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Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE:NWL)

Q4 2010 Earnings Call

January 27, 2011 10:00 am ET

Executives

Mark Ketchum - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Interim Executive Group President of Office Products & Cleaning for Organization & Decor

Juan Figuereo - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

Nancy O'Donnell - Vice President of Investor Relations

Analysts

Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley

Lauren Lieberman - Barclays Capital

William Chappell - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets

Andrew White

Joseph Altobello - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

Chad Bolen - Raymond James

Jason Gere - RBC Capital Markets, LLC

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

Christopher Ferrara - BofA Merrill Lynch

Operator

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Newell Rubbermaid's Fourth Quarter 2010 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] A live webcast is available at newellrubbermaid.com on the Investor Relations home page under Events and Presentations. a slide presentation is also available for download.

I would now like to turn the conference call over to Ms. Nancy O'Donnell, Vice President of Investor Relations. Ms. O'Donnell, you may begin.

Nancy O'Donnell

Great, thank you. Welcome everyone to Newell Rubbermaid's fourth quarter call. I'm Nancy O'Donnell. With me today are Mark Ketchum, our President and CEO; and our Chief Financial Officer, Juan Figuereo.

During the call today we will refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures. Management believes providing insights on these measures enables investors to better understand and analyze our ongoing results of operations. Reconciliation with the comparable GAAP numbers can be found in our earnings release and on the Investor Relations area of our website as well as in our filings with the SEC.

Please recognize that this conference call includes forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to differ materially from management's current expectations and plans. The company undertakes no obligation to update any such statements made today. To review our most recent 10-Q filing and our other SEC filings, you will find a more detailed explanation of the inherent limitations in such forward-looking statements.

With that, let me turn it over to Mark Ketchum for his comments. Mark?

Mark Ketchum

Thank you, Nancy. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us today.

I'm pleased to report the conclusion of a successful year for Newell Rubbermaid, finishing out 2010 with very positive fourth quarter results. I know some of you are concerned about whether we could continue our sales momentum against tougher Q4 comps. The answer is we could. For both the quarter and the full year, we delivered mid-single-digit core sales growth, year-over-year gross margin improvement and strong, double-digit normalized EPS growth.

During the fourth quarter, our ongoing investments in innovation, brand building and marketing help drive a 4.9% core sales increase. We delivered a 10 basis point improvement in gross margin to 37.1% as we were able to offset inflation with improved product and portfolio mix and our continued focus on productivity.

The combination of higher sales and gross margins drove normalized EPS of $0.34 in Q4, a 26% increase over the prior year, all this in the face of tougher Q4 comps in an economy that is slow to rebound in our larger markets. I'm proud of this quarter's results, and Juan will provide more detail shortly.

But first, I'd like to take this opportunity to reflect on our full year accomplishments. As I look back on 2010, I think it's most notable that we achieved or exceeded all of our financial targets while continuing to advance our long-term growth strategies. By staying focused on the drivers that are in our control, we have created our own momentum to deliver the growth trifecta once again in 2010: top line sales growth, significant gross margin expansion and bottom line earnings improvement.

2010 core sales grew 4.7% driven by a strong roster of new product launches, by distribution gains and by geographic expansion. I'm proud to report that this growth was broad-based with all three operating segments posting a year-over-year increase in core sales. And perhaps even more encouraging, core sales growth accelerated in the back half of the year in line with our expectations, growing at a rate of 5.3% compared with 4.1% in the first half of the year. So we're entering 2011 with good momentum.

Not surprisingly, our strongest contributor in sales growth this year was our International business, which collectively grew almost 8% in local currency. In North America, sales grew 2.5%, with 3.6% core growth after factoring in currency and category exits.

A key objective in our long-term growth strategy is to expand a percentage of sales from outside of North America, with a particular emphasis on fast-growing emerging markets such as Brazil and China. We concluded 2010 with 31% of our sales outside of the U.S., a new high for us. We will continue to invest strategically in the coming years to build an even more meaningful presence across the globe.

We also delivered a solid improvement in gross margins this year, expanding 100 basis points to 37.7%, primarily the result of strong productivity and improved product and portfolio mix. Across all of our markets, we continue to invest in consumer-driven innovation and brand building to support long-term sales growth.

We took strategic brand building at the percentage of sales to 6.4% this year, making good progress towards our target of about 8%, while holding SG&A to approximately 25% of sales. Operating income margin improved to 12.5% from 12.1% last year, and normalized EPS rose 16% to $1.52. It was a very strong year.

One of the 2010 accomplishments of which I'm most proud is the significant progress we've made in our European operations. This region delivered solid core sales growth of 4.6% in local currency, and operating margins were 7%, the best in at least a decade and likely our best ever.

We are reaping the productivity benefits of key restructuring projects executed under Project Acceleration and are on track to achieve our goal of at least 10% operating margins in Europe by the end of 2012. Our 2010 performance is a significant first step on the path towards that goal.

The initial work that we have done in key areas, which is pricing architecture and organizational structure, is already starting to yield results. These efforts along with other profitability-enhancing initiatives will drive further improvements in operating margin in 2011 and again in 2012.

As we announced earlier, we're currently building out our new EMEA headquarters in Geneva, expected to begin relocating the operating personnel in the second quarter, with all affected employees in place by Q4 of this year.

Another notable strategic milestone in 2010 was the completion of Project Acceleration. This multi-year restructuring program was designed consolidate and streamline our manufacturing and supply chain operations to achieve greater efficiency and best cost. Since the inception of Acceleration, we have reduced our manufacturing footprint by 60%, substantially increasing the percentage of low-cost country manufacturing and streamlined our distribution and transportation network.

We've also increased our use of strategic sourcing partners to achieve what we think is our optimal balance of approximately 50/50, sourced versus self manufactured. As a result, we'll realize $220 million in annualized savings by the end of 2011.

Project Acceleration represented significant effort and resources more than most people don't know and can't imagine. With all the hard work behind us, we can now redirect those resources to focus on more growth-oriented activities.

All in all, 2010 was another year of meaningful progress for us. 2011, we are emerging from the transformation story of the past five years and are leveraging the benefits of this transformation to accelerate growth.

Now I would like to take a few minutes to discuss some of the individual business unit highlights for the year. I'll start with the Home & Family segment. Here, we delivered 0.5% core sales growth in 2010. This segment showed improvement sequentially throughout the year. Slight sales decline in the first half, accelerating to solid growth in the back half. Our investments in consumer-relevant innovation, in increased advertising and promotion have paid off in the form of significant shelf space gains and incremental distribution.

Our Beauty & Style and Culinary Lifestyles GBUs were the big drivers of their growth. Beauty & Style benefited from significant shelf space gains and distribution wins behind the success of the new Simple Styles hair accessories. Calphalon successfully launched redesigned contemporary nonstick and tri-ply stainless steel cookware lines, which resulted in shelf space and market share gains. Continued advertising and promotion support for our top-of-the-line Unison cookware, which is in its second year, also contributed to the sales lift.

Decor saw sales declines in the first half of the year but came on strong in the second half, driven by Levolor's new Accordia Cellular Shades, the most energy-efficient shade on the market. We are also gaining significant retail presence with the Levolor brand as we continue to rollout our new size in store machines which make it easy to create custom-sized window treatments right in the store. Completing the rollout of this capital investment and realizing the growth that comes with it will make Decor a key growth engine in 2011.

Baby & Parenting showed a similar sales trend improvement throughout the year, driven primarily by growth outside of North America. Brazil, new car seat legislation is driving solid demand for the Graco brand.

More importantly, our Japanese business is turning the corner from the challenges that faced. Aprica Q4 core sales were up 13% over last year. The brand is gaining momentum on the strength of successful new product launches such as Cadence and Presto lines of baby strollers.

Rubbermaid Consumer, the Easy Find Lids platform again performed well in 2010, and we are gaining traction with a new reveal microfiber spray mop, which is receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews from consumers. We will be expanding Reveal distribution in the mass retail channel during Q1, and we're investing strategically to drive increased awareness and trial. We expect this to be a key growth platform for our Rubbermaid Consumer business in 2011.

Now let's turn to Office Products. This segment had a strong year, generating core sales growth of 7.4%, with positive contributions from all GBUs behind innovation, increased marketing and expanded distribution. For example, Sharpie and Expo continue to lead the market with new and innovative products, such as Sharpie pen, Sharpie liquid pencil and Expo Washable dry erase markers.

Our latest innovation is the newly launched Sharpie gel highlighter, which incorporates a gel stick technology that protects against smearing, won't bleach your paper and won't dry out if left uncapped. We will continue spending behind these innovations in 2011 to increase awareness and drive demand.

We're also investing heavily to build capability and drive sales in our faster-growing and more global categories. For example, our Mimio business continues to generate very strong double-digit sales growth behind its industry-leading Mimio classroom technology platform. Our investments to build out the sales force and create educational content are clearly paying off. We will invest further in 2011 to support the global expansion of this fast growth, trend-forward business.

Fine Writing is another example of a global business with good momentum. We have been investing in dedicated Parker shops and remodel display furniture in key markets such as China, Russia and Japan, where sales are growing double digits. This business has also benefited from great new pen designs and a phaseout of the lower end of its legacy product lines.

The Tools, Hardware and Commercial Products segment also had a good year, generating 8.2% core sales growth in 2010. The growth was led by Industrial Products and Construction Tools & Accessories. Rubbermaid Commercial Products got off to a good start in the year but underperformed our expectations in the second half.

What is working is innovation and marketing. For example, our Construction Tools & Accessories business introduced new GrooveLock Pliers that feature a simple, press-and-slide button to adjust the jaws twice as fast as any other groove joint pliers. We upped our brand-building investment behind GrooveLock with IRWIN's first North American TV campaign. The ad campaign helped drive double-digit point of sale growth.

We're also benefiting from positive PR for new innovations such as the IRWIN Universal Handsaw, which features a unique ergonomic design that cuts three times faster than traditional handsaws. The IRWIN Universal Handsaw won a prestigious international red dot award for outstanding product design and was recently featured in Men's Health magazine as one of the 100 best new products for men this past year.

Internationally, Tools & Hardware was also strong. For example, we are driving industry-leading band saw conversion rates in Asia and Eastern Europe due to an award-winning product lineup and significant investments in building out our sales force.

Latin America, we continue building upon an already-strong, existing Tools business, taking advantage of their more robust economies and housing markets in that region. Rubbermaid medical, which resides in our commercial products GBU, is a good example of a high-growth, near neighbor category. As a premier provider of medication and record-keeping cards for healthcare facilities, Rubbermaid Medical is poised to capture significant market share in this rapidly growing market. This business doubled its sales in 2010. Much like our Mimio Technology business, Rubbermaid Medical is trend-forward and fast-growing, with great potential to be a significant contributor over the next few years.

Overall, we're very pleased with the results from all three operating segments. Our innovative new products are resonating with consumers, and our investments in consumer understanding, shopper insights, advertising and marketing and strategic sales support are driving sustainable sales growth across the portfolio.

So let's now turn to what you've all have been waiting for, 2011 guidance. I am excited about our prospects for continued growth and further progress towards our long-term financial objectives. We have a lot of momentum coming into 2011.

We expect full year 2011 core sales growth of 4% to 5%. This growth will be driven by new product introductions, some new marketing support behind our 2010 introductions, distribution gains and geographic expansion. Our new product pipeline is robust. We continue to enhance and develop our innovation, brand-building and marketing capabilities, and that effort is paying dividends.

We are accelerating the pace of organic expansion in key international markets, most notably, China and Brazil. In Brazil, where we already have a meaningful Tools business, Baby & Parenting and Rubbermaid Consumer have recently entered the region with good prospects for more success. Leveraging our increased presence, we have formulated detailed plans to enter Brazil later this year with additional GBUs. Stay tuned for more details.

In China, we are focused on accelerating the penetration of Fine Writing and on our Lenox industrial products. Results in 2010 have demonstrated our rite to win in these categories, and we remain focused on building out a robust and profitable presence.

Expanding distribution with existing customers will also be a critical driver of core sales growth this year. We've already benefited from major shelf space expansion at two large U.S. retailers, and we'll continue to benefit from these gains in 2011. We are also investing to expand our sales force in selected high-growth GBUs, like office technology and industrial products, to drive greater sales penetration and enhance the availability of our products across the globe.

We expect to deliver 50 to 75 basis points of gross margin expansion in 2011, adding to the almost 800 basis-point improvement of the last five years. Improved product mix and productivity will be the primary drivers. While we will look first to productivity to offset inflation, we plan to take targeted pricing as necessary to protect our margins. In fact, we have announced selective cost-driven pricing actions in all three operating segments to take effect in this first quarter.

We will continue to invest behind our brands and our organizational capability. We'll increase SG&A spending in line with sales growth, holding SG&A as a percent of sales to approximately 25%. We believe the combination of core sales growth and gross margin expansion will generate normalized EPS growth of 10% to 12%.

As of last year, I will ask you to focus on our commitments for the full year and not on the variations across of the quarters. For instance, I can tell you right now, we're planning a higher level of SG&A spending in the first half of the year, attributable to our expansion into new geographies and seeding other second half new business initiatives. Payoff for these investments will be back-end loaded. Additionally, the top line growth rate will see swings due to comping against onetime factors in prior year quarters. Gross margin improvement will also not be a straight line.

I know that you put your financial models together on a quarterly basis, but I encourage you to focus on the full year results as we do. We're confident that our full year 2011 results will validate this confidence.

Let me share with you some of the growth drivers that give me such encouragement for 2011. In the Mimio teaching technology business, we plan to increase our global sales force by over 50% in 2011, which we believe will accelerate sales beyond the 40-plus percent growth we experienced in 2010.

DYMO, behind the leverage that we've gained in the industrial markets with our 3M distribution partnership, is accelerating already strong growth trends. A multimillion dollar investment in advertising and marketing support behind our Brazilian Home & Family expansion plans adds to my confidence. Graco already has established good retail presence and is now increasing the investment in generating awareness. Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids launched in the three southern states at the end of 2010, and we are seeding the market for further category expansion in 2011.

Back in North America, Rubbermaid reveal spray mop, which is getting great consumer acceptance soon begins shipping to meet commitments for increased retail distribution. We're also investing in a TV ad campaign for Reveal across North America to support the expanded availability.

Decor, best main [ph] (41:14) our successful size and store machine rollout is gaining significant shelf space at a top customer. And the continuation of the successful 2010 innovation and marketing programs in our Industrial Products and our Construction Tools & Accessories businesses will fuel strong sales growth in 2011. And these are just a few examples. But they give you some insight into the types of initiatives that we are executing this year to deliver our growth targets.

I'll now turn the call over to Juan to walk you through the financials in more detail, then I'll return for some wrap-up comments before taking your questions. Juan?

Juan Figuereo

Thank you, Mark. I'll start with a review of the income statement on a normalized basis.

Net sales for the quarter were $1.47 billion, a 3.4% improvement versus the prior year. Core sales, which exclude the impact of foreign currency and product line exits increased 4.9%.

Foreign currency had a negative impact of 0.7% on sales during the quarter and the carryover impact of 2009 product line exits reduced sales another 0.8%. In North America, net sales were up 4.8%, 5.4% core sales growth, driven by the success of our consumer-driven innovation, increased shelf space and share gains.

In our International business, EMEA was up this quarter, while Latin America and APAC regions delivered strong double-digit growth of 12.8% and 15.2%, respectively, on a constant-currency basis.

For the full year, we reported net sales of $5.76 billion, a 3.3% increase versus a year-ago period, while core sales increased 4.7%. This performance is right in line with our long-term objective of 3% to 5% growth.

There was some variability by quarter reflecting shifts in ordering patterns from Q2 to Q1 as customers bought ahead of our SAP implementations. But by year end, everything smoothed out and our results came in as expected.

We generated gross margin of $545 million or 37.1% of sales, an increase of 10 basis point compared to the fourth quarter of 2009, as sales volume, product mix and productivity offset input cost inflation experienced during the quarter. As you may recall, we had unusually high level of manufacturing overhead absorption held gross margins in previous quarters. This had the opposite effect on the fourth quarter.

For the full year, we generated gross margin of $2.2 billion or 37.7% of sales, an increase of 100 basis points over the prior year, the high end of our 75 to 100 basis point expansion guidance. Product mix and productivity helped drive our eighth consecutive second quarter of improved margins. Again, we are pleased to report that performance on this important metric came in as expected at the top end of our range.

On a normalized basis, fourth quarter SG&A expenses were $392 million or 26.7% of net sales, compared with $384 million or 27% of net sales last year. As Mark described during his remarks, increased brand-building SG&A of about $15 million, in support of new product launches and seasonal promotions and other strategic spending of about $10 million, were partially offset by a reduction in structural spending of $13 million, and foreign currency impact of $4 million.

Total brand-building SG&A for the quarter was approximately 7.2% of sales. Full year normalized SG&A expenses were $1.4 billion or 25.1% of sales. Structural SG&A as a percentage of sales decreased 60 basis points, freeing up funds to spend on brand building and other strategic initiatives. Total brand-building SG&A for the year was approximately 6.4% of sales.

Operating income on a normalized basis was $153 million or 10.4% of sales, compared to 10% last year. For the full year, our normalized operating income was $723 million or 12.5% of sales versus 12.1% last year.

Interest expense for the quarter and full year was $22.9 million and $118.4 million, respectively, representing a decrease versus the previous year of $10.5 million in the quarter and $21.6 million for the full year. This improvement was driven by the benefit of our Capital Structure Optimization Plan. Lower average debt levels and a more favorable interest rate environment also contributed to the lower cost.

Our continuing tax rate in the fourth quarter was 21.2% compared to 29.3% last year. Recent U.S. legislation changes helped as did improved profitability outside of the United States, which allowed the company to benefit from foreign losses that have not been previously benefited.

Our full year continuing tax rate was a better-than-anticipated 28%. Our normalized EPS for the quarter came in at $0.34, a 26% increase over last year. This $0.34 excludes $0.08 per share, reflecting $24.1 million of Project Acceleration restructuring and related impairment charges and $6.7 million of restructuring-related cost associated with the European Transformation Plan. Restructuring charges included in the prior year quarter were $13 million or $0.04 per share.

On a full year basis, the company delivered normalized EPS of $1.52, a 16% increase over last year. A lower effective tax rate helped us over-deliver the EPS guidance range. If our effective tax rate had been 30%, we would have come in around the top end of the range as we guided. A reconciliation of our full year normalized EPS can be found in the earnings release.

As Mark mentioned, we've reached a strategic milestone in 2010 with the completion of Project Acceleration. Cumulative restructuring cost incurred through the completion of the Project Acceleration totaled $498 million, which we estimate will deliver in excess of $220 million in annualized savings by the end of 2011. Evidence of the project's success is the almost 800 basis points of gross margin improvement we've generated since its inception back in 2005.

We generated $205 million in operating cash flow during the fourth quarter, $18 million ahead of last year's cash generation of $187 million. CapEx for the quarter was approximately $57 million versus $46 million last year. Full year operating cash flow was $583 million compared to $603 million in 2009. Capital expenditures were $165 million versus $153 million in the year-ago period. We generated in excess of $400 million in free cash flow during the year.

Now I'll turn to our segment information. Home & Family net sales for the quarter were $621 million, a 2.5% increase versus last year. Core sales in this segment increased 2.1% and ForEx contributed a positive 0.4%. Our Beauty & Style business once again led the group with double-digit core sales growth.

Home & Family operating income was $61 million or 9.9% of sales, an increase of 160 basis point in operating income margin as compared to last year. This increase was mostly a result of a $14 million reduction in structural SG&A versus last year.

In our Office Products segment, fourth quarter net sales were $424 million, a 3% increase versus last year. Core sales grew by 8.2% with all GBUs contributing to the improvement. Product line exits reduced sales by 2.4%, and unfavorable ForEx reduced sales by 2.8%. About 2% of this core sales increase was attributable to certain retail customers accelerating the timing of orders to qualify for annual volume rebates.

Office Product operating income was $52 million or 12.3% of sales versus 12.4% last year. Better mix and productivity initiatives that expanded gross margin were offset by $27 million increase in brand building and strategic SG&A spend across the segment. Structural SG&A spend decreased $10 million as a result of Project Acceleration and early benefits from the European Transformation Plan.

In our Tools, Hardware & Commercial Products segment, fourth quarter net sales were $425 million, a 5.3% improvement over last year, driven by 5.4% core sales growth. ForEx had a negligible impact in sales in the quarter.

Tools, Hardware & Commercial Products operating income was $61 million or 14.3% of sales, a decrease of 170 basis points in operating margin from a year ago. Higher customer rebate payout due to increased purchases and $10 million of additional brand-building and strategic SG&A spend across the GBUs contributed to the operating margin decline.

Turning now to our full year 2011 outlook. Even assuming slow economic growth in North America and Western Europe, we remain confident in our ability to deliver against our long-term objectives. New product innovation are resonating with consumers, and we're gaining shelf space and market share. We remain committed to strategic marketing and sales investment that have proven to drive the sales lifts we are seeing across our portfolio.

We have strong momentum coming out of 2010 driven by what we believe are initiatives that can sustaine core sales growth in the future. Based on this momentum, we expect full year core sales growth of 4% to 5%. We expect foreign currency translation to have a negligible impact on sales for the year.

We anticipate gross margin expansion of 50 to 75 basis points in 2011. Consistent with our strategy, this guidance reflect our direction that productivity gains and improved product mix more than offset normal levels of inflation. Targeted pricing actions will be activated to offset extraordinary input cost inflation pressures we expect to realize.

I would remind you that just as we saw in 2010, we expect fluctuation in our 2011 gross margin expansion from quarter-to-quarter that will not be indicative of the full year trend. The main driver of the fluctuations in 2011 will likely arise from comparisons to 2010 when production timing and the resulting impact on overhead absorption caused unusually high gross margins in Q2.

SG&A spend for 2011 is expected to be around 25% of net sales on a normalized basis. Our plan calls for the majority of the incremental spend to be front half-weighted as we invest behind the organic growth opportunities Mark discussed in his remarks.

Global expansion, including significant new market entries, the exploitation of distribution gains, new product launches and other strategic brand-building initiatives summarize the spending. We expect about 2/3 of the increase will be incurred in the first half of the year.

Interest expense for 2011 is expected to be around $110 million, a decline of approximately 7% compared to 2010, reflecting lower debt levels and lower interest rate on the new debt financed through our 2010 capital structure optimization plan, partially offset by the rising interest rate environment that we project for 2011.

Our effective tax rate for 2011 is projected to be approximately 29%. We expect normalized earnings per diluted share to increase 10% to 12% in 2011, with most of the increase weighted to the back half. This normalized EPS expectation excludes between $80 million and $85 million, for $0.22 and $0.26 per share of restructuring and other plan-related costs associated with the company's European Transformation Plan.

We expect annualized net income improvement of $55 million to $65 million upon completion of the European Transformation Plan. The initiative is projected to result in aggregate restructuring and other plan-related costs of $110 million to $115 million to be substantially incurred by the end of 2011. This compares to the previously communicated annualized savings of $50 million to $60 million at a project cost range of $90 million to $100 million.

Additionally, the implementation of SAP in Europe, previously expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2011, is now estimated to conclude in the first half of 2012, marking the final completion of the EMEA Transformation Plan. As we gained a better understanding of the complexities involved with implementing SAP and EPC simultaneously, we extended the project timeline to reduce execution risk. This decision and adverse ForEx impact are the main drivers of the cost increase.

Operating cash flow is expected to exceed $550 million for the full year, including $90 million to $100 million in restructuring and restructuring-related cash payments. We plan to fund capital expenditures of approximately $180 million to $200 million. The increase versus previous years is targeted at systems-enabling growth, primarily our Europe SAP implementation, innovation and growth at our Decor business and productivity projects, particularly, in the Rubbermaid businesses preparing the foundation for continued volume growth and margin expansion in future years.

In conclusion, we continue to be encouraged by the evidence we're seeing in the marketplace that our strategy is working with customers and consumers. We continue to gain share, increase shelf space and gain new customers. As we look back on 2010, we achieved or exceeded every metric we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year: core sales growth, gross margin expansion, normalized earnings improvement and cash flow. It was a very good year for us, and it feels particularly rewarding to have been able to do this in a soft economy and what could be characterized as an investment year for the company.

This year, we have effectively supported one of our most active new product launch calendars in recent history. We added significant capacity to our sales force in our faster growing businesses, we continue to invest behind operating efficiency through our SAP implementation, and we made important investments to improve our business in Europe. We anticipate some headwinds from the slow pace of recovery in North America and Europe as well as increasing inflationary pressures.

On the other hand, our businesses are gaining momentum and we feel comfortable with our ability to manage through the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. We are excited about our growth plans for 2011 and are looking forward to creating an even stronger company for our employees and shareholders. With that, I'll turn the call back over to Mark for his final comments.

Mark Ketchum

Thanks, Juan. Before we move on to the Q&A, I'd like to take a moment to address my upcoming departure from Newell Rubbermaid. And this is not goodbye yet because I fully expect to have the pleasure your company on at least one more earnings call.

As you're all aware, after four decades in the business and more than five years at the helm of this company, I have made a decision to retire. Wasn't an easy decision because I am so emotionally invested in this company. But the timing is right.

Today, as a result, a lot of hard work and effort by everyone at the company, I'm proud to say that we made great strides to achieving our vision of becoming a global company of brands that matter, and great people and the best-in-class results. The transformation into a new Newell Rubbermaid is largely complete. So I extend my thanks and my congratulations to all of my Newell Rubbermaid colleagues for enabling me to say this.

As we begin 2011, Newell is poised for strong growth with The right strategy, the right portfolio and the right leadership team. The strength of the company today gives me and the board of directors confidence that now is the right time to transition to a new leader. The board is retaining an executive recruiting firm to conduct a comprehensive search, including both internal and external candidates. I expect this process will take four to six months. I'll continue as CEO until my successor is in place and continue on the board for about a year to ensure a smooth transition.

I know the board is approaching the process carefully and thoughtfully to make the best decision for all Newell Rubbermaid stakeholders. The journey that you have been on with us over the past five years will continue in the same strategic direction, building on the foundation we've created and further accelerating our global growth agenda. And I'm confident that the entire Newell Rubbermaid organization is focused and aligned to execute against delivering the growth trifecta in 2011 and beyond in order to create value for you, our shareholders. And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the Dara Mohsenian from Morgan Stanley.

Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley

Juan, your 2011 gross margin forecast looks pretty solid particularly relative to your peers but is ahead of the expansion you delivered in Q4. So I'm just looking for more clarity on what's driving the outlook in terms of the key components between pricing, commodity, cost pressure, mix, et cetera?

Juan Figuereo

We expect inflation there mixed [ph] (1:04:01) inflation next year as we faced this next year as we faced this year. And as was the case this year, we expect to cover most of that with productivity and with product mix. And what we call excess inflation, what is ahead of our productivity estimate, will cause us to price to cover it. Mark already mentioned that there are pricing initiatives already in place across the three groups.

Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley

And can you give us a rough sense for how much of the commodity cost pressure you're expecting to offset through pricing?

Juan Figuereo

It's about 1/3 of the expected pressure that we're going cover with pricing.

Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley

And then Mark...

Mark Ketchum

The total inflation that we're anticipating in 2011 is probably no more and maybe less than what we've actually experienced in 2010. So again, I think we've shown in 2010 that we've got the capability with productivity, product mix and pricing as needed to offset inflation and still deliver gross margin improvement.

Dara Mohsenian - Morgan Stanley

And then, obviously, you're experiencing strong revenue growth in Latin America and Asia. Can you give us some kind of clarity on how much of your growth in those regions is stemming from entry into new product categories or new geographies? And if you think the growth in these areas is somewhat sustainable in 2011? And also, on a related question, Europe looked weak in the quarter, can you give us more detail on what happened there?

Mark Ketchum

Let's start with Latin America and Asia-Pacific. An increasing amount of that growth will be driven by new entries. As I mentioned in my remarks, we entered two Home & Family categories in the third and fourth quarters of the year. And we have plans to enter a couple of additional GBUs, which we're not at liberty to be specific on at this point in time. And both of those are -- all those, I guess, referenced are in Brazil. As I looked around our growth in those regions, the largest total amount of our growth is actually driven by continuing to drive the businesses that we already have in those regions. It's driving Fine Writing in China, it's driving our Tools & Hardware business in China and Australia, frankly, our Baby & Parenting business in Japan. It's driving, in Latin America, it's driving our Office Products business and throughout the region. But countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, our Tools & Hardware business across the region but particularly in Brazil. So the largest percentage of our growth in those region is from growing out existing businesses. In some cases, that's new distributions, it's additional investments in marketing and sales support. But the biggest portion of the total is driving existing business. Relative to Europe, which is the second half of your question, we did see some slowdown in the fourth quarter. But primarily, that was a couple of reasons. One, we are comping against a particularly strong Q4 in 2009. And that strong Q4 in 2009 was driven by a couple of things. One, we had a really strong hand sanitizer volume that was driven by the H1N1 scare from 2009. We had some customers buying in, in front of a January price increase in Everyday Writing in Europe last year. And also in 2009, we were launching some new items in Fine Writing that we had some sell in. So most of the difference is in strong comps. And I guess the way I'd ask you to think about Europe is that again look at the year, I think 2011 ought to see similar kinds of growth as we saw in 2010.

Operator

Our next question comes from Bill Chappell from SunTrust.

William Chappell - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets

Just want to dig a little more on the Home & Family, in particular, the infant and baby care. At one point, the thought was that business could grow kind of mid-single digits in the back half, and it seems like it fell short. And I'm just trying to understand if there's anything particularly going on, if the recalls or if it's just a timing of new product launches or how we should look at that going into 2011?

Mark Ketchum

well, What I'll tell you is that -- I'm still encouraged about the long-term prospects for the category, but there are some short-term dynamics that have been driven by the economy. And that really is a trade down in price points. What we're seeing, and I think I referenced this -- I know I referenced this in previous calls, but we continue to see that pressure. So while units remain about the same, what we're seeing is our consumers increasingly willing in this tight economy to trade down to lower price points. I've made the easy example that across our stroller platform or across our car seat platform, we typically market three, four or five different price points, which have varying levels of performance and we're just seeing consumers who are willing to trade down to lower price points in this tight economy. And that's where the most competition in U.S. is coming from. But you've got that as causing kind of a dampening effect on the business, offset by the strong growth that we've seen fourth quarter in Japan, and we think with that resurgence, we'll continue next year, as well as the growth that we're seeing behind our expansion of Graco into Brazil.

William Chappell - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets

And then just switching to Office Products, Juan, I think you said there was like a 2% of the improvement came from forward buying. Is that just directly taking out of the March quarter or how should we look at that?

Juan Figuereo

Generally, I think that would be the best way to look at it because to the extent that, that goes into inventory, [indiscernible] is not driven by consumer demand. It should be lower sales in the next quarter.

William Chappell - SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets

What is the expected tax rate for 2011?

Juan Figuereo

29%.

Operator

And our next question comes from Bill Schmitz from Deutsche Bank.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

So I know you don't want to go to sort of quarter by quarter, but I have some broad questions about the tenor of earnings. Like, will there be a quarter where sales will decline, do you think?

Mark Ketchum

No, but you'll definitely see variability. It won't all be fortified every quarter.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

And then just in terms of gross margin, I think right now the tough input cost comparisons at least on spot prices in the front half of the year, is that consistent with your thinking as you kind of model out gross margins?

Mark Ketchum

Yes and no, and here's where the no is. We've actually done a lot of really good work on locking in prices on some of our commodity raw materials. And so, with forward contracts and locking-in prices, we've been able to control so looking at spot prices won't necessarily reflect what we would expect to pay either now or for the full year. And that's one of the reasons why I made the statement we did before that I think our total inflation burden, which is some combination of raw materials and ocean freight and the increased labor costs from the Far East, probably not be significantly different than it was in 2010.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

And then, Juan, you made a comment about EPS growth being weighed to the back half of the year. Does that mean there's going to be very little growth in the front half and almost all of it's going to be in the back half? Because I know the first quarter, obviously, like first quarter EPS comp on a one-year basis is really higher but a two-year basis, it's not that difficult.

Juan Figuereo

Well, I think that's a good inference, Bill. I did mention that we're making significant SG&A investments across several initiatives, and that they are weighted towards the first half. More than 2/3 will be in the first half.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

So 2/3 of like 6.4%, or whatever that number is, for strategic SG&A. Is that right?

Juan Figuereo

About 2/3 of all the incremental SG&A that we're planning to spend in 2011.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

But because I think your point is that, the structural SG&A can still come down. So you can just say like 6.4% of sales is what structural or [indiscernible] (1:13:39). And if you just like multiply that with by the sales number, you would take sort of 2/3 and put it in the front half of the year, and 1/3 in the back half. Is that right?

Juan Figuereo

We said we're going to try to keep SG&A around 25% and that's total SG&A. And then, there's an increase that we're planning to do, and the total increase. And we are not discriminating between brand building and other strategic. Of about 2/3 of that total increase will be in the first half.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

Do you have a target for the distribution of the ACV [ph] (1:14:19) and Reveal? Because it sounds like, I know you're kind of cryptic about it but it sounds like Walmart has worked and you might get Walmart in the first quarter, is that true?

Mark Ketchum

Were not mentioning customers. We do have a significant a customer [indiscernible] (1:14:33). A lot of additional distribution.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

The restructuring savings from -- you said like I think a couple of hundred million bucks maybe of cash restructuring costs. Are we going to start to see any savings from the European restructuring this year at all?

Juan Figuereo

Yes. In fact, Bill, we are already seeing some of the savings. Mark alluded to that. If you look at the improvement in OLI [ph] (1:14:58) in Europe from one to seven, that's already showing some improvement.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

The 29% tax rate, I thought because you moved in Geneva and you guys started to use some of the NOLs -- I mean, like that was going to be sort of like a step change in the corporate tax rate. Is that not happening this year?

Juan Figuereo

It's a very good point, Bill. When we complete SAP in the middle of 2012, that's when the new EPC model is also activated. So the savings, the tax savings from that structure will start to come in on the second half of 2012.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

But you're not going to ship from Geneva until midway to 2012?

Mark Ketchum

Yes, technically in terms of legal entities, right.

Operator

Our next question comes from a Lauren Lieberman from Barclays Capital.

Lauren Lieberman - Barclays Capital

I wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about U.S. growth in the Tools, Industrial and Hardware segment. Because it does feel like the majority of the growth is overseas. And from what we can tell at least in terms of -- some lateral data point out there would suggest that there is some growth in the U.S., but I don't know if your guys are capturing can be your fair share. So can you maybe comment on that and talk a little bit about the outlook for U.S. growth in that business this year?

Mark Ketchum

Well, let me start by saying we are growing in North America in our Tools & Hardware business. And that's one of the reasons I referenced the investment we made behind the GrooveLock Plier launch. But without referencing a specific number, while we are experiencing strong growth outside the U.S., we're also exposing significant growth in the U.S.

Juan Figuereo

We are taking a while to get a number, Mark. So I suggest we go on to the next question and then we can come back to that.

Mark Ketchum

And by the way, we'll probably not give you a very specific number anyway other than to reaffirm what I just told you. As you know, Lauren, we don't like to get into that level of detail on the [indiscernible] (1:17:25).

Operator

Our next question comes from Chris Ferrara from Bank of America.

Christopher Ferrara - BofA Merrill Lynch

So I just wanted to ask about sort of the volume rebates, back to that that you talked about in office. And I think it was mentioned again in Tools & Hardware. So the office numbers seem kind of vague. I think you said like 2% of the growth there was from customers buying ahead because of volume rebates you offered. In Tools & Hardware, you mentioned it too. I mean, am I right? Are these atypically high for the quarter. And if so I guess why was there so much rebating going on in the quarter?

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

Do you have a target for the distribution of the ACV [ph] (1:14:19) on Reveal? Because it sounds like, I know you're kind of cryptic about it but it sounds like Walmart has worked and you might get Walmart in the first quarter, is that true?

Mark Ketchum

Were not mentioning customers. We do have a significant a customer [indiscernible] (1:14:33). A lot of additional distribution.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

The restructuring savings from -- you said like I think a couple of hundred million bucks maybe of cash restructuring costs. Are we going to start to see any savings from the European restructuring this year at all?

Juan Figuereo

Yes. In fact, Bill, we are already seeing some of the savings. Mark alluded to that. If you look at the improvement in OLI [ph] (1:14:58) margin in Europe from one to seven, that's already showing some improvement.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

The 29% tax rate, I thought because you're moving in Geneva and you going to start using some of the NOLs -- I mean, like that was going to be sort of like a step change in the corporate tax rate. Is that not happening this year?

Juan Figuereo

It's a very good point, Bill. When we complete SAP in the middle of 2012, that's when the new EPC model is also activated. So the savings, the tax savings from that structure will start to come in on the second half of 2012.

William Schmitz - Deutsche Bank AG

So you're not going to ship from Geneva until midway through 2012?

Mark Ketchum

Yes, technically in terms of legal entities, right.

Operator

Our next question comes from Lauren Lieberman from Barclays Capital.

Lauren Lieberman - Barclays Capital

I wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about U.S. growth in the Tools, Industrial and Hardware segment. Because it does feel like the majority of the growth is overseas. And from what we can tell at least in terms of -- some lateral data point out there would suggest that there is some growth in the U.S., but I don't feel like you guys are capturing maybe your fair share. So can you maybe comment on that and talk a little bit about the outlook for U.S. growth in that business this year?

Mark Ketchum

Well, let me start by saying we are growing in North America in our Tools & Hardware business. And that's one of the reasons I referenced the investment we made behind the GrooveLock Plier launch. But without referencing a specific number, while we are experiencing strong growth outside the U.S., we're also experiencing significant growth in the U.S.

Juan Figuereo

It's going to take me a while to get the number, Mark. So I suggest we go on to the next question and then we can come back to that.

Mark Ketchum

And by the way, we'll probably not give you a very specific number anyway other than to reaffirm what I just told you. As you know, Lauren, we don't like to get into that level of detail on the [indiscernible] (1:17:25).

Operator

Our next question comes from Chris Ferrara from Bank of America.

Christopher Ferrara - BofA Merrill Lynch

So I just wanted to ask about sort of the volume rebates, back to that that you talked about in office. And I think it was mentioned again in Tools & Hardware. So the office numbers seem kind of vague. I think you said like 2% of the growth there was from customers buying ahead because of volume rebates you offered. In Tools & Hardware, you mentioned it too. I mean, am I right? Are these atypically high for the quarter. And if so I guess why was there so much rebating going on in the quarter?

Mark Ketchum

Well, again, our promotional plans with our customers incent them to hit growth targets. And oftentimes, if they're close to that growth target, and would have to buy a little beyond what their current sell-through would be, they will do that, obviously, in order to get those promotional moneys. And so, we saw that, and we saw that primarily in our Office Products business, and as Juan said, that it'll dampen our sales in Q1.

Christopher Ferrara - BofA Merrill Lynch

It's not necessarily that you offered a greater number of rebates? You think you just had more...

Mark Ketchum

These are plans that were in place since the beginning of the year. So it wasn't any last-minute loading, or last minute -- these are all plans that -- we took these plans in the first quarter of every year as part of the business plan as they come down to the wire. I'll make up a number. If their incentive is to hit 105 and they're at 104, they're going to go buy the extra, to hit 105.

Christopher Ferrara - BofA Merrill Lynch

And then I guess, Mark, I know one of the thing you guys have been thinking about is revisiting the dividend. And I think what you had said before was that if the right acquisition was there, maybe the dividend wouldn't necessarily be first priority. So I guess the question is, given your decision to retire, are all major cash use decisions kind of put on hold? Will you defer that to your successor or is that something you guys are still going to have a decision on some time soon?

Mark Ketchum

I don't want to commit to a timing, and so I don't want to imply a timing by referencing it to my leaving. But I can assure you I'm going to be fully engaged and fully in charge and not going to delay anything until the day I leave. So if it's right to do before I leave, we will do it. There's nothing that's on hold. Before we take the next question, to Lauren, to the question you had asked before, I'm going to give you a number, although I don't like to be giving this level of detailed. But Tools & Hardware business, we said it grew -- I mean total Tools & Hardware and Commercial Products business grew over 8% last year. It was almost 7% in North America. So as I said, while we saw stronger growth outside the U.S., we are still seeing substantial growth within. So I'm not going to give it to you by the specific GBUs but in terms of the total segment. Growth in North America was almost as strong as the total global growth.

Operator

Our next question comes from Joe Altobello from Oppenheimer.

Joseph Altobello - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

I just want a clarification on your comments about pricing earlier. It sounds like you're going to be pricing to exactly offset the commodity cost inflation or would you price above that inflation to potentially maintain your margins?

Mark Ketchum

Well, I think your first assumption is not necessarily correct because, number one, this isn't commodity. This is all inflation. So it's a combination of raw materials. As I said, ocean freight and anticipated and continuing increase in labor costs in China. So it's a combination of those. And some of our pricing decisions aren't always prospective. Some are retrospective as well. So it's some combination there. So trying to do an exact match between what it's covering and what it's not would not be possible. But suffice it to say that we do believe that the level of inflation that we've seen last year and what we anticipate this year, there's some amount of pricing is appropriate and there is some amount of pricing -- it's usually surgical. It's almost never across-the-board. But there's some amount of pricing that's going on in all three business segments in the first quarter of this year.

Juan Figuereo

Let me just re-emphasize the strategy so that it's clear, is we cover inflation with productivity and mix. If we deem the inflation to be excessive, then we take the pricing. But in our guidance, we're assuming that most of the inflation is covered with productivity and mix.

Joseph Altobello - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

And then in terms of your core sales growth for 2011, the 4% to 5%, is it safe to assume that international growth would probably exceed Northa America growth this year?

Mark Ketchum

Well, certainly in Latin America and APAC, not in Europe. But in terms of Latin America, in Europe, our priority is still to continue that progress towards that 10% of line margin. That's our first priority. So we'll grow but probably not ahead of what the company grows, whereas in Latin America and APAC, we will grow faster.

Joseph Altobello - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

So it sounds like not much difference between International versus North America in terms of growth this year?

Mark Ketchum

I think even when you weight average Europe and the higher growth rates outside of Europe, international will be growing faster than North America.

Joseph Altobello - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.

The average share count for 2011?

Juan Figuereo

You may recall that the accelerated stock buyback settled in March, in the middle of March. And since the stock price is hopefully going to keep moving up, then we don't know what it's going to be at the end. I know that the previous time, we said 294. It's clearly going to be higher than that. However, we don't think it's going to be high enough to be material to your model. We could use 295, 296. But even that, we will know what it's going to be when it settles in March.

Operator

And we'll proceed to the next question. Our next question comes from Jason Gere from RBC Capital Markets.

Jason Gere - RBC Capital Markets, LLC

I guess I just want to kind of go back and revisit the raising of the low end of the organic sales. So Mark, like the last time we were talking, I think three to five was definitely in the bag, but the swing factors were the category growth, because I think that was the one area that you were still a little bit cautious. And it sounds like your comments today, are you calling for an acceleration in the back half of the year in improved economy? What's kind of build into that? And then on the same level, as you look at distribution gains maybe this year versus next year, is that another area of improved optimism? And same with the innovation pipeline, just trying to look at some of the different factors that kind of play in. Obviously, you've got some good momentum. I'm just wondering if there's anything that specifically -- or if there is just accumulation of all those points?

Mark Ketchum

When we referenced in the past that 3% to 5% long-term goal, I want to make sure we weren't changing that number in a way that implied that we were giving guidance. So I referenced the 3% to 5% was just that, it was a reference to what we established and communicated as our long-term goal. If I had actually given you what I thought was going to happen this year three months ago, I'd probably would have given you 4% to 5%. So our outlook really hasn't changed. Everything's the same. It's just that now we're willing to be specific to let that number be a guidance number as opposed to referring to a long-standing target. The second half of your question is, and I tried to provide some of the examples in here, really is a combination of launching new items, in which we usually don't tell you ahead of time what they're going to be because I don't want to give my competition a head start in responding to them. It is distribution gains that we're getting in many cases because of the things that we started doing in the last half of 2010. It's distribution gains that we'll get through our geographic expansion of categories. And it is continuing to invest in the innovations that we launched a year ago that, as I've said on previous calls and oftentimes, you need to spend two to three years behind those initiatives to really deliver the level of awareness and trial that they deserve. So really kind of a combination of all those factors. Relative to the economy, I think we're seeing slow growth in mature markets as kind of the order of the day, and there's little signs of optimism. But nominally, again hopefully, no different than, not materially different that what we were assuming three months back.

Jason Gere - RBC Capital Markets, LLC

And then just in terms of inventory levels at your major retailers right now, any type of observations you can give, I mean, whether or not there's any -- I don't think there's any destocking or anything of that nature, but I just wonder if you could just comment briefly across the three segments if there's anything that kind of stands out?

Juan Figuereo

Let me take that, Mark. We're not seeing any levels of destocking. Generally, I think inventories continue to be lean at retail. But they are where they want them to be in general. Of course, we mentioned the specific cases for some customers right where we had the buying to make the volume rebate. So those would be kind of specific. But in general, we think inventories are where they want them to be.

Jason Gere - RBC Capital Markets, LLC

The guidance, Juan, that you gave on interest expense, saying $110 million, and even the shares, 295 to 296, that's all exclusive of the quips though, right? So we should, in the second and third quarters for certain see that the interest expense will be lower and the share count higher because of the quips. Is that how your guidance plays out?

Juan Figuereo

Yes that's right. When the quips become diluted, that would be obviously incremental for the shareholder.

Jason Gere - RBC Capital Markets, LLC

So would interest expense then be something more like 90 to 95, and then your share count for the year could end up being, could be closer to 300? I'm just trying to -- I know with the share buyback there's still some uncertainty but I was just wondering if there is a little I guess post-quip type of commentary?

Juan Figuereo

All of that is within the realm of the possible. But I don't have a number that I can give you because there's so many variables. The only thing I know is that I would be wrong.

Operator

Our next question comes from Mark Rupe from Longbow Research.

Andrew White

This is actually Andy sitting in for Mark. On your 4% to 5% core sales growth guidance, could you give us maybe detail on how much of that is represented by market share gains? Any sort of detail you can give there?

Mark Ketchum

It would be hard to put a number on it. I guess I wouldn't even try. Because, again, we'll be growing faster than the economy in both North America and internationally. But then, a portion of that is from our whitespace expansion. And obviously, I guess you'd say that, that is share growth as well. So I guess you'd say that the majority of it is going to be share growth because growing faster than the U.S. economy, which is maybe 1% earning cap going faster than international economies are growing, because that's what our Latin America and Asia-Pacific growth rate would assume. But it would take me a long time to answer that question.

Andrew White

And on the Home & Family side, you mentioned in the Baby & Parenting GBU, you saw some trade down in terms of price points?

Mark Ketchum

That's been going on all the year, by the way.

Andrew White

Would you say that you've seen that in any of the other GBUs within the segment or is it pretty much exclusive to...

Mark Ketchum

It's been more pronounced there, I think this is a trend that's gone on since the end of 2008. Since the economy really collapsed in 2009 there's been more pressure on consumers, saying where I can save money? And you can save money by trading down within the line item. And so, I think that pressure's been going on. It probably most pronounced in our Baby & Parenting business and our RCP, our Rubbermaid Commercial Products business. It's probably where we've seen the most pressure for trade down and pricing.

Operator

And your final question today comes from Budd Bugatch from Raymond James.

Chad Bolen - Raymond James

This is actually Chad filling in for Budd. I just want to get back to the SG&A for a second to make sure I understand. So you expect that the total SG&A ratio to be maintained at 25% of sales or so. But do I understand that as the brand-building component of SG&A, the 6.4% in 2010 should actually increase as a percentage of sales but be offset by other structural savings initiatives?

Mark Ketchum

The short answer is yes. We've disclosed before that we are thinking a target of somewhere around 8% is probably more in tune with what will continue to drive the business and give it a good return. We've spent probably over 7% in the fourth quarter. But let me also just kind of give you some other perspective, because I'll let you in on a couple of a little secrets here. Secret number one. I looked at our five fastest growing businesses from last year. And five out of our thirteen global business units that are fastest growing. And all five of them spent north of the 25% corporate average in terms of SG&A as a percent of sales. Think that's a coincidence? I think not. Second, and here's the other part of the secret, a good part of the secret, is that all five of those businesses are above the company average in gross margin. And most of them are well above 40%. So the fact of the matter is, it works. It's a business model that works and we're going to keep on investing behind it. We like it. It's a nice kind of a problem to have. But just on mix alone, right, if your fastest-growing businesses are growing fast, partly because they've got the gross margin to afford it, they're reinvesting that gross margin, it's working, it's building the business fast, then that mix effect is going to try and drive the corporate number above 25%. The only way for us to hold it at 25% or thereabouts is going to be they have to find efficiencies elsewhere. So it's a nice kind of problem to have, right? And that's the way you ought to think about it. But I think knowing that the plan works, that our highest gross margin businesses can afford more SG&A, they're spending that and they're growing faster because of that, it says it works, and we're going to keep on doing it.

Chad Bolen - Raymond James

And I guess just to key in that, do think -- how soon does it take to get to 8% and can you give us kind of an expectation for next year?

Mark Ketchum

Well, I don't know how long it's going to take. I think it's going to be measured in a couple of years at least. But frankly, that would depend on how fast the business accelerates and so on. I think we'll still be incrementally going toward that number. I don't think you're going to see any point in time where it goes up 100 basis points. But I think it could go up 40 or 50 or 60 basis points a year on the way to getting to 8%.

Operator

And again, I would like to turn the conference call back over to management for any final remarks.

Mark Ketchum

I don't think we have any final remarks. Thank you for your attention and for staying with us today.

Operator

If we were unable to get your questions during this call, please call Newell Rubbermaid Investor Relations at (770) 418-7075. Today's call will be available on the web at newellrubbermaid.com and on digital replay at (412) 317-0088 with an access code of 447303 starting two hours following the conclusion of today's call and ending February 11. This concludes today's conference. You may now disconnect your telephone lines.

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