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CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (CF)

February 26, 2013 12:55 pm ET

Executives

Bert A. Frost - Senior Vice President of Sales & Market Development

Unknown Analyst

I think we'll keep things going here. We're very happy to have CF Industries presenting this afternoon. With CF today, presenting is Bert Frost. He's the Vice President of Market Planning and all -- sorry, you gave me the title.

Bert A. Frost

Sales and Market Development.

Unknown Analyst

Sales and Market Development. Pardon me. And Dan Swenson, you run CF's Investor Relations effort. I think Bert's going to start off with some prepared remarks and then we'll go into Q&A.

Bert A. Frost

Okay, well, thank you. Good afternoon. Brief Safe Harbor statement. You can read that. Just to give you a quick background of who I am, I came to CF about 4 years ago, and in charge of sales and market development. I spent 8 years in Brazil with a multinational agribusiness company, working in logistics and ports and building their fertilizer business for South America. And before that in Argentina and then in various points in the U.S. But I do want to review with you our investment thesis. Who is CF, what are we doing and how are we looking at the future.

Based on our -- we think a unique position in the United States as the producer of nitrogen as well as producing phosphates, deleveraging our complete system, our infrastructure, our modes of transportation, production locations in-market to serve primarily the corn-based consumption, but also wheat, cotton and other products. If you look at there today, what we're looking at, I'd say for 2013 as well as in the future, the incredibly positive situation we're in, in the U.S. with our agribusiness structure and what will happen, what we believe is going to happen in 2013 with crop economics. We have tight stocks-to-use ratios. And no matter where we are, whether you're 160 bushels per acre of yield, which we're targeting for 2013, USDA is a little bit higher than that, your 8-year trend line is a little bit below that. It's still net positive for this year and in the future for producing corn in the United States.

We think it's an attractive place for farmers to invest and you're seeing that in land and assets as well as purchasing fertilizer. We do have these strong nutrient market conditions. We think coming into, coming out of the fourth quarter which was incredible demand, we had record movement of ammonia in our system which, we think, is our competitors in the United States and we can see that coming into 2013. We think those inventory levels will be low and will have attractive economics for all the end products in the United States.

CF, as we think, as I said, a unique but -- and also significant strategic operational advantages. We have a tightly focused strategy which we've communicated and continued to adhere to. We have the structural advantage of low natural gas cost in the United States, a leveragable platform of utilizing our terminals and production assets and modes of transportation, which were very positive for this year. As you see, we're a predominantly nitrogen-based company. When we say world-scale facilities down here at the bottom, those are our large assets, and you'll see it later, a picture of our Donaldsonville facility, as well as what we're going to be constructing in the Midwest.

In 2012, 2012 developed differently than we think how 2013 will develop. As you remember, starting off the year we had similar discussions of a weak nitrogen market, that would be oversupplied and we would have a difficult operating year. It turned out very differently than that and CF had a record year in 2012, with urea spiking to $740 in April of last year and then falling to the level we are today, around $410, but a very, very nice operating environment for a North American end producer. Demand was fantastic for all 3 of our major products. Pricing was dynamic and we were able to capture that. So we had a successful year, with record earnings in cash flow and increases over 2011.

And in terms of the last item there, the clearly delineated capital allocation actions, we repurchased 3.1 million shares and we've announced the additional repurchasing that we'll be completing through 2016, as well as our capacity increases and the purchasing of the Medicine Hat facility in 2013.

So the U.S. crop conditions today. This is the big discussion on where is corn and what is driving corn and what will be the stocks-to-use ratio at the end of the year of 2013, if we are able to achieve 160-bushel-yield position. Today, don't know if I have a pointer here. I don't. But today, we're at very low stocks-to-use ratio coming out of 2012, historically low. And so you've seen it -- how that has impacted pricing on the Chicago Board of Trade. But it's also for wheat and most of the major commodity products. And those are the drivers for the nutrient use. As you can see here, what we're looking for in terms of each of the individual, but a total -- in total, a very positive year for nutrients in North America.

So to track the farmer economics, and that's the end driver for our products. Obviously, CF, we're very focused on the trader, wholesaler, retailer sector of our market. We do not sell directly to farmers. But for a farmer, when you look at the options that he would have, whether that would be corn, corn-on-corn or soybeans, it's a -- and the corn-on-corn is probably compared to 160 average yield. If you're on a corn-on-corn market, being the I states, or Nebraska or Minnesota, where you have the potential to have 180 to 220 yield on your corn, it is very attractive to go corn-on-corn, and we've been seeing that over the last several years with very good results. And so that is a net positive to a nitrogen producer, as corn is probably the largest -- is the largest user of nitrogen in the United States.

And so we track this on the bar chart to the right. Where is our product and our products in relation to what the farmer is able to pay? And today, even at the prices where we are, where ammonia at the $750 level, UAN at the $350 level and urea at $450 in the Midwest, we're -- at 15% of this revenue. So on a historical basis, a 10-year historical, that's very attractive, and that bodes very well for the long-term viability of a farmer's ability to spend and invest and seek the highest yield through the appropriate use of crop nutrients.

We're looking at 2013. As you can see, the chart for the NP and K products going over time from the last several years. And we're looking at a marginal increase in NP and K but a very sustainable level of consumption. Again we're big advocates of the 4Rs, of the utilization of our products, and we advocate that this is the right level in achieving a higher yield over time. But it promotes strong growth and consistent demand in our industry. And you have to remember, at that level we're still at 50% of our products are imported in the United States.

This is looking at the current ammonia market today. And you can see over the last several years we've had increasing demand, ammonia for direct application, where that's where you pull the ammonia behind the tractor and they're injecting it, either in the fall -- we have 2 ammonia seasons, in the fall and the spring. And we're looking -- we're projecting 4.5 million tons for the year. We're very excited about this segment in that we came off -- we came into June -- the fertilizer was June through July, or July through June, and we came into the fertilizer year 2013 with very low inventories, a record movement of our ammonia in the fourth quarter. And if you look at the inventories coming into 2013, we think the inventories are on a historical low basis for CF as well as the industry. And that, as you can see, should be supported by the level of planting, and the level of demand which should be positive for our products going into the spring season.

And that leads to urea. Urea is a little bit higher in terms of shipments and demand. We're projecting 8 million tons, and a question that has come up over the last several meetings is the level of urea imports in the United States. Urea is projected to be 1 million tons over the 2012 import level. But when you look back going to June, as well as into the June of 2012, we had a very low level of inventory in the United States and probably needed import a level of urea higher than historically had to get to the level of where we are today. And so going back one page with ammonia, at this level going into -- with the low inventory, and we're projecting the high acreage utilization of ammonia, the likelihood of meeting most, if not all, of this urea in the current fertilizer year is fairly high, and then coming into an appropriate inventory level after the application season.

And then UAN. We produce 6.5 million tons of UAN and we're projecting a 12.7 million ton market. Inventory was also low going in. We transitioned a portion of our product in the fourth quarter to make more ammonia at our Verdigris facility. So we believe that the inventory levels are lower, and the import levels are lower, and the demand also will be high, again, going back to your ammonia slide, with a lower level of inventory in this market, coupled with a higher demand in UAN. It's 200,000 tons of ammonia at 82% N, with 600,000 to 700,000 tons of additional UAN. So as this market moves towards the right product depending on moisture in Nebraska, if there is some, and if ammonia goes down, or if you have -- if you move to UAN, we think that UAN will be highly demanded this -- during the spring season.

The phosphate market has been fairly static. As you can see, we're projecting 7.3 million tons and our inventory levels are within the 5-year range. The phosphate market is, well all the products are global products. We're monitoring what's going on in India, and when that subsidy program will be established and the contracts will be closed and purchasing will start, as well as in South America. South America came into 2013 with a lower inventory level than in the past. And we think with the structural issues in Brazil with imports and demurrage and the need to move products earlier to decrease that demurrage risk and cost, we expect South America to start earlier and to give support, with India and South America, to give support to the phosphate market as we move forward.

This is the world, as you look at the different points of production, the different nitrogen producers in the world. This is a great cost position. When you look at what has happened with the advent of shale gas and how that has positively impacted the United States as well as CF. We obviously lead in the shale gas revolution, and the projections are for the world to not be in the same -- if they are able to, reach the position that we're in, it's one decade or more in front of us. And so we not only lead the technology, but the mapping and the preparation and the infrastructure, that would be pipelines to deliver the gas. We're in a very advantaged position in North America, and I think CF is in a fantastic position to capitalize on that in the future. And so we're -- if we were looking out to 2015, but we've got the projections from our consultants, whether that be Cyra Pera -- Pyra [ph].

And so, who runs CF? We have a tightly focused strategy where the core strength of our business is nitrogen. We have assets that are placed in the key demand regions of the United States for corn production and wheat production and cotton. We buy off the major gas lines, whether that be Eiko [ph] for Medicine Hat, the Mid-Continent which is for our Oklahoma and Iowa production facilities, from Henry Hub for our Donaldsonville facilities.

And the second bullet point, we're dedicated to safety. Everything we do we have or everything we do, think about and prepare for is to have a safe operating environment for our employees. We have several facilities that have celebrated over 40 years of safe, without-a-loss time accident and we've just passed 10 years in Donaldsonville. So we're very proud of our safe operating environment.

Our integrated logistic system is unparalleled. Our access to the pipeline. We're the largest consumers on the NuStar Pipeline and a major consumer of the capacity on the Magellan pipeline. We are a big mover on the river: On the Mississippi, in the Arkansas, on the Ohio. We have strategically placed terminals. We're on every major rail line, the CN, the CP, the BN and the UP. So when you look at our complex and the structure of our assets, we're well-placed to leverage different points and different demand centers.

Strong sales and marketing presence. We have long-term relationships. The company has over 65 years of experience. The pricing options we offer to our customers being forward, being spot, being index. We work with them and have very good relationships and contractual and sales strategies, and prudent financial management, focusing on our cash flow, maintaining, seeking and gaining and then maintaining our investment grade rating and a record of efficient use of capital.

This is just a snapshot of where we are. And you look up, up top with Medicine Hat in the Canadian market, which services the Canadian, as well as the northern tier which is more of a canola, wheat, and then the growth in North Dakota of corn. Each of the blue dots represents a distribution point, either ammonia or UAN with only 2 dry facilities. We've sold our dry facilities a few years ago. But if you look at that and if we were to overlay on that map, a heat map of where corn is produced, corn is again the biggest user of N, we are right on top of where that demand takes place. And if you look at why that is important, each of those terminals, the stores that move ammonia for example, the ammonia demand happens in a, and depending on the state, in 1 week- to 2-week period. And so to have that end-market, to be able to move it, discharge it and deliver it to our customers on a timely basis so they can plant on a timely basis, is very, very important. And so it's unrivaled, our footprint and our capacity and how we leverage each one of these points going forward.

And so our capital deployment initiatives. We've clearly communicated what we're going to be doing with the acquisition soon to be completed in Canada, our remaining portion of the Medicine Hat asset, our $3 billion in share repurchases that we plan to be making through 2016, and our nitrogen expansions, the $3.8 billion being $1.7 billion in Port Neal, Iowa, and $2.1 billion in Donaldsonville, Louisiana. On the share repurchase program, just a -- we view that as a long-term initiative, a long-term program in terms of not being a quarter-by-quarter event. We've had a lot of questions about that, just wanted to clarify. So our capacity expansion projects, which I just mentioned, that's $2.1 billion and $1.7 billion in these locations, and what they will do on a tonnage increase in our production capacity. The important thing to remember is the locations of these 2 assets. They were chosen for 2 different reasons. The Donaldsonville, which I'll show a picture of in one minute, is a leveragable complex with many different options: loading, it's got the access to the international markets. Port Neal is right on top of the corn production state of Iowa and Nebraska, as well as inbound logistics, which will benefit us in outbound logistics to the competitive part of that market.

And so foreign investor. In terms of where we have been and where we're going, if you look back in 2010, with our pre-acquisition of Terra on a nutrient basis on tons, of 2.6 million tons and looking at how that corresponds to the share count with the Terra acquisition going to 3.6, little debottleneck, and now, so our current production nutrient capacity of 6.3 million shares, the growth in Medicine Hat debottlenecks in the new plant, will be at 8.5 million shares. So we doubled in 2010, the amount of N, but only increased the share count by 70%. And then by increasing the amount of N, while we're doing our buybacks and the buybacks we've already completed, we think that is a compelling position for going forward on the value of each share per ton of N.

That's the Donaldsonville complex. You can see from the green, those are the existing ammonia plants; the blue, the existing urea plants and UAN. And where we'll be adding our new capacity for ammonia, urea and UAN. And then again, the access to all different modes, you can see there from the river, and that's a deep water port, we can load up to Panamax in that facility, and then going down through each of the leveragable points.

This is where we're looking over the last 3 years, how we've performed against our peers. I believe that, that is an expression of our focused strategy. Excellent execution, the benefit of being a northern -- a North America natural gas consumer, being focused on nitrogen and focusing on our corn and on our strategy, an exceptional operating performance on our production team. And we believe that this demonstrates how we have outperformed our peers in most of the metrics that we look at. But the next question is, but we're trading at a discount to our peers. And so when you look at how we've outperformed and yet trading at a discount, we're asked that question.

And so, we have a history of value creation at CF Industries. We've been decisive in terms of how we've looked at it from coming out on an IPO. We've looked at various complexes and options around the world, Peru, as well as the petroleum coke gasification process in 2007. We announced our first buyback and completed it. We bid and then acquired Terra. We did another share buyback and completed it. And then we have the expenditures in 2012 that we announced. So the third and the last bullet, we believe that's a tightly focused strategy. We've been disciplined in our decisions and what we've communicated to the market and how we've performed against those. And we think it's an effective execution. So, with that...

Question-and-Answer Session

Unknown Analyst

Great. Quick questions and then I'll open it up to the audience. Let me first, just thinking about the nitrogen outlook for the spring, how does the moisture levels in parts of the Corn Belt impact the farmer planting decision and impact the farmers' application decision of ammonia, urea and UAN and how is CF positioned to deal with that?

Bert A. Frost

Well, a farmer has to make his decision early in the process. He has to work with his retailer on a seed selection, corn or soybean and the proper seed, and generally there hasn't been enough seed for some of the high-yielding seeds, so he has to make that decision early, and then if he's chosen this corn, he will be applying, in the Western Corn Belt, his ammonia in the fall. As you know we had a record ammonia season in the fall. Or he's -- the Eastern Belt is more of a spring ammonia season. So he is committing or has committed already to his nutrient demands for N, whether that again, is ammonia, UAN or urea.

How we prepare for that is, this is a multi-month, multimode preparation process where we're leveraging our terminals, moving up through the pipeline, by barge, by rail, our ammonia and UAN while we're selling, while we're committing those tons to be prepared. Because when it does come time for that farmer to plant, he wants to pull his ammonia, we generally dump our ammonia tanks in the peak markets in 6 to 10 days. So those inventories are drawn down very quickly and then we recharge for the second application which is a side-dress or a UAN which would be a top-dress.

Unknown Analyst

Okay. And I've been thinking about the global market a little bit. I mean, is this clearly global markets that set -- ultimately set U.S. pricing. As you look at the market today over the next 12 months, what are the key supply disruptions, additions that you're monitoring and factors that you're most focused on as you move through 2013?

Bert A. Frost

Right. A dynamic market it is. In 2012, you saw urea at $383, $385 and rise all the way to $740 before falling back to $400, rising up to $460, falling back to $400. And so trying to market manage pricing strategy and how you capture that as a producer is a good game. And we look at it as a matrix. And so you're looking at all different kinds of components that roll into how you establish your pricing, and you're right, it is a global commodity. Products move to where markets are demanding them, whether that be in North America, and at times we've seen the North American market pay above the import or the international parity. And so what happens? Tons are attracted to the United States, whether that be NP or K. Each of those products are imported into the United States, but we export a significant amount of all those products, except nitrogen.

And so how we saw the develop in 2012 was the market wasn't prepared for urea. We were very positive what we felt like was going to happen and we positioned product and we think we captured appropriate pricing and volume in that product as well as ammonia, UAN. You always have a reset in June and July. That will happen again in the United States market in 2013 with inventory being drawn down in preparation for the next season. And so, you're monitoring international demand. We think that it was a surprise that China exported as many tons as they did of urea. But the amazing thing is that the market absorbed that extra 4 million tons and we didn't have a huge price correction. So China probably, or most likely, will export a similar, let's say 5 million to 7 million tons just to put out there. And but we see gas constraints in many markets, many production points in the world: Trinidad, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Argentina, have all been gas constrained in 2012. And that then is production constraint on N. And so we're operating in a very nice window right now. And pricing probably will increase going in the spring, moderate in the fall, but we don't give back-half guidance.

Unknown Analyst

And one more for me before I open it up to the audience. Looking at your spring order book today, where are you on this purchase forward order books and purchase commitments relative to prior years, and how much of your product do you think you already placed, how much flexibility to participate in that spot market do you have left to go?

Bert A. Frost

Right. We're pleased with where we are for -- in our allocation of our spring -- I'd say for our first half tons, we don't generally give our position on where we are on specific products. I will tell you that product has been well -- there has been a healthy level of demand for ammonia and UAN. And we have placed our products accordingly to -- in preparation for already committed tons. As I said earlier, I think the market is having a little bit of trouble digesting the volume of urea that has come in as projected to come in. But when you factor in, again, that there's only so much ammonia available, and we've had 4 wonderful seasons of ammonia, spring, fall, spring, fall, so to have another spring, it could be several hundred thousands of ammonia is unable to go down. If that is the case, you need to fall back to UAN and urea. We already think UAN is tight, and then it falls to urea. So when you look at the 3 major end products, I think, we're going to have a very good spring.

Unknown Analyst

Any questions in the audience.

Unknown Analyst

Sure. I guess, you guys outperformed pretty well on the fourth quarter versus expectations, I guess, on earnings per share and EBITDA if we sort of try to correct for your weird accounting, I guess, in the fourth quarter for lack of a better word. I'm not going to throw him under the bus because he's on the stage with you, but do -- you're on the stage with one person who has a spell on your stock, and I'm not going to quote him, but I think a couple of the items you mentioned were outlook for declining prices and less likely that you'll see shareholder cash returns in the near term. I'd imagine, since your spending several billion dollars to build new plants, you probably have a different view on pricing and margin.

On the second item, I know you've said the share buyback is a long-term program, but in the past you've been faster at doing it. I guess, at what point with what's happened with the stock and as you're sitting here with negative net debt on your balance sheet, do you review that and say, heck, we're going to be more active. We can invest in our own company at 3.7x EBITDA, which is a better return, maybe, than even building this project which we really love at a mid-teens IRR. How do you make that decision and at what point do you say, the capital structure doesn't make sense? We can borrow at 3% and buy back stock and we don’t have to wait till 2016?

Bert A. Frost

You want me to take it? Well, I'd say not everybody is as intelligent as you are.

Unknown Analyst

Okay. Waiting for that.

Bert A. Frost

Relative to buybacks, and we've been fairly consistent in our message on the buybacks, that we will announce them when we announce them and we'll participate as we deem necessary. And they're not linked in terms of the investments in the new plant capacity nor is -- that is not linked with the share buyback program. It is a long-term program and as I said earlier, we desired it to not be an event, that every quarter, you're calling and seeking for what did you do that quarter. We have a number of years to exercise that, and with due process and how our management team works, we will review those opportunities and options. We'll take action when we deem necessary. And...

Unknown Analyst

Is there a point where you just sort of say, let's take on some debt and do it rather than...?

Bert A. Frost

Well, I think, that's part of a broader issue off we desire, as I said earlier, to maintain our investment grade. And so that is the bedrock and what we're going to do with our balance sheet, whether we lever up or not. That's always there and we look at that regularly.

Unknown Analyst

Just 2 questions. I know why the natural gas prices in North America has declined from 10 to 2, but the Ukraine totally inverse over the same time frame, it went from 2 to 10. Just wondering if you could explain why the Ukraine natural gas prices spiked like that. And then #2, you had mentioned, there are certain areas or states in the U.S. where you can achieve 220 bushels per acre. I'm wondering which states are they and why can they get so much above the average of 160 or so?

Bert A. Frost

I'll answer the latter then the former. In corn, and this is just one of those blessed places in the United States, that corn loves heat, water and good ground. So when you have organic matter at 9% in Iowa, and you're getting 20 to 30 inches of rain per year, and you have heat degree days that in July and August are absolutely perfect for corn. All those, plus a wonderful supply of nitrogen, come together, to make a 220 year old return. Now last year, we had something, it was an anomaly, and that being the drought. Even so, if you talk to some of the farmers in Iowa, these are some of the same guys, with the new seed technology, in a wicked drought, were able to achieve 170, 180 and 190. And so the trend yield may have been in 120, but the states that were really impacted were Kansas, dryland corn, probably Oklahoma, places like that. But the I states, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, a little bit of Ohio, Southern Minnesota, those are great corn growing states.

Your former question on the Ukraine and why that went from 10 to 2, or no 2 to 10, and we went from 10 to 2, we're just lucky. But part of that is also how they value and monetize gas through Gazprom. And they're going through a structural change in the SSU with who is capturing that margin? Is it the -- today it looks like it's the gas producer, and he has that position. In the United States we're just enjoying the revolution of shale gas and it's -- this is economics, and we shut down 30% of our production in the '90s and early decade of 2000 and became a net importer. It was projected the U.S. nitrogen producer would be unable to compete. Parallel to that, a few guys out in West Texas decided to try horizontal drilling and frac-ing, and created the revolution of shale gas and we've been the net beneficiary of that. And it looks like it's going to last an extended period of time. When you look at the well count with the production of gas, it's a supply-demand position that is being reflected in pricing today, that $3 to $3.50 gas, which, on a competitive position, if you're end-market producer like we are, is wonderful.

Unknown Analyst

Other questions from the audience? Maybe I'll continue on earnings. On that gas question, do you think about the long-term -- long-term supply for the new expansion projects that you're building or contemplating at this point. Is there just a thought of locking in a long-term gas price and trying to enter into a long-term agreement, similar to what E-methanex or a New Core [ph] has structured and tie it to the price of nitrogen and maybe have a more secure supply? Or are you really going to be tying yourself to the ups and downs in the North America gas market.?

Bert A. Frost

We've communicated the market. If we could tie in an exceptionally low price -- what we deem a low price, we would be open to look at that. But when you look at the cost, the forward cost curve or the market curve and the options to link up with that, they're just not as attractive as where we think it will be. And so you have the contango that you're constantly up against. And the other question is, we view ourselves as a nitrogen producer. We are a pure play fertilizer company with 18% of our production mix in phosphate but we are generally a nitrogen producer. And so if we were to go into ENP [ph] or a different segment of that value chain, I'm not sure if that's value creative for our shareholders.

Unknown Analyst

That's fair. And then -- and maybe just thinking more broadly about North American capacity expansion, it's a hot topic within the industry today. When you talk about the roadmaps, you, of all of the products -- mentioned products, the UAN is the one we are most -- we're closest to self-sufficiency on between urea and UAN. Talk about what happens to the markets as we become more closer to self-sufficient in UAN and potentially ammonia, urea, chances of that actually happening and how much of the capacity ultimately gets built. Right?

Bert A. Frost

Well, we're in the early stage of what is going to happen with capacity in the United States. And we obviously have been aggressive and we're aggressively pursuing the implementation of our new capacity which will come on in 2015 and 2016. There are others. There was a lot of announcements, but it's a long-term process when you're in your feasibility and seed study and then implementation and then purchasing your long-lead items, getting urea permits, breaking ground and working through all those. The benefit to us is we're on brownfield price. We have all the infrastructure in place. We have the team in place. We have the leverage of our whole system, as I've already articulated. And we think we can bring these assets up on time and on budget. And I don't think you can say that about some of these other projects, when they're unintegrated, isolated and do not have the infrastructure to leverage, meaning the terminals and the different modes. And so will this capacity -- this is the question you're all asking yourselves, will these various announcements come on and we do believe that the producers, our peers in the industry will bring on some level of capacity. But probably not all this capacity that's been announced will come on.

Unknown Analyst

Okay. Since there's no other questions from the audience, I think we will leave it there. So thank you. Thank you very much.

Bert A. Frost

Thank you.

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