Boise, Inc. (NYSE:BZ)
Q4 2008 Earnings Call
February 24, 2009 11:00 AM ET
Jason Bowman - Director of Investor Relations
Alexander Toeldte - President and Chief Executive Officer
Robert McNutt - Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Fritz Van Karpe - Sage Asset Management
Richard Deutsche - Ladenburg Thalmann
Good morning my name is Teresa and I'll be your conference facilitator today. At this time I would like to welcome everyone to Boise Inc.'s Fourth Quarter and Year End 2008 Earnings Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question and answer period. (Operator Instructions).
It is now my pleasure to introduce Jason Bowman, Director of Investor Relations, Boise Inc. Mr. Bowman, you may begin your conference.
Thanks, Teresa. Good morning and welcome to Boise Inc.'s fourth quarter and 2008 year end earnings call. Joining me today are Alexander Toeldte, our President and CEO and Rob McNutt, Senior Vice President and CFO.
Please note that some statements made on this call constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws, including statements regarding management's future expectations of company performance. Management believes these forward-looking statements are reasonable. However, the company cannot guarantee that its actual result will be consistent with the forward-looking statements and you should not place undue reliance on them. These statements are based on current expectations and speak only as of the date they are made. The company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result or future events, new information or otherwise. Important risk factors regarding the company that may cause results to differ from expectations are included in the company's filings with the SEC, including our annual report and Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2008.
This morning's call is posted on our website at Boiseinc.com under webcast and presentations. An archived webcast and reply of the conference call will also be posted shortly after the call.
I will now turn the call over to the Alexander.
Thank you, Jason. Welcome to the call and thank you for listening in. Boise Inc. has had a strong financial operating results quarter in the fourth quarter. Before I talk about that quarter and those results, I will start by summarizing the year and also reviewing the fourth quarter highlights and will then spend a few moments discussing our outlook going forward.
One year ago, we became a new public company. Since then, we made two significant structural changes to improve our competitive position. During 2008, we upgraded our linerboard machine at Derider, Louisiana to extend our product line and lower our fossil fuel used there.
Late in the year, we downsized our St. Helens, Oregon mill, which reduces our exposure to the declining printing and converting markets. That moved us from a net seller of market pulp to a net buyer, lowered our cost structure and enhanced our EBITDA margins.
During 2008, we improved our product mix with strong growth in out label and release flexible packaging and premium office paper grades. These products grew from 19% of Boise's uncoated free sheet mix in 2007 to 23% of our mix in 2008.
Most important, for our people and their families, we had our safest year on record. We are also proud of our exceptional environmental record in 2008 with zero notices of violations and zero fines. This is a considerable achievement, considering the nature and scope of our manufacturing operations.
On the financial performance side, despite absorbing over $100 million in additional fiber, energy and chemical costs during the year, our full year 2008 EBITDA, excluding special items was only $8 million less than in 2007. Price increases in both market price and in our own margin capture health, but a lot of this performance came from very good work by our operators reducing fixed cost, as well as mitigating input cost increases with improved efficiencies.
So let's turn to the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter we had good financial and operating results in a tough operating environment.
Our EBITDA for the fourth quarter, excluding special items increased $5 million over the fourth quarter of '07 and was $2 million less than the third quarter of '08. Despite a maintenance outage at our projects in Alabama mill and significant downtime due to slowing markets.
While we are pleased with the financial performance given the very difficult and challenging business conditions in our industry, we are not letting out and continue to drive more operating improvements. In 2008, we absorbed cost increases, but we did not reduce working capital as much as I would have liked. And this is our focus for 2005 and so far we're doing well in that regard.
There are three particular aspects of the fourth quarter that I want to highlight. First, the continuing improvement in pricing; second, softening markets demand and volumes and third, the restructuring of our St. Helens based printing and converting business.
Let me turn to pricing for a moment. As we've mentioned in previous calls, we've been very proactive in our pricing discipline. We showed again and that showed again in the fourth quarter as we realized pricing improvement sequentially from third quarter to fourth quarter across all of our major product lines, despite slowing conditions.
The new net sales for the fourth quarter were higher than in the third quarter for UFS by $14 a ton, for linerboard by $14 a ton, for corrugated products that's basically box and sheets by 5% and for newsprint by $49.
Last week, we terminated our longstanding agreement with AbitibiBowater to market all of our newsprint production and we've begun to market our newsprint directly. We have very competitive assets in close proximity to major markets in the southern U.S.
Our products are well established in many pressrooms and we believe that the proven reliability of our newsprint and our exemplary customer service will continue to form the basis for strong relations between our customers and DeRidder mill.
Let me turn to the demand in the fourth quarter. Demand softened considerably during that quarter. According to the AF and PA, U.S. uncoated freesheet shipments declined 12.8% for the month of December and 8% in 2008, compared to 2007. Containerboard and newsprint also faced challenging markets and declining demand.
We've made significant efforts to match production and demand. We took a total of 56,000 tons of downtime across all of our businesses during the fourth quarter, which represented about 8% of our capacity entering the quarter.
While we took downtime, we worked hard to preserve our economics at lower volumes by taking out fixed cost in conjunction with the lower production volumes and by continuing to manage variable cost aggressively.
The third aspect that I wanted to talk to you is our printing and converting business in St. Helens. In the fourth quarter, we announced the downsizing of our St. Helens Oregon Mill. This downsizing includes the shutdown of two paper machines and the pulp mills and eliminates 200,000 tons of uncoated freesheet capacity or 13% of our capacity and 138,000 tons of market pulp capacity, which is about 62% of our market pulp capacity.
Importantly, we are now structurally a net buyer of pulp rather than a net seller. I want to emphasize that we not only eliminated positions at the mill, but also right sized our sales and marketing logistics and corporate operations in conjunction with that restructuring. This was a very difficult, but necessary decision and strengthens our position as we move into 2009.
As a result, we have reduced our exposure to declining printing and converting markets, and our exposure to declining export pulp markets. We've lowered our cost structures and we've enhanced margins in cash flow.
In summary, despite deteriorating business conditions, we turned in a strong fourth quarter, excluding special items we surpassed last year's fourth quarter EBITDA and we were only $2 million shy of our third quarter '08 EBITDA.
Pricing for all of our major products increased in the fourth quarter from the third quarter. Pricing continues to be reasonably favorable unquoted free sheet and solid interrogated products through the first half of '09, while linerboard export markets and new print show signs of softening.
Through our 2008 we've taken many proactive actions to reduce our input cost through energy mix changes, chemical substitution and operating improvement implemented with great speed.
Since the fourth quarter, we have taken more steps in addition to downsizing our printing and converting business in the St. Helen's mill. We have verbalized our staffing and production in several of our operations to better match supply with demand.
We have frozen our salary defined pension benefit plan and we are currently operating when you include the staffing reductions due to temporary curtailments and other structural layoff within employment level that is about 14% lower than at the beginning of 2009.
As we look ahead into 2009, we see a tough market mitigated by continued reductions in input cost. We closely monitor markets and we'll continue to response about by balancing production with demand.
Our strong cost discipline has allowed us to keep our G&A cost as a percentage of sales lower than a number competitors, despite our company being small. But we're not standing still, we have taken actions to further reduce our fixed cost, we are not paying a bonus in 2009 for 2008 performance, we're freezing salaries in 2009 at 2008 levels, we've instituted a half seasonal salary pension plan. These are all tough steps for our employees, but I believe that they're appropriate in this environment.
On the whole, we are pleased with the progress we made in 2008 but have much work to do. We continued to focus on improving our operating performance, maintaining price, reducing cost, reducing working capital and importantly paying down debt as we move into 2009.
Now I'll turn it over to Rob to take us through the numbers.
Thanks Alexander. Looking first to the EBITDA, fourth quarter 2008 EBITDA after special items were $76 million, a decline of $2 million from $78 million in third quarter of 2008 and an increase of $5 million over the $71 million in fourth quarter of 2007.
Fourth quarter 2008 results were impacted by two special items. A $38 million charge related to the downsizing of St. Helen's mill and a $3 million gain associated with the freeze of our salary pension plan.
Full year 2008 EBITDA excluding special items was $247 million compared to $255 million for the predecessor full year 2007. Moving to net income, Boise, Inc. reported a net loss for the fourth quarter of $16 million or $0.20 per share, compared to net income of $4 million or $0.06 per share in third quarter 2008.
Boise, Inc. full year 2008 net loss was $46 million. Results in these periods were impacted by special items in the fourth quarter again including that St. Helens downsizing and again on the freeze of the pension plan.
Turing to sales, total sales for fourth quarter 2008 were $591 million. An increase of $3 million or 1% compared to the predecessor sales of $588 million for fourth quarter 2007. And down 7% from third quarter 2008 sales of $633 million.
Full year sales for 2008 including the predecessor period increased $98 million or 4% to $2.43 billion compared with sales of $2.33 billion for full year 2007.
Looking at the segments, paper segment sales decreased $8 million or 2% to $390 million in fourth quarter 2008 from $398 million reported for fourth quarter 2007.
Average net selling prices of uncoated free sheets increased $89 per ton in fourth quarter 2008 compared to fourth quarter 2007 and increased $14 per ton sequentially from third quarter of 2008.
Uncoated free sheets sales volumes declined by 7% in fourth quarter 2008 compared to fourth quarter 2007 and declined 9% from third quarter 2008 as we took significant market downtime during the fourth quarter.
We also completed our annual maintenance outage at Jackson, Alabama facility during the fourth quarter which further impacted volumes.
Full year 2008 paper segment sales increased $61 million or 4% to $1.68 billion from $1.60 billion in 2007.
For full year 2008, we increased sales of our label and release, flexible packaging and premium office grades by 14% from 2007. These grades now represent about 23% of our uncoated free sheet mix.
As planned, we reduced sales of other UFS grade primarily printing and converting grades as we grew label and release grades.
Total uncoated free sheet volumes declined 3% to 1.44 million tons from 1.48 million tons in '07.
Moving forward, we expect overall UFS sales volumes to decline following the completion of St. Helen's downsizing which reduces our annual uncoated free sheet capacity by about 200,000 tons annually.
Turning to packaging segments, packaging segment sales increased $11 million or 5% to $214 million for fourth quarter 2008, from $203 million for fourth quarter 2007.
Linerboard sales to third-parties, which we refer to a segment linerboard sales were flat in fourth quarter 2008, compared to fourth quarter 2007, and increased 4% from third quarter 2008 due to increased market prices.
Corrugated products pricing, boxes and sheet in fourth quarter 2008, increased by 11% over fourth quarter 2007 and 5% over third quarter 2008, as linerboard price increases were pass through to our box and sheet customers.
Segment linerboard sales volumes declined 4% compared with the same quarter in the prior year, while corrugated container and sheet sales volumes were 7% lower in fourth quarter 2008, compared to fourth quarter 2007, due to softening industrial market in our sheet feeder plant in Texas.
Full year 2008 linerboard sales prices to third parties, increased 3% over 2007 and corrugated products pricing increased 8%, over the prior year.
Linerboard sales volumes to third parties, declined 4% year-over-year, primarily as a result of Derider outage in the first quarter of 2008. Downtime related to hurricane Gustav and Ike in the third quarter and market related downtime we took in the fourth quarter of 2008.
Corrugated product sales volumes declined 5%, driven by reduced demand and industrial markets. Importantly, our agricultural based box markets held up well throughout the year.
Newsprint net sales prices increased 37% in fourth quarter '08 versus fourth quarter '07 and 8% over third quarter '08. Newsprint sales volumes declined 13% to the prior year quarter and were down 3%, compared to third quarter of 2008, these decreases were due to market related downtime as well as production of lower basis weights grades.
Turning to input cost, combined fiber, energy and chemical costs were $267 million for fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 263 million for fourth quarter of 2007. This represents a cost increase of about $4 million in fourth quarter '08 compared to fourth quarter ''07.
Combined input cost declined $37 million from $304 million in third quarter of 2008. This decline from third quarter was primarily due to lower pricing as well as lower consumption on many of our inputs. Full year 2008 combined fiber, energy and chemical costs were $1.13 billion, an increase of a $105 million or 10% over cost of $1.03 billion for 2007. Much of this increase, as you know, was driven by the energy cost inflation through the first half of the year.
Turning now to our debt. At December 31, 2008, our net debt used for covenant calculations which excludes the $67 million note payable was $1.015 billion. That's a $3 million decline from the end of third quarter 2008.
Cash used in working capital quarter-to-quarter was about $25 million, driven primarily by some increases in inventories and reductions in payables. Inventories increased as a result of our efforts to improve our flexibility to source all our chips in the Pacific Northwest and from modestly higher UFS finished goods inventory, both of which will decline as a result of the St. Helens downsizing.
Payables decreased from reduced purchases during the quarter as a result of slowed production and cost control initiatives. As Alexander said, we plan to further reduce working capital in the first quarter '09 as we work down both raw material and finished goods inventory.
As of December 31, 2008, we're in compliance with all of our debt covenants and had total liquidity of a $186 million, as the $250 million revolver with $26 million in Letters of Credit against that and a net draw at year end of $38 million.
Required principal payments for 2009, including the excess cash flow payment required by our debt agreements totaled $26 million. Capital expenditures for 2008 totaled a little over a $100 million. For 2009, we expect total capital expenditures to be between $75 million and $85 million with some flexibility to adjust depending on business conditions.
In first quarter 2009, we have scheduled our regular annual outage at DeRidder, Louisiana and as opposed to last year, this would be just a normal annual maintenance outage rather than the five to seven year cold outage that we had in 2008.
Now let me turn it back to Alexander for concluding remarks.
Thank you, Rob. Let me summarize the quarter again. We performed exceptionally well in the fourth quarter, given the challenging business conditions. We delivered a second consecutive strong quarter with good underlying operating performance in the face of difficult markets. Excluding special items, our EBITDA exceeded our fourth quarter last year and was just $2 million short of third quarter 2008.
We took significant steps to make Boise Inc. a stronger and more competitive company. We did so by restructuring our printing and converting business and downsizing the St. Helens mill, by adding a shoe press to our DeRidder mill and strengthening the packaging business there and through our ongoing efforts to drive down our operating cost.
In addition, we will continue to be proactive on pricing discipline and respond to changes in demands by adjusting production to match demand as we move into an uncertain 2009.
As Rob and I have emphasized, before we intend to focus on working capital management in 2009 to generate cash and pay down debt.
Similar to what I said at the end of the third quarter, we've had a very good fourth quarter and continue to operate to improve operationally. We are now better prepared for the future than we were at any previous quarter ending.
We appreciate your interest in Boise and your calling in. And we will now take your questions.
(Operator Instructions). Your first question comes from the line of Barry Haimes from Sage Asset Management.
Fritz Van Karpe - Sage Asset Management
Yes, hi. This is Fritz Van Karpe, actually from Sage. Your volume declines have been fairly moderate outperforming the industry. I was wondering if you could speak to that little bit and what or how and why outperforming and if you think that's sustainable in the near future?
Hi, Fritz. This is Alexander. Let me try to take a stab at that. I think our volume declines have been moderate for a number of reasons. The overall decline in our case has been mitigated by good growth and label and release flex pack and premium office package -- premium office products which has continued to grow.
Secondly, our overall portfolio and I assume that you may question as mainly about UFS declines has been, our over portfolio is heavily weighted towards cut-size office papers, which have declined less as overall market demand than the roll products in printing and converting.
So, those are the reasons there. I think there is ultra significant part of sales hustle that has contributed to it. And on the packaging side, we have a large part of our customer base in the food processing and agricultural sectors where the demand is fairly stable even in these recessionary times. We've had a really good stable demand in basically all of our Northwest packaging operations. And I think those are the reasons that have driven our more stable demand when compared to the overall sector.
Fritz Van Karpe - Sage Asset Management
And Steve, if you could speak a little bit to your expectations for how sustainable that might be or not, I mean, for example in prior recessions is it the case that cut-size sort of continued to be more moderate in its decline than the roll stock or I mean is that something that historically would be sustained?
It's always the most difficult and dangerous thing is to predict the future. Cut-size is used in office environment for the processing of work. Roll stock printing and converting is heavily driven by advertising, as advertising activity declined more than the overall economic activity level that is hit more. Clearly, the key question on cut-size going forward is, what is the employment level and particularly, what is the white-collar employment level. And we have seen a fairly significant downsizing of the non-farm workforce since August, last year. So it really depends on what you assume about employment going forward.
On the food side, given that we basically are dealing with the processing of fruit and vegetables, we expect demand to hold quite solidly, even if it might come in a little bit slower.
Fritz Van Karpe - Sage Asset Management
Your next question comes from the line of Maureen Da Laver from Angelo Gordon (ph).
Good morning and congratulations on the good quarter. I wanted to just go back to your comments on and some of the answers that you gave regarding the segment's performance during the quarter.
As I look at the EBITDA for the packaging segment, it's obvious it was very strong at about $36.6 million. I was wondering if that is a sustainable number based on the inputs that we see on the cost side or is there is some seasonality in that number that has been moving on the first quarter you would caution on not to expect that level of profitability?
Hi Maureen (ph), it's Rob. In terms of our packaging segment, if you recall in early 2008, we put the show press in Derider and that impacted economics during that quarter. And then in the third, quarter we had Gustav and Ike which impacted the economics negatively in that quarter.
During the fourth quarter, the mill in Derider ran very well. Certainly, we had decent volumes in our Northwest box plants in the ag business as Alexander had stated. The folks who run that business are doing a very good job controlling cost. The issue looking forward in that segment is more along the what's going to happen with the newsprint business and pricing there where we've seen since year-end, some pricing softness there in the newsprint business. So, depending on what your outlook is for demand and the containerboard industry that could have some impact on us. We did take some downtime in Q4, a modest amount of downtime. But I think more looking forward you looked to the newsprint business and that's the risk in that business there.
Okay, great. And then with regard to the EBITDA termination, is there any cost associated with that termination whether it's taking back inventory or a contract say. I think you'd highlight that we should be aware of, or there could be a potential cash is?
Maureen, this is Alexander. No, it was our objective to make that a transition that does not cost us any cash. There is nothing of that kind that you're referring to. We're expecting our strong relationships with the individual press rooms to carry through. We don't expect an increase in selling cost but really as we go through that transition going forward with the publishers at this point carrying a lot of inventory, there is some transition volume risk through that change. But we have no take back of inventory or any particular other cash outflows that we need to highlight.
And now is it that ended in February so that you're currently selling yourself or did the contract terminate end of the tail to it. So that there'll be shipping for you or selling for you for a couple of more months?
No, we are selling product as of March 1, we are still making product at this point for at some degree and we are selling our own product as of March 1.
And are there any restrictions on you being able to sell to customers that were previously receiving product?
Okay. And then last question on when it comes to that St. Helen's charges, are there any cash charges associated with that, that's berried in the $36 million a change?
Yeah, Maureen, this is Rob. Of the 38 -- 37, $38 million there is about $29 of that is non-cash. During Q4 all of about 400,000 was non-cash, we reserved for severance. But some of that will be or that severance will be paid out over the first half or so, primarily of 2009
Okay, great. Thank you.
Your next question comes from the line of Robby Kumar (ph) from AIG.
Yes, hi, and congratulations on a good quarter in a difficult environment. Couple of questions, you mentioned working capital you are looking for possible source of cash in 2009, can you put any sort of ballpark numbers behind that, is it in the 30, $40 range or it just any sort of guidance would be helpful there.
Yeah, Robby (ph) this is Rob McNutt. I'm not going to -- we just as a matter of policy, we're just not going to make that kind of a forecast for you. I will say that if you think about it in terms of take example of the St. Helen's mill, the wood fiber in the northwest about half of the wood fiber in the northwest was consumed by the St. Helen's pulp mill. And so that's a pretty significant component of that working capital and the product mix of St. Helen's was fairly inventory intensive. And so those are two things that, I think pretty clearly we will get beyond that its pushing harder on turns and improving our working capital efficiency.
Okay. Do you have a number for actual usage of working capital in 2008, I mean I come up with the 43 million use, but I'm not sure of that's -- just wanted to see that was the right number?
Let me ask you to get back to Jason on that level of detail and he can go through that because there -- I think about some cash perspective and so I think it would be more efficient way to go back to Jason and work through the cash and non-cash items or working capital changes there.
Okay. That's fair enough. And then just some other 2009 cash outflow items. If you could give us some guidance on cash taxes and then pension expense versus cash contributions? Thank you.
Yes. In terms of cash taxes, I mean obviously that depends on our performance during the year, and so has a inherently forecast embedded in it. In terms of the pension or minimum pension contribution requirement is $4.1 million during 2009.
And what is the what's the expected expense?
It's around $10 million.
Okay. So net, net that'll be positive relative to your quoted numbers? And then, is the 2010 expectation for pension contribution as far as side one of your queues that you're expecting a drastic increase. What's the outlook there?
In 2010, based on the current calculation, as you know you redo that calculation every year. But based on current calculation, it's around $35 million -- 35, $38 million somewhere that range.
Okay. And then the severance would be about 9 million for 2009 would be the cash cost?
For 2009 it's going to be around 8. We paid out some of that in late 2008 but cash cost in 2009 and the bulk of that will be in the first half of 2009.
Okay. And then the last question, when would you or have you already approached the lenders to get covenant amendments since you guys are I guess getting fairly close on some of your covenants, if you could address that please? Thank you.
Sure. In terms of our covenant compliance, I think I mentioned that we were in compliance at year-end. The requirement was 4.5, we were a little over four and beyond that I'm not going to comment, I don't think its appropriate for me.
Your next question comes from the line of Kali Ram Chandra (ph) from State Street Global.
Question was just answered.
your next question comes from the line of Richard Deutsche from Ladenburg
Richard Deutsche - Ladenburg Thalmann
Yes. Thank you. I'd just like to enquire on the Abititvy contracts, how are the receivables now going forward-looking in terms of Abititvy in regards to flexibility and how much is outstanding?
Yeah. This is Rob McNutt. In terms of receivables related to Abititvy, we're very comfortable with our receivables position with Abititvy. They have paid very much on-time and our receivables exposure to them on a net basis is the minimums.
Richard Deutsche - Ladenburg Thalmann
And when you see on a net basis, if they go into bankruptcy you're still going to have to pay but you may not receive and that's what I'm looking for. Obviously you've been very proactive and that's why you've changed this agreement and I was very happy to see that. It's showing you guys are really on the ball, but I did want to see how that was being addressed in terms of their possible filling?
Right. Again, our net -- we have managed the net exposure down through a number of different mechanisms that I don't want to get into. But again, the exposure we have to Abitibi is de minimis.
Richard Deutsche - Ladenburg Thalmann
Okay, so regarding the legal obligations of -- you are pretty well covered down to a de minimis level, is that what you saying?
Richard Deutsche - Ladenburg Thalmann
Alright, well, great. Thank you very much. Great quarter.
(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of Jake Rasmus from Mail Capital Partners (ph).
Hi, great quarter guys. My question was actually just answered. So, thank you.
(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of (inaudible).
Hello, I have a question. I want to know I mean what do you expect for the next quarter? Do you think it's a good time now to invest more in your stock or not?
I don't think we gave any investment advice on these calls. As I've said, before we think that we are better positioned and better prepared for the future than we're at any other quarter end, but you need to make your own judgment on what the intersections between that and the economy is.
Okay. Thank you
Thank you. Okay. if there are no more questions.
And at this time, there are no further questions sir.
Okay. If, there are no more questions, I would like to wrap up our call today by reiterating that we've had a very strong fourth quarter, given the challenging business conditions, that we have taken many steps to make the company more competitive and that it is now more competitive than at any previous quarter end.
With that thank you for calling in, thank you for your interest and I look forward to talking with you again at the next quarter end.
This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.
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