Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation (NOR) Q4 2012 Earnings Call February 20, 2013 10:00 AM ET
Gail Lehman – General Counsel
Kip Smith – President and CEO
Bob Mahoney – CFO
Brett Levy – Jefferies
Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Richard Garchitorena – CS
Welcome to Noranda Aluminum Holding Corporation’s Fourth Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call. Hosting the call today from Noranda Aluminum is Kip Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer. He is joined by Robert Mahoney, Chief Financial Officer; and Gail Lehman, General Counsel. Today’s call is being recorded and will be available for replay beginning two hours after the completion of the call.
It is now my pleasure to turn the call over to Gail Lehman.
Thank you, operator. Good morning, and welcome to today’s conference call. Before we get started, I want to remind listeners that some of our comments during this call constitute forward-looking statements related to future events and expectations. Actual results may differ materially from any of our forward-looking statements.
In our earnings release and in our most recent SEC filings, you can find important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements. Except as required by applicable securities laws, we undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement.
During the call, we will be using certain non-GAAP financial measures. We have provided a reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to the comparable GAAP measures in our press release, which is available on the Investor Relations page of our website at www.norandaaluminum.com. We will take questions today after the discussion of our results.
Now, I will turn the call over to our President and CEO, Kip Smith.
Thank you, Gail, and welcome to those joining our fourth quarter 2012 earnings conference call. We appreciate this opportunity to discuss with you our fourth quarter 2012 results, as well as our expectation for key 2013 operating metrics.
Let’s start our call today with the income statement highlights on slide three of this morning’s conference call materials. On a GAAP basis, we reported income of $0.06 per diluted share. This compares to $0.05 per diluted share in third quarter 2012 and $0.36 per diluted share on fourth quarter 2011.
Excluding special items, we reported a loss of $0.12 per share. This compares to a $0.16 per share loss in third quarter 2012 and a $0.01 per share profit in fourth quarter 2011. Total segment profit was $31 million in the quarter. This compares to a $10 million segment profit in third quarter 2012 and $31 million of total segment profit in fourth quarter 2011. Finally, cash from operating activities improved $29 million over third quarter 2012, the $33 million primarily driven by the increase in segment profit.
I’ll continue now by highlighting five themes that frame today’s call. First, we will highlight key fourth quarter activities that we believe position us well as we transition from 2012 to 2013. Second, we’ll provide an update on our CORE program. Third, we’ll outline expectations key 2013 performance metrics. Now, these expectations reflect modest volume improvement in the Primary Alumina and Flat-Rolled segment, increases achieved primarily through our productivity and reliability programs. Those expectations also reflect stable prices for key input costs except for natural gas, where prices appear to be trending higher than 2012 levels.
Fourth, we’re going to provide an update on our plans to make prudent capital investments that drive both growth and productivity. And last, we’ll recap our financial structure and the flexibility it affords us to support our sustainability and the reliability of our operations in the current LME environment.
With that framework in mind, let’s go to the first theme which is our key fourth quarter activities. These items represent integral parts of our strategy and they position us well for 2013. Turning to slide four, you can see in more detail about our shipment patterns across key product groups. This is our first key point from the fourth quarter, stable demand. As has been the case throughout 2012, we experienced stable healthy demand for our key value-added Primary and Flat-Rolled Aluminum products.
During fourth quarter 2012, New Madrid shipped approximately 145 million pounds of primary aluminum, including approximately 5 million pounds from timing-related delays in the third quarter. For the quarter, 80% of New Madrid shipments to third-party customers were in the form of a value-added product, and for the full year, that figure was 91%. In the flat-rolled segment, we shipped 87 million pounds in fourth quarter 2012. This volume was down 11 million pounds from the third quarter, but 10 million pounds higher than fourth quarter 2011 as the typical fourth quarter seasonality in that business was more moderate than in 2011.
Our second fourth quarter activity relates to the contract with our third party bauxite customer, which was set to expire at the end of December 2012. At the end of December, we signed an agreement to extend that long-term supply agreement by five years. We believe this new contract, which offers the potential for more volumes at competitive pricing will contribute to the economic sustainability of the bauxite business. Combined with the investments I’ll discuss later relating to improving port capacity and railing operations, this new commercial agreement will help address the issues that gave rise to the bauxite segment reporting of $4-million loss during the quarter.
We’re excited about the opportunity to continue our existing relationship with this key customer as the cornerstone for other opportunities that may arise in Jamaica, which I’ll discuss in a few more minutes.
The third activity is that the Missouri Public Service Commission issued its final ruling on New Madrid’s power rate case. As a result of that ruling, our base rate will increase 6.6% effective January 2013.
You will recall that Ameren’s request was a 14.6% increase in its annual revenue requirement. This represented the fourth consecutive rate case whereby working within the rate-making process and collaborating with other ratepayers, we saw a reduction in the system-wide revenue requirement.
For the final key fourth quarter achievement, you will recall that last quarter we discussed an issue at New Madrid involving the rate at which the reduction cells or pots were failing and were being taken out of production for relining.
I’m happy to report that by the end of December, we had our full complement of reduction cells up and running. We viewed that as one of our top company-wide priorities, and we believe it puts us in a good position to meet customer demand in 2013.
I’m really proud of our team in New Madrid because they came together for this important action and again, I’m very proud of their accomplishment.
We did, however, continue to experience production issues in the Alumina segment that caused that business to operate below our expectations for the quarter. To be clear about our third quarter comments about the impact of that business from Hurricane Isaac, we were able to return to full production late October.
Unfortunately, in November, we saw a recurrence of process flow issues that caused us to once again incur additional cost and lose production time.
We worked diligently since this post Hurricane Isaac disruption to bring our refinery back, and are pleased that we have returned to expected production rates currently in Gramercy. Make no mistake, we aren’t checking the box on production variability and reliability and then calling it done. We still have plenty of work to do to eliminate unplanned losses across the company and that is an important focus for 2013.
However, New Madrid’s accomplishment and the recovery and production flow in Gramercy are both a good start. The New Madrid and Gramercy discussions are a good segue into today’s second theme, which is our focus on reliability through the CORE program.
Slide five summarizes our CORE program and serves as a reminder of how broadly that program extends into the culture of our company. During 2012, approximately 53% of our work force took part in our CORE project, and 99% of the work force was touched by our CORE project in one form or another.
The CORE program generated $54 million of savings in 2012, including $30 million of savings into the P&L. While the cost out, that’s the CO portion of our CORE program, is an important performance tool, we’re also keenly focused on the reliability and effectiveness, that’s the RE part of our program in 2012. That focus will only increase in 2013.
Our company-wide drive to reliability-centered maintenance is our key process to support uninterrupted operations. By understanding and eliminating process variability, refining preventive maintenance cycles, and enhancing our planned downtime efficiency, our goal is to eliminate unplanned downtime. Just like safety, this is a lofty goal. And like safety, where we improved our performance by 30% in 2012, we believe it can be achieved.
Let’s move to the third of our five themes, our 2013 expectations for key performance metrics. Now Bob will discuss these expectations in more detail, but there are two points I want to comment on: the prices we earned from selling our products and the prices we pay for commodity input cost.
On the prices we earned from selling our products, we believe the fundamental demand is the primary driver of pricing, whether we’re talking about the LME price, the Midwest premium or product premium.
On slide six, we’ve charted the quarterly average LME price since 2007. Those averages have been on a downward trend since midway through 2011. However, we saw a slight rebound during the quarter in response to improving sentiments in the global economy. This has continued into the first quarter of the new year.
As a guiding principle, we do believe fundamental aluminum demand is the key driver of aluminum’s long-term sustainable price. Now, that’s not saying we won’t continue to have volatility. Only that we believe there’s more support for prices higher than today’s level than there is support for prices at lower levels for a sustained period of time.
For 2013, we are expecting improved primary value added in flat-rolled fabrication premiums. This strength reflects the positive demand fundamentals that are the base of our view on LME aluminum prices. We believe favorable demand trends also support attractive levels for the Midwest premium.
On input cost, let me just say we’re seeing stability in the prices of our key commodity input cost when compared to 2012, except for natural gas prices, which are trending higher than 2012. Bob will speak to the impact of those higher gas prices later.
Now, moving to the fourth of our five key themes, I would like to provide an update on our plans to make prudent capital investments that drive both growth and productivity. First, we’ve talked before about an $11 million project to improve our port facility at Port Rhodes in Discovery Bay, Jamaica. As we’ve studied the needs and opportunities of our bauxite operation, we’ve made the determination to expand our project to total investments of up to $20 million.
This expanded investment would not only – would include not only the previously announced work at the port, but it will also include spending to enhance the railing infrastructure between the mine and the port. When completed, we expect this port improvement to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of our bauxite shipping activity.
In addition to these benefits, we view this expansion as a cornerstone investment for Noranda in Jamaica, an investment that supports the foundation for growth and sustainability in Jamaica.
Moving to the second project, which we’ve also previously discussed, we are making a $45 million investment in a new state-of-the-art rod mill. We expect to spend approximately $10 million in 2013 on this project. As a reminder, assuming that we mothball the two existing rod mills, the new rod mill will initially increase our capacity for producing redraw rod from 160 million pounds to 220 million pounds. Obviously, if we decided to operate one or two of the existing mills, that capacity would increase accordingly.
We expect to see the full benefit of this increased rod mill production in 2015. We believe this product group will continue to grow driven by continued spending in infrastructure and technology and we are investing to be in a position to grow with it.
The third update is on the project to improve operating reliability and expand aluminum production capacity at our New Madrid smelter.
As a reminder, this project involves two parallel work streams. The first work stream achieves greater productivity and reliability through upgrades and redundancy of electrical equipment. These benefits are independent of any increase in production. We plan to invest about $8 million in each of 2013 and 2014 for this first work stream, focused on efficiency and reliability. We expect that portion of the project to be completed by the end of 2014.
The second work stream achieves capacity expansion. It builds on the first work stream in parallel, but also includes enhanced environmental testing, permitting and additional investments in environmental controls. We expect this second work stream to allow New Madrid to increase aluminum production by up to 35 million pounds. Depending on our permit compliance requirements, we would expect this second work stream to achieve full production run rate in mid 2015.
The common theme across these three projects is that they provide avenues for growth and increased productivity, our favorite type of project. We believe that they demonstrate a prudent investment strategy and reflect our commitment to take the actions today to provide the foundation for reliability and sustainability over the long-term.
In summary, we believe our fourth quarter actions along with the continuing stable demand that we see, our ongoing focus to improve the reliability of our operations, and the prospects for further modest improvements in both the U.S. economy and the LME price levels are encouraging for 2013 and beyond. We’re also making the investments today so that we can take advantage of that improvement.
With that summary of our operations, I’ll now turn the call over to Bob for a more detailed discussion of our financial results and additional color on our 2013 expectations for our key performance metrics. Bob will also cover our fifth theme, which is how our flexible financial structure supports our efforts to enhance the sustainability and reliability of our operations in the current LME environment. Bob?
Thank you, Kip, and good morning everybody. Moving to slide seven, you’ll see our trends of revenue, primary aluminum cash cost and segment profit on a trailing 12-month basis. From the point of view of profitability, you can see the compression we’ve experienced because of the year-over-year decline in price, higher input costs, which decreased more gradually than did the LME, and greater levels of production variability, especially in our third quarter of 2012.
Next, let’s move to the drivers of segment profit for the quarter. On slide eight, you see we generated $31 million of total segment profits in the fourth quarter. This consists of $27 million from our integrated upstream business, $10 million from our flat-rolled segment, less $7 million of corporate costs.
Turning to slide nine, these upstream results were the product of 145 million pounds of total primary aluminum shipments at a net margin of $0.19 per pound. The $0.19 is calculated as a difference between the $1.01 per pound we realized, inclusive of Midwest premium and our integrated primary aluminum net cash cost of $0.82 per pound.
Turning to slide 10, you see the bridge of net cash cost from $0.92 in the third quarter to $0.82 in the fourth quarter. Slightly higher LME prices had a $0.02 favorable impact on cash cost. As the prices of bauxite and alumina we sell to third parties are LME linked.
As you know, our third quarter cash cost bears the full impact of the peak power surcharges from Ameren, which rolled off in the fourth quarter. This had a $0.10 per pound favorable impact compared to third quarter levels.
And finally there was a $0.03 unfavorable impact in the quarter from the bauxite segment due primarily to increased operating costs and the impact of an unseasonably long rainy period. These factors were – compounded an already tight shipping schedule and congestion in our port. That puts us at an integrated primary aluminum cash cost of $0.82 per pound for the quarter and $0.81 for the entire year.
Now, let’s walk through how our $31 million of segment profit flows down to net income excluding special items. Please see slide 11 in the deck. We had a nearly $5 million charge this quarter for valuing our inventories on a LIFO basis. This is in comparison to a $10 million benefit in the third quarter.
Besides LIFO cost, other recurring non-cash costs were approximately $5 million in the quarter, similar to what the company’s experienced in the third quarter and previous quarters. These are items such as amortized pension cost, stock compensation and accretion for restoration expenses.
Depreciation and amortization expenses were $25 million while interest expense was $9 million in the fourth quarter. That brings us down to a pre-tax loss of $12 million. Our effective tax rate for 2012 was 33.5%.
So, let’s move to our fourth quarter cash and financial management results. Slide 12 bridges cash from the end of the third quarter to the end of the fourth quarter. Operating activities provided $33 million of cash flow during the quarter as working capital reductions brought in $25 million. In the quarter, we invested $28 million in property, plant and equipment primarily for sustaining projects. Our annual capital spending totaled nearly $88 million with $5 million of that being a carryover from 2011.
We ended the quarter with $36 million of cash. This ending cash position combined with $119 million of availability under our ABL facility gives us about $155 million of total liquidity. Our revolver continues undrawn.
So, now let’s look forward a bit to 2013. On page 13, you’ll see that we provided an outlook for the current year related to various metrics that we believe are important to the investment community. Note that we do not intend to update this each quarter. Also we do not attempt to forecast the LME. Therefore, we based any LME price-sensitive inputs on the forward curve as of December 31, 2012.
So with that, let me walk through a few of the key metrics. Regarding shipments, we are seeing stable demand as we enter the new year. In Primary, having now returned to a normal operating level of reduction sales at New Madrid, we’re expecting to be back at 2011 volume levels of about 580 million pounds for the year. The Flat-Rolled segment is, once again, looking to increase its volumes year-over-year through productivity and reliability programs as it seeks to keep pace with the demands of its customers.
The next item I want to highlight is our integrated net cash cost for the primary aluminum. The 2013 range provided of $0.79 to $0.83 is comparable to the actual levels we achieved in 2012. The $0.81 cash cost we reported for 2012 has the burden of a significant amount of cost associated with Hurricane Isaac in Gramercy, production variability across the upstream business in Q3 and to a lesser degree in Q4, in the year in which we saw the average LME price dropped $0.17 from 2011 levels.
Also, as we look ahead, while 2013 natural gas prices are trending at levels that are low relative to historical standards, they are noticeably higher than they were in 2012. We used about 18 million Mmbtus of natural gas in the year, a little over 14 million in Gramercy in our alumina refinery, with the rest split between the flat-rolled and primary units. So, natural gas prices at current levels will have a significant impact on us this year.
So, as we bridge from an actual integrated cash cost of $0.81 in 2012 to a range of $0.79 to $0.83 for 2013, a few pointers. First, remember that our integrated net cash cost has an inverse correlation to changes in the LME to the tune of approximately $0.03 of cash cost per $0.10 change in LME price. Using the forward curve of December 31, 2012, this provides a $0.01 to $0.02 reduction in net cash cost all else equal due to the value of our long position selling alumina with prices linked to the LME.
Our cash cost expectations also included the impact of the Ameren rate case Kip already discussed. And as indicated just a moment ago, with natural gas being a major energy source in Gramercy and gas prices being up from the lows of last year, we face headwinds in energy.
We are expecting a solid year of cost out activities for 2013. And we are expecting more reliable operations with more linearity and consistency in output. All of these efforts will be necessary in the face of higher energy costs, natural gas and power, as well as non-commodity inflation such as wages and salaries, and higher plant expenses and equipment and machinery maintenance to reach this level of reliability and consistency. Overall, therefore, we believe holding our integrated cash cost relatively constant with 2012 will be an achievement.
The last item I want to call out is related to our capital expenditures. On top of approximately $70 million to $78 million of sustaining CapEx, which is comparable to our 2012 spending levels, we expect to invest an additional $30 million to $37 million in incremental productivity and growth projects for 2013, the three projects Kip spoke about earlier, rectifier reliability in New Madrid, the launch of the new – of the rod mill and the dredging and railing projects in Jamaica.
Our capital structure, cash management and sources of liquidity are items we spend a lot of time thinking about and working on. The refinancing and extension of our Term B loan earlier this year, along with the addition of an asset-based revolver of up to $250 million, gives us more flexibility as we plan the future.
With or without the help of the LME and in 2012, it clearly was no help, we believe this capital structure gives us the ability to make investments to be sustainable, to add capacity and improve reliability. On its own, this addition of secured debt and associated borrowing base, provided adequate liquidity to the company. Our remaining floating rate notes totaled $275 million have very attractive coupon rates are covenant-light and are due in 2015.
I should also point out that in 2012, two significant milestones were reached. We settled the last of our legacy gas hedges, which cost us $37 million in 2012. And we also finished paying taxes due on legacy aluminum hedges, which cost us $30 million in 2012. Overall, this represents a legacy $67 million use of cash we no longer face.
Between our cash balances and available borrowings under the ABL, we have about $155 million of total liquidity at the end of December. We do have a more flexible capital structure as a result of the actions taken earlier this year. And we are now free from legacy obligations, which allow us to prudently explore and exploit opportunities in the year ahead. And with that, I’ll turn it back to Kip.
Thanks, Bob. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, once again for the chance to speak with you about Noranda. As we close, let me recap our five themes for today. First, we accomplished key fourth quarter activities that we believe position us well as we transition into 2013. We saw a quarter-over-quarter improvement in demand with a more modest seasonal fourth quarter impact, particularly in flat-rolled products.
We reached agreement with our key bauxite customer to extend our long-term supply agreement by five years with an improved pricing structure. The Ameren rate case was decided by the Public Service Commission in December with a 6.6% base rate increase effective January 2013. We returned the New Madrid and aluminum reduction cells to full operation by the end of December.
Second, our CORE program continues to contribute not only to our efforts to manage our cost profile but to improve the reliability and effectiveness of our operations. Third, our expectations for key 2013 performance metrics reflect modest volume improvement supported by stable customer demand and our productivity and reliability programs. Further, these expectations reflect stable prices for key input costs, except natural gas, which is trending higher for 2013.
Fourth, we are moving forward with prudent capital investments to drive both growth and productivity. We expect to invest up to $20 million in our bauxite business in 2013 to improve the productivity of our bauxite operation by expanding the port and improving railing infrastructure. We expect to invest $10 million in 2013 to start construction of our state-of-the-art rod mill. We expect to invest $8 million in 2013 to improve reliability and efficiency through an upgrade of New Madrid rectifiers. Fifth, our financial structure provides us with flexibility throughout the cycle.
Despite a challenging year in terms of market price, we continue to believe in the long-term fundamentals of aluminum especially given our strategic position as a U.S. producer. At the same time, we recognize that volatility has been and will continue to be a part of a commodity environment. We believe that we have the operating model and the flexible financial structure to withstand that volatility.
Although we experienced operating challenges in the second half of 2012, we are currently running at our expected operating levels in all businesses. We have the right strategy built on integrated globally competitive assets located in the U.S. and Jamaica. Combining these assets with the value-added products sold in the U.S., a passion for productivity and an increasing emphasis on reliability, we believe Noranda is well positioned to create value for Noranda’s shareholders across the commodity cycle.
That concludes our prepared remarks for today, operator. I’ll turn the call over for questions.
Thank you, Mr. Smith. We will now open the call to questions. The participants are asked to please limit themselves to one question and one follow-up question. (Operator Instructions)
Your first question comes from the line of Brett Levy with Jefferies. Please proceed.
Brett Levy – Jefferies
Hey, Kip. Hey, Bob.
Brett Levy – Jefferies
Yeah. It seems like Ameren is constantly pushing these prices up by sort of a above an inflation rate, sort of independent of energy costs. Is there any way of kind of either tying Ameren to either their input costs? Is it a coal-fired plant, I believe?
Brett, the – our contract is actually with Ameren and our cost-to-service model really is broader than just a single plant in terms of the way that’s worked out. But they are primarily coal. They’re over 80% coal in their system.
Brett Levy – Jefferies
And so is there any way of tying future increases to anything like either aluminum prices or their cost of raw materials or energy? It seems like they seem to ask for price increases that far exceed everything else.
Brett, first off, thanks so much for the question. This really goes back to the whole Public Service process where first off, we’re very big believers in the Missouri Public Service Commission process. Ameren within that process is only allowed to recover expenses that are both lawful – I guess, I shouldn’t say both, there’s three, lawful, reasonable and prudent.
And so, when Ameren does go in for these rate increases, they have to have expenses that qualify in that category and have to be able to demonstrate that to the Public Service Commission. Now, that being said you can see by our track record that there’s a lot of efforts that we have put forth and a lot of success that we have had over time at reducing the size of that ask.
As far as future power structures go and what we can or can’t do with Ameren, that would really fall into the category of kind of supplier sensitive information. But just understand this, we get the importance of power for us as a company. We believe the actions that we’ve taken, the strategy that we’ve had in place has worked, that our power, when you look at it globally is competitive. Our cost to manufacture aluminum when you look again in our integrated manufacturing cost is competitive. And so for us, we believe that – so we’re very committed to being in the process with the Public Service Commission to influence that cost just like all the rest of our costs.
Your next question comes from the line of Timna Tanners with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Please proceed.
Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Hi. Good morning, guys.
Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Just wanted to ask a little bit more about the bauxite segment to start with because, for one, I know we had – there was an extension – there was a waiver, sorry, from the Jamaican government to produce more and I think that rolls over, so wanted to get an update on that.
And then can you help us understand or quantify some of the improvements there? Just the segment took a big hit in 2012 and trying to think about how to model that into 2013.
I’ll start with the first part of that and then turn it over to Bob. And yes, you are correct. The temporary increase in our bauxite allotment did complete at the end of 2012. And so we are back to our allotment of 4.5 million tons. And so, that’s what’s transpired with that. And as far as the opportunities for improvement in that segment, I’ll turn that over to Bob to provide a little color on that.
(inaudible) regarding the turnaround of the fortunes of the fourth quarter, I mean, clearly the $4.1 million was not a happy situation, but we have spent most of fourth quarter learning what we can do about it. And we talked about a couple of things that will take some time to get this situation to improve but we’re pretty convinced that it will improve.
First and foremost, the efforts on renegotiating and extending the five-year contract that Kip talked about, will allow us to return a little bit of profitability through a little bit more of a balance in pricing between what the customer wants and what we want to charge. So, that is an important equation that is now behind us.
The investment in the port and the railing, which will take some time this year, will certainly give us more throughput, give us more capacity, will reduce cycle times, and in a lot of ways, time is cost. And to the extent that we can increase the velocity we will be able to cut back our costs that we did incur in the fourth quarter with congestion, with rain, and other things. So certainly, that is another avenue that we will be exploring and we’ll be gaining some traction across the next 12 months.
And I will say the third is simply because we have had our group of our management team spending time in the bauxite segment to understand their issues, we are applying really a full-court press in the reliability area to how their operation works. It is fairly complicated, spread over about 20 miles – 20, I’ll say, U.S. miles when you think about where the mines are versus where the port is. So, there are a lot of logistical bottlenecks, which we are in the process of identifying and then knocking down because there’s lots of areas that have the opportunity to either hold us up or to free us depending on how hard we can break through those bottlenecks.
So, I would suggest thinking about the bauxite from the point of view of the low being in the fourth quarter, and there will be a gradual improvement as both this contract kicks in, as our investments kick in, and as our de-bottlenecking also kicks in throughout the next 12 months and thereafter.
Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Okay, great. And if I could – I didn’t know if I get another question, but just trying to think about the timing of the New Madrid smelter ramp as well that you talked about for CapEx focus in the year?
Right. When you look at the – we really don’t have a whole lot more other than what we’ve included in the – is disclosed in our discussion, in the presentation that we just did. But these two work streams are running in parallel at New Madrid right now. And as indicated, we’re going to have the reliability section of that done by the end of 2014. And then that we’re running in parallel the elements necessary to actually authorize the growth for that plant. And that includes – I mean, we are working very closely with the Missouri DNR and the EPA on permitting to acquire the necessary permits to increase the production, as well as do environmental investment in the facility to ensure compliance and then just finalize the ability for us to grow there. That, we expect, will ramp to a full run rate by kind of the middle of 2015.
Your next question comes from the line of Richard Garchitorena with CS. Please proceed.
Richard Garchitorena – CS
Thanks, good morning. So, my first question, on the guidance for cash cost this year, is there any way you can give us sort of your assumptions in terms of nat gas prices that are embedded in that? And also, is that assuming current spot prices on the LME price? I know you don’t give LME guidance, but...
Well, in terms of the LME, I mean, the December 31, 2012 LME forward, which is historical information, was about $1.06 to $1.07 for the year. So there was a gradual increase across the year and that’s what all we can give at this point.
Regarding the gas, when we put this guidance together, the gas prices at that time for the year 2013 were also a bit higher than they currently are trending. However, they both are significantly higher than we experienced last year. So, we generally don’t give guidance. We would ask you to think about the business from the point of view of the same starting points as we are which is, roughly, 2012 and then however you want to factor in the plusses and minuses to commodity inputs, it’s really anybody’s guess.
Richard Garchitorena – CS
Okay, great. And then just a follow-up, you did a very good job in terms of getting cost savings from the CORE program in 2012. Anything – any expectations embedded in the cost guidance for 2013?
Well, again, when we look at the forward – so first, to answer your question is yes, we do contemplate another CORE program in 2013. It’s just a part of our culture and it’s deeply embedded in who we are and it is all the way across the company.
We typically – again, that’s Noranda-sensitive information pertinent to exactly what the size of that forecast in CORE program is. So we wouldn’t be able to help you with the specifics on that. But the program continues and it continues – we do have a new CORE leader this year. Mike Fox is our new VP of Productivity. And so we’re looking forward to another year where CORE is and remains a key part of our success.
(Operator Instructions) At this time, I’m showing no further questions in the queue. I will now turn the call back over to Mr. Smith for any closing remarks.
Thank you very much, operator. Ladies and gentlemen, this does conclude our teleconference. So thank you very much for your interest in and your support in Noranda. You can all disconnect your lines now. Thanks so much.
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