Air Products & Chemicals' Management Presents at Goldman Sachs Basic Materials Conference (Transcript)

| About: Air Products (APD)

Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE:APD)

Goldman Sachs Basic Materials Conference

May 22, 2013 1:45 pm ET


Corning F. Painter - Senior Vice President of Supply Chain


Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Neal Sangani - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Get into the homestretch now. Two more companies left today, and one of them is Air Products. We're happy to have Corning Painter here to give their story.

Corning F. Painter

Thank you, Brian, for that orientation. The concept of right off the bat that you're in for the homestretch though, it does sort of set a certain expectation about time and so forth and going through. But seriously, we do appreciate the chance to be here today, have a chance to share with you guys the Air Products story. I'm joined by Ken Walk, who's our Manager of Investor Relations. I'm the Senior Vice President for Supply Chain. In the world of Air Products, that means I'm responsible for manufacturing, operations, engineering, procurement and EHS.

So as always, today's presentation may contain certain forward-looking statements based on our current expectations of -- I'm sorry, regarding important risk factors. So let me start out with a couple of slides just sort of orientating Air Products and the industrial gas industry, and some of the inherent stability that you see in our business model.

So we're a $10 billion company, but you could see a wide range of end industries that we sell into. And that gives us a certain stability in our cash flow, in our business that's, I think, not able to be enjoyed by all of our colleagues in the chemical industry, that we've got such a diversity in this. And if you look at it, the 2 largest areas for us are energy and chemicals. And in these areas, we're doing things like supplying hydrogen into refineries for clean-burning transportation fuels. We're supplying oxygen in the coal gas suppliers, largely in China today that can feed both the chemicals and the energy segments. We're doing things with LNG technology. We're the world's largest supplier of the LNG liquefiers. Fully 80% of the liquefied natural gas in the world today is liquefied in equipment that we've supplied. So we're very active in that part of the segments today. And I think there's higher growth in that segment today because the energy market kind of acts as an economic driver beyond just that of general manufacturing. And I think what we would say is on the right-hand side of this graph, things like electronics, manufacturing, fabrication, that sort of thing, that it's just a little bit slower economic environment today. And you see that in our backlog. The majority of our backlog is really more related to the left-hand side of this graphic, in the energy and in the chemicals space.

So that's a sense of our business by where the product goes sort of business-wise or segment-wise. If we look at it from a geographic point of the view, you'll see we're also very diversified here, and once again, it gives us a lot of stability. Things can happen in one part of the world where we're not really tied to. Our fate isn't really tied to any one particular market. You can see the United States and Canada represent 40%, so over 60% of our revenue coming from other sources. The number there in Asia, we're particularly proud of, just 5 years ago, that would've been about 17% and we've been able to really move that number up. And this area where there really is, I think, still today probably the most dynamic manufacturing growth environment around. And speaking personally, I lived in the region for 8 years.

And just to shift gears for a second on this slide. If we kind of do a walk around the world, what do we see business-wise, what do we think is going on, because of that previous slide where we're so diversified in the markets that we serve, if I think about our Merchant business where we truck modest quantities of oxygen, hydrogen, argon, nitrogen around to various customers, it tends to reflect the general manufacturing. And so if we start in Europe today, I think what we see is what many companies see, that the economy there is still really in a difficult situation with the volumes perhaps still slightly trending down, just reflecting the overall economic situation there. And then if we go over into Asia, really focusing mainly on China, again, an area which has seen economic weakness compared to their traditional historic growth rates. And I think from our perspective, as we look out into the second half of the year, we would say that, that probably continues in this time frame. We don't see a dramatic change or uptick in that market. And finally, in North America, sort of more of the same there as well, to be honest, that we would say that there is growth, right, and I'd say also there is a decline in the number of customers who are really getting into economic problems or who are dramatically cutting back on their production. Things at the bottom end have sort of stabilized and there is some growth in that space with the stronger customers, but it's not like a super robust growth story. And that then really sets the groundworks for our Merchant Gas business.

Our Tonnage Gases business, and I'll explain this more in a few minutes in terms of some graphics around them, this is where we built a dedicated plant serving one customer for a long-term commitment between the 2 of us. In this case, the very nature of that business is pretty stable. Sometimes customers take the maintenance outages which can drive our maintenance cost a little bit but, by and large, a very stable business. What I'd say in this space is we continue to see a fair amount of bidding activity for new projects.

In the electronics space, the business per se has not been as strong as we and other people had forecasted for this year. And I think we would say looking out 3 to 6 months, we don't see a dramatic uptick in that business space in this time frame, perhaps a little bit sequentially because we had Chinese New Year and so forth in the previous quarter.

And in the area of Performance Materials, oftentimes, the second half of the year is a little bit stronger for us. I think we're hoping to see that. But again, I wouldn't see a dramatic change, really, in many of the markets from sort of the runway we're seeing today. I know that's not really exciting news, but that's the news as we see it.

So another way to look at our business is by looking at it in these segments, and once again here, I think you'll see there's a lot of stability in our business model. And if we start on the left-hand side, we're starting with the tonnage and on-site and pipeline business. So this is the model where there's a customer. They've got a factory. They're going to need oxygen or nitrogen or hydrogen, whatever, for a long period of time. We'll build a facility right next door to them. This is more like dedicated to them, so they're going to enter into a long-term commitment from us. That's typically 10, 15, 20 years, take-or-pay, with the ability to pass through energy and other sort of general inflationary increase on to the customer, very stable, and places where, maybe we're in a science park or an area where there's a cluster of industry, we'd even go further than that. And pipeline, we have a pipeline of products to a variety of manufacturers in our neighborhood. So very stable, and that represents 42% of our business.

Next one over is the Merchant. So this is where we've got maybe an air separation plant. We're separating air into nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and we liquefy some of that and we truck it on to a customer. This tends to be done under a 3- to 5-year contract. Once again, we've got the ability to pass through cost and add an element of stability as it is stored at the customer site in an Air Products supplied storage tank, right? So we own the tank. So a lot of, I'd say, stability in that cycle as well.

If we move over, we come to the Packaged Gases & Specialty Materials area. This is about 28% of our business. You can think of this as about 1/3, 1/3,1/3; 1/3 packaged gases, so think of welding supplies and that kind of thing, metal fabrication materials; another 1/3 Specialty Materials, specialty gases, typically going into the electronics space. But also possibly reference gases and standards going into an analytical lab and that kind of thing; and 1/3 Performance Materials where we're remaking specialty additives. It's going to go into another company's products like maybe paint or a solvent -- or a solvent, excuse me, into a cleaning formulation, that sort of thing, that someone else markets.

And the final segment there is equipment. About 50% of equipment is again the LNG heat exchangers, right? So all over the world, there's areas where there is stranded natural gas, hard to bring it to market. The way to make it economically to ship is to liquefy it. We supply the heat exchangers and the technology central to liquefying those products.

So those are kind of all about the stability. We're shifting out and think about what are the underlying trends for growth in the -- for Air Products and we've outlined 3 here, one of which is energy demand, increasing energy demand. We see that all over the world, both in rich industrialized countries, but also in developing economies as well. A growing environmental focus, really worldwide, I'd say on that, and the power of emerging markets.

So if we start with the first item up there, hydrogen for refining. So you bring crude oil out of the ground. Sometimes it's got sulfur, sometimes it doesn't. We call it sour if it's got more and more sulfur content. You can think of that as a long hydrocarbon chain, a bunch of carbons, and it's got some sulfur stuck to it. And if you don't remove that sulfur in the refining process, it goes right through the refinery, right into the gasoline or the diesel, right into your engine and the right out as SOX, okay? And so all over the world, there's rules on limiting that. There's also the fact that the more hydrogen we use to process the petroleum, the more we can squeeze valuable products like gasoline and diesel fuel out of them. So for a variety of economic, regulatory, environmental factors really drives hydrogen demand into that, and it's really a mix of all 3 of those drivers, right? It's energy. But it's also the emerging economies as more and more people enter the middle class, right? They're getting cars, they want transportation and there's an environmental aspect to it as well.

Oxygen for coal gasification. Really, again, all 3 measures, right? Most of this is happening in China, one of the most dynamic emerging economies in the world, right? It's the cleanest way to use coal in this -- in the economy there. It's got a very powerful driver behind it. We're taking stranded coal in inland China, converting it into hydrogen or hydrogen carbon monoxide that can go directly into chemical manufacturing that can be used as essentially natural gas like we have natural gas pipelines in this country. A very attractive way to monetize the coal that they are so rich in.

If we go down to manufacturing applications growth. So if we think about emerging economies that are becoming more sophisticated in their manufacturing, even today, right, with the current economic environment, people are looking for less input in terms of energy. They're looking to get more production out of the same asset they have. They're looking to get higher quality and industrial gases could be used to help drive those things and many, many, many industrial applications, oxygen for combustion fuel for glass making, steel making, nonferrous metals, all kinds of different applications there.

Performance Materials. This is where, again, we make the additive that goes into other people's products. It could be low volatile compounds, organic compounds. So there's less of an odor. It was a cleaner application. It's used greener solvents instead of an oil-based solvent or we can go to water-based solvent that goes into household cleaners, that sort of thing.

So a number of economic drivers that push us ahead and many of them are somewhat detached from the global economy. The energy drivers there are really very powerful for us. The applications of our products are very powerful for us, even in a weaker industrial environment.

So the only thing I'd talked about so far, maybe a few other industrial gas companies could talk about, but the next couple of slides are really a unique benefit that we bring our shareholders. And the first one here is when you buy into Air Products, you are not just buying the top line sales of $10 billion, you're buying into our joint ventures, and our nonconsolidated joint ventures represent about $2.7 billion of total cash flow going through that. These are places where we tend to be in a developer -- developing economy. We've got our partnership with a leading industrial gas company in that country. Typically, that family is well connected in the business community, into the political situation there. We have access to young, attractive employees who we're able to bring in. And we marry up those capabilities with what we bring as a global company with products and standards and execution capabilities and manufacturing in China and so forth. It is a very, very strong combination, and you could see that in the lower set of numbers there. When you look at the operating margin in our joint ventures, right, it is higher than the overall corporation. And that's, again, because they tend to have very high regional market share. They've got a very strong position in the country and then you combine that with our capabilities. Over time, we tend to buy these up. Our leading position in Korea, in Taiwan, for example, came from joint ventures that we ultimately bought up or bought out. And again, I personally spent 8 years in Taiwan as part of that process.

Another difference that I think we brought are what we've been able to do in large oxygen plants. So back in 2009, we recognized there was going to be an opportunity in large oxygen plants in China related to coal gasification. And we developed a product like a standard offering that we could go in to large oxygen customers in China, largely locally made and so forth that would be very cost-effective offering for it. And by winning some early orders and then building the plants, making improvements, replicating the designs, step-by-step improvement through it, you could see we have been able to move this cost down dramatically. We're able to go to suppliers and say, "This is what we've done with you. This is what we're going to do with you." So let's talk about how we can use this confidence in our order pattern to drive efficiency in your manufacturing and let's share some of the benefit or we can go to a western supplier and say, "Hey, we're doing this. We'd like you to be part of the story, but you need to come into China, be a lower-cost supplier yourself and contribute to this overall success story that we've had in it." It's been a very powerful thing for us and I think it's sort of transforming, for us, sort of a transforming opportunity in China just because there's so much coal gasification work going on.

Another difference for us is the waste for energy project we have going in the U.K. right now. So I think this is a super exciting opportunity. We're taking our core skills and applying it into a new market. So we take trash, we put it -- and there's a cute, little picture of one there, we put it into a plasma oxygen gasifier, very hot vessel. We gasify the material, material comes out and it's very similar to what would come out of a steam methane reformer. We clinch it, we clean it up, we bring in the gas turbine, we sell the energy, uses many of our core skills to be able to do this. I think many people have talked about how there's a potential that manufacturing growth, almost worldwide, is potentially going to slow down a little bit, right? China is probably not going to come back right where it was. How quickly is Europe going to come back? How much manufacturing is needed? This gives us, along with coal gasification and hydrogen for transportation fuels, this gives us a third leg of an option to create growth, to maintain growth, and in this case, really in a market, in an application that we have created. The first project going into Tees Valley. As head of engineering, I'm happy to tell you this is on budget and it is on schedule, right, and we have had no loss time injuries in this project so far. We're about halfway through and everything looks very, very promising on it. You could see the dimensions up there in terms of the amount of energy we're producing. When this is in its first full year of operation, we expect it to deliver about $0.10 of EPS, just this one project. So I think a pretty exciting opportunity that gives us avenues for growth going forward depending upon what the global economy does. Because everywhere around the world, there's trash and there's a need for energy.

So think about where are we making the investments today. You can see about 85% of what we're doing now is going into the large tonnage business where we're, again, building a dedicated plant or adding a plant to a pipeline system and supplying customers under long-term take-or-pay agreements. This build -- this capital is not going in the ground on speculative business. If I bill that they will come or something like that, we only kick these things off when we've got a firm commitment from a customer for the product.

Beyond the capital projects, what are our priorities on cash? So number one, are high-quality projects; number two, are the dividends. And we've increased the dividend year-on-year for, I think, 31 consecutive years now, of bond grading and buying back shares.

So just to sum up, so that we have a little time for questions here. If we talk about a leadership position that we have, what are the key drivers that we have to drive better shareholder value over the next couple of years? Number one, is loading our existing assets. So as you remember one around the globe slide and I talked about the growth prospects, well, that's difficult for our Merchant business where we haul around the LOX/LIN/LAR. We've got the ability to probably put about another $1 billion through our Merchant business, through our electronics business, of assets we already have on the ground. So loading that business, which in part is going to come with the global economy, which is in part going to become with actions we can take like driving application sales in China and things like that, that's a big part of it. Driving our backlog. We've got a record backlog of $3 billion. As I said, the Tees Valley project is on schedule and on budget. We're on budget for these projects, executing those well, getting it on stream, starting the take-or-pay, that's a big opportunity for us. And finally, just driving improvements, right? That we've done well with that. I think we've talked about that in our recent earnings releases, but driving productivity, whether it was a restructuring in Europe or improve how we do our maintenance, how we do -- how we monitor our facilities, and we drive continuous improvement in everything we do.

So I'd like to stop there and open this up for any questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Corning F. Painter

And will someone go first and spare Brian from having to ask the first question. Yes? There we go.

Unknown Analyst

I like the last slide about leveraging your leadership positions. I wondering if you could put a little quantification on those 3 bullets.

Corning F. Painter

So this is what I'm talking about right here. Yes. So I think on the first one, loading the assets, that's probably about $1 billion opportunity for us. We already have the depreciation on your books. That comes in at a pretty high incremental margin for us. I'm not sure if we've quantified that in the past. We have -- all right, so I'd tell you in the 40, 50 sort of range, that's a big number for us. Executing on the backlog on our project, I think a rule of thumb for our industry is typically getting revenue of for every $2 invested, you might get $1 of revenue. That's sort of a rule of thumb that's often used in our area. The productivity, we would have productivity goals, let's say, in the neighborhood of 3% a year. Now some of those show up in capital and they're going to be in the P&L or on the balance sheet and none in the earnings statement. But -- and it's oftentimes difficult to see that in the mix of loading and pricing and how much of your productivity do you give back to a customer and so forth, and we don't really always control that because you've got a dynamic market environment. Other questions? Brian? I knew I can count on you.

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Let me pick up the torch. This may not surprise you but one of your competitors was up here earlier and sort of maybe knocking the China gasification projects a little bit and you've had a lot of successes there and it's been an area of differentiation from some of the other players in the industry. Some of the things they brought up were just the lack of Merchant opportunity, the Merchant Gases and the credit quality of the customers. Just looking at -- as you've added those projects, those things you were concerned about, do you feel comfortable that these projects are going to have similar returns as you've historically had?

Corning F. Painter

Right. So I think there's a couple of different issues that are kind of raised up in it. Number one, sometimes it's so -- there's really like a different financial criteria when you're doing a project in China. And the answer is yes, it's higher, okay? So I think like most companies, we have a hurdle rate. We define it country-by-country. And I think like just about every company who has been up here today, we'll have a higher hurdle rate actually in China than we would in a fully developed economy. So that's kind of the first point. And we look turn to earn a certain -- a similar spread over that hurdle rate. So if you're talking about the contribution we should get for a project in China versus a similar project in the United States, it's actually higher. And I think that's common for most companies. Number two, what's the rule of law like in China? So I'm brought in. I lived in Asia for a number of years. I've spent a long time in China. I lived actually in Taipei. I would say over the time I was there I saw a dramatic improvement in the rule of law. The Chinese are very interested in continuing to grow their economy, providing an upswell of opportunity for the people, tens of millions of people rising from poverty, really, into middle-class life. You can't do that without a rule of law. You can't do that without certain infrastructure. I think you see that improve. And keep in mind, we're not like somebody who's built a factory on the other side of the world and now we're arguing over what times -- returns we're bringing into you. We've built the factory right next to this company. We know them at the executive levels. We know the local government officials at the high levels. And I think it's -- all that plays into the situation. I think it's also true that sometimes people wonder about, well, how quickly are you going to sue them? And I think the quick answer to that is, well, how quickly are you going to sue a customer in any jurisdiction, right? So I've worked for Air Products almost 30 years and I can tell you there's very few times in real life you end up taking a customer to court. What you do have is a contract which defines the end game. If we can't come to a win-win or a better deal for both of us, this is what it's going to be, but let's negotiate in good faith and see where we can find our way. That is very much consistent with Chinese culture. And the other day, if you want to enforce it in the court, I think you could. If it's a huge customer, just like it was a huge American or European customer, you have to balance that against your long-term relationship. But there's a piece of paper, it documents the understanding that you're with. Finally, if we think about what's a high-quality customer, and we do think about this, right? Our view is the multinationals are good, but also the very large state-owned entities are also high-quality customers. There are a lot of coal gasification projects going in China. You do not have to be desperate to win one, right? You can be picky, you can be selective. We'll do things like consider what's the access to coal, how close are the mine? Is there a mining party who's part of there, right, because often these state-owned entities have many entities that are part of it. What are they making at the end of day? We'll get a third-party analysis on the company. So there's a fair amount of due diligence you can do. And finally, I know certain companies question this, but those same companies bid on them and actually win some of these themselves, and it's not like any one person has done it. What's been tremendous for Air Products though was recognizing the opportunity, defining a product and going forward. So if you look at our handouts, you'll see, for example, a prospect or a customer, PCEC, it's 82 -- 8,200 tons a day. We didn't custom build a big plant for them. They're getting 3,000-ton-a-day plants. It's more than they need. Why? Because that's our standard, right? That's our product offering, and we replicate that and replicate that and replicate it. In a way, you might hear some of our competitors talk. Probably, we figured out how we can do that, maybe not always exactly, maybe we're replicating major sections of the product or whatever, but we're doing that. And that allows us, if you can imagine, when we go to the vendors, we're talking about fairly large orders and repetitive orders of the same thing and that helps drive down their cost and their ability to share that with us, and I think that's a big part of the success in this market for us. Other questions? Brian?

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

My last one -- I'll let Neal go.

Corning F. Painter


Neal Sangani - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Can you just talk a little bit about your customer positions in the electronics market? One of your competitors just also was talking about having a little bit more of a stable footprint. Are you guys more just generally in line with the electronics industry or is there something potential...

Corning F. Painter

Yes. So if we're talking about from a customer perspective, we are very tight with the big 3 semiconductor companies in the world. And without giving away their names, one's in Taiwan, one's in Korea and one's in the United States, to the degree to which like a partnership is formalized when I used to lead it, there was expectations of how often I would meet an executive sponsor from the customer, how often -- so that will be maybe 2, depending on the company, 4 times a year. But there would be management review meetings and I would be looking at our joint technology development. That will be looking at the quality, the specification, the in control, all these different working teams. So I think from a customer footprint who we're with, it's tremendous, and I think we are -- it's hard to describe another area where you have that close -- tight customer relationship. The leading semiconductor companies, they live on Moore's Law, and they always want to be able to do the next shrink, right? These are the survivors. These are the guys who are still putting up new fabs. And for them to be able to do it, they feel they need to partner with, in the order of, let's say, 5, maybe 7 people. That's typically some tool manufacturers who will be in that and some material manufacturers and always some wafer manufacturers. We offer them scale because we're quite large. We offer them the large bulk products like the on-site nitrogen and so forth, and again, they are a product, a plant specifically made for that market that's very successful in it. We offer them a wide range, which gives them the kind of a scale in terms of Specialty Materials, but also advanced technology where we're solving their technical problems, often in which we have IP, but they're okay because it enables them to make Moore's Law. And finally, just really the long-term commitment to this market. It is a market that has ups and downs, right, compared to some others. But long haul, I think it's hard to say that the power of electronics isn't obvious in all of this. I would bet everybody in this room is carrying a smartphone, for example. And it's not just a chips that are in your phone, it's the very use of it, right? So downloading data from the cloud, all that means servers and all that long-term demand for it. Brian?

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Yes, of the 3 things on the slide there that you're trying to leverage, I think one that seems like particularly a big opportunity is to load the existing assets and part of that depends on the economy. But part of the team like there was some self-inflicted issues that happened over the last couple of years that you're working to correct and fix and I think Nelson has been working at it for a while in the U.S. and trying to get the sales force at the right level and right experience level. So I was hoping you can give an update on that. I think it sounds like the prospecting has going well, but just haven't seen it translate into a volume yet.

Corning F. Painter

Yes, so I think that's been going well for a while. One of the things, if you can imagine the can analogy, and so as we have success in selling, we're sort of pouring water into the top of the can. But in the U.S. manufacturing economy, we've had some leaks. Leaks not so much we lost customer to competitor a, b or c, rather customer went away or customer dramatically reduced their take of product. And I think that it's early days, but I think as we see the economy continuing to strengthen, that we'll perhaps see that leakage rate go down a little bit, which I think would actually make some of the success that Nelson and others have had in selling more apparent. I think it's my personal read on it. It's a little bit more of the bleed of the existing customer base rather than an inability to develop customers and so forth. It's just a very large base and the health of that base has sort of reflected manufacturing in the U.S.

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

And then just one last one. Do you have any update on the helium situation? Any -- are we getting closer to resolution there?

Corning F. Painter

So the helium situation is a big topic. Are you thinking primarily of the BLM situation or...

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Yes, I think you were testifying for Congress recently?

Corning F. Painter

Right. So I -- just so everyone understands. So helium, it is a gas that's found here on earth by radioactive decay of things like uranium, and it's very light and it would go right out of our atmosphere, out into space, okay? So the only place you can get this is from places where there's gas trapped underground, so typically helium with natural gas or occasionally with CO2. The United States, some years ago, decided this was a strategic material. We didn't want it all going away, like balloons up into the atmosphere. So they leased a dome that had natural gas in it and people could inject and sort of bank helium in it. Maybe 10, 15 years ago in the new [indiscernible] area, it was decided to monetize this and the initial bill to step it up and how that system was going to work plays out and runs out at the end of this government fiscal year, and a new bill needs to be put into place. There's a house bill. The Senate's working on the bill. Here's what I would say on this. Helium is a vital material, right? It's in -- basically, it's the refrigerant for every MRI, every hospital MRI imaging device, as well as being very important to the electronics industry and a few other places. It's -- so way more critical to us as a society and as a world than just balloons. And I don't know what final solution the government's going to come up with that, but I am confident, right, that we're not going to not be able to image injured people in hospitals. Some solution's going to come forward in it. And there's been a sense of the government wanted to have a better sense to check the market price. I'll just point out that the government has the ability to change the price on the helium that comes out of the ground that people like us buy, even today. So the fact that they're going to change the pricing mechanism or how they said that none of that's really a concern, the industry concern is really, hey, look, let's just have a stable supply. And I'm confident that some solution will come forward on that, but I'm not surprised, we don't have it yet from Washington. Well, I think that's it.

Brian Maguire - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

Are there any other -- okay, any other question? No? Okay. Thank you very much, Corning.

Corning F. Painter

Thanks, everyone.

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