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Executives

Bill Walljasper - Chief Financial Officer

Bob Myers - President & Chief Executive Officer

Analysts

Irene Nattel - RBC Capital Market

Kelly Bania - Banc of America

Ben Brownlow - Morgan Keegan

Anthony Lebiedzinski - Sidoti & Co.

Megan O’Hara – BMO

Alex Bison - North Coast Research

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

Casey’s General Stores, Inc. (CASY) F2Q10 Earnings Call December 8, 2009 10:30 AM ET

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the second quarter 2010 Casey’s General Store earnings conference call. My name is Eric and I will be your audio coordinator for today. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. We will facilitate a question-and-answer session at the end of the presentation. (Operator Instructions)

I’d now like to turn your presentation over to your host Mr. Bill Walljasper, Chief Financial Officer. Please proceed, sir.

Bill Walljasper

Good morning and thank you for joining us to discuss Casey’s results for the second quarter of fiscal 2010 ended October 31. I’m Bill Walljasper, Chief Financial Officer; Bob Myers, President and Chief Executive Officer are also here.

I hope all of you had an opportunity to see the press release. If you haven’t, please let me know and I’ll make sure a copy is forwarded to you. Before I begin, I will remind you that certain statements may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

As discussed in the press release and the 2009 Annual Report, such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risk, uncertainties and other factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from future results expressed or implied by those statements. Casey’s disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

I’ll take a few minutes to summarize the quarter and then open for questions. As you’ve already seen basic earnings per share rose over 22% to $0.66 compared to $0.54 a year ago. For the six months earnings were $1.53 per share compared to a $1.11 a year ago. Earnings in the quarter were driven by a higher than normal gasoline margin and margin expansion inside the store.

The strong gasoline margin environment continued in the second quarter resulting in the margin of $14.03 per gallon compare to $13.07 last year in the same period. This marks the ninth quarter out of the last 10, but we have experienced a gas margin over $0.12 per gallon. At six months mark our margin was $0.15 per gallon. Total gallon sold for the quarter were up 2% to $323.7 million compare to $317.3 million a year ago.

Year-to-date total gallon sold were up 3.8% to nearly $660 million while same store sales in the six month mark were up 1.2%. Same store gallon in the quarter were affected by decreased customer count in the later part of the quarter due to unusually cold and raining conditions. As a result same store gallons were down 0.7%. For the quarter gasoline gross profit was up 6% to $46.1 million.

Same store gallons are trending down in November due primarily to higher retail prices year-over-year. The average retail price in November last year was a $1.68 per gallon compare to around $2.45 today. However the favor gasoline margin continues in November. The grocery and general merchandise category is performing well. Total sales in the second quarter were up over 4% to $276.1 million with an average margin up 34.1% up over 20 basis points from the prior year.

The margin expansion primarily come from the cigarette area as resulted an increased tax contribution that rose to over 73% compare to approximately 67% in a second quarter a year ago. Same store sales in a quarter were up 1.9% while gross profit rose 4.7% to $94.1 million. Year-to-date same store sales were up 4.1% with an average margin of 34.2 ahead of our annual goal. Weather during the quarter held back sales especially in the beer and beverage area.

We also saw shift to more mid tier brands in these areas. Same store sales are improving in November as weather patterns return to more normalize levels. The prepared food and fountain category continues to strong performance. Total sales in the quarter were up nearly 8% to $94.9 million. Same store sales in the quarter were up 3.4% with an average margin of $64.6 up over 400 basis points from the same time last year.

This is primarily due to a lower cost of cheese and other products as well as an increased contribution from the fountain area as we continue to expand our fountain coffee offerings. The average cost of cheese this quarter was a $1.68 compare to $2.10 a year ago. Year-to-date same store sales were up 5% with an average margin of 64.2% significantly ahead of our annual goal.

These are outstanding numbers in light of the difficult comparisons from last year and poor weather mentioned previously. Similar to the grocery other merchandise category same store sales November are improving. At the six month mark operating expenses were up 1.3% for the quarter operating expenses were up 2.8% primarily due to moderate increases in wages insurance and utilities, which we were able to offset with some decreases with 30% drop in fuel expenses and 6.4% dropping credit cards fees.

These two combine were down about $2 million in the second quarter. The average retail price of gasoline this quarter was approximately $2.41 compared to $3.45 a year ago. During this time we also experience an increasing credit card transactions, 55% of all sales transacted in the quarter were done on credit cards compared to 51% the same period a year ago.

Our balance sheet continues to be strong at the end of the quarter cash and cash equivalents were $178 million and shareholders equity rose to $792.6 million up over $71 million from the end of the fiscal year. We continue to pay down debt; long term debt net of current maturities was down about $10 million to $157.9 million. At the end of the quarter our average long term debt including the current portion the average total capital ratios about 20%.

On the income statement total revenue in the quarter was down about 17% to $1.2 billion. Year-to-date total revenue was down 20.8% primarily due to a 32.3% decrease in the retail price of gasoline. The effective tax rate was up from a year ago due to the lower than estimated tax credits in a quarter. The number of basic shares outstanding in the quarter was $50 million, 899,179 in a diluted share count was $ 51,054,286.

We generated $129 million of cash flow from operations in capital expenditure rose to $75.2 million due to increase store growth and construction activity from a year ago. We anticipate this to increasing future quarter as we accelerate new store openings and continue to work on additional acquisition opportunities. This quarter we opened two new store constructions and completed four acquisitions.

Year-to-date, we have open seven new stores and completed four acquisitions. We anticipate drilling approximately 20 new stores and replacing 20 stores by the end of the fiscal year. At the mid year point we have replaced 12 locations. The acquisition environment has been more active recently we have signed asset purchase agreements for an additional 16 locations that we are schedule to close on by the end of the calendar year.

We remain optimistic about long term acquisition opportunities. Our store count at the end of this quarter was 1488 corporate stores. That completes my review of the quarter; we’ll now take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Irene Nattel - RBC Capital Market.

Irene Nattel - RBC Capital Market

You mentioned consumer trade down within the context of the merchandise category and I was wondering if you could just talk to that a little bit more and also whether you are seeing at more consumers purchasing on promotion in the food and fountain segment as well?

Bill Walljasper

Both a couple areas, especially in the grocery and general merchandise, where we’re seeing a little bit of trade down phenomena; first of all in the beer category we have been seen a shift of the last through probably four to five months going from the premium brands of beer to the popular to budget brands of beer, obviously when that happens that does put a little bit of pressure on same store sales because the lower range, but also in the cigarette category you’re seen a shift down to the mid tier and lower tier brands of cigarettes again a little bit of pressure there.

I didn’t mention Irene in the grocery and general merchandise category I know we talked about this in the first quarter conference call was a little bit of deflation pressure. We’re still experiencing that just specifically in the milk area, that particular commodity seems to be very low relative to a year ago to kind of put that in perspective that’s tracking about $400,000 decrease on a monthly basis.

So when you roll that up into a core, that will probably impact about a 0.5% in the total grocery and general merchandise same store number. So, again just a couple of things here in there, that’s pulling back that same store number in addition to the weather that we mentioned. Now, with respect to you to the second part of your question, I’m not seen necessarily people are buying more on promotion.

Actually, even though the customer account on a same store basis was down in the quarter, we are seeing an increased basket rank. So it’s not as if our customers are choosing to purchase less product when they come in, it’s just a point that they’re coming in less frequently during that period of time. Now we believe, that’s really with impact in part at least by some of the poor weather conditions that we experience relative to a year ago.

Irene Nattel - RBC Capital Market

Just to clarify Bill, the basket counts or the item count for basket, with that also be stable to slightly up in grocery?

Bill Walljasper

Yes, correct.

Operator

Your next question comes from Kelly Bania - Banc of America.

Kelly Bania - Banc of America

I was wondering if you could talk about your outlook for cheese cost, now that the hedge is kind of rolled off.

Bill Walljasper

The cheese cost as you know, we were locking at $1.68 through the end of October. Currently, we’re buying on the spot market, which is roughly about a week out on every time we purchase that right now an all in cost is about $1.95 all in. To put it in comparison, last year in the third quarter, we were asking about $1.80 per pound.

Kelly Bania - Banc of America

Is there any appetite to look at anymore hedging there or…?

Bill Walljasper

Kelly, we always look at that opportunity, look on a very regular basis. We think the environment is right for an opportunity coming forward here. So we’re going to continue to buy on the spot market, the futures are still relatively high tracking about $2.10 roughly. So we think there’s an opportunity based on the indicators that we’re looking at internally, as well as with some assistance from third parties. So we do believe that there is opportunities for a downward movement in that area so we’ll keep a close eye on that as we always do.

Kelly Bania - Banc of America

If I can ask one more, I was wondering it’s trading down that you’re talking about. Does that change in anyway the way you look at merchandising the store I guess, adding any lower price points or less premium offerings?

Bill Walljasper

Now absolutely, we will certainly look at shelf space allocation for some of the lower tier or mid tier brands and products, that we see trending more favorably, part of the reason, certainly in our new stores and we went from nine cooler doors to 14 cooler doors. It certainly gives us the opportunity to be very flexible to accommodate those customer trends in the cooler area.

Certainly, we’re going to accommodating those trends in the cigarette area probably for the last couple of years as we see a shift in more generic type brands of cigarettes. So absolutely we make those adjustments.

Operator

Your next question comes from Ben Brownlow - Morgan Keegan.

Ben Brownlow - Morgan Keegan

I guess there’s a lot of question on the consumer trend and that trade down, but could you talked about over the past four or five months, how you really seen that trend accelerate or could you just talk a little bit, is that trend continuing to accelerate or is that moderating?

Bill Walljasper

I wouldn’t say that’s accelerating, Ben. I think it’s been relatively kind on a status quote downward over the last in kind of stable flat to over the last four or five months. So I won’t see that necessarily accelerating at this point.

Ben Brownlow - Morgan Keegan

Then one other question on the operating expenses, do you have the dollar amounts in front of you on the insurance and the utilities?

Bill Walljasper

For the third quarter or year-to-date, Ben?

Ben Brownlow - Morgan Keegan

For the quarter.

Bill Walljasper

For the quarter, the utility number was $20.3 million and that was up about little over 7% from the same period year ago. You asked about the insurance? Now the $16.6 million and that actually were up about 20% and in the second quarter year ago. We had a little bit of claims activity and the workers compensation side of the insurance.

Operator

Your next question comes from Anthony Lebiedzinski - Sidoti & Co.

Anthony Lebiedzinski - Sidoti & Co.

I was just wondering, if there was anyway you guys could quantify perhaps how much of an impact that you thing the bad weather that was on your business on the quarter?

Bill Walljasper

It’s a little more challenging, however, to try to quantify that simply because there’s number of things going on as we kind of alluded to deflation trade down phenomenon and some of those things. So I can tell you this, when I’ll take the month of October specifically, our customer counts was down probably the most it’s been in the last three years in that particular month. It was trading significantly better than that, prior that. It happened to be one of the coldest and wettest Octobers on record in our area.

So consequently, when I look at the basket ring, however, was up during the same time period, that kind of what we’re seeing right now. So it’s a little bit harder to quantify. I am so unfortunate I won’t able to be going to give you any specific color on that Anthony.

Anthony Lebiedzinski - Sidoti & Co.

Also I was just wondering how many stores now have the expanded coffee into fountain offerings and how do that compared to last year?

Bill Walljasper

On the 10 head fountain offerings we’ve about 750 locations that have that as that we talk in the last conference call we are looking to continue to roll that out we think there is applicability for the majority of our stores to have 10 head fountain machine really to constrain really is counter space.

We continue to roll that added about neighbor to 15 to 70 per quarter were evaluating looking to expand that and see if it make sense for try to accelerate that, but certainly that’s going to be endeavor going forward. Now that compare to last year Anthony we were about half of that in the second quarter year ago.

Now with the coffee offerings to expand coffee offerings were about a 120 location that have expanded coffee offerings and a same type about probably half of that we had a year ago. So, certainly we’re accelerating and that’s really contributing to some of that margin enhance we talk about in prepared food category.

Anthony Lebiedzinski - Sidoti & Co.

My last question in the quarter you did certainly benefit from lower cheese close nothing there was some other commodity that you saw lower prices or benefits from certainly be just discuss that thanks.

Bill Walljasper

Yes, I will talking some of the other areas and it not just commodities but also supply cost as well. Give you kind of example some of the things that we saw always we benefited from Q2-over-Q2, coffee was down slightly Q2-over-Q2, Doughnut oil was down, pizza boxes was down, flour was down, all of those product cost were down, during the quarter.

Now some of those if started to tick up a little bit here as we add in the third quarter so certainly were keep in eye on that, but certainly with rollout and continued rollout of the coffee fountain offerings certainly should, we should benefit from that in the third quarter of the margin.

Operator

Your next question com Megan O’Hara - BMO

Megan O’Hara - BMO

Going back to the traffic questions, can you specifically breakout traffic versus after in the quarter end also what’s you are seeing for the third quarter to date?

Bill Walljasper

The traffic first basket might be little more challenging I mean I can tell you that in the second and third quarter Megan.

Megan O’Hara - BMO

Both if possible.

Bill Walljasper

I can tell you in a second quarter the traffic count were negative obviously in a quarter and it became increasingly more negative in October as I mentioned for the recent previously. The basket count during that same time period however accelerated throughout the quarter, that’s probably as much color and gives you that area now as far as when we head in the third quarter.

I call tell you the same store customer count is trending positive in November and also as we head into December. I give you a little bit of color as far as the same stores sales by category as well. So they are improving relative to what they obviously were in October, but certainly grocery and general merchandise is improving certainly above what we performed and reported in the second quarter and so we’re encouraged by that at least. So certainly that leads us to believe that weather was certainly a primary factor.

Megan O’Hara - BMO

Then if you could provide some more details on the recent acquisitions, maybe some more information on the size of the stores and who they’re supplied by and the multiples on the transactions?

Bill Walljasper

We do have some constrains by the asset purchase agreements there. We haven’t closed on those. So I can’t give you a lot of detail on that, but I’ll give you as much color as I can give those constraints, but certainly the acquisition activity certainly accelerated. We’ve been fortunate to have a few small acquisitions come under our belt.

One was the three store chain down in Kansas. Another with the nine store chain down in Missouri and then recently a four store chains here in the State of Iowa primarily. We also have a few others that we have asset purchase agreements on that we anticipate closing probably more like in the late third and to fourth quarter. So we’re encouraged by that.

Multiples have been coming down for all of those acquisitions. Particularly, the multiples have been in the 5% to 7% range in the trailing EBITDA base, five times range on a trailing basis. Most of those have been down in the lower range of those. So we’re encouraged by that activity.

We’re also in negotiations with several other small chains and doing some financial due diligence of ours as well. So we’re certainly cautiously optimistic with respect to acquisition activity and obviously due to the fragmented nature of the c-store space in our market area. We think that there will be opportunities in the future.

Megan O’Hara - BMO

Then do most of these stores you’re looking at? Do they have prepared food offering already built in?

Bill Walljasper

No. Most of them don’t have the prepared food offerings like we would have. So certainly we will rebrand those to Casey’s and then as quickly as we can infuse our prepared food offerings. They run again as far as their average sales. If you blend them all together, the average revenue would be above our average stores. Certainly that would typically correlate into above average cash flows, relative to our average stores as well. So some nice assets in very good locations and we’re excited about bring them into the mix.

Megan O’Hara - BMO

Then just one final question, looking at full year goals, is there anything you’re seeing or expecting the back half of the year that will help you achieve goals, specifically for the in-store comps?

Bill Walljasper

In-store comps is going to be a little bit more challenge to hit our goals, especially since where we’re at the mid year mark. So it’s going to be a little bit challenging to hit that same store sales little bit. Keep in mind at the end of the day, when we do put out same store sales goal and margin goals, but gross profit dollar is the driver at the end of the day.

So we try to manage those in tandem as best we can to achieve the best gross profit dollar contribution. So we would have to have some really strong acceleration in same store sales for us hit the goals inside the store, but we’re encouraged by the margin expansion that we have going on in stores that gross profit dollars is certainly trending above target.

Operator

Your next question comes from Alex Bison - North Coast Research.

Alex Bison - North Coast Research

Couple questions here for you. Bill, you alluded to some cost pressures that or at least some costs that could arise in the second half of the year. I guess I’m really thinking credit cards, diesel perhaps in the grain categories as well. So I guess given those increases in cost, what is your ability or what is your need or appetite to get more pricing in your stores?

Bill Walljasper

The cost pressures that potentially could be a headwind in a latter half of the year. I think that you’re referring to relates to credit card fees and fuel expense. Fuel expense obviously is for our internal transportation fleet and really that’s a reflection Alex, of increasing retail prices year-over-year.

As I mentioned, November of last year with $1.86 was the average retail price of gasoline. We’re tracking somewhere in that $2.45 ranges currently. So if you take a look at, what we’re going to be comparing against potentially with the average retail price of gasoline going forward.

In the third quarter of last year, the average retail price was $1.73. In the fourth quarter last year, the average retail price was $1.86. What we typically see Alex, when we see a differential of retail price, we do see an increased utilization of credit cards and even through credit card fees were down in the second quarter, we did see a increased utilization of credit cards, especially towards a latter part of the quarter.

So that something we’ll have to keep our eye on that, which will certainly affect our operating expenses, that’s really a difficult one for us to offset there and I’ll circle back in just a little bit and also fuel expense that’s a function obviously of higher expense than we have to get our fleet moving. So again even though, it was down about 38% in year-to-date and 30% in a quarter. We certainly see a deacceleration of benefit in that area as the retail price differentials becomes the headwind.

Now, on the other side of that equation, that’s a pressure that the entire industry at least in our market area is going to face and what we have seen half at least almost three years is that pressure is typically offset in more responsive retail pricing at the pump, which is going to be reflecting in the gas margin. That’s one of the reasons that we’re seeing some higher than normal gasoline margins and that margin environment, as I mentioned certainly continues to be favorable in November.

So that’s where I think you’re going to see the offset of those particular pressures. Now, the other bucket that we’re talking about, there are some ebbs and flows there, but same store wages for instance only tracking about 3%. So that’s the biggest bucket of operating expenses, so we are encouraged by that particular area where it’s trending.

Alex Bison - North Coast Research

Do you think you’ll need to or you have the ability to raise in-store prices?

Bill Walljasper

It’s really not scheduled for us to do that, we do competitive pricing service on a monthly basis. So we’re very in-tune with the retail price environments and key products in our market area. So I would say this Alex, if we see a movement upward in those key areas, we certainly will make a corresponding adjustments, even though we don’t have anything planned at this point.

Alex Bison - North Coast Research

I think a couple of the acquisitions you’re about to close on have car washes, any early thoughts around car washes?

Bill Walljasper

You’re correct. The Green Lantern acquisition down in Kansas is that the three store chain have car washes, very heavy revenue car wash operations. We do have a numerous car washes, typically we pull those into the mix through acquisitions and certainly that’s an area Alex that we’re evaluating to see whether or not that would be an opportunity for additional revenue contribution and gross profit contribution as we had forward. Yes, absolutely, we’re evaluating as we get more and more those online.

Alex Bison - North Coast Research

I guess, just one final question, you made to a pretty nice earnings number this quarter, obviously what you did it was I think a little bit lighter sales and you hoped and a little bit more margin. Going forward, are you comfortable with the mix that had a little bit lighter in store sales at margins or would you like to see, perhaps higher sales in a little bit lower margin…?

Bill Walljasper

Yes, obviously we’re trying to drive gross profit dollars, but that the answer is going to be depended upon what we see with traffic account, because you can always drive margin by increasing your retail price, but it might be at the expensive unit movement downward.

So that’s something we also evaluate in the equation so, we will balance that on a location by location basis, or region by region basis and we’re not opposed to raising price that if we to, and as long as we’re going to stay competitive. Certainly, don’t want to push our customers away or given any reason to shop anywhere else by insulting them on prices that would be out of the market. So it will be a balance going forward.

Operator

Your final question comes from Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital.

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

A couple of things, I know that Pantry had their call last week and taxes on cigarette seem to be impacting them. Do you have any tax changes in your operating areas that are special?

Bill Walljasper

They’re really not on the docket right now. I think that you are referring to the federal exercise tax with cigarettes…

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

No, Florida is putting in a dollar tax, so…?

Bill Walljasper

Yes, well first of all I’ll talk about the federal exercise tax with cigarettes. I mean, that really has been a benefit to us and that’s primarily due to the fact that our contribution of stores and fair trade versus non-fair trade state. I think I’m asking on the conference call on the first quarter, we had about $5.5 million gross profit increase in the cigarette area, primarily due to that particular legislative initiative, the second quarter here we’ve had a $4.2 million gross profit benefit in cigarette area, again primarily due to the cigarette tax increase back April.

So, we anticipate that will continue into the third quarter and then will certainly cycle that and will become less of an effect. Outside of that, there’s really no other tax initiatives in our areas that would raise the level of having material impact.

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

The second thing I was going to ask was, you said that the stores that you’re acquiring are stores that generate more revenue that yours do. Are they in the same size? Are they in the same sort of metropolitan areas? Or where are they?

Bill Walljasper

Yes, they’re still in the same demographics of our particular, at least the most of our C-store they are smaller communities throughout Kansas, Missouri and Iowa. So certainly, fits right into very nice fit. Almost perfect fits with our business model, the boxes in and themselves they’re round the gamut little bit. Some are larger than our average door, some are little bit smaller, but if they are smaller, we certainly look to make changes in that box to accommodate our prepared food, whether that’s at an interior remodel or an exterior remodel.

So, we’re very excited about the opportunity for these stores. Yes, certainly become a little bit more active like I mentioned multiples were coming down. Certainly, the pipeline at least at this point in the year is little more robust than it was a year ago, so again we’re partially optimistic about our long term opportunities.

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

Does E15 pose any opportunities or roadblocks for you guys?

Bill Walljasper

I wouldn’t say any roadblocks by any means, opportunities E15, typically the E15 came forward, it may be a mandate format so, and it would be that everybody would have that product. So, I’m sure as necessarily, an opportunity per say, we’re positioned very well to be a leader if that does come to fruition.

Michael Smith - Kansas City Capital

Lastly, do you have any private label new stuff going on?

Bill Walljasper

Not, right now just except in the prepared food area, obviously we’re always looking to expand that, but in the grocery general merchandize area, that right now is not an initiative for us. We do have a fair amount of private label in some of the key areas or key products in the grocery general merchandize category, but obviously in the prepared food, we always look at rolling out new products.

The most recent one we rolled out just about a month or two ago was dessert pizza. So it’s all of our stores now, so we’ll continue to evaluate that product certainly looking for ways to expand our copy and found offerings as we mentioned previously. So that’s kind of the private label in a sort because it is proprietary.

Operator

We have no more questions in queue. I would like to turn the call over to Mr. Bill Walljasper for closing remarks.

Bill Walljasper

Thanks, Eric. As a reminder, same store sales for November will be released December 15. I’d like to this opportunity to thank all of you us this morning. Thank you and have a nice day.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes our presentation. You may now disconnect. Have a good day.

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Source: Casey’s General Stores Inc. F2Q10 (Qtr End 31/10/2009) Earnings Call
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