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Potlatch Corporation (NASDAQ:PCH)

UBS Global Paper & Forest Products Conference (Transcript)

September 12, 2013 12:45 PM ET

Executives

Eric Cremers - President and COO

Analysts

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

Alright. We're going to start the afternoon session. Happy to be able to introduce Eric Cremers, the President and COO of Potlatch, one of four publicly traded timber REITs in the U.S., and with that I am just going to turn it over to Eric.

Eric Cremers

Well, thanks. Good afternoon everybody. As Gail mentioned, I am Eric Cremers. I am the President and Chief Operating Officer for Potlatch. I joined the company a little over six years ago as CFO and then just very recently transitioned over in my new role. I have with me CFO, Jerry Richards, who quit Weyerhaeuser and proud he joined Potlatch.

As Gail mentioned, we're the fourth timber REIT in the industry, you probably know our peers, Weyerhaeuser, Rayonier and Plum Creek. We're the fourth of the group. The segment of our business has really in to the resources business which is the REIT qualified business and these segment have business further in to northern and southern timberland. Then we also have, on the other side we have attached some REIT subsidiaries, the C-Corp. Its activities are not requalified, and so it [plays] regular C-Corp activity, and what goes on in that side of the business is our wooden products manufacturing and our real estate sales, a lot of our real estate sales.

We're the fourth largest timber REIT. We have about 1.4 million acres under ownership. I'll show you the location of those acres here shortly. We've got an enterprise value of just below $2 million, about $1.6 billion, $1.7 billion of equity and $300 million of net debt. Strong balance sheet, solid credit metrics. I'll take you through the stats here just a minute, and as a REIT, we pay a pretty attractive dividend of $1.24 per share per year with the yield today a little over 3%.

Moving on to next page, page four just lays out for you where our ownership of our acreage is. As you can see, our largest land holding base is in the state of Idaho where we own over 800,000 acres, we’re the single largest private land owner in the State of Idaho. Down in Arkansas, south central Arkansas we have about 400,000 acres of timberland and then up in Minnesota we have a little over 200,000 acres.

If you take a look at our wood products manufacturing business, we operate five manufacturing facilities around the U.S. As you can see on slide five here, two of those facilities in the State of Idaho, where we run a dimensional lumber mill as well as plywood mill. We have another stud mill out in the State of Minnesota. We also have another stud mill in the upper peninsula of Michigan, then we have another dimensional mill down in Arkansas in the heart of our ownership.

Turning to page six, just a brief overview of the business; we segment, our business into three distinct P&Ls; the first one the resource business, the harvesting and the growing and harvesting of trees. That business last year had about $66 million of EBITDA. Our real estate business is another segment. Our real estate business really is just a sale of raw acreage, there’s no real developmental vertical, developmental activity that takes place at our acreage. That business produced $34 million of EBITDA last year and then finally our wood products business.

Again the production of lumber and plywood last year had EBITDA of $52 million. The bottom of this page, now I want to highlight something for you and that’s the yellow bar, even through the depths of the recession, the company was able to generate EBITDA between a $100 million and $150 million per year. The sources of that EBITDA has varied overtime. During the downturn the EBITDA was driven by the sale of non-core or non-strategic acres. Nowadays it’s less driven by the sale of those acres and its more driven by the performance of our wood products business, which has been really strong off late.

Turning to page seven as you can imagine owning timberland with log production and as well as our wood products business with the sale of lumber and plywood, our business is correlated to the state of the housing industry in U.S. and fortunately we have seen the industry turn the corner, housing starts are picking up. I think it went to a little bit pause right, but I think we’ll get back to track and we anticipate higher housing starts over the next several years for a number of different reasons.

If you take a look at the drivers or the performance of our resource business, obviously log pricing is a key component. This chart lays out for you the trends in log prices. This is not our data, but this is industry wide reported data. The green line represents delivered log prices up in Pacific Northwest, and you can see there has been a really nice recovery off at the bottom back in 2008. That recovery is largely driven by Chinese demand; the Pacific Northwest is approximate to Asia, China and Japan and is able to export logs to those markets.

Compare that to the South which is shown here in the red line, [southern pine] log prices declined and they have not yet recovered and that’s one of the key issues we and the rest of the industry are facing is when our log prices are going to turn the corner in the South. The bottom line on that page is oak wood which relatively flat and stable overtime.

So to answer the question about when our log price is going to turn the corner, I think you need a basic understanding of the industry which is it’s all about what is the growth of the force and what is the harvest level in the force, relative to a particular region or wood baskets is what we call it. And what we saw at the bottom of the recession is that the harvest levels were far below the growth rate of the forest. The forest was growing then the harvest levels were, consequently there was excess supply and it push prices down.

We still think we are in a bit of an excess supply situations today, hence the reason we are not seeing a recovery in log prices. But as we see housing starts move up to $1.5 million which we think we are guessing to in the next few years it will bring a lift to the strong repair and remodel market. We think there was going to be continued demand in Asia, and we think we are going to see flat to perhaps declining output coming out of Canada. So we think that bodes really well for our resource business in the south. That red line is going to turn up again, we believe in the not too distant in future.

Turning to the next page, page 10 just lays out a view of our historical harvest volume. We converted to a REIT back in 2006, you can see we are harvesting 3.3 million tons per year. We ramped up and then the housing downturn pause and we’ve since dialed back our harvest levels. Our expectation again is we will get higher prices over the coming years, and most probably because of the fact that we deferring harvest volume. We have an opportunity to harvest more aggressively, we are not going to do it until we see better pricing but we certainly have that opportunity out there.

Turning to page 11, just taking a look at Potlatch’s reported pricing and volume trends. Now this is for sawlogs, so it excludes the sales of pulpwood. What you see is that prices for us declined back in 2009 and this is consolidated so it includes to both north and south sawlogs. We brought them back in 2009 at $53 per ton, and we’ve since worked our way back up to $73 per ton, that’s what we are forecasting for this coming year. So we’ve seen a nice recovery, that’s really driven by a product mix shift to more northern region sawlogs. As I showed you a minute ago prices in the south have been relatively flat.

We had an important customer Georgia-Pacific idled, they are across Arkansas Plywood mill, that lessened demand in our operating wood basket in that part of our Arkansas, as they were buying about 1 million tonnes per year of sawlogs and of that 1 million tons, about 400,000 tons was coming from Potlatch. So a large customer idled their mill lessening demand in the region. Although we’ve seen a nice recovery in sawlog prices, but it's really more in our Idaho region as oppose to the South

Page 12, if you follow the industry, you are maybe you familiar with this issue. British Columbia is an important producer of lumber to the industry not just for North American demand but also for Asian demand, particularly China. The mountain pine beetle has decimated the forest in British Columbia and the trees are basically dead. In DC, they can still be processed today and turned into lumber, but as time goes on, trees becomes less and less quality enough to get through a lumber mill for the production of quality lumber.

So consequently, there is a sort of a ticking bomb there of when a log or piece of log or tree can be use to run through a saw mill. At some point in time it’s going to be a special low quality that it can't be run through a saw mill. So consequently, people believe there are roughly 20 to 25 large saw mills that will be closing in British Columbia. These are big mills, these are not typical small mom and pop mills that you might find in the U.S. These are large mills, and so when they comes down, there will be less supply coming out of British Columbia, which ought to help the outlook for the industry.

Another favorable factor that we pay attention to is Chinese demand. The Chinese buy a lot of North American logs, principally from the Pacific Northwest and lumber prinicipally lumber coming out of British Columbia. There is a lot of talk about, gee, what's going to happen to China. Is it going to a banking crisis? It's growth for real, it’s 7% to 8% GDP growth. Our view is that it is for real. It will continue. A lot of the lumber and logs that they are buying from North America are used for construction. It's not for the construction of the single family home, but it's used for the construction of concrete warming for large urban building or condominium building and in any given year, the management try to maybe a little bit higher or a little bit lower but nonetheless, very significant. And the simplest way to think of it that the takeaway from North America today is roughly the equivalent of 600,000 to 800,000 U.S. housing starts. So you think about housing starts in the U.S. collapse so less demand for wood. Well, China has really stepped in the plates here to absorb a lot of that capacity.

Another reason to be optimistic about the industry’s outlook is the demand for biomass. Again if you follow the industry, there is a lot of pellet plans going up down in the South in the Mid-Atlantic and those pellet plans are producing pellets for sales to Europe, European utilities. They are required to have -- a lot of them are required to have 20% of their electricity by the year 2020 come from renewable sources, including solar and wind and the (inaudible) pellets and the bringing of pellets over there is placing a lot of coal consumption.

So there is some very strong demand for pellet plans and you are seeing a lot of pellet plans go up in the South right now to meet that demand and that of course ultimately put the pressure on the forest, primarily on the side of (inaudible).

You take a look at historical lumber and panel prices. I think what you see is that prices really bottoms in late 2008, early 2009. We’ve seen a real nice recoveries since then and we’ve seen two periods of time where we had sharp upticks in pricing, one was back in the early 2010, you can see both lumber and power prices went to the roof that was due to extraordinarily wet weather down in the south, or it’s going to receive shortage of logs because we stop to harvest when the ground is too wet.

So lumber and pellet prices went through the roof, prices enrolled over and then we started marching up. And then earlier this year, you can see on random links deposit price which is a composite of whole bunch of different dimension species of lumber, they got up to about $435 per 1000 board fee, so one of the strongest pricing we’ve seen in many, many years. That was really driven by excitements about how we starts for the coming year.

A lot of dealers in the U.S. build up inventories in anticipation of a strong home building season while we did see a pretty strong home building season so maybe not quite as strong as they had hoped. So prices rolled over, but that rollover makes sense down the floor, now they are working their away higher again. And we think we are in this period of time right now where supply and demand where basically out of balance. And as demand continues to improve as U.S. housing starts continue to improve, it’s going to take higher prices to meet that higher demand, that’s what can compel that extra capacity to common on to the market.

In fact, we see just put its most recent reports its forecast for lumber prices for next year and its forecast for next year was at lumber prices full year 2014 over full year 2013 was going to be roughly 9% higher than this year. So pricing is important driver for our wood products business and we are excited about future.

On the next page kind of highlight this phenomenon of capacity utilization pricing correlation the industry. If you step back and you think about it, it makes sense. So higher capacity utilization is in an industry, the higher the pricing likely to be in the industry. It’s It’s probably hard to from the slide up on the screen here, but if you got a hard copy you can see it. If you look at the pricing and capacity utilization 2009 which is the point in the lower left hand corner there, the industry operated 60% capacity utilization and pricing was maybe $180 for 1000 board fee. And look where it was in 2010, 2011, 2012 and then the red dot represents where we expect to be in 2013. You can almost draw a straight line between the 2009 and 2013 through those data points. As capacity utilization in the industry is working its way higher, prices have been moving higher.

Taking a look at the performance of our wood products business, you can see this chart lays out performance over the last eight years or so and what you see is that in the depths of the recession we actually went cash flow negative. We lost $11 million on EBITDA basis in 2009. As did a lot of other people they lost money as well. And that forced a lot of closures in the industry. And since that period of time with this growing demand and with the industry struggling to meet that demand because of all the closures that took place, our profitability has moved right along with pricing.

Turning to page 18 and taking look at our real estate business, like any owner of large amount of land you might want to segment that land and think about what’s the highest and best value that you can get for that land. So for over 1.4 million acres roughly 1.2 million of those acres we think the best outcome is for growing timber for our own use. So whether we use it in our mills or we sell it to third party customers best use for that acre, the highest value use is for growing timber, but roughly 200,000 acres we think we can sell at prices that are greater than what we call [T&B] or timber management value.

So we can do present value of future cash flows on a acre of timberland and we can say this is what it’s worked to us only in operating as timberland or we can sell it to somebody else who has got maybe a different use for that particular acre. So we have identified roughly 200,000 acres of land that we anticipate selling over the next 10 years or so to others that we think are going to pay us more money. And if you take that 200,000 acres in the segment that which we have done on page 19, the lesser value opportunities on the left hand side of the page which includes conservation moments.

The next higher value of the non-strategic timberland, then you have real estate and tyen finally HBU or higher better used real estate and this page lays out some of the characteristics of what those particular acres might look like.

Page 20, just highlights the trends in our real estate business and what you see is that on the left hand side of the page. During the downturn we are showing up a lot of non-strategic acres, these are acres that we identified way back in 2006 and 2007. We knew we are going to sell them. We sold them in the downturn to generate cash that helps to sustain the company’s cash flows, dividend and balance sheet requirements through the downturn.

So we by and large done selling those non-strategic acres. If you go back to that price chart that I referenced a couple of pages ago roughly 125 acres, 5000 acres that we have left to sell as HBU roughly 95,000 acres of world but only 15,000 acres of non-strategic single adds, so it’s a not a lot less in that bucket. Hence the reason the yellow piece of that bar has come down, but what you are going to see from our real estate business going forward is roughly the sale of 20,000 acres per year at pretty attractive prices, the prices that are well above what timber management value will be for those particular acres.

So if you take a look at our timberland holdings over the past 7 or 8 years, what you see is back to 2005 we had about 1.4 million or 1.5 million acres, required some acres along the way, then we sold some acres along the way. We are hopeful that we will be able to find acres to acquire. There is a very active investment community trying to buy timberland in the United States and it’s the TIMOs, timber investment management organization. And whenever acreage comes up for sale, the TIMOs will compete very aggressively for those acres, but we hope to be able to compete with them in the future.

And part of will help allow us to compete is having a good balance sheet. So turning to page 22, it just lays out for you our most recent quarter ending balance sheet and what do you see is that from a credit metric standpoint, we're in great shape. Frankly, we feel that we're a little bit under levered at the stage, you can see net debt to enterprise value up in the upper right hand corner stands at 14%, which is relatively low for a company like ours with the high quality assets.

We've got a $250 million revolver unsecured that we put in place at the end of last year, it's completely undrawn. We got ample access to capital. We're investment grade rated by Moody's that change happened late last year, early this year, but S&P still has at one notch below investment grade. And one of our goals here to near terms to convince S&P that we are worthy of investment grade.

Certainly the next page on debt maturities, really nothing to be concerned about, don't have anything back until 2015. So from a debt maturity standpoint, we're in a good shape.

Turn to page 24, taking a look at this historical breakdown of our cash flow where has it come from. If you look at the left hand side of the page, that's corporate consolidated EBITDA that’s after corporate overhead. The right hand side of the page breaks down the company's cash flows by business segment that does not include corporate overheads. So you can’t add up the three bars on the right and get it equal to the bar on the left, but what you see is our resource business generally creates anywhere from $80 million to $100 million a year of EBITDA. In fact it bottomed in 2012 to $66 million, but on an LTM basis, we're not moving up to $82 million as we're realizing those higher prices in the northern region, in particular in Idaho.

The next segment down, you can see is real estate. You can see we're generating a lot of EBITDA back in 2009, ‘10, 11 from the sale of non-strategic timberland. That business is trailed off here as we stop selling non-strategic acres. but it still generated $27 million of EBITDA on LTM basis. And then finally on wooden products business on the bottom right hand corner there, you can see it’s had a real nice turnaround, producing a $73 million on an LTM basis.

So turning to page 25, we are taking a look at the dividend. The yellow bar represents our FAD it’s a non-GAAP measure, funds available for distribution, kind of how much cash does the company has left over to pay out to investors as we are a REIT and do like to pay a dividend. The green bar represents the amount of our dividend payouts. And what you see is that through the 2007 to 2010, we're paying out roughly $8 million a year, $2.04 a share and then in late 2011, we had to cut the dividend, as we had no more non-strategic acres to sell, and that was a source of a cash flow through the downturn that we've been using to support the dividend.

So we cut the dividend to $1.24 per share, a roughly $50 million per year in payout, and what you see is that in 2012, we generated $53 million of FAD. So it's slightly in excess of our dividend. But if you look at 2013 on an LTM basis, what you see is that we’ve generated $74 million of FAD which is well in access of our $50 million payout. So just to kind of wrap it up here, there is a lot of reasons we are optimistic about the industry. We think housing is getting back on track. There’s a pause right now, but we think its going to continue the recovery. We don’t see Chinese demand going away, we see opportunity in biomass and we see declining supply coming out of Canada. So we are optimistic about our future to wrap it up. Okay. Gail, turn it over to for Q&A.

Question-and-Answer Session

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

I guess I would like to start because I am pretty close to where you ended in terms of funds available for distribution. Several other of the timber REITS face (inaudible) are end this year, you in the past have toughed it out really [leading] a line of sight to reaching harvest school. Is there any change in that thinking or do you still think you need to (inaudible) in fundamental your intentions are to (inaudible).

Eric Cremers

Well I think this kind of the source of the backdrop here the question is around stability of the earnings. We want to be very careful and very measured with any dividend increase that we might make. But certainly with the recovery in the wood products business that we have seen; we’ve seen a real nice turnaround in the company’s cash flows and certainly we are now earnings well in excess of what our dividend payout is. So I guess I would like to tell you that is it’s under review by the Board and its under consideration.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And would you be comfortable enough given the recent volatility in wood products pricing, can you give us a [standout] to cash [that] EBITDA?

Eric Cremers

Well we think we are for the next anywhere from two to four years going to enjoy significant earnings from our wood products business. If I had to pick a mid-cycle EBITDA for that business I’d say its probably in the $40 million to $50 million kind of range. So we think this is going to rollover at some point in time. We are getting returns right now that are well in excess of cost of capital. That being said we’ve got several years here where demand is going to fundamentally outpace supply, and we think that ultimately that sets up for higher pricing in the industry and its not just us again it’s [Ricci] came out with this forecast says 9% higher prices year-over-year. With demand improving 5% to 10% per year, that type of a forecast make sense to us. So if that happens and we don’t give up that pricing to providers of logs in terms of log cost going into mills, we can expect firm profitability from that business.

Unidentified Analyst

What were you thinking pricing as when you said it sounds like cost of capital?

Eric Cremers

Well again I would go back to kind of what I think mid-cycle EBITDA is working probably in the $40 million to $50 million kind of range.

Unidentified Analyst

What that pricing (inaudible)?

Eric Cremers

So it’s probably, the number off the top of my head but it’s probably 75 bucks below where we are at today. We are at 350 today.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

Maybe not fair just looking at your analysis that (inaudible) up. I mean that [Ricci] forecast he is relatively aggressive when he thinks that’s a lumber and how they’ve got within 5% of it’s 2004-‘05 peak and open to another question of what you are seeing in terms of (inaudible) demand saw mill you are starting. But it seems like there is still a lot of (inaudible) out there? And what were they basing on the supplier response wouldn’t come there, clearly must be assuming a pretty healthy level of demand, but today --.

Eric Cremers

I haven’t seen the specifics of their Gail, but I can tell you what I think about it. Well I think 9% is certainly realistic, I think the easy supply come back to the industry is already come back. The prices that we had in this spring, if you won the mill and you can turn that mill on mills were minting money in the spring. So the easy capacity is already come online and virtually every region is making reasonably good money right now.

I think easy way, it’s not easy to get that late capacity to come back on line again, there is somebody that recently bought a mill in our operating area down in our Arkansas and they said we are going to get this mill back up and running again. And the question was asked when do you expect to start this mill back up again and they said December of 2014. So it’s going to take them almost a year and half to get this mill up and running again, and if you think about it and we are just mills and sitting, they are not running for four years is probably, the machinery is probably gotten rust, you have probably lot of motors that need to be replaced certainly the blades and the saws have to be sharpened, you got to find the employees, skilled labors scattered in the recession oil fields.

So I think it’s a lot harder to get these mills back up and running than we might think. And also I think lot of the easy supply and there is a slide in the appendix here but a lot of the easy supply will see simply ramping up its production levels. If you look at the expected lumber production coming out of BC it’s going hit its maximum probably next year and then it is going to start to roll over due to this (inaudible) epidemic. So I think getting back to the question how is the 9% realistic, it’s because supply is going to have a hard time fetching up the demand.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And if that’s the case then what is the imply in terms of log demand and particularly you got in the south where you are still selling the supply?

Eric Cremers

Yeah, it’s ultimately the U.S. south is poised to really outperform here longer term. You've got log costs that are just at rock bottom levels, there is no export opportunity. So if you're a producer of lumber, then go to place for lumber production is going to be in the south. Eventually that demand is going to turn around again in the south and you will see that during the harvest level enforce exceed the growth rate of its force. And that's going to in all likelihood term pricing back up again.

So that's million dollar question is when is that term going to happen and when is pricing going to take a turn in the south. In our view is we don't have any better quality estimates than anybody else, we're probably still couple of years away from those pricing trends turning the corner.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And a little bit more in near term. Can you talk a little bit about harvesting conditions and what you’ve seen in the current quarter, I guess maybe our (inaudible) experiencing the deluge that you're getting a little further east within the foot side I think that goes in the opposite side of the coin and could easily take some level together.

Eric Cremers

Yes, it's been really dry in Idaho this summer if you heard or seen a lot of fires out west, you somebody got hit with fires, a big fire outside of Sun Valley. Unfortunately we had very little damages here in our acreage and the (inaudible) rates are raining out west , it's one of the seasonal thing. So the risk of fire has diminished greatly over the past couple of weeks. But it's not so wet we can't get up and harvest in Idaho. And then likewise it's just adjusted in the south there parts that got hit with really wet weather here recently, but where we're at that was not the case.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

Are you benefiting from it on the margin like the ripple effects that keep on moving further sales to get lost and have you seen any benefit or not so much?

Eric Cremers

Not so much is a short answer.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And as lumber prices came off over the last quarter, have you seen any impact in terms of demand maybe customers that thought they were going to ramp up or is there already shift maybe scaling back or is demand still kind of pointing out?

Eric Cremers

Yes, I think, in general, it's pretty stable. I think our order files probably lengthened a little bit, which in our saw mills. They sell production out in the future. In the best of times, we might be working three to five weeks out in the future and the worst of times, we might will have one week, maybe even less of production sold. I’d say we're probably in the middle of that right now, pretty firm takeaway I think is the best way to describe it.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And more strategically, I mean, you mentioned about one customer is that taking if you are year, year and half, can we start sawmill. Are you seeing, are you hearing more noise out there that people are taking the longer-term view and on the housing side and starting to take more actions in that direction?

Eric Cremers

Yes, certainly there is a lot of chatter about new mill construction. [Postner] has said they are going to build some 700 million square foot two mills in the South. There is talk of that sort of thing, but when does that capital actually get invested, when does the plant gets build, and when it starts production. It's a long time into the future. So I think people are scratching their heads right now trying to figure out how to get capacity up in south and sorting through the various alternatives.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

And any expense, I guess, one of the explanations out there, from when lumber pricing came off was whether that delayed housing activity. Any sense or noise that you are hearing that people might -- that housing activity might pop (inaudible) the fall or any part of it that’s relatively steady state from that perspective?

Eric Cremers

No, I think it's really steady state from that perspective. I do have a pretty strong point of view that will happen in the spring. Viewers got excited. We're not going to bottle lot of lumber because we are excited about the coming home building season that center price to lumber soaring, and that’s similarly price of lumber relative to value of the house is pretty small, but in terms of price of lumber soaring, then we did have bad weather for three or four weeks, so I can remember of snowing in Denver and I don’t know April and May it’s crazy.

And that really less in demand, less in takeaway from the dealers yards and they said you don’t need to buy lumber because there is limited home building activity because the weather was so bad. So we stayed away from the market and prices started to roll over and once prices start to roll over, there is a lot of psychology that comes into play and dealers we think said prices are coming down, I am not going to step in by until, I think the prices have hit the floor. And so when they rolled over, they rolled over really hard, but you can see if you go back to the (inaudible) composite slide, prices found the bottom, since now something like 7% from bottom in the summertime. But a lot of it’s driven by psychology.

Gail Glazerman - UBS Securities

Okay. With that, we’ve actually gone a little long, but Eric thank you very, very much for joining us today.

Eric Cremers

Thank you.

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Source: Title: Potlatch Corp's Management Presents at UBS Global Paper & Forest Products Conference (Transcript)
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