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AEP Industries, Inc. (NASDAQ:AEPI)

F4Q08 Earnings Call

January 15, 2008 10:00 am ET

Executives

Nick Lamplough – Investor Relations

J. Brendan Barba - Chairman, President, Chief Executive Officer

Paul M. Feeney - Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President - Finance, Director

Analysts

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

Operator

Welcome everyone to the AEP Industries Inc. fiscal year 2008 results conference call and web cast. (Operator Instructions) I will now turn the call over to Nick Lamplough. Please go ahead, Sir.

Nick Lamplough

Before we get started I would like to remark briefly about forward-looking statements. Except for historical information mentioned during the conference call, statements made by the management of AEP Industries are forward-looking statements that are made pursuant to the Safe Harbor Provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties which may cause the company’s actual results in future periods to differ materially from forecasted results.

Those risks include but are not limited to risks associated with pricing, volume and conditions of the markets. Those and other risks are described in the company’s filings with the SEC over the last 12 months, copies of which are available from the SEC or may be obtained from the company.

Today’s format will be as follows: Brendan Barba, Chairman, President and CEO will discuss operations and then Paul Feeney, Executive Vice President of Finance and CFO will discuss the financial results. After the prepared remarks Brendan and Paul will be available for questions.

So without further delay, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Barba.

Brendan Barba

Thank you. Good morning everyone. Welcome to our fourth quarter and year-end conference call. I am sure everyone has had a chance to review our financial release and obviously our results were disappointing. I’d like to offer you a little explanation as to what took place for the poor results.

Our fourth quarter volumes were off 7% or a staggering 12 million pounds. My only comment on that is there was just no business out there. We were very, very careful regarding loss of market share. Customers just were not ordering. We also suffered significant resin increases where we had to absorb margins. Of course on margins, at least temporarily, the pass along those increases came one after the other and that always creates an issue for the company and everybody in the film industry.

We are in a severe recession and core volumes put additional pressure on margins. We are all fighting for less business out there and it certainly has an effect on margin. For the year our overall volume was down 2/10%. We consider that to be a major accomplishment in a year when that just isn’t happening across our industry. We are actually pleased with that overall number.

I’d like to discuss resin volatility a little bit. It is pretty much tied to oil and natural gas and you can see how volatile those markets are. Resin prices since September have come down $0.40 a pound which is unheard of in our industry. I have never seen that in 40 years plus in the business. In November/December about $0.30 of the $0.40 were taken out by the resin suppliers. When we talk about volatility it is there. January 1 the resin suppliers have announced a $0.07 increase and it is in place and it is our belief this increase will hold. It is a cost push issue.

I will call it a survival issue because the industry is in very, very bad shape. Foothills, a small supplier of polyethylene resins is completely out of business over the last 3-4 months. They have shut the doors. Lyondell Basell, a huge supplier probably number three supplier in the United States has declared Chapter 11. That will give you an indication of how bad things are on the resin side. We believe that plus the supplier resolve to shut down capacity and put sales and supply/demand more back into balance leads us to one conclusion we are going to be paying $0.07 more as we are effective right now for our polyethylene resins.

They have also announced a second increase on 02/01 which is a $0.05 increase and it is just too early for us to have even any kind of an opinion on that increase.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the capacity increases we put in place in 2009. We increased capacity in our Coax business in two locations. We put a three layer Coax line in our Mountaintop, Pennsylvania plant. That start in production around November and we are in the process of installing another 3X, 3 layer Coax line in our California plant and that should be done towards the end and up and running towards the end of the first quarter of 2009.

We are also in the process of installing a specialty films line, not to be confused with the commodity side of the business, these are high margin specialty films that will run on this line that will go into our North Carolina plant and that should be done end of the first quarter also, maybe into the beginning of the second quarter. We have no new capacity or CapEx expenditures for new equipment planned in 2009. We intend to just ride through this difficult 2009 and we expect it to be a very difficult 2009.

We also realize in 2008 we over-spent what we would say is an $18-20 million budget, I think it was as much as $28 million more than we anticipated but we did this for some opportunities and we think long-term that will present great improvements to our businesses especially since most of those businesses were investing in value added films. Our specialty films value added businesses received about $5 million of those dollars.

We also look at it to balance it out over 2009. The two years combined should come out to some numbers similar to what we normally average.

I’d like to give you an update on the Atlantis acquisition. We would say the consolidation is going very, very well. We are not behind on any of the projects. The stretch business had three plants; one in Tulsa, Oklahoma running fine; Nicholasville, Kentucky is running fine. The Fontana, California plant we discontinued manufacturing operations in that plant.

The other major challenge we have is to consolidate our products and I would say we are about 80% through the product consolidations. We expect those to be complete by the second quarter and roll out products for the customers.

In our performance films division which is their Coax division our product consolidation is over 90% complete. As I alluded to before we added two lines for this division; two Coax jumbo lines. One in Pennsylvania and one in California. You could argue our timing there was horrible and we won’t disagree with that but long-term we still believe those investments were the right thing to do. Of course it is going to be a challenge to sell out a significant portion of those lines in 2009.

Both groups are working diligently to reduce costs. We have accelerated cost reductions based on the poor economy. We discuss everything every week and get an update from each of the managers in the two separate divisions and we are achieving synergies ahead of schedule.

In closing I would just say it is clear our challenge in 2009 is going to be increasing volume and maintaining margins in what we would consider to be a deep, deep recession.

That concludes my portion of the program. I will turn it over to Paul Feeney.

Paul Feeney

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I do have some legal issues I would like to touch base on before I go into my presentation. The first, of course, is that we will not be filing our 10K until the 26th. The reason for that is we have just received on Friday the final valuation data on the Atlantis acquisition and it is currently being reviewed by ourselves and our auditors. Consequently, there are still some balance sheet entries that still have to be made and analyzed. These do not affect our P&L and our P&L of course is the subject of these conference calls.

We do not expect, needless to say, this extends our audit period another 16 days. Consequently, having things come in over the next 16 days could affect our P&L but we do not believe that will be the fact.

That is where we stand. You will be getting your balance sheet information and the full 10K on the 26th. When you get that balance sheet information on the 10K it will not include the purchase accounting entries that we would like to have made. We do not expect to make those entries until the second quarter. We are proceeding in our restructuring as Brendan mentioned. We have shut down manufacturing operations in Fontana and we do have a plan approved by our board in which to proceed.

However, we have not fully evaluated that plan and we do not want to have any reversals in our numbers. So when we book it we want those bookings to be pretty firm. Therefore our purchase accounting entries will not be made until the second quarter. We all know we have a full year to make those entries. As I indicated, those entries will be made in the second quarter.

Also, I do know that a lot of the analysts and investors participating in this call would like balance sheet information. We will give that freely but understand it is all at the present time tentative and for discussion purposes only. When we talk about balance sheet information I am not talking about audited numbers. Needless to say, also I will not be speaking about any balance sheet numbers that are exposed to the purchase accounting entries. So we will not be doing that.

That all being said, I would like to give you a little bit more detailed information of what actually happened in the fourth quarter. We all know that the numbers really look pretty good but really what I would say is there has been a decline in volume by approximately 12.3 million pounds in the quarter compared to the same quarter the prior year.

Even though sales dollars are up, gross profit per pound on a book basis is $0.18 compared to $0.19 in the prior year. Real cash flow really comes from LIFO and we are really looking at $0.04 per pound on a LIFO basis.

Most of the income you see coming in the fourth quarter is really the result of a reduction in our LIFO gross reserve which was $12 million with a slight increase because of the Atlantis acquisition of $3 million net reduction in the LIFO reserve of $9 million.

Now, the way that all plays out is it comes into income. We ended up the year with a LIFO reserve of $13.5 million. We are comfortable with that. We like LIFO reserves as it creates cash. The liquidation of LIFO reserves did create book income. I hope we are all clear on that.

The disappointing quarter is primarily the result of a decline in sales volume and an even greater decline in production volume. There was a decline in organic inventory during the period. We did that because we saw resin prices coming down and a fall off in volume and we wanted to of course match production with demand.

As we move to the year-end, there are a couple of things I would like to talk about. The first of course is the $40 million decline in gross profit. That was primarily a result of the craziness that happened in the resin markets. It is happening in all producers. It hit us for $40 million and these are resin price increases we were not able to recover in the marketplace because of the rapidity of those resin price increases.

There was also a very, very sudden decline in resin prices beginning in the month of October and quite frankly we weren’t even to…our competitors and to some extent ourselves actually got out in front of those declines and it just killed everybody.

The long and short of that is gross profit is down $40 million because of excess resin consumption. However, our operations at the present time are in line. If you look at it on a gross profit per pound basis in 2007 our gross profit per pound for the year was $0.21, again on LIFO. In 2008 it is $0.15 per pound. The difference is $0.06 per pound times 659 million pounds which is $40 million. That is kind of where we are.

That is all the bad news. The good news is one of the things we have always told our investors is the amount of flexibility and financial flexibility we have with the balance sheet. Let me just give you some numbers. I know you don’t have the 2008 balance sheet but these are things you can kind of take a look at.

Net current assets in 2007 was $101 million. We sold $23 million of assets in the Holland sale, leaving us with a net current asset number of $78 million. Then we purchased $56 million of assets from Atlantis. That should have given us net current assets of $134 million. Well, actually the number on the books is $94 million. That gave us $40 million of liquidity coming out of our balance sheet.

When you look at our free cash flow as a company, you already have in front of you adjusted EBITDA for the year $37.2 million. Less interest expenses $21 million. CapEx puts you in the deficit of $6.5 million but if you add the working capital back to that, the reduction in working capital you will see we actually increased cash flow $34 million.

Another nice thing that happened during the year and we didn’t realize it was a nice thing at the time. We were quite disappointed with the price we got for Holland. In retrospect we were very, very correct in going forward with that transaction. Foreign exchange was right. We got ourselves out of a company that wasn’t giving us any synergies and we weren’t giving them any synergies. It went to a buyer who had synergies and so we think we did the best thing for ourselves and in retrospect we actually think we did the best thing for the company we sold and for the buyer.

That has worked out very nicely. The final thing we are a little bit pleased with is that we put a lot of effort and money into filing our tax returns and all that. We ended up taking some deductions on our tax return that really didn’t get to the SEC criteria of or benchmark of more likely than not but we were very comfortable these were really valid deductions. We survived to the tune of $7 million of deductions.

That is a tax credit. The NOL associated with that is about $20 million. We are very happy about that. Unfortunately we are not going to benefit from that instantly but we will benefit probably we will become a tax payer in 2010. That is when we will get the financial benefit of that.

Brendan talked a little bit about CapEx. We did accelerate some projects that were going on and we did have some cost over-runs associated with higher prices than anticipated we were paying for basic commodities such as steel and things like that.

Coming out of the year the only amount of money we had unspent on approved projects was about $6.5 million and as Brendan said we are not going to be spending a lot of money in 2009. We will be spending money on some computer systems. Somewhere in the area of $2.5 million.

We are rationalizing capacity at this time. We are not adding capacity. I would be amazed if CapEx in the coming year exceeds $15 million but we will keep you advised. This is something we report on all the time.

Where are we now? I know that a lot of people are very, very interested in that. What I would like to tell you is our borrowing base, we have been taking money. We have been reducing inventories. Inventories are really the big item. Our borrowing base has declined to about $125-130 million. We are not upset with that. Current outstandings are $46 million on the revolving line of credit. Total debt is $224 million. This is very, very close to what I had indicated to you where we would be as a result of the current liability build that would happen on the Atlantis balance sheet.

That is pretty much where we are right now. If I were to talk to about availability, our borrowing availability right now is about $75 million. We still have the $35 million in discounting we always have. We also have money coming back from the…let me call it a true up of working capital. The minimum number is like $1.5 million coming back but we are still arguing about almost $1 million. That is kind of where we stand on that.

Finally, we did send out our 8K yesterday. I’m sorry, the day before yesterday, on the Atlantis acquisition. You have seen all of the numbers. One of the things you are going to want to talk about is synergies. What I will tell you is just take a look at the numbers that are on Atlantis. Understand that we expect that we will increase our corporate G&A on a run rate basis of about $1.8 million to absorb Atlantis. With the amount of corporate G&A allocated in this 8K filing for 2007 was $7 million. So clearly you have a synergy there of $5 million. The period of 2008 there was somewhere in the area of $10 million allocated by Atlantis and approved by their accountants. So really that gives you an idea of one big synergy.

One other thing I will tell you is Fontana ran at a loss, I’m going to say an EBITDA loss, somewhere in the area of $2.9 million. We are going to have that cleared up pretty quickly. There are other synergies. We are not going to get involved in a great detail or explanation of synergies at this stage but at a future stage we will be talking about that.

I put together a little speech here and I went off my train of thought.

As we look out into the future our efforts in 2009 are going to be focused exclusively on paying down debt. That is where we are now and that is what we are doing. I should also tell you that some of the holders of our senior debt have offered that debt for us on a buyback basis. We did not have approval to do that. We discussed it at the board level on Monday. The board did not give us approval to do that but they said come back to them with a deal if it really looks good.

However, don’t come back to them within the next 2-3 months. So this is something we will consider in the future. We are not considering it now. We want to get real comfortable with our financing and the economy before we do anything like that.

Finally, CapEx guidance is as I just mentioned somewhere in the area of $15 million.

That said, I am going to throw this conference call out to questions. Go ahead and ask away.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) The first question comes from the line of Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

How would you characterize your volumes for the quarter in December? Is there anything you can tell us about the volumes and perhaps even product spreads during the quarter?

Brendan Barba

Basically, Paul will comment on the spreads. I can just tell you that there was virtually nothing going on in the month of December. We shut down, as I believe our entire industry did, our plants almost completely which is unheard of during that period of time. Instead of shutting for three days for Christmas and three days for New Years we shut down from Christmas through New Years. December was, as expected, not good. There was a substantial drop in resin in December. I think the buyers were counting on more happening in January. That has changed. I think the message is out that resin prices are going up. Typically customers don’t want inventory in December for their year end. So there is a recession. There were three things working against us there. We believe there is pent up demand and we believe some of the customers who have divested inventories now see prices are going to go up so they will be buying back at least at a normal rate and we have seen an improvement in orders and backlogs for the month of January already.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

Should we be not surprised if we see a number that is just something around the order of 25% down sequentially or 125 million pounds for the quarter end December? Is that what I’m hearing?

Brendan Barba

No. I think it is premature to make that. We don’t have a quarter end in December.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

I meant January.

Paul Feeney

Talking about quarters, we are in the middle of January. Our quarter ends January 31. We are not forecasting. We are not giving guidance. Aside from the CapEx numbers I am not giving volume guidance or EBITDA guidance for 2009. I hope to be able to do it later in the year but at this stage I am not.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

In terms of the balance sheet balances you gave, the $224 of debt was that of right now or the end of October?

Paul Feeney

No, the number at the end of October was about $248. The $224 or $225 I gave you as of right now is as of this minute.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

You had current outstandings on your line of credit. You said that was $46 now?

Paul Feeney

$46 million is our outstanding under the line. But our availability under the line is only $75 million.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

Because of the borrowing base reduction.

Paul Feeney

Reduction in borrowing base, yes.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

What was the outstanding and availability as of October 31?

Paul Feeney

$70 million.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

$70 million outstanding on the line?

Paul Feeney

Yes. I think when we talked about how we financed Atlantis we talked about that $70 million. The reduction is pretty much the reduction we had indicated was going to happen.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

In terms of the AP Film synergies you have actually given us a piece of the puzzle talking about corporate allocations, taking out and what you are going to put back in. Is there any overall marker now that you have gotten into this, albeit a little bit, in terms of where you…I think on the last call you were talking $18-20 million overall. Is there any updated number you might want to throw out there at this point?

Paul Feeney

Actually this is what I did when I said the $18-20 million in synergies. Four or five months ago you put out an analysis of that and said there probably is about $18-20 million of synergies in Atlantis and I was just confirming your numbers. I think there is going to be pretty good synergies in this but there are a lot of moving parts. When we lock into some numbers I want to make sure those numbers are really very, very solid. I am giving you the real solid numbers on the corporate G&A but needless to say many of the businesses that Atlantis was in are the same businesses we are in. Clearly there are synergies and opportunities and there are really collapsing SKU’s, more efficient shipping locations and those kinds of things are all there for us. To quantify that and give a number now is not something we are going to do. We are not even in a position yet of giving out rock solid numbers on our purchase accounting entries.

Roger Smith – Merrill Lynch

I think you mentioned earlier in the call or you indicated you are roughly maintaining market share through this turbulent period. Did I hear that correctly?

Brendan Barba

What I am telling you is there was no major loss of any customers. We tried to stay competitive wherever we went to. It is not a time to lose volume right now. In our business we think of it as a survival time for the weaker companies in the business. I think it is going to be a very, very tough environment for them.

Operator

The next question comes from Bill Erman - Santana Investments.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

You made a comment about the resin trends and a resin increase. With natural gas hitting a new low, multi-year, the same as oil and with industry volumes being down is this just them and everyone else trying to stabilize it? I used skip financing and as we both know companies in this position operate for cash so they are not going to be cutting back. Do you really think there is any economic justification for raising the poly prices at this time?

Brendan Barba

Yes I do. I think they are losing money. That is their justification. When they start shutting down capacity and balancing things that is very, very expensive for them to do. They have less competition with Foothills being shut down. I think they are going to be getting this increase.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

Their volumes though are down more than your volumes. The industry volumes are down more than yours.

Brendan Barba

That is correct.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

So you really feel at this time with the economy at this time they can get this in?

Brendan Barba

I could tell you they are all very, very serious about it.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

It serves everyone’s purpose. It serves your purpose too. It will stabilize the market.

Brendan Barba

Our forecast is it is holding and we have already made our announcements in film across the board.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

How much of the volume decline in the fourth quarter do you think was an inventory adjustment?

Brendan Barba

I can’t give you that number. We had discussions about that 100 times and the only feedback I could get was stocking distributors didn’t want any inventory because they just didn’t want it. Prices were coming down. Why would they want inventory? How much is reduced from that versus the recession? I can’t give you that. It is too complicated a formula.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

If you look at your end market being so much consumer related, soft drink, beer, their volumes are not down nearly what your volumes are down.

Brendan Barba

That is only one portion of the market. We are also in the mattress industry, the furniture industry and those volumes are off dramatically.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

Your price increases you are getting in. Will those, in your opinion, restore any of your price profit per pound?

Brendan Barba

We have to get them but we think we will. Yes.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

How about industry shut down? Your industry shut down. Will it finally happen this time?

Brendan Barba

What do you mean shut downs?

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

Competition going out of business.

Brendan Barba

We believe there will be more bankruptcies this year in 2009.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

There were some big ones on the brink last year that survived. I can’t see how they make it through.

Brendan Barba

That is our thinking also.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

Did you give a number for depreciation what you think it could be for the year?

Paul Feeney

I am looking at a core for AP to be in the area of $14 million. But understand something, I don’t want to give you the total number which would include Atlantis and I’ll tell you why. There is negative goodwill associated with that transaction. Okay? It is north of $10 million. When the numbers finally come out on the 10K you will see it. When that negative goodwill is reallocated to the assets purchased there is going to be a decline in the book value of those assets. Therefore it will be a decline in the depreciation numbers. So I really don’t want to get into that now because we haven’t passed audit. Those are the subjects that we are kind of dealing with. I am expecting clearly there is going to be some depreciation coming from Atlantis and the total number is going to be north of $14 million but it is not going to be much.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

What about your cash interest costs for the year? What do you currently feel?

Paul Feeney

I’m looking somewhere in the area of $17 million. That assumes current interest rates. Okay? I think eventually the government is pouring money into the economy right now it seems anyway and eventually unless we get rapid inflation the only way they are going to stop that is by increasing interest rates. If you give me some latitude, current interest rate is $17-18 million. If the interest rates move interest expenses may go up.

Bill Erman - Santana Investments

The $1.8 million commercial settlement, was that a one-time thing?

Paul Feeney

That was a trade dispute we had with somebody and we decided we were going to split the difference that existed between the difference of the dispute between ourselves and a business partner.

Operator

The next question comes from Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

You took fairly significant down time. You talked about it. That would have been back in the late November/December period?

Brendan Barba

The shut down of equipment?

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

Yes.

Brendan Barba

No, that was from Christmas Eve through January 2.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

So as you entered this new year how were your inventories? Were they kind of where you need them to be or where you want them to be? How is the inventory situation looking now?

Brendan Barba

We weren’t too worried about that because I anticipate prices going up in January so I didn’t cut things to the bone in December.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

So your inventories and production are at a more normal level now?

Brendan Barba

Yes.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

Obviously demand is very weak, and I would agree I have talked to a lot of companies about pent up demand and things kind of shut down at the end of the year last year. I guess this resin price increase coupled with that should lead to a little bit of a bump on volume.

Brendan Barba

That’s how we see it.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

The Atlantis synergies just so I understand them, correct me if I’m wrong but whatever the number is those were all cost synergies correct? Or are there some revenue synergies?

Brendan Barba

There are revenue synergies. Let me call them opportunity synergies involved also.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

On the revenue side?

Brendan Barba

Yes.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

Would you agree with the general that on the dollar amount, the calculation he wrote about in his report you are confirming more of the cost synergies or are you thinking along the lines of cost and revenue?

Paul Feeney

When I confirmed I was thinking about the total synergies and I was thinking on a run rate basis. To be honest with you I try to be conservative on these and I was saying $20 million is a number I can go with. It might actually be north of that.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

Last time I was talking with you about clearly there are a lot of small players out there and they are struggling and then there is a very large player and they are struggling out there in the market place. What do your sales force say when you meet with these guys? Have there been any tangible opportunities yet where you have been able to convince a customer we are here to stay. We have the capacity and we are not going anywhere. It seems to me there is a real opportunity. I know it is more difficult to make that actually happen but what is specifically happening in that area?

Brendan Barba

Think of it, if they are big they just get bought up by somebody if they can’t make it. It never really goes away. If they are small they could go away. That may be. That would present some opportunities. We haven’t seen anything major.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

On the bonds, your bonds are trading significantly under par like a lot of companies. The discussions you had with some of the debt holders obviously you wouldn’t buy those bonds back unless they were at market price or close to market price. Is that accurate?

Paul Feeney

If we were to buy back we would buy them at whatever person is talking about we would evaluate his deal but we would expect him to be talking about a discount.

Dan Kashaba – TSA Capital

I would think the discount is pretty close to market, correct?

Paul Feeney

Pretty close to market yes.

Operator

At this time there are no further questions. Mr. Feeney, Mr. Barba do you have any final remarks?

Brendan Barba

Just to thank everyone and wish everybody a Happy New Year and prosperous New Year.

Operator

Thank you. This does conclude our conference call. You may now disconnect.

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Source: AEP Industries, Inc. F4Q08 (Qtr End 10/31/08) Earnings Call Transcript
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