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Blount International Inc. (NYSE:BLT)

Q4 2012 Earnings Conference Call

March 07, 2013 1:00 pm ET

Executives

Joshua L. Collins - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Calvin E. Jenness - SVP and Chief Financial Officer

David Dugan - Director, Corporate Communications and Investor Relations

Analysts

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Operator

Good morning, or afternoon, as the case may be for each of you, and welcome to the Blount International, Inc. call conference with Mr. Josh Collins, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Mr. David Willmott, President and Chief Operating Officer; Mr. Calvin Jenness, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Mr. David Dugan, Director of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations.

My name is Rocco and I will be your facilitator today. The conference will begin with a brief overview of the fourth quarter 2012 results and the Company's outlook for 2013, followed by a question-and-answer session. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. (Operator Instructions)

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Dugan. Mr. Dugan, you may begin.

David Dugan

Thank you, Rocco, and good day, everyone. Before we summarize the Company's performance, I'd like to remind everyone that the statements made in the course of this conference call regarding the Company’s or management’s intentions, hopes, beliefs, guidance ranges or other expectations for the future are forward looking statements. Those statements involve risk and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially.

Please refer to the cautionary statements detailed in this morning's press release and our Form 8-K and SEC filings. Additionally, we have supplemented our fourth quarter results news release with a presentation that can be found along with the news release on our website at www.blount.com.

At this time, Josh Collins will give us an overview of the fourth quarter of 2012 and our outlook for 2013.

Joshua L. Collins

Thanks, David, and thanks to you all for joining us on today's call. 2012 proved to be a challenging year due to deteriorating European economic conditions throughout North America and the resolution of operational issues at our SpeeCo unit. However, we made important progress on many key initiatives and remain confident in our strategy and the long-term prospects.

While our sales for the fourth quarter were down 3% compared to the fourth quarter of 2011, our FLAG segment sales increased nearly 2% when excluding the impacts of foreign currency. Unit volume was up 2.6% with average selling prices declining by about 0.9% in the product mix.

For the overall Company, Asia was our strongest region for the quarter versus the same quarter a year ago, with a 4.5% increase and demand in Europe and Russia stabilized somewhat during the quarter with a nearly flat year-over-year result for that region, that's been down 15% year-over-year in the first three quarters.

Our on-order position continues to reflect moderate to stable demand. Our FLAG order board of about $168 million represents approximately 84% of the total. The total on-order position of nearly $200 million compares to $214 million in December 31, 2011. The on-order position for the FLAG business was down about 8% in 2012 compared to the year ago period and remains close to that trend line in early 2013.

EBITDA and operating income results were near the expectations we (indiscernible) on our last call. Our operating income for the quarter declined by $1.9 million compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. The profit decline was driven primarily by a charge associated with discontinuing a last quarter product line along with lower average pricing in both FLAG and FRAG businesses. Lower SG&A spend partially offset these factors and sales volume impact on profit was neutral overall.

I'll now turn the call over to Cal to cover some specifics related to the financial performance of the Company, including more detail on our overall cost structure and its impact on our fourth quarter profitability. After that, I will wrap up with our 2013 outlook.

Calvin E. Jenness

Thanks, Josh. As a reminder, we posted a presentation to our website this morning in addition to our press release that aligns profit and cash flow drivers compared to the fourth quarter of 2011 along with other operating metrics.

FLAG sales were essentially flat versus a year ago as well as our overall profitability. Sales were up driven by 2.6% volume gain, but this growth was nearly all offset by foreign currency and lower average pricing due to product and customer mix.

Asia sales were up 4.2% and South America was up 1.3% while Europe and North America were essentially flat versus Q4 2011. These results are an improvement versus the third quarter in kind of both Europe and Asia.

From a profit perspective, contribution to income was $26.2 million in Q4 2012 compared to $26.3 million in 2011. The factors affecting the FLAG contribution to profit were; volumes increased $1.4 million on a year-over-year basis and steel costs were about $1.8 million lower; volumes improved primarily in the Lawn and Garden product line which is up about 8%; average selling price declined by $1.4 million due to product and customer mix; Flag manufacturing and logistics cost were up $2.5 million, partially offset by a reduced SG&A spending which was down about $600,000; FX reduced profit by another $500,000; and finally, non-cash amortization expense was down about $500,000.

Increased manufacturing and logistics cost were driven by a lower plant utilization in FLAG factories. FLAG capacity utilization was about 82% utilization in the fourth quarter of 2012 due to the relatively slow markets selling conditions, compared to about 93% in the fourth quarter of 2011. SG&A spending was lower mainly in the areas of incentive compensation, travel, professional services and advertising, as we reduced discretionary spending in response to slower demand.

Turning to the FRAG business, sales were negatively impacted by a soft fourth quarter for tractor attachments and the lower log splitter volumes in North America, as customers continue to delay orders consistent with the pattern we experienced in the third quarter of 2012 related to warm weather and drought in the U.S. Also, we saw a shift in mix to smaller log splitters, which drove our average pricing down.

The FRAG business' contribution to operating income was a $3.9 million loss in 2012 fourth quarter compared to a loss of $0.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. The profit decline was driven by approximately $2 million related to lower unit volume, a $2 million charge we took on the discontinuation of the Kinetic log splitter product line in 2011, and $1 million in incremental support costs primarily in the area of supply chain as well as information systems.

Total Company adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter of 2012 was $31.6 million and our effective income tax rate was about 39%. Net debt was $466 million at the end of the fourth quarter, down about $1.4 million from September 30, 2012, and down about $2 million from the December 31, 2011. Our total leverage ratio of debt to pro forma adjusted EBITDA was 3.8 times and the ratio of net debt to pro forma adjusted EBITDA was 3.4 times at the end of Q4 2012. Both ratios have increased from the end of 2011 due to reduced profit levels.

In Q4 2012, we used cash of about $700,000 compared to generally $1.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. Reduced cash from operations of $4.3 million and lower profit versus prior year was partially offset by reduced capital spending of $2.1 million. The reduction in capital spending was primarily at the Fuzhou, China plant as the expansion reached a transition point near the end of 2012. For the year, we spent $51.7 million in capital as we invested in capacity expansion and other projects.

That covers the specifics for the 2012 Q4 operations, so at this time I'd like to turn the call back over to Josh.

Joshua L. Collins

Thanks Cal. I'd like to outlook in today's call by touching on two topics; first, our outlook for 2013; and second, the recent announcement by (indiscernible) regarding their intent to produce saw chain beginning in 2015. We're cautious in our outlook for 2013. While drought conditions in the U.S. which impacted our business in 2012 appear to be abating, a significant amount of uncertainty remains regarding global economic conditions, particularly in Europe which is a key market for our core FLAG business. Our forward order board and order intake rate do not yet demonstrate any significant improvement in market conditions relative to 2012. As such, our outlook for revenue growth in 2013 is flat to up 5%, which equates to a sales range between $930 million to $980 million, and for operating income to range from between $88 million to $98 million.

Our sales projection assumes growth in FLAG segment sales 0% to 4% and growth in FRAG segment sales of 1% to 6%, up versus 2012 levels. At these sales levels, overall adjusted EBITDA should fall within the $140 million to $150 million range. Even at the low end of our sales growth guidance, we expect improved profitability but certain costs in 2012 related to the integration of SpeeCo into our new Kansas City distribution center as well as the write-off of the discontinued log splitter line will not recur in 2013. However, FX impact, wage rate inflation, and moderate steel price increases will likely offset some of this gain.

Free cash flow in 2013, we expect to be between $40 million and $50 million after approximately $45 million to $50 million in capital expenditures. Net interest expense is expected to be between $17 million and $18 million in 2013 and the effective income tax rate is expected to be between 35% and 38% in 2013.

Turning to (indiscernible), as many of you know, (indiscernible) announced two weeks ago that they intend to produce saw chain in their manufacturing facility in (indiscernible) at Sweden by the end of 2015. This announcement was not a surprise to us, it's consistent with their overall sourcing strategy. We have maintained a good working relationship with (indiscernible) for decades and we supply them with a wide variety of (indiscernible) related products.

Our sales to (indiscernible) have been approximately $80 million for each of the last three years. In 2012, the purchases represented approximately 8% of our overall sales. We fully expect that (indiscernible) will continue to be a significant customer of ours for many years. In the near term, we believe there will be no change to our business relationship to our existing supply agreement which runs through 2013. At the conclusion of the current supply agreement, we fully anticipate that (indiscernible) will continue to source products from us.

We are the global leader in the production of saw chain and guide bars with chainsaws. We have the broadest product offering in the market and the most manufacturing expertise, which has been developed over a 65 year plus operating history. We believe these capabilities and our focus will support our position as an attractive supplier to (indiscernible) and other chainsaw OEMs as we continue to build innovative new products such as (indiscernible) chain and all the many saw chain advancements we have brought to the market over the past 65 years.

With that, we would like to open the line for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Our first question comes from Robert Kosowsky with Sidoti & Company. Please go ahead.

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

I was wondering how do we think about margins progressing during the year, because I know you mentioned in the FLAG segment specific that was some 83% capacity utilization in the quartet and does that step up as you get through the year, so you should see kind of a stair-step increase in the FLAG margins as the year progresses?

Joshua L. Collins

I think that depends on demand and as we're trying to express there, at this point, we're two months into the year, alright, it's early in the year, and I know that there are a lot of folks who are giving guidance out there for the top line and the market broadly on the ag side and the forestry, lawn, and garden side, and saying, okay it's going to be anywhere from negative growth to over 5% growth but it's going to be backend loaded.

What we can say is that, at this point, it's early in the year, couple of months in the year, the year feels an awful lot like last year. (indiscernible) like last year. I mean, a little stronger in some areas, a little weaker in some areas, but we don't see any reason to: call a turn at this point. The turns could come tomorrow, the turns could come in a quarter, it could come in the last half, but no turn sort of anchors to the low end of the guidance, and the higher end of the guidance obviously imply the turn I'm told in the second half of the year.

Depending on when and how that turn comes, that will impact utilization rates, it will adjust our production rates accordingly. The higher the production rates and the utilization rates, the better the margins are in that business. And we never continue (indiscernible) improvement program continues and we are definitely getting gains, but it's hard to see those gains in the financial results with that volume.

I will say that, one thing I mentioned that the drought just appear to be abating, the smell is nice, it's better than rain even, that region of the country that's underground is shrinking, hopefully that continues to shrink, but so far so good. We are continuing to see some trepidation, if you will, among dealers and their buying patterns and unwillingness to sort of order upfront, whether they are letting inventories get very low before reordering and not the full discount around volume, but it does feel like the credits of the business should be better off that the drought situation. Does that answer your question, Rob?

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Yes definitely, it is very helpful. Then, I was wondering if you could actually talk about I guess market share shifts in Woods because I know one of your competitors had growth in their respective segment and Woods was down, and I was wondering if there was any market share shift there or is there something that could be explained by geographical differences and maybe you're just kind of harder hit with the drought hit (indiscernible)?

Calvin E. Jenness

Let me address that. We're excited to note, we don't think that we lost any market share in the Woods cutter business at all. When we look at any retail sales, our shipment, the increase in our cutter backlog at year end as well as field inventory of our product, the data indicates effectively no change in our share at all. The data, the delta that you're probably looking at as it relates to some (indiscernible) ag business performance last year, and trying to compare that to ours, I know it's a little bit difficult because it's apples and oranges in there, definitely different than – I think you mentioned (indiscernible) in your note, it's definitely different than product mix and there is a lack of data around it. We don’t really know what they did with their backlog at year-end and they called anything forward and put anything at, you just don’t know, but based on the data that we see, we don't think there's been any change in market share.

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Good, that's good to hear. And then finally, as we get through this year with the FRAG restructuring, are there any kind of internal metrics that you're looking at to give you a lot of confidence, you're going to see the margins step up to this year, and kind of what are your thoughts about the new plant and how its running and all that stuff?

Joshua L. Collins

Let me just take it by sort of by business units. Woods continue to operate very well, that's mid to very high teens EBITDA margin business that I'm talking about AAA Woods component. We have a little CE business in there that is a highly competitive business but still make money for us, pretty small. TISCO, we've talked about before, when we report that, we knew that that was underperforming and really it was a top line issue and we've got to add categories in order to get the margins that you think that it is ultimately going to have, that's going to take on. We've got a very good management team in there now, we've upgraded that, and that will take time. So it probably continues to have a (indiscernible), as it has for the last several years and through this year until we can really put some investment there.

SpeeCo historically has produced as much as mid-teens plus EBITDA margins and the target there is mid-teens ultimately. Last year with all the issues that we had really starting the year before, and I'm not going through it again, but (indiscernible) migration to moving all the operations to Kansas City, not only did it hurt us last year but obviously we found ourselves in called the penalty box in some of our customers. It's going to take some time to get back to the level of profitability that we have historically seen with mid-teens EBITDA margins in 2010 that to get there, and we believe that we will be able to get there, that business will be profitable if here we won't be back at that level, but we'll be profitable.

Now, out of the box, clearly we're operating well on the SpeeCo side of it. Now I'm talking (indiscernible) pretty well, albeit a little glitch around Kansas City with that enormous snowstorm t shut us down for a few days. Putting that aside, operating well, making good quality products, servicing our customers well. Kansas City through the elevated levels of inventory is still not operating as efficiently as we'd like it to, but we are executing in terms of servicing our customers, and we think that will continue to improve through the course of the year as we bring those inventory levels down. But we do feel that SpeeCo is fairly well under control at this point and we're servicing our customers well.

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Good to hear that, and then finally, is there any like one-off or one-time items that are in the (indiscernible) guidance or is that just a clean number?

Joshua L. Collins

That's a clean number with a little bit of assumption around – there's probably a little bit of an assumption around operating efficiency levels at Kansas City, if you will, but otherwise there are no one-time items in there.

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Cool. Thank you very much and good luck with the 2015.

Operator

Our next question comes from Larry De Maria of William Blair. Please go ahead.

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Curious, you guys talked a little bit about (indiscernible) situation, how are you thinking about that evolving in the future in terms of will there be a competitor in the aftermarket, and I think you highlighted that you got $80 million in average and what to do with them, can you point us towards how much of that might be risk in the aftermarket and how big they may become, any color there would be great, thanks?

Joshua L. Collins

We'll try (indiscernible) around that, a little over half of that is around chain and about half, or maybe a little bit more of that chain is for the aftermarket already, and there's not as much details I'd like to give around a specific product breakdown what we sell to some customer, but to give you a sense. And one thing that I want to make sure that people understand is, we build saw chain for (indiscernible) branded (indiscernible). In some case, we sell it to branded OREGON or unbranded, but primarily branded (indiscernible) and we sell them that chain for both for OE, for their manufacturing saws, and for the aftermarket. We have historically and are willing to sell them as much saw chain as they are willing to buy for the aftermarket.

We compete with them today in the aftermarket, we are competing with them for decades in the aftermarket. We expect to continue to compete with them in the aftermarket, they are very strong competitors, and make very good quality products and we make some good quality products and saw chains for the aftermarket. I don't expect that that will change. I fully expect that they will continue to compete in the aftermarket but I don't see how they're going to compete more than they do in the aftermarket. Does that answer your question?

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Yes, that did. Just to clarify, you said half of that AD is chain and half is aftermarket, so it's none…

Joshua L. Collins

Yes, we were over half in chain, a little over half and a little over half of that is for the aftermarket.

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Perfect, thank you. As far as 2013 pricing assumptions and capacity utilization assumptions, I guess pricing obviously turned negative in the fourth quarter. Can you give us some color as how you're thinking about '13 and I don't know if that's all mix or if that's a function of the business getting softer, so can you help?

Joshua L. Collins

Yes, that was really mix in Q4 but we are expecting overall basically flat pricing for '13.

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Okay. When, if you're going to put price increase through, it's generally in summer, is that right or when you would be getting distribution you said, around the summer right? Then, it looked like Europe stabilized in the quarter. Therefore we would maybe assume that it reached, restocking would be the next phase. Maybe can you talk about maybe the regions in general but also why wouldn't Europe – I mean obviously it's now a macro situation, pretty fluid there, but why wouldn't we see '13 some restocking in Europe and how you're thinking about the other regions broadly. Thank you

Joshua L. Collins

Around Europe, yes, you would expect that eventually we will see if, we haven't seen it yet. Specifically with Asia, where it felt like Q4, we're seeing a turn there. In Q1 to-date, we have not seen that, in fact we're getting some reports in the field that there is a good amount of inventory. So, by the end of Q4, we might have to tell that loudly. There could be a turn here. We're not seeing it yet and we continue to monitor, but we want to make sure that we are not overproducing, we're been trying to walk sort of a nice edge around production rates in order to be able to be there for the turn, while on the other end of that, we want to make sure that we are creating cash flow that we need to achieve.

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Okay, thanks. So therefore, we would assume that utilization goes down adverse effect margins first half and then go up in the second half according to plan then, I would assume, right?

Joshua L. Collins

It fits essentially on the royalty end, it's from a year but that should feel good

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Thank you. Last question, and I'll then get off, the charge for the product line in the fourth quarter, how peculiar was that and is that completely done and also is that product line now finish or in the loss revenue going forward or could that come back?

Calvin E. Jenness

Yes, it was $2 million in Q4, there was a significant amount in the prior quarters as well, come and have (indiscernible) there, but that log splitter which is pretty innovative new type of splitter for us. The marketplace is doing okay, we felt that it was not safe and we were getting some fairly violent actions. The benefit is it has a very short cycle time, 3 seconds versus a 12 to 14 seconds sort of cycle time. That's the customer, the end-user benefit and that's important, but it's a violent action and we were concerned about safety and wear , and we decided to sort of (indiscernible) I was talking to a whole bunch of store managers from (indiscernible) who we've gone then through that, pull the background and customers tend to tepid really like it and we are putting ourselves as if it performs pretty well, we are working on a new version of that and it may be a year or two before we bring it out and we certainly want that – cut-down (indiscernible) within these results.

Lawrence De Maria - William Blair

Okay, and that was $2 million in revenue or EBITDA?

Joshua L. Collins

EBITDA

Operator

Our next question comes from Steve Barger of KeyBanc Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

I want to focus on cash flow for a minute. I know it's something you guys are thinking about but inventory still up around $175 million. As you think about your inventory levels versus production rates, do you have a target for the year, how much you can convert?

Joshua L. Collins

Yes, once again, as we said we've been sort of watching that, trying to walk that nice edge and chain reactions have begun end of year, we started out like, okay, maybe the turn is here and it's really net off and now it's kind of bouncing around. We're going to have to make a decision just around production rates bringing those down in order to bring down inventory levels by $20 million or so.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Okay, I know it will be in the Q but do you happen to have the finished goods, WIP, and raw material breakdown handy?

Calvin E. Jenness

At the end of the year?

Joshua L. Collins

It's about 16, 19, and we had some finished. I would say, we're not going to see that in debt reduction really in Q1, we've just got start to implement that now, and we'll start to see in Q2?

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Okay, and you talked a little bit about this and we've been talking about destocking for a while now, can you characterize the European channel versus the U.S. channel in terms of where you think they may be in that process? I know it's sort of a tough question.

Joshua L. Collins

We feel pretty stable and sort of normalized into our levels. Europe, we don't have the perfect information, it really depends on the country, but overall it feels like fairly normalized to in some cases low but fairly normalized inventory levels and it just feels like the entire market is slow.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Can you talk to the $45 million to $50 million in CapEx, what are the big categories of the spend and can you remind us what a more normalized CapEx number looks like?

Calvin E. Jenness

Yes, so (indiscernible) are in the final phases of Fuzhou where we think that that still makes sense.

Joshua L. Collins

We're going to review that but we still think that makes sense. (indiscernible) where it definitely makes sense, and then normal maintenance CapEx which is sort of $15 million to $20 million and low to mid 20s normalized if you will.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

And not looking too far ahead but if you spend $45 million to $50 million this year, is '14 still elevated or when do you kind of think you start to wind down some of these bigger projects you've been engaged in?

Joshua L. Collins

Yes, it definitely starts to come down then. We'll see a little bit of additional in each of those projects but much more levels in '14. The other, we've got some improvement projects, (indiscernible) laser cutting within FLAG, a Woods title for this year, but yes, it would definitely come down in '14. I'm sorry, Steve, the variable being brownfield, greenfield, Soviet and European, which is going to be a function of market at this point, they're going to imagine we're (indiscernible).

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

No, I understand, yes. In terms of the outlook for $40 million to $50 million in free cash flow, what's the allocation plan?

Joshua L. Collins

Pay no debt.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Okay. And if you look out past some of the current issues and think about EBIT margins and CapEx normalizing, just how are you thinking about the free cash flow profile of the business, just so we can think about how much you think in a normal environment the business puts out?

Joshua L. Collins

In a normalized environment, I'm going to – let's do it off of, let's see – say $150 million (indiscernible) in a year. If CapEx is $40 million normalized, $30 million to $40 million (indiscernible), $150 million minus $30 million is $120 million, so it's going to have to be the test software, we've got $15 million, $17 million of net interest expense, so you can see that the $100 million was taxes, call it $30 million to $40 million. Now, about putting a growth rate for the capital, might be up a little bit, we ought to have more than $50 million.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

You've talked a little bit about normalizing production or adjusting production to get in front of things. Are there any other cost actions you can take on the SG&A side or just have you held off on some things, kind of waiting for the market turn that you may implement now?

Joshua L. Collins

We can always go back and look papers, I will tell you we looked pretty decent in Q4, in Q3, (indiscernible), and on the SG&A side, but we always we will do that in each quarter anyway.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

And I haven't heard you say much about the lean initiatives. I know it's an ongoing process that you guys have really been focused on. Any update on just where you are in terms of pushing that through the manufacturing process?

Joshua L. Collins

We continue and we've got a really good start with (indiscernible) coming up on (indiscernible). We are not through all of our facilities but by the end of this year, we will be underway in all of our facilities, (indiscernible) a couple of near acquisitions, but this is such an important part of the overall development culture and as well as how do you go to work every single day and as well as cost savings, it's definitely more than paying for itself, and we continue having three, four (indiscernible) and sorts of smaller just-do-it advance and we're creating the culture where people would come in a day in terms of work every day and looking for ways and understanding that there are obligations and they have the right to take the initiatives to fix it. So, it's funny in a way, we don't have to talk about, we didn't talked about this time, just because we were trying to high-grade what going to want to discuss.

Steve Barger - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Understandable.

Operator

Our next question is a follow-up from Robert Kosowsky of Sidoti. Please go ahead.

Robert Kosowsky - Sidoti & Company

Just a quick question, that's a small portion of business, but on the lawn and garden blade side, what are you seeing as far as kind of the selling an U.S. and Europe and kind of what are your thoughts for the lawn and garden season in both of those regions?

Joshua L. Collins

It feels all right in the U.S., I think it's a little bit slow in Europe, but we've had some decent inroads with some of the OEs in Europe, and so far, (indiscernible) blades is actually okay.

Operator

This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Collins for any closing remarks.

Joshua L. Collins

Thank you all for taking the time and we will talk to you soon.

Operator

Thank you, sir, and we thank you gentlemen for your time. The conference is now concluded and we thank you.

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