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Amyris, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMRS)

February 27, 2013 5:30 pm ET

Executives

John G. Melo - Chief Executive Officer, President and Director

Steven R. Mills - Chief Financial Officer

Unknown Analyst

Hello everybody. I'm here with John Melo and Steve Mills, the CEO and CFO of Amyris. Before we get started, I just have one quick disclosure to read. For Important disclosures, please see the Morgan Stanley Research disclosure website at www.morganstanley.com/researchdisclosures.

So John and Steve, if I could just ask you to maybe provide a brief overview of the company. Where are you guys are, kind of in your development since you gone public, maybe some of your target markets that, kind of thing?

John G. Melo

Sure. First of all, thanks for having us here, Tim, pleasure to be here. Glad to be here with Steve, our CFO. Let's start with the basic overview. I think about the company as a company that engineers living factories, living factories being our yeast. And we make better products. Those products fall into a wide range of markets. We make better fuels, we have a renewable fuel and a renewable jet. The renewable fuel is currently commercially being sold in the Brazilian market to certain bus fleets and municipalities. And we expect that our jet fuel will become certified sometime later in 2013. We have products for the tire industry, we have a new breakthrough monomer from the tire industry that enables vehicles to get somewhere between 10% and 15% better vehicle mileage without taking any performance away from the tire, if anything, enhancing tire performance. We have a great emollient, called squalane, which is an available emollient today that we made biologically for the cosmetics industry. We make fragrances for the fragrance industry. Matter of fact, one of our partners, Firmenich, is in over 95% of all households in the world today. And we're a critical strategic partner of that company, and we have a great base oil that go into basic lubricants, where we have a high performance synthetic biodegradable base oil that performs as well or competitively with PAO, which is a high-performance, again, synthetic base oil for the industry today. That just gives you kind of a view into this world of a company that, like ours, where we engineer these little factories called, yeast, we put in fermentation tanks, we feed them low-cost readily available sugars, which are in our case, sugar cane syrup, and then we make these products.

Where we are today is we have all first large-scale industrial plant built. Our technology working as expected in that plant. We've shipped our first commercial product from that plant and we're really focused on really scaling up the commercial side of our business to achieve our business objectives as we go through this year and forward. We expect this year that we end the year with all of our products being sold profitably, so contributing positive gross margin. We expect next year for our company to achieve cash flow positive, as a company. And we have a very unique business model, where we really cover 80% or more of our operating cost to partner collaborations, and those partner collaborations are where a partner company pays us to develop, with our engineering skills, these living factories to make target molecules for them. And then that ends up actually giving us a product pipeline, that ends up contributing what we see as our future earnings growth.

That's really our business. Very, very simple. Somebody pays us, we engineer a microbe, we scale it up, we make fermentation product, and we have a long-term agreement to sell them the product and that creates the product pipeline.

We have 3 products now that we've completed successfully through that process. Artemisinic acid, which is actually a key ingredient for artemisinin, an anti-malarial, that was paid for by the Gates. Foundation. We've licensed that as a not-for-profit venture to Sanofi-Aventis. Our second is this fragrance ingredient that we can't disclaim or disclose what that name of it is, but it's for our Firmenich, and the third farnesene, which is really the workhorse, building block, the C15 double bond that we have today.

So that's kind of a basic overview what are we, where are we. The last thing that I'll say is, it's good to be on the back end of having successfully scaled. It wasn't where we've been the last 18 months where we started to scale up about 18 months or so. It was a very difficult process. The fermentation did not occur the way we expected. Our technology did not scale the way we expected it. It took us a lot longer and we learned a lot, which then led to actually a revised design, improved strains, figuring out that you got to feed them well and getting all that right to be able to successfully, on December 26, have a scaled up industrial plant that actually worked the way we expected, healthy yeast, making the product we expect and shipping commercially. So very glad to be on the back end of that, I'm glad that you host us today and, Steve, I don't know if you want anything to this?

Steven R. Mills

Yes, I think 2 quick things. One, the business model has a very bright future, really, on 2 perspectives. We've got technology that we know that works, we continue to improve it every day and that by improvement it means by yeast strains more effective, more efficient. It's what our core is in what we do well. As John mentioned, with collaborations we've got customers that want our products, willing to fund our products and then we'll be the folks that give us the off-take for those products down the road where we share margin so the challenge for the company is in the middle and that is being able to produce and produce at low cost. We've got, as John mentioned, our first company-owned plant is now up and running. We feel very good about its position of where it's at. Our yeast strains continue to improve and those efficiencies, as we scale up the plant, get the full efficiency so we can spread the overall cost, are going to put us at a cost point, as John described, to get us at a place where we're profitable with all of our products this year and cash flow positive for next year. So we think, as John said, we've learned a lot of lessons and behind us, and right now, the dream is becoming a reality.

Unknown Analyst

Great. And congratulations about the first plant up and running. That's a big milestone. Curious about the milestones that you have in front of you in terms of getting up to your target capacity and target yield for that plant. And it's typically what investors can look at for the next few quarters. In terms of your what you're going to disclose or other types of metrics, to make that sure that it's sort of on track, according to plan?

John G. Melo

I think the -- there's what we've disclosed so far and there's kind of what to look for, right? What we've disclosed so far is really, again, this profile of cash flow positive or, say differently, positive gross margin from our products at the plant by the end of this year and then cash flow positive, as a company, for total year 2014. Those are the 2 big milestones we see going forward. And as you look for the year, kind of say, we're going to continue operating the plant in a very methodical way. We've had no technology issues as we've scaled up the plant. We expect to be operating with all the tanks by middle of the year, so that will get us into a pretty steady view of what our cost profile looks like. And that will get us to a point where you start to see a lot of our volume ramp up in that second half of the year. So that's kind of like a -- an important midpoint, call it, around July, August timeframe, really seeing the full potential -- the near-term potential of the plant come on with volume. As far as getting to the ultimate potential of the plant, I mean, the ultimate potential of the plant, is a plant where you're generating $1 to $2 a liter in gross margin from this plant. To get there, is really about operating at a full capacity and the technology achieving its full targets. And we look at that as being a 2 to 3-year evolution, 2013, 2014, 2015. And really methodically building out the -- or improving the technology over that time. So the plant itself, at target, where it needs to be, this year. The technology, the living factory, the yeast and how well it works, that's really a machine we work on regularly and we expect to continue to have, what I call, softer releases, new yeast to put in the tanks, once a quarter, going into 2014 and 2015. We expect 2 releases this year, we expect about one release a quarter going into 2014 and 2015. And that evolution, quarterly, is what actually gets us to, again, a constant rate of $1 to $2 of gross margin contribution per liter, as you go to those targets being achieved.

Unknown Analyst

Great.

John G. Melo

Steve, I don't know if there's a...

Steven R. Mills

No, I think from a metric perspective, we've -- beginning to put guidance back into the market place. We talked about OpEx and CapEx on this last call, CapEx should be very minimal, $10 million or less for this 2013 year. Our operating expenses about $85 million or less, and then when we net out the collaboration funding against that, should leave us a net funding need of about $15 million to $20 million which we can cover from balances and from margins. And the idea is that we'll start to introduce volume, which really will be the key metric, because we are not going to produce if we can't produce a breakeven or better, so as we see volumes go up, it's going to be clear that things are working well. So we're waiting a little longer the pairings[ph], a little looking further up the curve but that will be the next thing to expect, something to measure us by.

Unknown Analyst

And I know your technology can also work with other types of sugars beyond cane. Cane has been a focus, initially you were in Brazil very early, forging negotiations with some of the biggest players in the industry. I'm curious if you've started to test alternative feedstocks with some of your newer strains? And which feedstocks look most promising, based on some of that testing?

John G. Melo

We've done quite extensive work in different feedstocks. Both C6s and C5s, right? So we've worked with sugar beets, we've worked with sugarcane, we've worked with different levels of refined sugar, we've used molasses blend so and we've learned a lot. I mean, we've learned that these 00organisms are living organisms and if you want them to really work hard and crap out the product you want them to crap out, you got to feed them well. And you got to make sure that tank as actually has the right process, the right amount of the air, agitated the right way, right amount of feeds. So feed is very important. And we work around a variety but you've got to get the mix right. That's point one. Point two, we've been fortunate enough that the U.S. government through one grant we have from the DoE actually funded us to engineer strains specifically for C5s. So unlike many in the industry, we've actually focused on cellulosic sources of sugar for quite some time and have strains that performed quite well processing those sugars. So we are agnostic beyond just a throwaway word. We've actually invested quite a bit in ensuring the strains are agnostic and ensuring we know enough about the right mix and blend to get the strains optimized. It is not a no-brainer and you've got to get the mix right, otherwise, strains don't do exactly what you want them to do. Steve?

Steven R. Mills

No, everything [indiscernible].

Unknown Analyst

Great. In terms of outlook for some of those -- I recognize they're getting Paraíso, right? It's sort of the priority at the moment. In terms of the outlook for some of those alternative feedstocks, when might we see announcements, the partnerships or -- if based in the U.S., perhaps a U.S.-based partner?

John G. Melo

We have a lot of knowledge and friends, based on our relationships in the cane industry, in the sugar industry more broadly. And I can tell you that, as technologies emerge, that can actually deliver, at scale, low-cost sugar, we're prepared to take them on. We're prepared to take it on as a feedstock source to help us scale and get to production. We don't see that today. We see a lot of promise, we see a lot of plants that are either in commissioning or going to be commissioned but we don't see anything today where we have the lower-cost access to an equivalent feedstock as sugar cane syrup that we could say, you know, just drop it in and we'll make great product out of it.

Unknown Analyst

That's the front-runner, by far?

John G. Melo

By far. It's the front-runner. I think, the other thing I hear a lot is, people talk about, look, we're going to get to $0.08 to $0.12 sugar. And then you test that a bit and they say, well, but that's going to be our cost, eventually, and we're going to sell at the market price for sugar. And that makes logical sense, right? I mean, how why would they sell you sugar that's so much lower cost if the markets actually priced at x. So I believe, like all good markets, there will be some equilibrium and it'll all be a about what feedstock makes most sense in a specific geography for a specific product you're trying to make. Again, I don't -- I want to be very careful. There's a lot -- several, very good emerging technologies in that field, just not any of that today I would say we should be jumping in and committing. And as a company, our strategy is, stay open. We'll use any one of them that actually has low-cost, reliable source of feedstock that we can scale with.

Unknown Analyst

Great. And then moving onto kind of margin, cost structure. We haven't really heard many updates recently about yields or unit costs? And I recognize for competitive reasons you guys can't provide too much details on that front. But I'm just curious about where you stand now relative to anyone public? I know you've sort of initially provided because analyst needed it, some information about that unit cost?

John G. Melo

All I can tell you, I mean, we're not going to give anything new today, Tim, but I glad you asked. And what I can tell you is we're very happy what we see out of Paraiso. And I think I've given a couple of data points that -- one that's available to you, that you can calculate yourself, and the other that should enable you to take a view of our company versus anything else in the field today, which is at $1 per liter of CapEx, which is really what Paraíso is about, right? $50 million to build and about 50 million liters of target capacity, that's actually probably one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, in the industry by far. And then to get to plant where a target you generate $1 to $2 a liter of margin, I don't think there's any portfolio that actually gets you in that sweet spot. So - and that is a combination of the technology's capability launching hydrocarbons and the value that they bring and the experience and know-how of our fermentation process that we're able to design and build a plant that worked and works with our technology that has that kind of capital efficiency. And I think Steve hit it spot on earlier. The only difference between that number and where we are today is actually now, achieving our executing this year, which will make us positive, cash flow positive in all the products we make, and continuously working our method. And the last point I'd make is for the time you've known us, I don't know that I could ever have said, we were so far ahead of our technology targets. We have a roadmap with Total, which is our largest shareholder, for technology development which is all about our key farnesene program. We are, today, over 6 months ahead of the core deliverables for that technology program. Now a lot of that, again, out of 2 quarters now of the best performance we've had with our technology platform. How well is our yeast working? How well have we engineered it? And how is it doing on our targets?

Steven R. Mills

I'll add, you asked about specifics. For 2012, our average selling price for renewable products was a little bit north of $8 a liter. And it's a combination of several products. Our squalane and our niche [ph] diesel. And as we mentioned earlier, we going to add volume in the second half of 2013. They will be products at lower price point, so we picture that average coming down some, then you take the step down and say, that we'll be profitable with each of those products by year end. So I'll give you a framework about where we think products are going to be. I'll let you do the extrapolation, but at least it gives a context.

Unknown Analyst

That's helpful. I'm also curious in terms of the technology development and perhaps how it relates to cost, where microfluidics plays in, whether that's still a big of the strategy, certain testing a lot of strains over time to make sure that your kind of pushing the technology forward?

John G. Melo

I think -- the way I think about microfluidics in our development process is, really, I think of it as -- when you're looking for a yeast that makes a target molecule, it's very helpful. When you're actually improving the last level of opportunity or you're debottlenecking an issue in the pathway, it's less helpful. And we kind of think all of our innovation in that way. We are at the end of the day if look at all of our investment in the U.S., which is a significant part of the capital we've invested to date, it is all about building this amazing industrial platform, where a leading consumer company comes to you and says, you know, we want isoprene. And we say, great. We can make isoprene, it's going to cost you this much, in this period of time. And being confident to be able to actually lay that out and then engineer a strain, make it, scale it, make the fermentation product and then sell it to them long-term, on a long-term offtake, that's our business. So things like microfluidics, things like automated strain engineering, things like high throughput screening, things like the amount of massive data we have and analytics around that data, are all part of that tool set that make us, again, an industrialized synthetic biology platform that engineer yeast that makes the molecules people want. Steve?

Unknown Analyst

Great. And then one more about sort of where the company stands relative to its costs. I know some of the -- nameplate figure that have -- headline figures about addressable markets are very large when you're selling into, of course, fuel markets but even from the specialty chemical markets that you guys talked about. I'm curious about the addressable market size with your current cost structure. Where you can sell profitably? How big some of those market segments are? If you could break it down, not too granular details but sort of break it into broad categories.

John G. Melo

I'll start at the high level and come down. With our 2013 cost structure, we're -- we have an addressable market between $60 billion to $70 billion. And then the way that breaks down, it's really the comment Steve made earlier which is our current markets, either what we're selling commercially today or we're introducing commercially in 2013, make up a big part of that. So base oils and that's wide ranging, right? Base oils for high performance automotive or hydraulics, and for other fluids. And then second big category is, again, everything to do with high performance on-road tires. And that's this monomer that actually replaces 5% isoprene and 5% natural rubber in the tire. That the second big pillar within that market or within that $60 billion to $70 billion. I think the third is the specialty fluids broadly, which is, again, everything from high-performance drilling fluids that are biodegradable, too, to many other market opportunities. Then there's another category which is smaller, but very profitable which is what I call fragrances, molecules for fragrances, in general. And then the last one is cosmetics. Again, the last 2, cosmetics is bigger, fragrance is smaller but quite a profitable category, and then the first 2, fairly -- actually the first 3, base oils, liquid farnesene rubber and specialty fluids, 3 very large categories. And then again, all of that into $60 billion to $70 billion in markets we can address profitably in 2013. Steve?

Steven R. Mills

No, that's it.

Unknown Analyst

Okay, great. And then I have a few on the cash flow assumptions for breakeven next year and then I'll turn it over to the audience for questions. You stated the costs need to decline over the course of '13 to achieve cash flow breakeven in '14. I'm curious how much of the cost decline is -- first of all, how much costs need to come down? And second of all, what percent, sort of roughly, will come from a higher volume and economies of scale versus sort of underlying improvements in the technology or the process?

Steven R. Mills

There's no question the improvement in the technology are the big questions. We do have -- if you look the cost model for our factory, it's brand new factory, very efficient, process controls. If the -- so the overhead that you're having to cover, with the laboratory and the process control operators and the maintenance, really, is significant, and everything else is variable. Utilities, certainly the feedstock. So getting all 6 tanks running makes the difference. I won't deny that, but the real progress on the cost structure is with the more efficient yeast strain. And as John said, we will determine how many new strains we're going to introduce a year but if we continue on the slope that we have today in improvement, we're looking at nearly, I would argue, I mean, kind of ballpark that probably get about a 10% more efficient strain every time we put one in and what some way, shape or form, and that goes right to the bottom line on the cost. So that's not giving you the specifics. But it just tells you there's a lot of opportunity for improvement. Again, going from 1 or 2 tanks to 6, and then 2 or 3 introductions with at least a 10% improvement each time we go on the cost side. So it's a -- these are significant changes as we roll through the year.

Unknown Analyst

You also stated that OpEx is going to be lower in '13 than in '12, sort of an interesting phenomenon for a quickly growing company. I'm curious how we should think about OpEx growth going forward whether there is sort of a target metric that you guys use in terms of -- maybe a percent of sales or maybe you state it in another way, how much of the Paraíso capacity could you fill in the 2013 OpEx footprint? So would you need to expand it? Thing that's going to sort of fill that entire capacity to sell those entire capacity.

Steven R. Mills

I'll start and let John add on this one. The OpEx, we don't really see -- most of the OpEx is split between R&D and the technological improvement and the SG&A piece of it. We believe for the products slate that we're working on and the research projects we're working on, that we're not going to need much of any additional OpEx, as we look forward. That one variable is collaboration. To the extent we get additional collaboration opportunities, it will more likely than not mean that we'll have to add some additional headcount to do the science, to be able to accomplish that. We think, right now, we're staffed about right, but what -- really a relatively fixed slate of products that we're -- going to be the marketplace, and several of those in joint venture relationships. We just don't see an additional need and, I think, on an R&D side, we feel like we're somewhat in the sweet spot there. The reduction over the years, even though we believe we're a start-up, relatively young, growing company, is really coming from a focus that Amyris has -- with this technology has lots and lots of opportunity, lots of different places to go. Over the last 18 months, the future has been crystallized and more clear and more focused, and that's allowed us to get our run rate on the OpEx to the place that where we got it today.

Unknown Analyst

Is there significant infrastructure, out of curiosity, in place to develop some of those new feedstock streams or kind of on the upstream side to help drive new partnerships or negotiate new deals or is that really just sort of blocking and tackling on the existing?

John G. Melo

We don't -- 3 parts here. First to yours and then field off to Steve for a second. We don't see that being the conversation with a lot of the market. And the market, I really mean the customer, the consumer products companies, the people who want distinctiveness or margin security or supply security for their end customers. When I think about the consumer companies, our customers and what they want, they want high-performing molecules, they want them to be cost competitive and they want reliable supply. And then they want to ensure that we could do that. And if we can assure that then they're ready for new launches, they're ready for new formulations, they're ready to go to market with our technology. So our upstream piece is all about -- and if there is an ecology immersion that's interesting and it can actually give us a lower cost, they really interested because that enables us to deliver a lower cost to the end customer. That's kind of answer your questions. And building on Steve's point, our direct correlation on OpEx, I think, we've been fortunate enough that early on, right products, right partners, right markets and if anything what we've done is really focused down on what we see as the, call it, the billion-dollars-opportunities that are in our portfolio, to the point where we're clear on the products, the partners and the markets, and a big part of the work now is ensuring that we have reliable supply at the right cost to get the uptake, to ensure that we can grow the business the way we expect to grow it with the partners we have. The bigger correlation on cost is and our model for all the future growth is, collaboration that leads to long-term product partnership. Those collaboration funds, in effect, create a self-funding mechanism for how we layer on cost. If there isn't a collaboration, there isn't new cost. If there is a collaboration, there will be new cost and that's going to end up being the future product pipeline, which then gives us earnings growth from those products. So that actually becomes a pretty simple business to look at. If you see a new collaboration, you can bet there's going to be products and earnings growth in the back end. And how long will it take to get to that earnings growth? You can typically get a sense from the collaboration what that looks like. And all the collaborations we're doing are multiyear and some of them, as you'll see, are multi-product where, in effect, a partner is making a bet that we are their strategic solution to be competitive long-term. And there's a pipeline of 4 or 5 products that we'll develop over a period of 5 to 7 years for them where on the back end, we're supplying those products in a roll-out schedule. So first product done, first 24 months or so. Second product, next 24 months. And all those products become our earnings growth, long term. So why don't we just connect up the way we think of the -- we don't do contract research. Not what we are. People pay us, we develop great products, we deliver to them, we supply them long term, so we have earnings from product sales, collaborations to cover cost.

Unknown Analyst

Great. Maybe I'll turn it over to the audience if you have questions.

Unknown Analyst

I wouldn't surprise you, I'd like to ask you a little bit about money, and in 2 respects. One is, if I read the Total deal correctly, they converted the debt to equity and then they added debt. So some of the thinking behind that why that conversion and then more debt? And then secondly, I presume even with the opportune collaboration deals, you'd still have to have stronger balance sheet. What are your thoughts on accomplishing that?

John G. Melo

I'll start and then turn it to Steve, because I like Steve to address your second question. I just give you a big nod, of course. Stronger balance sheet based on where we stand is exactly what I think the long-term goal is. I think the debt and the Total relationship, I want to explain that a bit because it's confusing, right? At the end of the day, that debt is a risk mitigation mechanism for Total, that we negotiated with the very clear intent. They wanted to get incentives aligned and their first approach to that was we'd like access to the whole product platform. We weren't willing to do that. We wanted to stay focused on the relationship being about fuels. Because of the risk profile of getting to the competitive cost, long-term in fuels, they were uncomfortable funding all of our development for farnesene and not getting access into margin outside of fuels. So what we created was this mechanism to say, look, if for some reason, at the end of the program, you decide you don't want to go into fuels, for whatever reason, and what we'll do is we'll actually pay you back the investment you're making in the core platform. That's how that debt mechanism is structured, if at the end of the program, we continue fuels, which is really the intent both parties have, then that debt goes from debt to revenue, from balance sheet to P&L. And that decision point will come at around 2015. The very simple reason. In addition, one of the other mechanisms they had was, they want to protect their ownership of the company. So they have an allocation of a certain amount of that debt convertible to equity whenever we do a fund raise, if they decide they want to use that mechanism as a way to protect their ownership of the company. That's literally the mechanism that's there.

Unknown Analyst

What's the debt-to-equity ratios...

John G. Melo

No, not at all. Steve, you can...

Steven R. Mills

No. It was simply to protect their dilution. Well the fundraising, we look at the model, as John said, we'd love to have a bigger cushion. We think we've got a very executable plan but we're going to -- if we can find the right opportunity, we wouldn't hesitate to add some additional funding to the balance sheet.

Unknown Analyst

I think Morgan Stanley is looking forward to raise some additional money. What kind of milestones?

John G. Melo

I mean, I can start by saying, we haven't been looking for anyone to go raise additional money for us. I'm sure we -- actually, we haven't had a conversation. I don't know that we've had...

Steven R. Mills

Well, the funding, the last several rounds of funding have come from existing shareholders and we've done pipes and that's worked very from us. It just agains proves -- so that's where we're at today, yes.

John G. Melo

We have an attractive path, fortunately enough an attractive path to be able to raise the funding that we have. And as a result of the Paraiso's successful start, actually that interest has been rekindled with a lot of investors and that's -- we were hoping that would be the case and I think that the most direct answer to your question is that was one of the critical events or milestones people were looking for is. In light of our history, will the technology actually work and how is it going? Yes.

Unknown Analyst

Is there any other questions? I think we'll call it there.

Steven R. Mills

Great. Thank you very much.

John G. Melo

Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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