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Equinix, Inc. (NASDAQ:EQIX)

Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference

February 26, 2013 4:55 pm ET

Executives

Stephen M. Smith - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Member of Stock Award Committee

Analysts

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

David W. Barden - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. So good afternoon, everybody. My great pleasure to introduce Steve Smith, CEO of Equinix. Before we get started, please note that all important disclosures, including personal holding disclosures and Morgan Stanley disclosures appear at the Morgan Stanley public website, www.morganstanley.com/researchdisclosures, are at the registration desk. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard the word data centers at the conference, it feels like we're really in a very important growth phase right now and you're obviously at the center of all of that. So why don't you just talk about -- you just updated your guidance for 2013, get some look into Q1, but just talk about the priorities for you and for the company as we look through 2013 and beyond?

Stephen M. Smith

Sure, Simon. Thanks for having me, and thanks, everybody, for being here today. We have a handful of priorities that actually have been pretty consistent through the years that we're focused on again this year. Top of the list for us is to continue to make these data centers more interconnected. We have 97 of them in 31 markets on 5 continents today. So our #1 priority is to go deeper in our interconnection of these -- of our customers inside these data centers, and create more ecosystems and more activity between customers and these data centers. So that's our top priority. Secondly, as you saw this past year, as we put ourselves into Dubai, Jakarta, China, Brazil, the year before, made an acquisition in Germany, our second objective is to continue to grow the scale and reach of this company. And I've just given you the quick factoids of where we are today, but there's certainly emerging markets and adjacent markets that are of still of high interest to us that we'll continue to look at. Thirdly, we aligned ourselves up like most companies that are at their 14-, 15-, 16-year history to go at the market from a go-to market standpoint by industry vertical. So our entire go-to market selling motion is by industry vertical. And so we're going to continue to go deeper and wider inside of our industry verticals. We have 4 primary verticals we call on today. With the fifth one being everything else that's not a network, not a digital media company or not a financial or a cloud-related company, we call the enterprise. And these are companies that make up manufacturers, retailers, energy, oil & gas, there's probably a dozen other big industry verticals that we are -- we have, and we'll call it 20, 25 executives -- sales executives around the world, trying to get some use cases started in the enterprise, so we can learn where is the next place to go. What's the next industry vertical? Is there a horizontal challenge up there that we can go solve with these 97 data centers and all these network density and all these ecosystems. So we're looking pretty hard at that. People's a big part of this equation as the company continue to scale. So we're adding talent around the world at a pretty rapid pace. And then with that also, we're upgrading processes and systems to be able to operate on a global basis. It's very important for us with over 4,500 customers to make it completely seamless for a customer to choose us in multiple locations around the world with 1 contract, 1 set of pricing, 1 set of quoting, 1 set of collecting cash and we're -- we've been well into this, we're into the final phases of implementing 80 processes -- 80 businesses processes around the company to standardize them, automate them and simplify them, so we can act and behave like a global company. It's -- in our 14-year history, Simon, as you know, we've done about 9 acquisitions, and we're at the juncture where we needed to go simplify how we run this business with all the different variances of how we do quote-to-cash.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Great. So we've had a couple of areas, of data centers, the wholesale space has had some lumpiness. Obviously, there's some macro pressures, particularly in Europe, but your 2012 performance, Q4 performance was very healthy, can you just talk about the overall demand environment and global trends and how we should be thinking about 2013 from that perspective?

Stephen M. Smith

Sure. We're -- first of all, we're very fortunate that we're in the middle or the intersection of all these secular trends that we all study and talk about. We just delivered our 40th quarter of sequential top and bottom line growth. So we're -- when you're in 31 markets -- the 31 of the best markets in the world and you've got the kind of data center assets we have, you're a very fortunate -- fortunately positioned company. The trends continue to pile on and any trend you can talk about today tends to bring more volume and more opportunity for the company. As long as the Internet is growing, as long as IP traffic is growing, as long as the cloud computing model continues to evolve around the world, as long as all of us in this room carry more mobile devices, all of that stuff requires server infrastructure, storage arrays and networking gear to make it all work. All of that stuff sits in data centers as you all know. So we will continue to win and be positioned to win for certain applications that are mission-critical in nature, global in nature, customer-facing in nature, high-performance, low latency type applications, those are the types of workloads we'll continue to get into our data centers versus our neighbors, our wholesale partners that are in the colo space that will tend to get larger deployments, server farm, more back office type applications, longer-term contracts versus our contracts that are 2 to 3 years, and the nature -- that's the nature of the difference between retail and wholesale, they're both colo models. And so if you're a customer, you're a CIO of any company on the planet, you really have 4 choices today. You can do it yourself, you could colocate the gear, own the gear and colocate it with an Equinix and the retail model or a digital, for example, and a wholesale model. Big companies do both. They definitely have applications that fit both. You can go up the stack and get hosted or managed or clouded by a several companies like Rackspace, like SoftLayer, like the telcos, or you can go all the way up to the top of the stack and get outsourced by an IBM global services or a CSC or an HPEDS. So those are your choices if you're a CIO. And the place -- the space that we play, most CIOs today are very knowledgeable that they can colocate server infrastructure and the associated storage with it and put it remotely around the world and make it work. And so we are hugely advantaged in that we are in the right markets with all these assets and we make it very easy for -- we're going to make it easier, but we make it generally easy for customers to have one throat to choke to the deploy in multiple markets around the world. The supply curves between retail and wholesale are on completely different supply curves. You probably have heard in the conversations and Simon knows this very well that retail and wholesale colo is overlapping a little bit in the middle of the market. And I would categorize that in 0.5 megawatt type of power requirement or when it gets up to 200 to 300 types of cabinets of requirement for gear, that sort of gets into the wholesale space and you won't see very much of that stuff in our pipeline. So we're in the 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 cabinet type deal and lots of those kinds of deals and that's where we play.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. You talked about getting the sort of customer that you want that's attracted to your data centers. You've been undergoing a process of optimization for some time now, you've guided to some elevated churn. Where we in that process and when's that start to normalize?

Stephen M. Smith

I think we'll expect, certainly in Americas, and in on a global basis, our churns to run in and around where we've been the last couple of quarters. Probably for a couple, maybe even several quarters going forward. Part of the rationale is we've made a decision that as we renew contracts, we're having a much deeper conversation with our customers about what they've accumulated over the term of their recent contract. And we have made a decision that if we can renew and keep the stuff that is interconnected, the stuff that makes sense to be in Equinix data center, it makes a lot more sense and let the stuff go that probably doesn't belong there anymore. And so the nature of this optimization program is we're trying to do things that are long-term in nature that will take pressure off churn long-term, get that right applications in the right data centers when we renew. It will preserve price, will protect margin and will generally improve return on invested capital. So it's for all the right reasons, long-term, it's very hard to say when did the game start and when did it end, because we take on anywhere from 160 to 200 new logos every quarter. So we're constantly bringing new customers in, they're going to be on 2- to 3-year contract terms. We renew a lot of contracts every quarter. So if we can do -- the bottom line is if we can do a better job in getting the right applications in the data centers out of the gate, that will make that install base much stickier in a long-term, and that's the objective of this. The challenge you have with the Internet the way it is and the way the growth of companies that we have as customers, many customers come to Equinix for one primary reason, just for high reliability. And so we'll take on a lot of customers that won't necessarily start out with heavy interconnection but will grow into it, and a lot of our customer base today is growing. So we catch a lot of fast, high-growth companies and similar to the story of Facebook years ago, when they got so big they decided to build their own data center. A lot of these companies that we catch early on get fairly significant. They renew multiple times and they get to a point where they say, "Okay, I've got an accumulation of applications inside of Equinix. I'm big enough now. I can either build my own data center or I can move some of this stuff to a wholesale data center because it's -- I'm going to bifurcate my applications. I've got a multi-tiered architecture. " And that's going to be the nature of the beast we're going to live in. So we'll help those companies as they're scaling and growing, and at certain point, they're going to get to a point they're going to say, "I'm big enough now and I've got enough stuff in here, I really got to bifurcate these applications. I'll leave the network dense, mission-critical, revenue-facing stuff here, but I'm going to move this stuff over to and that's the nature of the market we're going to be in." We're going to continue to take those customers on and they will continue to churn over time and we think that will all be caught up in this 2% to 3% churn. The 3% churn that's in here now that feels like it's elevated based on our history is all built into the guidance that we've given you for the year.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. And you went through your data center, your global footprint which is -- has a significant lead over your competitors, so how generally is the competitive environment because clearly, we're seeing more build announcements by competitors and you have a premium-priced product, so how do you feel about pricing? How do you feel about competition? And how does that translate into MRR per cabinet, I guess?

Stephen M. Smith

Well, as long as you see pricing remaining firm from us every quarter and you see MRR per cabinet continuing to go up every quarter, you can deduce that we're making good decisions on deal by deal. And again, that's driven by the great market that we're in and the secular trends.

Competition varies by market. It's really difficult to look at competition in any one region. In the U.S., or I should say, the Americas region, we have a very strong market position as you all know. Once we acquired Switch and Data, #1 bought #2, and it put us in a very, very strong position. So in the Americas market, our business is well over $1 billion today. The next biggest competitor is less than $200 million company. So it's -- the scale difference is pretty significant in the U.S. We're in pretty much every market in the U.S. with maybe one exception that I can think of where there's colo going on, it would be Houston, Texas. And there's players in that market that do very, very well. So competition really varies by market in the U.S. There's nobody on an Americas basis that can cover Canada, all of the U.S. and where we are in Latin America as well as Equinix can. We can service down to 10 milliseconds of latency requirement for any customer requirement across the Americas. The shift to Europe, it's a whole different game. There's, as all of you know that follow this business there's 3 -- really a 3-horse race between Telecity, Interxion and Equinix. And then there's a couple of other players that are pan-European. And then when you go to a country like Germany or France or the U.K, there's also local competitors in those markets. So it does vary as you get into a region. And then you go to Asia, and there's really, really, only 1 other competitor that has anything on the scale pan-Asian like we do and it's a little bit of Global Switch, NTT is in a few of those markets. Generally speaking, we're in a very position in Asia. You step back and look at it globally, nobody looks like Equinix globally. So if you're a customer, and you want to put infrastructure in Singapore, Paris and New York, you really are going to have to come talk to Equinix, because if you want one throat to choke and one place to do that, we're hugely advantaged from that type of requirement.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

And I think you've given us the stats on the number of customers who do use you on multiple geographies.

Stephen M. Smith

Roughly 60% of our revenue today is deployed in multiple regions, meaning, Americas, Europe, Asia, et cetera. So it's a big part of the DNA of the company, it's the big part of our customer base, they like having 1 supplier to help them and be consistent. The whole reason we're doing this project we talked about earlier is to make it even easier for them to pick us in the future.

David W. Barden - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

So you filed your -- turning to your REIT decision, you file for your PLR now, any update on timing there?

Stephen M. Smith

Nothing since the quarter, it's only been a couple of week here since we delivered our end of year result. We're 6, 7 weeks away from doing our next quarterly review. I'm not sure if there'll be any update there. So we did submit -- at the end of the year, we told you it could take anywhere from 6 to 9 up to 12 months for IRS to respond. There won't be any updates from us until we get a reaction from the IRS and we go back and forth and determine what the structure of the QRS and the TRS and everything's going to look like. So I wouldn't expect any update on that. We'll continue to look at the evolvement to the metrics of FFO and AFFO, so Keith and his team are continuing to analyze that. But again, there should be no expectations that there'll be any update until we get some color back from the IRS on what the shape of this thing will look like and then we will figure out internally how to position that, we'll come out to the market and let you know what the plan is.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I think since '90, that was -- able to get it done in maybe 6 months, that was really [indiscernible], is yours dramatically different? Obviously there's been a few of these data center reconversions, you perhaps have more scale, you have a more global footprint. But presumably, they dealt with a lot of these issues already and...

Stephen M. Smith

Right. And that's what we're hoping. And I -- our expectations are that a lot of precedent has been set with some of these previous decisions. But we are a more complex company than any of those previous companies have gone through from an international standpoint as you know, Simon and certainly from an interconnection standpoint, it's a different -- it's a different business model than any other previous ones that have gone through this. So we'll see. We're very optimistic that we'll be in a good shape when we get to the end of this.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

And just to be clear, even if it came quickly, you would still be looking to convert at the start of '15?

Stephen M. Smith

Yes, this continues to be a question from everybody in the audience. And I'll try one more time to let you know why we landed at that decision. Very candidly, we didn't need the 25 or 26 months from the announcement to 2015, but we determined that 14 or 15 months to get to 2014 was too much risk to the current stuff we had going on in the company. And the underlying project that, really, we stared at with the executive came in to the board was this quote-to-ash project, which is in simple language is we're re-engineering 80 processes in the company to simplify and standardize them, and so we're 1.5 year into that project. We start cutting over at the end of this year. And then we cut over in Asia and the we cut over in the Americas and Europe in 2014. We made the determination that on top of that project, which is consuming hundreds of people in the company to globalize this company, and then we have to layer in a conversion to the next version of Oracle financials to actually report as a REIT, you take the combination of those 2 big projects, we determined that it was just too much risk to the business, too much operation complexity to try to cram it into the 2014, and gave ourselves the flexibility to push it to 2015. And it wasn't any more complex than that, but it was a risk trade-off decision.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay, well it sounds like we may get some AFFO, FFO metrics before you convert, maybe more clarity on the dividend and so forth.

Stephen M. Smith

Yes, I don't want to make any commitments on that today, but yes, I think we'll keep an eye in the resolution until we realize that we've got to reorient ourselves towards the metric of the REIT, and yes, before we convert, we'll certainly have that laid out for you guys how we are going to think about that.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

How are you thinking about capital structure? Your leverage is below the 3x to 4x, the peers typically have a little bit higher leverage. You've been opportunistic in terms of expanding into other markets like Brazil or Germany with sort of the specific acquisitions. Many REIT investors would like you to own more of your real estate, so how do you balance all of that?

Stephen M. Smith

Good question. I would tell you that post decision to convert to a REIT, it has put a whole different lens on how we think about leasing versus ownership and balance sheet management. You'll see us start to put a lot more energy and focus on managing our capital, managing our balance sheet a little bit differently than we have in the past. I think you know, having tracked us so long that we've never -- we haven't been in that 3x to 4x net leverage EBITDA in a very long time. We've decided that we want to keep that as the target. We're not going to change that in a short term. And there's lots of reason for that. We want the flexibility. I think we're 2.6x, 2.7x that today. There's some nuances in Equinix that are operating leases for example, are off-balance-sheet and if you look at the REIT, their operating leases are on balance sheet, which would change that ratio. There's a whole bunch of things in here that could change as we head towards REIT, that could change that ratio. So we're going to maintain that flexibility, leave the 3x to 4x, Keith and his team are going to spend a lot of time thinking about capital allocation differently than we have in the past. Still the top priority for us is organic and inorganic growth, as you stated. Obviously, that will shift when we convert to a REIT and our dividend policy will move to the top of that list, followed by organic, inorganic, balance sheet management, shareholder-friendly actions. So we're going to look at all those things. I would expect -- you should expect, over the next 2 years until 2015 that the behavior you have observed at Equinix over the past several years won't change very much. We're going to continue to grow this company. We're going to continue to find ourselves in new markets. We're going to have capacity in all of our existing markets as long as the demand and the fill rates are there. And we'll start to bring color and focus on how we're going to manage the balance sheet a little bit differently and how we're going to think about that going forward.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. But you gave your guidance originally in November, you reiterated that with the fourth quarter numbers. But I think the Q1 guidance strictly on revenues was a little bit below what some of the street we're talking about. Can you just go through that, your expectations for Q1 and how that balances against the sort of acceleration out for the rest of the year?

Stephen M. Smith

Sure. Yes, I think there might have been this one-time $2.3 million FX-related issue that we had. If you exclude that out of the fourth quarter, I think you'll find ourselves back into the zip code of the quarter-on-quarter growth that you've seen historically. And I'd call it 3%, 3.5% somewhere in that zip code. On a dollar basis, that's going to look like in the area inside of our guidance, $18 million of quarter-on-quarter growth. If you annualize that over 4 quarters, you're going to find yourself at the lower end of our current annual guidance. So I think people misunderstood that the effect of the one-time effect, that one-time issue. If you exclude that, you're going to see that the growth quarter-on-quarter is going to be back in historical ranges. Also, the plan though inside of Equinix for this year does have a stepping it up quarter-on-quarter. Obviously, underpinning that is sales productivity, management of the churn, et cetera. So I think we feel pretty good about -- we had a very good exit in Q4 as you saw. The key to this model is to have a good jump out of the gate in Q1, with the 95% recurring revenue model. You have a good Q4, good Q1, and historically, we've done that. It sets you up for a good year.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Good. Okay. Well we've got time for some questions from the audience. If anybody has other questions. In the back here.

Unknown Analyst

Hi. What are your customers asking for in terms of the top 2 markets where you're not in presently? And how does the management team view those 1 or 2 markets, whether it's India or wherever?

Stephen M. Smith

Yes, I'll give you a couple more than just 2. It varies by region. I would tell you in the Americas region, there is no big driving need the get to any new market in the Americas, so we're in -- we have about 51, 52 data centers covering the Americas today, and we're in all the critical markets that we believe we need to be in. And as you all know, we've divested 16 assets that were former Switch and Data assets, and Tier 2 markets that we just did not see the activity that we see in our big Tier 1 and bigger Tier 2 markets. But if you flip to Asia, where most of the activities are going to emanate -- for the question you're asking if in India and deeper into China are top of the list for us. So we want to be as successful in Shanghai, find ourselves our way up to Beijing and do the same thing we're doing in Shanghai. So that's high in the list from a business development standpoint. We've been looking in India for several quarters and we just haven't found the right entry point, the right partner, the right model to go into. So in Asia, those 2 markets are on top of the list. Korea is a very interesting market that we've stared at for quite some time. GDP is high, the Internet tick up is high, it's right for this kind of the business, and that's something, if we find the right entry, that we could find ourselves in at some point. Interestingly enough, in the beginning of this company, when we acquired or went into Asia, we actually had a facility in Korea then ended up selling it at some point. So those are 3 interesting markets there.

In Europe, the Dubai move was a big move to get ourselves positioned to handle the traffic that's being handed off between Europe and Asia. We think if we do this right, we'll be in a very good position to peer the traffic that's going back and forth between those 2 continents. Eastern Europe would be the next logical place where there's 2 or 3 cities in Eastern Europe that are high in the list of the European team. More intelligence came to us from the ancotel, asset that we bought in Germany. We have a lot of Eastern European carriers and Eastern European clients that are in that facility so we picked up a lot of intelligence and knowledge there. So that's on the list also. So those are the places that you'll find us looking. And the only other place that is very tough to get into that's on the BRIC would be Russia. We're getting into Moscow someday, now that we're in Brazil, we're in China, to finish up the BRIC entry, you can build a very big case that you could set this business model up in Moscow and make it work. A lot of complexity in Moscow, a lot of complexity. I'll leave it at that. But we're going to work hard to figure out a way to get first mover status when the time is right.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

Okay. So your capital spending budget for this year has -- around $600 million, can you just talk about how much of that you have basically allocated at this point? And is there any attempts you're going to come in at the midpoint, high, low?

Stephen M. Smith

Well, the strategy we've done, as you've noticed the last couple of years is we're getting pretty good at ranging what we really believe we're going to spend for the year and coming out of the gate and telling you that and sticking with that. The balance we have this year is we've committed to you to take this country to free cash flow positive. So that marker is there, we're going to deliver on that commitment. So part of the drop in the CapEx this year is tied to the fact that we have such a big year last year. We put a lot of capacity in a lot of markets. The churn that we're absorbing today is giving us capacity back in critical markets. So you take the combination of those 2 it puts us in a pretty good position from a capacity standpoint, i.e, the lower CapEx this year that we went out with, balanced with, again, the free cash flow commitment. We're still going to grow this company in the mid to high teens, I think the implied growth rate today is 16% coming off of Europe, 21% topline growth, if we over perform that, we'll push ourselves back up to the -- where we've been historically. But the current planning guidance has us growing at 16% on a topline basis. So I think we feel really good about the CapEx that we predicted for the year. And percentage of that, that's committed, Simon, I thought I may have it, I don't know the exact percentage, but it's call it 1/3 to maybe a little bit more than that, that we've committed coming out of the gates from last year.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I think your goal is to grow international to maybe 50% of your businesses or more over time. Anyway, in some markets like Europe there's a slightly different pricing dynamic, different competitive dynamic, but you're getting -- starting to get interconnect revenues coming through, Asia margins are good, how are those models tracking relative to the U.S. type model?

Stephen M. Smith

Well, we have a lot of work to do in Europe to continue to drive the interconnection model. It's, today, running at roughly 7% as a percentage of MRR versus 11% in Asia and 20% in the Americas for a total of 15% on a global basis. So if you think about that, the colocation is 85% of Equinix. 15% of this business is interconnection. You got to come in and colocate first before you're going to interconnect. Because that's just the nature of the beast. The bigger part of the deal is obviously the colocation part of the deal.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

But the margins are in the interconnection.

Stephen M. Smith

That -- the margins are in the interconnection, we're maniachly focused on, as the optimization project points out and as we're continuing on to focus on the right kinds of customers, on driving more interconnection base type customer. So that's the focus. And the key to do that is to really figure out these ecosystems. The network to network pairing is continuing to grow. The digital content media is getting to the eyeballs, is continuing to grow. The electronic trading is continuing to grow for us and now it's moving to the OTC market, the over-the-counter market is starting to go electronic. So we're just seeing different aspects of more asset classes starting to go electronic, which is feeding this business model. The 2 newest places where we're trying to figure out what's the ecosystem and how do we get in the middle of it and accelerate the commercial development is obviously, cloud. So the more public cloud nodes we get in these data centers, the more private cloud nodes that are deployed and then the connectivity between the 2 which creates this concept of hybrid clouds, is happening at a pretty high rate inside of Equinix. 25% of our revenue today is cloud-related business. From mid-digit to single digit, just 3 or 4 years ago. So from our perspective, the cloud computing model is very real and it's irreversible. Almost every CIO we talk to today is trying to figure how to put some workload into a private cloud and try to get access to a public cloud. We make it very easy for them to do that. So we see that happening. And so our role is to house as many of the public and private cloud nodes as we can get all over the planet and be in the middle that help them cross connect, help them direct connect, help them move traffic around between those cloud nodes, and so that's starting to shape up to be a pretty unique ecosystem. And then the last one that's starting to get legs is 4 of the 5 handset manufacturers are using Equinix all over the world today. Once you see the handset manufacturers of all these devices we carry around, start to connect to all the wireless players, you can start to see that there's something unique going on there. And so we'll get in the middle of that and try to facilitate more of that. Our challenge outside of those is to find the next place that we can take these 97 data centers that give us this global advantage that houses all these ecosystems that has all this network density and go solve some other business problem. I don't know whether it's going to be electronic health records, I don't whether it's going to be advertising exchanges, so we're trying to figure out what's the next ecosystem that we can get in the middle of, accelerate, and as Jim Collin says, in good to great, spin that fly wheel faster, and win in that business, and that's the game we play.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley, Research Division

All right. Well, that's a great place to wrap it up here, Steve. We appreciate your time today.

Stephen M. Smith

Thank you, very much, Simon.

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