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General Cable Corporation (NYSE:BGC)

Q3 2008 Earnings Call

October 30, 2008 8:30 am ET

Executives

Mike Dickerson - Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations

Greg Kenny - President and Chief Executive Officer

Brian Robinson - Chief Financial Officer

Greg Lampert - President of North America

Bob Siverd - General Counsel

Analysts

Jeffrey Beach - Stifel Nicolaus

Celeste Santangelo - Merrill Lynch

Stuart Bush - RBC Capital Markets

William Stein - Credit Suisse

Brent Thielman - D.A. Davidson

Nat Kellogg - Next Generation Equity

Keith Johnson - Morgan Keegan

Michael Coleman - Sterne Agee

Operator

Good morning. My name is Amy and I will be your conference facilitator. I would like to welcome everyone to the General Cable Corporation’s Third Quarter 2008 Earnings Conference Call. This conference call is being recorded at the request of General Cable. Should you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. All participants have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. There will be question-and-answer period after the speakers’ remarks. [Operator instructions].

Thank you. General Cable, you may begin your conference.

Mike Dickerson – Vice President of Finance, Investor Relations

Thank you, Amy. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to General Cable’s third quarter 2008 earnings conference call. I am Mike Dickerson, Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations at General Cable. Joining me this morning are Greg Kenny, our President and Chief Executive Officer, Brian Robinson, our Chief Financial Officer, Greg Lampert, President of North America and Bob Siverd, our General Counsel.

Many of you have already seen a copy of our press release from last night. For those of you who have not, it is available on First Call, and on our website at generalcable.com.

I want to call your attention to our Safe Harbor provision for forward-looking statements that can be found at the end of our press release. The Safe Harbor provision identifies risk factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from the content of our forward-looking statements. Our current Form 10-K report and other periodic filings on file with the SEC provide further detail about the risk factors related to our business.

During this call we may refer to adjusted operating income and adjusted EBITDA, which is defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization, plant rationalizations, lower cost and market LIFO inventory adjustments and other restructuring items. These non-GAAP Company-defined measures are being provided because management believes they are useful in analyzing the operating performance and cash flow, before the impact of various reorganization and other charges. A reconciliation of adjusted operating income and EBITDA to GAAP net income is available on the Investor Relations section of our website at generalcable.com.

The format for today’s call will first be some discussion by Greg Kenny about the overall business environment. Secondly, Brian Robinson will discuss overall financial results for the third quarter. And finally, Greg will provide some comments on the Company’s fourth quarter 2008 outlook, followed by a question-and-answer period.

With that, I’ll now turn the call over to Greg Kenny.

Greg Kenny – President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mike, and good morning. There is no ignoring the difficult economic and credit environment we are facing and the rapid reduction of the share price of General Cable and other global infrastructure companies in the natural resources, equipment, engineering and constructions areas over the last quarter.

As the equity and credit markets work through massive force liquidations in the allocations of risk resulting in depressed prices around the world, we continue to focus on those things within our control. Safety in the workplace, continuous cost improvement, carrying strong cash flows and maintaining a strong balance sheet and liquidity position are within our control and allow us to continue to execute on our growth plans through the down turn.

Our end markets are tough and we expect that they will get tougher over the next several quarters. The investments we have made in new products and geographies over the last several years has (inaudible) of the company maintain positive momentum, a full year into the economic slowdown in the United States

As I look forward from an economic standpoint I expect General Cable to come through this global slow down better than most. While, I will continue to provide specific earnings outlook one quarter a time, my view is that US probably has a few more difficult course ahead of it but begin recovery process first. One recent positive sign was the existing home sales data for September as inventories fell for the second month in a row and the recent reduction of LIBOR rates and the general falling of credit markets which are also signs of governmental intervention actions have begin to have positive in the global credit markets, particular in the US.

Europe probably get worst from here and seems to be wining a couple of quarter behind the US in terms of economic activity with Spain in particularly tough shape. Economies in the Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa probably continue to show modest well within previously expected levels possibly due to lower commodity prices, tighter credit conditions and falling local equity markets.

I would like to address a few company specific concerns we have heard over the last quarter from investors, specifically liquidity. Gross debt at the end of the third quarter was $1.54 billion while net debt was $1.17 billion, a decrease of a $144 million and $105 million respectively from the end of the second quarter as a result of strong operating cash flow. The company’s principal long term debt obligations are in the United States and consist of two convertible note offerings totaling at $830 million with coupon interest rates of 1% and 7As of 1%. $200 million and 7 & 8 senior notes and $125 million floating rate notes which pay interest at 2 and 3As over LIBOR. These long term debt obligations have scheduled maturities beginning in October 2012 and extend through April 2017.

The company maintains a $400 million asset based lending facility in the United States of which only $27 million was drawn at the end of the third quarter. The facility matures in August of 2012 and is financed by a syndicate of 12 financial institutions. The largest holding by an individual syndicate member is 20% with the remaining institutions participating on average less than 10% of the facility each.

The revolving facility continues to operate as designed. The company also maintains multiple revolving credit facilities to fund working capital needs around the world with both global and local institutions.

At the end of the third quarter through a combination of existing cash balances and undrawn available lines of credit, the company has approximately $1.2 billion of available liquidity to fund operations, internal growth opportunities, continuing product and geographic expansion opportunities as well as entertain the stock buyback which the Board has authorized.

Majority of the assets and cash flows outside of North America remain unencumbered and no additional potentials and they are no additional source of potential future liquidity. Let me make another point about cash flows and liquidity. The third and fourth quarters are traditionally the strongest cash generating periods of the year, this year is no exception.

In the third quarter cash flows from operations were approximately $188.8 million, I expect strong cash flows in the fourth quarter as well aided by the recent reduction in copper prices and to a lesser extent aluminum prices, which will result in lower working capital requirements as we move forward in the fourth quarter.

Additionally as we have indicated in prior quarters 2008 is expected to be peak investment year for capital expenditures as we have invested aggressively to enter the offshore power market, submarine long-haul communications expanding capabilities in high voltage and extra high voltage products and convert a world class Mexican telecommunications facility into an industrial and constructions products facility and have undertaken a number of projects to reduce our material costs

Going into 2009 I expect capital expenditures for ongoing operations in North America and Europe to probably be modestly below depreciation with the rest of the world being somewhere above depreciation levels. We will provide more specific guidance for capital expenditures when we announce earnings results for the fourth quarter of 2008.

Given our strong capital structure General Cable will continue to identify and evaluate entry or expansion of new markets particularly in the developing world. General Cable has arguably the strong capital structure and liquidity position that I have seen in my 25 years of the company and is much better positioned than during the 2001 to 2003 industry downturn. Our culture continues improvement in one company faced to customers is an operating model that is working well for us. Leveraging best practices globally and safety, talent, technology, manufacturing, purchasing and global customer development continue to provide rich opportunities across 14,000 associates, 46 manufacturing facilities and key accounts in the 100 plus nations.

We have greatly expanded our geographic and product range through a series of strategic acquisitions acquired with disciplined and finance conservatively. Given the long term fundamentals for global infrastructure investment the Board of Directors has authorized management to purchase up to a $100 million of General Cable common shares in the open market over the next year.

We will judiciously utilize this buyback authority with capital structure flexibility and liquidity always our first priority. Concurrently we will stay on the offensive as our liquidity position coupled with strong operating cash flow allows us to continue to pursue the numerous global opportunities we see and anticipate.

Let me move on to what we see around the world. Our rest of the world segment continues to outpace internal operating expectations. Overall, results will however burden by significant and rapid devaluation of certain emerging market currencies, particularly in South America as well as the negative impact of lower copper prices on the LIFO value of the inventory layer established when Sub start was acquired. Actively the rest of the world regions continued to show positive momentum despite the continuing difficult economic and credit environments in the developed world as well as the developing nations around the world. Recently the CRU International forecasting unit predicted the Latin America, Africa and South East Asia would consume 25% of world’s cable demand in 2008, lending strong support for the company’s geographic expansion strategies executed over the last decade.

Those markets are now twice as big as the United States, which ten years ago accounted 95% of our sales versus about 30% today. In Europe during the third quarter, we experienced accelerating declines in demand and pricing for a certain products, particularly those products supporting construction markets in Spain. While the European markets work through a difficult economic environment, demand for many of the company’s high end products produced in Europe and traded globally continues to hold up including high and extra voltage cables, submarine power, submarine long-haul communication systems, as well as the recently acquired business in Algeria that is contributing positively their earnings.

In North America operating earnings decreased 36% before the impact of LIFO accounting in both periods, on a revenue decline of 2.1% on a metal adjusted basis. These declines were less than declines experienced in the first half of 2008, while we are not ready to call bottom to the North American markets, I expect the fourth quarter will be somewhat weaker than the prior year. The weakness in our North America end markets has been primarily driven by the impact of declining new residential construction activity on electric utility cables demand, a continuing decline in copper telecommunications cable and delays in transmission projects as well as a general overall slowdown in electric utility network spending.

Product supporting oil, gas and wind farm applications, networking markets, specialty harness assemblies for OEM applications, particularly for transportation have held up relatively well in the third quarter.

I will now turn the call over to Brian Robinson, who will provide further details on our financial performance for the third quarter. Brian?

Brian Robinson – Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Thanks Greg. On the consolidated basis net seals for the third quarter of 2008 were $1.626 billion an increase of $477.1 million or 41.5% compared to the third quarter of 2007 on a metals adjusted basis. This growth was principally due to the acquisitions completed in the last 12 months, foreign currency exchange rate translation benefits and the company’s exposure to global electrical infrastructure markets, partially offset by lower demand as a result of ongoing weak economic conditions primarily in the United State and Spain.

Third quarter 2008, operating income before the impact of LIFO related charges was $121.4 million compared to operating income of $89.9 million before the impact of LIFO related benefits in the third quarter of 2007, an increase of $31.5 million or 35%. The increase in operating income was principally a result of acquisitions completed in last 12 months and strong global markets for energy and industrial infrastructure products, partially offset by lower demand and pricing for telecommunications and electric utility products in North America, an ongoing weakness in Spanish construction.

Operating margin before LIFO related charges was 7.5% in the third quarter of 2008, a decrease of approximately 30 basis points from the operating margin of 7.8% in the third quarter of 2007 before LIFO benefit on a metals adjusted basis.

Reported operating earnings for the third quarter included approximately $7.6 million of non-cash net LIFO inventory related charges, this consist of approximately $10.6 million of lower cost-to-market inventory valuation adjustments principally related to acquired inventory of PDIC as a result of the significant reduction in copper market prices at the end of the quarter partially offset by a $3 million LIFO inventory quantity, liquidation benefit in North America.

Our net interest expense for the third quarter of 2008 was $13.5 million compared to $5.1 million of net expense in the same quarter last year. The increase resulted principally from financing related to the accusation of PDIC, which included the issuance of $475 million of convertible notes at a 1% coupon on October 2, 2007, and borrowings on the company’s revolving asset based facility.

Net interest expense in the quarter also increased due to interest on international lines of credit supporting operations in the rest of world segment and incremental barrowings in the Europe and North African segment related to the May 2008 acquisition of Enica Biskra. The company also reported less interest income in 2008 as a result of using existing cash to partially fund the PDIC acquisition. These increases were partially offset by year-over-year reduction in interest rates on the company’s $125 million floating rate senior notes.

With regard to income taxes, the company continues to maintain an effective tax rate below the U.S. statutory rate due to the continuing effective tax rate benefit of the increased relative mix of income from lower rate jurisdictions as result of recent acquisitions. The company is actively pursuing opportunities to further improve its effective tax rate over time. During the third quarter we have lowered our expected full year 2008 effective tax rate by an additional 100 basis points to 33%.

Total debt at the end of the third quarter was $1 billion $542.9 million, while net debt was $1 billion $171 million, a decrease of $144 million and $105 million respectively from the end of the second quarter as a result of strong operating cash flow.

Adjusted EBITDA was $142.2 million for the third quarter of 2008 resulting in $542 million of EBITDA for the trailing 12 months and a leverage ratio of 2.2 times on a net debt basis. This calculation includes only 11 months of trailing EBITDA for PDIC and would result in a slightly lower leverage ratio on a proforma basis assuming a full year of PDIC performance.

Our coverage ratio of EBITDA to trailing 12 months interest expense is 10.8 times. Capital spending in the third quarter was $56.5 million, while depreciation and amortization was $25.2 million. For the year, the company expects to invest approximately $200 to $225 million. This spending is over weighted internationally specifically for the electrical infrastructure and electric utility markets, as well as new investments for submarine power and submarine fiber optic communications system. The conversion of our Mexican communications facility to electrical products and the number of projects undertaken to reduce our material costs.

With those comments, I will turn the call back to Greg for some final remarks. Greg?

Greg Kenny – President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks Brian. The current market conditions are creating opportunities for those companies with strong operating systems, liquidity or access to capital and the product and geographic diversity to effectively manage through the global slowdown. Price expectations or acquisition targets are coming down and the competition for properties is much less. We view the current environment as target rich in many areas of the world which combined with our strong balance sheet will allow the company to continue and execute globalization strategies through the downturn.

In 2008 and 2009 we do expect to enter or expand in a number of regions in the developing world. Our recent expansions in Mexico and the Philippines are good examples of the strategy.

The challenging global economic conditions particularly in Unites States and Western Europe continue to pressure the operating results of the company. Well, we may be in a period of slower global growth or even contracting demand, we believe that the long term fundamentals for demand for our products both in the developed world and the emerging markets remain sound. This is precisely the environment we have prepared the company for over the last decade, our product and geographic diversity should allow the company to move through a slower period better than many and potentially benefit, particularly given the strength of our balance sheet and liquidity position.

For the fourth quarter, the company expects to report per share in the range of $0.70 to $0.75 per share before the impact of LIFO or currency related gains and losses. Revenues are expected to be approximately $1.4 billion to $1.45 billion. The sequential decline in revenues is due principally to the translation impact of the strengthening US dollar against the euro, the reduction in metal prices and the normal seasonal pattern of lower cable demand for cable products in the winter months.

This outlook reflects the quarter-over-quarter benefit of an additional month to PDIC results which closed on November 1, 2007, as well as year-over-year growth in this business, which offsets the weakness in Europe where the impact of the slowdown and construction particularly in Spain has accelerated and in North America where lower quarter-over-quarter demand and pricing for a number of markets and product families persist.

That concludes our prepared remarks. I will now turn the call back over to the operator who will assist us in taking your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instruction]. Your first question comes from Jeffrey Beach of Stifel Nicolaus.

Greg Kenny

We are not hearing the question, operator.

Jeffrey Beach

Hi, Greg.

Greg Kenny

Hi Jeff.

Jeffrey Beach

Sorry I had mute. The first question I can account for this sequential sales decline that you are looking at about $200 million coming from the factors that you mentioned, normal seasonality, currency, lower copper, but I’m having trouble coming up with EPS. Is there any special items in there, I’m figuring that the decline in copper is not going to squeeze margins by itself, currency I’m calculating out off a decent but a moderate impacts, so I’m trying to figure out this significant decline in earning of about $0.45 or $0.50?

Greg Kenny

Jeff, the US and Canada continue to be week though the weakness is primarily in the telephone cable area where we have continuously demand come down even versus prior year as you know we have a half a plan dedicated to that activity, it still making money, but that business has been influenced by certainly constriction and the substitution of fiber optics and other things that we’ve talked about. Electric utility in North America what we seen a more transmission projects being released remains quite difficult in terms of both pricing in some markets or some product families as well as overall demand as the utilities have seemed to wash the budget quite costly. So, the breakage in North America, which might be in the order of say $5 million in prior year is principally in those area, data networking is strengthening from an earnings standpoint, the demand is swampy but I think we are -- some of the things we have done with new product development and channel partnerships is working. Electrical infrastructure has hung in there a little weaker but much like Anixter, on their conference call we are seeing that that’s major market channels like Anixter that seems to have hung in with pricing a bit sticky. And then, the portable power is a little soft which is OEM demand is down a little bit and obviously this cable is used on job sites in many application with the bulk of North American farm would be remain in the two utility segments with the others can’t live in the noise level but somewhat weaker.

If you move over to Europe that’s where really the issues are we have both the translation issue, we are looking at current euro to dollar values versus prior year, which is obviously in the million as you suggested. The Iberian business is falling as construction is way down with about a three year overhang of housing. So, a year ago we were still pulling cable in housing and other construction projects that have been started say 6 months to a year earlier. At this point there is almost, there is very little activity in Spain and the government is obviously trying to spend some money on low income housing, we have been all there -- send some of the product into the rest of Europe. Broadly Spain is off materially from prior year and on the order of more than $5 million of operating income in the fourth quarter in our judgment. The other businesses are, in fact, Spain is higher than that it’s I would that will be in the $5 million to $10 million range as Spain is very, very flat right now. We are seeing offset in Europe with the Enica Biskra acquisition in Algeria, which has been a very good one for us and then [Sealag] continues to perform relatively strongly despite a slowing but not nearly like Spain or some of the economies in Western Europe. And clearly, Eastern Europe is also slowing down.

So, Europe is declining materially probably in the order of net, net, net from an operating perspective headed toward, $8 million or so and worst on the core businesses because Enica is performing extremely well. So, the net problem here for us is the continuing weakness in the US but I guess it’s the curb is flattening out, Europe is steepening and then we are continuing to perform extremely well around the rest of the world. We are also pulling our inventory down materially which it we run it very tight looking at conditions as I said cash and liquidity working so we have that effect of really running our inventory extremely tight in North America, we are running it tight now in the rest of the world, now those markets have remained, they’re somewhat cautionary but remain strong in our positions in this is again the segments that include Africa, South East Asia and Latin America.

So, continuing to draw inventory which you can see in the cash down is tie as a drum and ties or operating system allow us and then Europe accelerating in the decline particularly in Iberian Peninsula, in the US shoving out a bit and the same corporates offset again by Algeria and very strong performance in the rest of the world.

Jeffrey Beach

All right, two other questions I ask them both at the same time. Can you give us an idea where you think Iberia is in this construction cycle, is it got along its already been declining for a while, where are we and how much further down in time and depth do you think we have to go and again back on the Idea of corporate coming off here, what is the impact on income statement and is there any additional inventory risk?

Greg Kenny

Well, I guess Iberia has more than two years demand of unsolved dwellings and as you know, they had very low real interest rate in fact negative real interest rates for 10 years approximately because Iberia was booming and they were hints to the EU rate making, so there was a property boom. They went on and on and now there is a violent shake out worst than the US where I think Iberian overhang is much higher. I think just in the fourth quarter we’re going to build maybe 30% of what we sold and is less than 50 is probably headed towards 30 of what we built 2 years ago cables for construction. So, it’s you know, it’s somewhere in that bottoming and as you know our products, many of our products generally lag a construction start by six months to a year or investment start. The distributors clearly have high cost inventory and they are selling that high cost inventory to their customers and we are seeing pricing, staying sticky in copper is obviously very viable its up over $2 again having bought in that 160 something. So, you know, I think generally people are moving their material out and I think from a copper standpoint we as you know, we have, we built a LIFO layer which is accounting standpoint when the price of the copper when we acquired Phelps Dodge and then if we draw down inventories as we are doing, we have a eating into that layer as you also know we price to the market and we charge our P&L, the copper that we actually, will actually pay for that copper. So this is really an accounting perspective. So, layer Phelps Dodge is copper when we bought in was put in at for inventory carrying purposes at $3 and something cents when we bought it and clearly in the old General Cable we have many layers that are much lower than that. So, it’s and we have for as long as I remember always called out when we had a LIFO gain or loss which is an accounting charge and we will continue to do that but economically we are turning our inventory quickly and as you know half of our metal approximately whatever we pay the customer pays because it is back to back. So, velocity matters and we are seeing prices stay somewhat sticky in many segments but the problem has been again the inventory draw downs and very little demand in Spain at this point.

Jeffrey Beach

Thank you Greg.

Greg Kenny

Okay, Jeff.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Celeste Santangelo of Merrill Lynch.

Celeste Santangelo

Good morning.

Greg Kenny

Hi Celes.

Celeste Santangelo

Hi. So just adding to that question on the outlook regarding pricing, so when you’re talking about the operational decline sequentially, that’s just from a volume standpoint?

Greg Kenny

Price and -- Celes it’s price that we’ve had price problems. We’ve been talking to our shareholders for more than a year about price problems in certain areas. So, we have in some products in some markets pricing pressure, real price pressure. In other place and we also have -- we are running less through the system in some markets because of lower demand, so we have less absorption of our fixed assets, which obviously affects the P&L as well. So, broadly demand for most markets is flat to declining somewhat and pricing is stable to declining depending upon the market and the product.

Celeste Santangelo

Okay. Again can you --?

Greg Kenny

Again, I’m living copper out because copper is all over, I’m looking at really the pricing on the hollow cost or the extra metal cost. That is the way I’m thinking about this.

Celeste Santangelo

Okay, well then if you look at the major segment can you quantify maybe how much from volume and how much from pricing?

Greg Kenny

You know Celeste, you know, I haven’t done that work. I don’t know and I don’t want to go into that detail -- that much detail with, these are open calls and that’s getting awfully specific.

Celeste Santangelo

Okay. Okay, and then can you just talk about maybe what you’ve seen since you exited Q3, what you’ve seen in the past month is it kind of more of the same or has anything caught you by surprise in Q4?

Greg Kenny

Well, as you know Celeste, I think the Spanish demand has gotten even weaker and clearly we are watching, you can if you will get the financial times on the given day you can see every other article relates to possibility of the credit issues on projects or the capital plans of companies. So, we’re watching all of those same things, but I would say Spain has gotten materially tougher and over the last weeks and I would say everything else is kind of what we have expected to see.

Celeste Santangelo

Okay. And then, could you just talk about you had in the past talked about starting the offshore power production in Q1, is that still on target? Are you still looking at Q1 and then maybe could you talk about in this environment has the backlog of projects that you were talking about the Q2 has that changed?

Greg Kenny

The backlog is there and there’s plenty of work, obviously and we’re going to hit that target launch date, we clearly watch and oil is rebounding now as the dollar has again weakened somewhat but it seems 60 bucks, 60 dollars a barrel is kind of an important rough marker for some of the deep well, deep sea bed drilling. So again, this project is aimed at wind farms offshore and also in shallow, medium and deepwater drilling. So, again that business isn’t immune from oil prices but broadly there is plenty of work and few suppliers and I think our backlog is more than a year out and we’ve seen no cancellations or changes in that.

Celeste Santangelo

Okay, great, thank you.

Greg Kenny

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Stuart Bush of RBC Capital Markets.

Stuart Bush

Hi, Greg.

Greg Kenny

Hi, Stuart.

Stuart Bush

So I’m trying to reconcile this $0.70 to $0.75 guidance for Q4 that excludes LIFO charges and currency stuff, so we had a $0.09 impact on LIFO and obviously copper has gotten a lot weaker since then, so there is no assumption of LIFO in there at all. And then, with currency can you help us understand what your assumptions are on the different regions, what rates you are using for Europe and rest of world and coming up with that $0.70 to $0.75?

Brian Robinson

Stuart, it’s Brian. I would say, starting with the copper for a moment, you’re correct since the end of the quarter there has been further decline in copper prices and so depending upon where our, we have couple of things going on, we have got both the valuation from a lower cost to market perspective and it was actually got quantity liquidations. And so, because of the various pools we have, when you cut through of it net-net based upon current prices and where we think we might come out the charge for LCM and LIFO related could be $0.20 to $0.25 in the quarter. Again, back to some of the points that Greg was making around the non cash accounting piece of that.

The currency piece from an assumption perspective, I guess, I would defer from getting very specific, I think you can look at market rates and but what I would say is we are using what we think is the average, we will end up in the average for the quarter but or course, the euro continues, which is really the currency that has most impact on the translations of our results continue to bounce around a fair bid.

Greg Kenny

There is also the transaction possibly on the transaction on the currency as well.

Brian Robinson

So, if we separate the translation from the transaction, the other piece of the transaction in the quarter which is driven by the late devaluation of a number of currencies of course, in the first few weeks of October accelerated even further. And so, the currency piece again assuming currency stay where they are about in the range they are at today could be about $0.10 sort of a $0.10 kind of number. So, when you put the currency in the copper together at the LIFO accounting related and the currency piece you could be about at $0.35 color.

Greg Kenny

To be very model the euro dollar in again, the European euro denominated into dollars we have already estimated that at current euro prices. So, Brian was really taking about these sort of non cash items that we also saw in the third quarter.

Stuart Bush

So, we should assume that your revenue guidance and earnings is assuming about a 1.3 euro or so?

Greg Kenny

Stuart, that’s fair, that’s the right way to think about it.

Stuart Bush

And then, the rest of the world what should we be, I mean, what currency target or what should we be looking at for that segment? Is it euros also or is it a basket of a whole bunch of other stuff?

Greg Kenny

Basket of a lot of things, it’s a basket of lot of things and a lot of those business is actually done in dollar. So, there is not really a great metric that we could point it to that will give you a feel there.

Stuart Bush

That’s what I am trying to get to is the sensitivity around that number on these issues, you are basically your conclusion we are looking at $0.20 $025 impact potential for LIFO and $0.10 from currency half of that $0.70 $0.75?

Greg Kenny

Currency I want to be specific on the nature of the currency related to the rest of the world which is transaction versus the euro which we have dealt with always in our forecast in terms of an estimate, which is actually a non cash item this transaction relates to some of the cost company debt of receivables.

Brian Robinson

It’s a recap, you’re correct so to say. The guidance is $0.70 to $0.75 and that assumes the euro really in the dollar 30 range. So that includes some realistic thinking around the translation impact. And then, deduct from the $0.70 to $0.75 that combined $0.35 from the LIFO accounting and the currency devaluations mainly in the emerging markets and those are the transactional losses which are really focused around that period in late September and early October when many of the currencies in South America devaluated significantly.

Stuart Bush

Okay, great. And then, bigger picture item, Greg I was wondering if you can comment about the prospects of a big infrastructure stimulus package coming out of the democrats after the election in the new administration how that might effect you when you think that if it happens, when you think that could translate into additional demand or therefore pricing power in the US markets and if you see anything like that from momentum in that, their governments around the world. What I am trying to look for here is what the catalyst to prematurely bring you out of a normal economic cycle here from government action?

Greg Kenny

We are watching, Stuart both the availability of credit for wind farms by the people who provide it and then obviously the government who may provide credit or some type of incentive. I think we are benefiting in Europe and have benefited we continue to watch what they are doing around green their and that’s been sort of ongoing in the United States as we have said for a long time there is a lot of work to be done and its I guess, I will be in Washington over the weekend looking at some of the things that are being talked about from the stimulus packages, it only seems to take longer than we would all like. But, clearly a lot of thing are being talked about would be very good for this company. But I don’t think we should put it in our 2009 forecast in a material way, because I think it will take some time. But all the things being talked about are right in our sweet spot and could come a long way into accelerating recovery and its all things we do.

Stuart Bush

Its not in your 2009, what is your 2009 forecast?

Greg Kenny

I am talking about our internal demand forecast Stuart.

Stuart Bush

Okay. So, this is something that you would expect would hit 2010 later if it did happen, if there is a lot of thing being bended about but certainly a lot of a democratic senators are looking towards doing infrastructure for roads, bridges, transmission grid stuff. I mean, you’re hearing the same things or you think there is a lot of momentum there?

Greg Kenny

Yeah, absolutely. And, as I said, I’ll be up to my ears with it in Washington this weekend. But I think, if they do it, it’s -- again, everything we do we have sufficient global capacity to handle just about anything they contemplate and these things always spool up a bit more slowly. I think it’s prudent not to plan on a material lift from that, but we’ll be ready. And we’ll be close as the presumably Democratic administration comes in.

Stuart Bush

Okay, great thanks guys.

Greg Kenny

Both parties are talking about it, obviously, though differently.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of William Stein of Credit Suisse.

William Stein

Great, thank you. Like to address the GAAP and non-GAAP reconciliation. First, I am wondering if we have for those of us who build our models by forecasting segments, do we have reconciliation segment level or can you give us an idea to whether the backouts for LIFO and there is another charge as well. What regions those are in?

Greg Kenny

Yes, if you look in the release in the table you have the North America there is a $3 million for the quantity liquidation, okay. So, if you look at in the next line the lower cost to market the 10.6, 7.6 of that would be in the rest of world segment and $3 million that would be in Europe and North African segment.

William Stein

Helpful for those of us building models that way. Also, I’m curious about the foreign exchange comments. Why wasn’t this transaction risk hedged? And going forward, you seem to be introducing this new thing that you’re going to back out an additional line item in the GAAP to non-GAAP reconciliation. Why not hedge that instead?

Brian Robinson

We need to take a step back I would say, these are currencies that have been stable for quite some time and so in these parts of the world we do a lot of different -- we finance those businesses in a number of different ways that we think are the most cost effective. So, the impact, again, because of the suddenness of the change in the currencies, is really the big issue. I think the question of hedging it going forward -- again they’re pretty, I think, shallow markets to actually do hedging transactions. And if you can do them, I think they’re also fairly costly. So, again, we’re doing a lot of different things to change the way we’re thinking about this and how we’re going to finance those businesses. But at the end of the day, these are difficult transactions to actually go out and hedge.

William Stein

Fair enough. So, from now on we should expect this kind of GAAP to non-GAAP reconciliation taking out the LIFO layers and foreign exchange transactions, but not anything related to translation, is that correct?

Brian Robinson

No, what we always said overtime the LIFO accounting will always charge we call that out. We have not -- we’re going to -- the currency volatility, we’ve really lived with over time. And at the end of the day, we’re a global company and we manage these things. And so we’ve provided that supplemental information so you have it, but you’ll notice that in the P&L, there’s another couple million dollars of currency movements. And, again, if you go back in time, there’s traditionally been a couple million dollars in either direction. So in the end it’s part of what we do, given it is supplemental information, but we internally as a company have not included it as part of the reconciliation because, again, we think it’s part of the way we’re managing the business globally.

William Stein

But the guidance for -- I really don’t mean to harp on this point, but the guidance you’re providing, you call out that it’s excluding foreign exchange transaction risk, which implies to me that when you report next quarter, you’re going to say, the non-GAAP number backing out foreign exchange transactions effect was X. And on the other hand, you’re saying that’s part of the normal operating business of the company to manage those risks. So, is this kind of more of a one-quarter effect because the real has so volatile? Or should we think of this as a risk that you’re going to kind of take out of the numbers in the non-GAAP reconciliation going forward?

Brian Robinson

Well, I think its more around we will not take it out of the reconciliation, its more around the volatility and while the Brazilian currency has made the headlines, there are also other currencies around the world which have an impact. So, again, we will be -- our style has been to disclose these things and to be straightforward, and we’ll continue to be that way. So no, our intention is not that this would be a reconciling item from a non-GAAP perspective. This is more, again, a symptom of the volatility in the currencies.

Greg Kenny

If we can’t hedge it, we can’t predict it, in a sense, sitting here today, for some of those currencies.

William Stein

Okay. I guess I will follow-up on that offline, because to me something doesn’t match up there. But just so I understand prior comments as well, I think you talked about, what was it, $0.30 in transaction and LIFO charges potentially for the current quarter. That would imply GAAP earnings next quarter of more like $0.40?

Greg Kenny

That’s right. Again, assuming copper prices stay where they are at, currency stay where they are at, depending on our inventory quantities.

William Stein

Yeah, they matter a lot to the model. One other question on accounts, you did good, very helpful job of explaining your liquidity position, but we are also interested in the position of your customers and have there been any accounts receivable collectability issues in the quarter, do you anticipate when you go forward given the top credit markets?

Greg Kenny

We have not really experienced any significant issues and fair amount of our receivable around the world are covered by credit insurance as well. But, nothing to speak of.

William Stein

Okay, great thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions]. Your next question comes from the line of Brent Thielman of D.A. Davidson.

Brent Thielman

Good morning.

Greg Kenny

Good morning.

Brent Thielman

Greg, I just want to get your perspective, I guess as you look at regions in the ROW segment and just given the pace of growth that some of these countries have been growing at. I mean, as you see maybe potentially these regions slow, do you really expect meaningful impact to your business demand for your products, I mean, just given the pace we’re coming from?

Greg Kenny

Yeah, I think the credit issues are obviously global issues and there was -- and the Fed was involved this morning with a $30 billion basket of support. Each country has different competitive dynamics, and you can see in some markets -- say, Central America -- some knock-on from the slowdown in the US. There’s a slowdown in hotel development and some pressure from manufacturers who are seeing slowing demand in their home markets looking for some volume. Brazil has stayed quite strong, and Venezuela, Colombia. Again, Venezuela’s investing to get more oil out of the ground, et cetera. So Thailand, we’ve been very strong out of there. The Philippines. Africa, a little bit of pushing and shoving around in South Africa. But, I would expect them to slow the markets because of the difficulty of doing business in some of these places. The competitive dynamics vary by country, and, again, the level of government spending and relative sovereign wealth or ability to continue to spend varies in terms of account surpluses. But yes, I expect these markets to be more difficult. We have tremendous cost positions and, again, do business in a lot of places that others find it difficult to enter or operate. So I think it will probably be less violent than some of the adjustments in the countries that had enormous construction booms in, I think, England, Spain, the United States and, to possibly some extent, Oceania, Australia, New Zealand. But a lot of these places, they’ve had nice growth in part because of the exports that they’ve been able to do, and relatively cheap credit. But it’s really a different bag, and in fact most of Europe, as I said earlier, didn’t see the kind of boom in Western Europe. I think Eastern Europe we’re watching because Eastern Europe has helped, so to speak, exports from the West, and East is cooling down, and there are some liquidity issues. But I think it will be gentler in these countries, but certainly not immune from what’s going on in the world.

Brent Thielman

Okay, that’s very helpful. Thank you. And then you guys continue to do a terrific job on SG&A. Just wondering if you think you can continue to drive down costs there and maybe address some specific areas where you think you can do that.

Greg Kenny

We have run this and our best in our best judgment, as tight as -- we ran it in the very best years with the view that we should stay as lean as possible and invest generally in engineering or people in front of customers. We continue to look for levers that we might take, but there’s not big swatches of people. As you slow plants down, there’s some direct costs that come out. We don’t have -- these plants are pretty focused. So I wouldn’t see that there’s a magic sort of wand that we didn’t use in the good times. I think we always wanted to be the low-cost producer, no matter what environment. But the savings could be in the millions as you push around things, but not tens of millions, and we have taken a sacrifice with our employees. We’ve shared this in different cycles. So we’ll find that balance, and I would say, we will continue to run it very, very tight. But I don’t see any major opportunity to take out a large percentage of the workforce. This is a, I think, very focused, hands-on company without a lot of overhead behind the scenes.

Brent Thielman

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Stuart Bush of RBC Capital Markets.

Stuart Bush

Yeah, I would, what happened to the share count this quarter?

Greg Kenny

Sequentially Stuart, I think you had the -- because of the share price on the convertible accounting you had fewer shares in the denominator. Again, remember, in the third quarter, for much of the quarter, our share price was I don’t know the average off the top of my head, but it was I want to say it was in the $15 to $16-type range.

Stuart Bush

So we should expect further lessening of shares in the utility share count for Q4?

Greg Kenny

Yes, I think most of it’s already in there, Stuart. I think you could almost more think of it moving sort of sideways going forward.

Stuart Bush

Okay, great thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Nat Kellogg of Next Generation Equity.

Nat Kellogg

Hi, guys. I think most of my questions have been answered, but just a couple of quick ones here. Obviously, the minority interest expense that you guys have has ticked up over the last couple of quarters. I guess, is this an appropriate rate to use going forward, or is there anything in there that makes it particularly large this quarter versus what we would expect in the future?

Brian Robinson

Yeah, I would say this quarter’s a better indication, Nat, because of the two things. The Philippines, where we flipped positions, where we were formerly, for the first six months, on an equity accounting basis. And so, of course, now we consolidated and then deduct the partner’s 40% minority interest. The other piece which is causing some distortion of our history would be the Algerian Enica Biskra impact, where we own 70%. So, I would say you’re better to use sort of the current quarter as the trend. That’s why you’re getting some distortion, I think, when you try to do it over time.

Nat Kellogg

Okay, that’s helpful. And then, if I look at shareholders’ equity, it looks like you guys had a big drop in the other comprehensive income. Was that certainly due to currency, or was there something else in there?

Brian Robinson

It would mainly be due to currency.

Nat Kellogg

Okay

Brian Robinson

But you get both the translation impact. There’s also you know again, not to get too deeply into the accounting, but some of the forward pricing that we have on some of our metals, to the extent there’s a mark to market, it’s all in the balance sheet. It would be in there as well.

Nat Kellogg

Okay right that’s helpful. And then just last thing on sort of the currency and the copper. Obviously I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but obviously we saw part of this sort of move in the end of September and then, obviously, in the beginning of October. But if you guys on the LIFO side of things, I guess, as we move into 2009, even if you are continuing to keep inventories pretty tight as you move into the first couple quarters of ‘09, you’ve got that sequential build in inventory just because of seasonality. And so as a result of that, we’ll probably see some effects here in the fourth quarter but be much less likely to see much of an effect in the first two quarters of next year because, obviously, in that sense you’re in an inventory-building position, and so you’re less likely to be drawing against, I guess, sort of a lower comp or an inventory, from an accounting perspective. I mean, is that a good way to look at it?

Brian Robinson

I would I guess, broadly, what I would expect is with the rundown in metal prices is a strong fourth quarter. And then you’re right, I think over the last couple years as we’ve built inventory in the first six months again, broadly generalizing our historical pattern utilize at the working capital need is very different at $3 copper than it is at $3.and 0.50 copper.

Nat Kellogg

Okay, that’s fair enough. And then, I guess just lastly if you guys could maybe talk a little bit about, give us a little color on what guys are historically thinking internally about how you balance share buyback versus acquisitions out there? I know you said you want to grow through the acquisitions and that market I would assume is more enticing for that today then it was six months ago, but obviously, buyback would seem to me a relatively good use of capital at these prices. Just wanted to if you could talk in terms of how you’re thinking and maybe what you’re seeing on the acquisition front?

Greg Kenny

Yeah, I think first on the opportunity side, I think we have a very good operating model and with the way we have an operating committee that is basically causes best practices among of our 46 plants and 14,000 people to be shared quickly whether its around purchasing or selling or material science. So, we really do come at the world as one company, its in our logo and we generally learn a lot when we acquire company but we often can bring a great set of tools and exposure to somebody’s companies that operate by themselves or just with one or two plants. And the other thing we’re able to do because of the Phelps Dodge acquisition is actually in places where it’s hard to get raw materials say, copper rod. We actually had to run these mini-mills or aluminum rod in these places. So, we will continue to build out in the developing world because we think, broadly, as you can see in the data, the US has been there are cycles in the US, and there’s a rebuild cycle going on. But broadly, as the developed world de industrializes and matures, the copper demand is different than what’s happening elsewhere. So, we will continue to go into difficult places to operate, with large populations or large amounts of natural resources, both of which, over time, either need shelter and infrastructure or the ability to go get these resources. And, we really have a very good view into these markets, and those are oftentimes a green field or a brown field or possibly an acquisition. Phelps Dodge, as I said, was one of the great global companies in the developing world there were very few. So I don’t see another Phelps Dodge per se out there, though the wire and cable industry remains relatively unconsolidated globally. The buyback at $100 million I think is something that we can manage and do both, but we’re looking at all the internal rate of return matters. We’re looking at all the alternatives. We love an investment in a. company we know, which is General Cable, and obviously has been pounded, as many of our peers have, and we will continue to weigh those two. But I think, broadly, we can do both, and we are pushing as you know, we push with copper down. And, again, we don’t want to say that it’s going to stay down, but copper at $2 a pound does push versus $3 a pound, does push a couple hundred million of cash out of the Company in addition to the free cash flow from the Company that you saw, for example, in the third quarter, and our availability around the world, and many heavy assets so I think we can do both. We’ll keep looking at the IRRs. We’ll be opportunity-driven. We walked away from a number of deals that could’ve been done over the last couple of years that we may not have liked in the fullness of time. I like very much what we have done with the Company, so I feel very good about it. And while you hope things never trend down, to me this is a great opportunity both internally and externally to set the table for the next move up. As you track history in this industry and most, there are cycles, and obviously, some countries run a slightly different cycle. But, broadly, we have a great operating model, a great capital structure, and great people, and I’ll bet on them all day long. And it’s an opportunity-rich environment, and we have a number of players who will naturally be on the defensive. Either they over expanded, didn’t have the right capital structure, don’t have the operating systems, and that creates opportunity.

Nat Kellogg

Okay, thanks very much. Well, good luck on the fourth quarter, and I appreciate you taking the questions. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from Keith Johnson of Morgan Keegan.

Keith Johnson

Good morning. Just a couple of quick questions. The first, what is your, I guess, copper price assumption in your fourth quarter guidance?.

Brian Robinson

Broadly, copper has jumped all over the place, but call it about $2 a pound.

Keith Johnson

Okay. And then, I guess kind of more a global question. When I think about infrastructure projects, they’re generally longer term, I guess, construction projects. Have you guys begun to see any large projects come off the board or cancellations due to the credit issues? And then, how quickly if credit does continue to fall over the next couple quarters and open back up, how quickly can projects that may have been cancelled come back on-line, at least in the planning and construction stage process?

Greg Kenny

Well, as a company, we’re doing everything from remodeling. That may be an office that want to put a security system in, to cables for a movie soundstage, to someone doing a DIY project over the weekend and buying that cable from Lowe’s or Home Depot or Carrefour in France. And we have product cables that are tied to OEM applications, to the after-market for other types of DIY around things. And then you start walking into cables that actually go into the building or length of building to the grid. And so I would continue to watch what Anixters and the Wesgos say about their business. We also watch the Fleurs and Chicago Bridge & Iron and others as to what are they saying about their backlog. We only have a front-end position on a major project, if you will -- and using that word loosely -- where we actually are -- the sort of prime contractor would be on a fairly narrow segment of ultra-wind and oil and gas drilling, which would be the under-sea cables, some telecom under-sea cables, as well as some of the big, extra-high-voltage turnkey projects.

And all in all, that’s maybe, I don’t know, call it a $0.5 billion business, and as I said, that backlog seems to be holding, and we haven’t broadly seen -- I’m sure there has been some, but I’m unaware of any major projects that were moved. But I do watch -- as I said earlier, because we serve a lot of customers, as you know, through distribution, which is maybe 40% of our business. And then utilities would be another 40% or something like that. I’m watching everything from utility, what they’re saying in their earnings, to what’s showing up around industrial spending in terms of capital budgets. And then lastly, you get into what countries are saying about their spending or willingness to prime. So, I would say every day’s Financial Times provides a paper like that, ‘cause it tours the world and, again, to remind our investors that the US is only 30% of the Company approximately. So we’ve got to pay a lot of attention to 100 countries at this point. But some of the very long-cycle projects with four- and five-year kinds of horizons that have been funded, and then others were the kind of projects where people -- because liquidity is cheap, there’s a rush to join in. So those will clearly get knocked out, but a lot of the projects that we’re involved in enable society and industrial growth -- for example, power in South Africa. Without reliable power and enough of it, you’ve got political problems and economic problems very quickly. And in a lot of the markets we operate in, that is critical, and then the overlay, European initiatives and US initiatives that -- what was mentioned earlier around energy independence or green.

So, I feel really good about our mix, and we’ll have some long-cycle things that we’ll continue to benefit by. There may be more or less of them, but there are projects that are multiyear, and then there’ll be new projects that might not be started. And then there’s big chunks of ongoing MRO kinds of business where the cable goes everywhere. Again, we provide communications and electricity, both of which are huge issues for societies, relative to growth and welfare. So we’re watching all of that. I think you can go on the website of some of the big engineering and construction companies and actually see their backlog posted, and then that is obviously impacts big chunks of our business as you go through the Fleurs, Bechtels, Foster Wheelers, etcetera, and each of them has different expertise. We watch ABB and what they’re saying, and obviously big distributor partners like Rexel, Anixter, publicly traded, and Wesgo all give some clues.

Keith Johnson

That’s helpful. I appreciate that. I was just trying to get a gauge of whether or not you had seen or were beginning to hear a substantial shift and kind of customer outlooks, engineering firm outlooks that would suggest a lot of these backlogs are going to drop significantly as we go into 2009?

Greg Kenny

We’re not hearing it. Again, we wouldn’t be in the front end of that decision-making because, again, cable for most of these projects is 1% to 5% of the project, perhaps, and wouldn’t be viewed as a critical item as, say, maybe getting a turbine or certain things that would be sort of the capstone of a project. So, I think we’re probably not the best gauge of that, but we haven’t heard anything major. But we’d be probably behind most, because we may have a channel partner who’s talking to the project manager or working on a project, so sometimes we’re side by side with that channel partner. Sometimes it’s a direct sale. But, broadly, we’re not hearing a lot, but I wouldn’t precisely rely on that.

Keith Johnson

Okay, thanks appreciated.

Greg Kenny

Operator we have time for probably one more question.

Operator

Your next question comes from Michael Coleman of Sterne Agee.

Michael Coleman

Hi, good morning Greg.

Greg Kenny

Hi good morning

Michael Coleman

Call’s gone very long, but just -- General Cable’s been very astute, savvy acquirer over the last couple of years. You know, the speed with which you actually buy back your own stock here is probably the best or the most credible signal as to your long-term confidence in your business. And you mentioned that it’d be over the next year in the press release. Two things. One, given the current levels, are you prepared to move faster, or is this more of planned, drawn out of the next four quarters?

Greg Kenny

I think we won’t give guidance on when and how we’ll do the buyback. We continue to measure it by the rate of return on that versus alternative uses of the cash, and we have the ability, obviously, to do both. We report the buyback each quarter to the extent it’s used, and as I said, we’re seeing a fine opportunity around the world. We have the ability to fund that, and I think these are always great tests of a company. When things are tough, you test your people, your operating systems, and your courage. And I still feel very good about the long-term fundamentals of what we do and how well we do it, and we’re in 100 countries, so we’re seeing things. We’re seeing value that others maybe don’t see or don’t have the ability to undertake, as I said earlier. So we’ll keep an eye on that, but we’ll report quarterly and let you know.

Michael Coleman

Just a quick follow-up. You did talk about $130 million in free cash this quarter; a portion of that’s coming from shrinking working capital. You probably have a $200 million or $300 million benefit from shrinking working capital and moderating CapEx in the out year. Why not a $200 million or $300 million buyback?

Brian Robinson

Yes, I would say -- Michael, again, I would emphasize that the buyback is, again, one part of what we’d like to do, from a flexibility standpoint. I think from a size perspective, the thing we have to be respective of is our debt covenants. And there’s actually a limit in one of our facilities, which is why the number’s -- broadly, that’s a large influence as to why the numbers are 100.

Michael Coleman

Okay, thanks.

Brian Robinson

You’re welcome.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen we have reached the allotted time for questions and answers. Mr. Michael Dickerson, are there any concluding remarks?

Mike Dickerson – Vice President of Finance, Investor Relations

No, we just want to thank everybody for joining us this morning. We will be available during the day to take some follow-up calls if needed. That concludes our conference call for today. A replay will be available on our website later today. Thanks for your continued interest in General Cable.

Operator

This concludes today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.

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Source: General Cable Corporation Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript
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