as a percentage of sales. That work enabled JOUT to grow profits faster than sales and exceed a 5 percent target of compound annual growth in sales from FY 2010-12. The company ended the fiscal year with a debt-to-total-capitalization ratio of 5 percent, down from 8 percent on Sept. 30, 2011. Cash, net of debt, was $50.0 million at year-end versus cash, net of debt, of $29.5 million at Sept. 30, 2011.

“A solid cash position like this gives us the flexibility to pursue strategic opportunities and investments needed to strengthen and grow our businesses,” said David Johnson.

In its current three-year planning cycle, JOUT will focus on sustaining leadership in fishing electronics, maintaining positive momentum in core dive equipment segments and regaining share with specialty camping and paddling retailers who cater to those enthusiasts.  JOUT took a stride toward that goal with its acquisition last month of Jetboil. Based in New Hampshire, Jetboil emerged as a leader in backcountry stove technology in 2004 when it introduced a self-contained “cooking system” that used proprietary technology to boil water in two minutes, or about twice as fast as competing systems.

“We expect Jetboil to add more than $10 million in sales and an additional $1.5 million to operating profit in fiscal 2013,” said David W. Johnson, Johnson Outdoor’s VP and CFO.

While JOUT has not disclosed what it paid for Jetboil, JOUT executives did not dispute one analyst’s estimate that JOUT paid $16 million for Jetboil, or nearly 11 times what JOUT expects Jetboil to generate in operating profits in 2013.

Chairman and CEO Helen Johnson-Leipold said JOUT’s biggest retailers remain cautious regarding the holiday sales period given all the uncertainties facing the economy. On the military side, which consists largely of tent sales, JOUT is planning for annual sales to remain at the $10 million level annually for the foreseeable future.