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Syntroleum Corporation (NASDAQ:SYNM)

Q3 2013 Earnings Call

November 8, 2013 3:00 PM ET

Executives

Karen Power - SVP, Principal Financial Officer

Edward Roth - President & CEO

Ron Stinebaugh - SVP, Finance and Acquisitions

Analysts

John Smith – Smith Investments

Operator

Good afternoon and welcome to the Syntroleum Corporation Third Quarter 2013 Earnings Conference Call. All participants will be in a listen-only mode. (Operator Instructions) After today’s presentation there will be an opportunity to ask questions. Please note this event is being recorded.

I would like now to turn the conference over to Karen Power. Please go ahead.

Karen Power

Thank you for joining us today. Remarks for today's call will be presented by Karen Power, Senior Vice President and Principal Financial Officer; Syntroleum's President and Chief Executive Officer, Gary Roth; and Ron Stinebaugh, Senior Vice President, Finance.

Before we begin our remarks, I would like to remind everyone that during this call we will make certain forward-looking statements, as well as use historical information. Words such as believe, estimate, expect, intend, plan, anticipate, could, should or suggest are intended to identify forward-looking statements. Although, Syntroleum believes that expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, these statements involve risks and uncertainties. Future results may differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. You are encouraged to refer to our SEC filings, including our most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K for a full disclosure of these risks and uncertainties.

As we did in on our last conference call, we have prepared responses to questions, after which we will open the call up for additional questions.

For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, the company reported operating losses of $6.2 million, resulting from total revenues of $1.7 million and operating expenses of $7.9 million, revenues relate to engineering services for process design and research support.

For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, we reported earnings from Dynamic Fuels of $2 million. This compares to a loss of $7.5 million for the nine months ended September 30, 2013.

We report Dynamic Fuels on a three months lag and the income reflected in our income statement from Dynamic Fuels represents the income incurred for the period ended June 30, 2013. During the nine months ended June 30, 2013, Dynamic Fuels recognized revenue of $26.8 million from the reinstatement of the tax credits for the production of renewable diesel and qualified alternative fuels.

Our 10-Q filing includes Dynamic’s financials for their nine months ended June 30, 2013. For the nine months ended September 30, 2013, we reported income from discontinued operations of $6.4 million related to the sale of our two barrel per day pilot plant.

Syntroleum's net loss was $6 million or $0.60 per share for the three months ended September 30, 2013, and net income was $3.7 million or $0.38 per share for the nine months ended September 30, 2013. This compares to a loss of $1 million or $0.11 per share and net income of $4 million or $0.41 per share for the respective corresponding periods in 2012. As of September 30, 2013, Syntroleum's cash balance was $16.5 million.

I will now turn the call over to Gary Roth.

Gary Roth

Thank you, Karen.

Only July 17, 2013, we announced that our Board of Directors was working with Piper Jaffray & Company to evaluate strategic alternatives related to Syntroleum’s renewable and natural gas to liquids businesses. As previously announced this process was prompted by the receipt of unsolicited offers from third parties with respect to a potential sale of the company, its assets, its intellectual property or combination thereof.

Multiple parties are actively involved in various stages of the process including parties conducting in-depth due diligence at the Geismar plant and our intellectual property portfolio. There are significant and time consuming due diligence required associated with our intellectual property, which includes 63 Fischer-Tropsch and 30 renewable patents issued from 20 different countries and the U.S. patent IPR process.

Our patent portfolio includes the areas of synthesis gas production, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis and the hydroprocessing of fuels, lubes and specialty products. This type of due diligence takes a coordinated effort among numerous technical and legal subject matter experts which unfortunately has extended the timeline past our original expectation.

Syntroleum Corporation has been in operation for more than 25 years and as a result there are approximately 40,000 pages of documentation, uploaded to a secure electronic data room and significant intellectual property that are part of the due diligence review. All parties involved are making good progress albeit at a slower pace than we would like to have achieved.

Syntroleum believes it has sufficient cash on hand to see it anticipated strategic process. Our cash balance was $16.5 million as of September 30. In addition, Dynamic Fuels has a cash balance of approximately $2 million and a tax refund of $3.5 million still owed by the U.S. government. This strategic review continues to be a top priority for our Board of Directors and we’ve spent considerable time and effort over the past three and a half months thoroughly and carefully evaluating options available to enhance shareholder value.

With that said, there can be no assurances as to whether any particular strategic alternative for the company will be recommended by the Board and if so upon what terms and conditions.

Turning to the Geismar plant, the facility remains in standby mode ready for operation. As we reported last quarter, while the plant is ready for commercial operations, the Dynamic Fuels management committee has not agreed on the terms of the restart. On two occasions Syntroleum requested its partner to agree to restart the plant. However, an article published in the City Wire on August 7, 2013 stated and I quote “Tyson Foods CEO, Donnie Smith said this week the plant is ready to open but would not be restarted while Syntroleum is shopping its interest with potential buyers.” He said Tyson remains ready to work with Syntroleum or a new partner to get the plant up and running once the co-ownership issues are resolved.

The business relationship between Tyson Foods and Syntroleum are bound by the terms of the agreement under which Dynamic Fuels was formed and the parties continue to work to the terms of the agreement. As with any joint venture there can be differences in the interpretation of the agreement, the assessment of business risk and the overall operating strategy. Part of the strategic process is working to align parties with the same relevant strategic and risk priorities.

Dynamic Fuels completed installation of the new catalyst on June 28, 2013, the plant was ready to restart immediately afterwards, the new solvent recycle pump is onsite ready to be installed. Installation of the new pump has not been scheduled at this time. With respect to the regulatory environment, renewal of the dollar subsidy is unclear as has generally been the case at this time of the year.

A scenario is that the tax extended package from 2013, which includes the dollar, will be rubber stamped for 2014 as has happened in prior years. However, at this point it is unlikely Congress will take up extenders until sometime in the New Year if at all.

EPA has indicated that it will alter the 2014 renewable volume obligation contained in RFS2. The Biomass based diesel industry is an RFS2 success story. We suspect the industry will deliver approximately 1.9 billion gallons this year against a 1.28 billion gallon mandate. And we assume that EPA will consider this factor in setting that 2014 mandate.

We have learned that regulatory change is a fact of life in our industry and the well-positioned players including Geismar plant are able to manage efficiently. We believe the Geismar plant is well-positioned to operate in any regulatory scenario because renewable diesel can receive full RIN value and the plant is feedstock flexible.

With calculate current EBITDA margins at approximately $0.80 to $0.90 per gallon based on processing the yellow grease and corn oil feedstock. Although RIN prices have fallen 75% since July, prices for such feedstock have fallen approximately 30% and are currently about 70% of soy which has offset RIN price decline.

Turning to other Syntroleum business, during the month of October, we submitted a comprehensive technical and commercial bid package to a Far East National Oil Company to provide Bio-Synfining technology for 120 million gallon per year facility. I hope the services will include preparation of a process design package, the active design catalyst supply and life of the project report being designed through operations.

We anticipate technology selection during the first half of 2014. Our gas to liquids initiative remains on track to deliver GTL business plan in the first half of 2014. We are currently finalizing syngas lincesor selection. Syngas production is approximately 50% of the GTL facility cost. This technical evaluation process is fully subscribed by all major technology providers. And we were extremely pleased with the depth of the technical and commercial response. It’s important to note that the syngas technology providers through the same favorable conversional environment that we are seeing committed necessary resources to GTL project support.

In addition to syngas technology selection we are finalizing initial capital and operational cost, estimates for the upstream and downstream components of the project and are soliciting major equipment quotations including process reactors. We are four months into the business plan effort and today have validated our major technical and commercial assumptions.

Our goals for 2014 are to complete the business plan, develop project organization document and secure financing leading to construction beginning in 2015. Our PCM market development strategy continues to evolve based on our market learnings. We are now focused on becoming a renewal, raw material PCM supplier to downstream end-user markets.

The overall global PCM market is estimated to be $460 million in 2013, growing at 20% per year and expected to reach $1.15 billion by 2018. According to a recent release report by the firm market, end market, organic based PCM which is the type of PCM we make is the largest market segment at about half of the market which is approximately $14 million gallons per year.

Price discovery today imitates the PCM sales for approximately $12 to $14 per gallon. We are currently having technical discussions with several potential clients working to determine the optimum manufacturing and supply chain methodologies protected by our unique PCM patent portfolio.

Just in the last conference call, we have received four new patents that reinforced our technology position in the renewal hydrocarbon space. U.S. patent 042 is renewable diesel composition of matter patent and U.S. patent 013 is a renewable naphtha composition of matter patent, which will be issued this coming Tuesday.

Composition of matter patents are the strongest patents available in our industry because regardless of how the patented product is made, production results and influential. U.S. patent number 409 is a method of producing renewable hydrocarbons through a novel feedstock heating method. This patent improves plant reliability and operability.

And finally, U.S. patent 390 was a patent claiming, this is a broad range of biological feedstock for the production of chemical precursors converted into plastics and basic chemicals. This patent is applicable for both of our Fischer-Tropsch and our hydroprocessing technology utilizing biological feedstocks. This brings our total active and pending patent portfolio to 93 of which 30 are directed to renewable products.

In summary, let me review the key points of our prepared comments today. Our strategic process remains a priority and we believe we have sufficient cash on hand to finish. We tendered 120 million gallon per year technical and commercial bid package to a Far East National Oil Company for Bio-Synfining technology. The business plan for the GTL project is progressing, today we are validating our major technical and commercial assumptions.

Our PCM business strategy is involved – is evolving to focus on supplying PCM raw materials to end users and lastly, our patent portfolio continues to grow with the addition of four new patents delivered in the hydrocarbon space.

Thank you for your attendance today. I will now turn the call over to Ron Stinebaugh to give our responses to 16 questions received.

Ron Stinebaugh

Thanks Gary.

Question number one: Is there something materially wrong with the plant that has presented restart? To-date extensive due diligence by potential parties to the strategic process has not identified any major concerns related to the operability of the plant. The plant remains fully staffed and is prepared for an immediate restart. Plant has produced 67 million gallons of on specification fuels which includes 450,000 gallons of fuels adding up the stringent standards of the U.S. military for both marine, diesel and jet fuel.

Question two: Can Tyson block a sale of Syntroleum interest in Dynamic Fuels? The founding agreements under which Dynamic Fuels was formed provide for the terms under which a member may transfer its interest and provisions for a change in control of any member. The Dynamic Fuels LLC agreement was published on August 9, 2007 as exhibit to the June 30, 2007 10-Q. We refer you to Article 9 in this document for the various scenarios for the transfer of parties interest.

Question three: What happens if Syntroleum does not fund its cash cost to Dynamic Fuels? The founding agreements under which Dynamic Fuels was formed provide for the terms which govern cash calls and the implications if not funded. We refer you to Article 2 of the Dynamic Fuels LLC agreement for the various scenarios related to member cash calls.

Question four: Have the Dynamic Fuels auditor saw to impair the asset? An independent third-party was engaged and no impairment was required.

Does your LLC agreement allow licensing of Bio- Synfining? Syntroleum is allowed to license its technology and participate in project worldwide excluding the United States while earning an interest in Dynamic Fuels.

Question six: As the EPA report had an impact on the strategic process while the timing of the EPA report [Technical Difficulty] for the renewable diesel facility remain with the dropping nature of the fuel and its feedstock flexibility.

Question seven: Why haven’t you provided updates on the strategic process? We recognized and appreciate that all of our shareholders would like to be kept abreast of the developments related to the strategic process. However, it’s with any company involved in a strategic alternatives process non-disclosure agreements are involved which allows for open communication between the parties and therefore we are restricted from providing more specific information at this time. We assure you that [Technical Difficulty] Board as approved definitive agreements related to a transaction or otherwise deemed disclosure appropriate. We will properly communicate with shareholders.

Question eight: What is your opinion of the time required to settle the Neste lawsuit? A patent and legal proceedings related to the Neste have followed procedures and timetables that are well-established by the United States patent office.

Question nine: Have your patent issues with Neste negatively impacted the strategic process? Any time there is litigation between parties, it can create uncertainty. That said, our track record related to Neste has resulted in a stay of all litigation. Active parties to the strategic process have hired IT counsel to not only evaluate our patent portfolio but also the patent situation related to Neste.

Question 10: If the guys are planning to sell, how will Syntroleum generate cash? Business segment from which we can generate cash include our engineering services, sales of technology and non-fuels related renewable applications including face change material. They recently bid a 120 million gallon two year project via Far East National Oil Company, which will include technology fees and engineering services. Our GTL initiative if successful, it also generate engineering services fees, design of the facility as well as potential licensees from additional parties interested in GTL technology. Finally our patented PCM product can be produced by contract manufacturers to supply identified markets.

Question 11: If the plant sold, is there a possibility of a second or third plant? The master license agreement between Dynamic Fuels and Syntroleum has a ten-year term and expires June 23, 2017 at which point the exclusivity lapses and we can build plants in the United States under our extensive patent portfolio.

Question number 12: If the plant is not sold, when do you plan to restart the plant? Restart requires unanimous consent of the members to the LLC. If the plant is not sold, we will move as aggressively as we can to work with our partner to restart the plant.

Question number 13: Please address cash burn? Syntroleum had a cash balance of $16.5 million at September 30, 2013. Syntroleum spend rate is approximately $1.5 million per quarter excluding funding cash calls the Dynamic Fuels. Dynamic Fuels as a current cash balance of approximately $2 million and it is still awaiting payment from the U.S. government, $3.5 million. Beyond that Dynamic Fuels requires approximately $2 million per month or $1 million from each partner to maintain its full complementive staff.

Question 14: What is the estimate of 2013 profit if the plant had been running? We estimate the plant would have generated cash flow of approximately $20 million since July 1, 2013 through October 2013.

Question 15: What will be the lapse of a dollar per gallon have on margin, what impact would have allowed to the dollar per gallon have margins? If RIN price adjust upwards $0.57 to capture the loss value of the dollar then there would not be a material impact on margins. This value is calculated by dividing the dollar tax credit by 1.5 bio diesel RINs per gallon.

Question 16: If the GTL plant has green lighted, how long to begin production? We expect construction of the GLT plant to take approximately 2.5 years from the time the final investment decision is made and notice to proceeding as they issued to construction contractors.

And lastly, for your reference, here are the complete patent numbers discussed today. Your U.S. patent numbers 8558042, 8581013, 851409 and 8536390. That concludes your prepared responses. We will now open up the call to questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

We will now begin the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from John Smith of Smith Investments. Please go ahead.

John Smith - Smith Investments

Hi, everyone, thank you for the great call today. Thank you for the ongoing openness that you’ve showed, I hope that continues in future calls. Just have a few - three questions here given that you addressed a lot of questions head on which is great to see. The first [audio gap] obviously you can’t speak to specifics but in terms of the upper bound on the length of the process, you have a couple milestones coming up with the annual meeting and then your next conference call, would you expect resolution of the process along those timeframes or stretch out beyond that?

Gary Roth

Unfortunate we can’t answer that right now, as we’ve said, due diligence is pretty extensive. It is [audio gap] make a prediction about when we’re going to finish up.

John Smith - Smith Investments

Okay, that’s fair. Second, in terms of the possible structure of the deal, obviously if the company itself just sold any return to shareholders it’s fairly obvious that assets are sold, if the plant is sold, the IP is sold. How should shareholders realize value from that, would there be any type of dividend, do you expect just to sit on the cash on the balance sheet and [devalue] [ph] for that or [inaudible], how’ll it play there?

Gary Roth

Well, again, we can’t. I don't think we’re able today comment on the structure of the trade, that’s part of the ongoing work with of Piper Jaffray and the Board.

John Smith - Smith Investments

I’m speaking after the trade. I’m speaking if their proceeds from any possible transaction, how should we as investors expect to realize value from that?

Gary Roth

Well, again, part of the trade can be in whether or not certain compensations are paid out as dividends or not paid out as dividends, where they maintain within the company. So it will be difficult for us to comment on that today.

John Smith - Smith Investments

Okay. We’d appreciate any updates over time if that’s addressed. And just a last question, just a housekeeping, I remember there were some tax credit reimbursement cash and it was still coming both to Dynamic Fuels and to Syntroleum or the Corporation, has that all come in or can you speak to the timeframe if they haven’t?

Gary Roth

I will let Karen address that.

Karen Power

On the Syntroleum side, the only amount outstanding is we have 700,000 that the IRS owes us, of the other 9 million, we have previously received, Dynamic Fuels has received –half of theirs; they’ve received about 3.5 million and they still have 3.5 million outstanding. The shutdown of the government, we really don't have any good timeframe as to when those monies might be coming in.

John Smith - Smith Investments

Okay. That make sense. Thank you everyone.

Gary Roth

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from Luis Navarro, a Private Investor. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Participant

Hi, guys. For the business proposal that you submitted to construct the GTL plant with a company in the East, would that be the company that you’ve had previous relationships with either Ivanhoe or Sinopec?

Gary Roth

So, first of all, it’s a Bio-Synfining plant and that we tendered for and it would be a new client for us.

Unidentified Participant

Okay. There is no any additional information as regards to who received the proposal for constructing the Bio Synfining plant?

Gary Roth

No, sir. These things typically have a non-disclosure agreement in both directions. So to protect technology and protect the project name. So we’re under NDA with the client.

Unidentified Participant

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) The next question comes from Jerry McDonald, a Private Investor. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Participant

Yes, I don't remember what number the question it was but you said that you could have possibly made $20 million from the Dynamic Fuels plant since July. Now, does that includes July, August, September and October, what do you base that on, at first an average production or because you’re -- I don't know if your production was ever that high. So my question is, what do you base that $20 million on?

Ron Stinebaugh

This is Ron Stinebaugh. Obviously, we will make quite a few assumptions in a calculation like that. We assume low cost feedstock of the type that we mentioned earlier in the call like yellow grease and corn oil. We assume approximately 85% up time. We assume our new catalyst is installed an operating as we expect and we assume pricing as they occurred. So, we look at pricing as it occurs and we, for both feedstocks and products and we assume the new feedstock pretreatment system is operating as we expect the new centrifuges which we expect would increase and improve the operability of the plant.

Unidentified Participant

So, does that mean that you think that you would have been producing 4 million, 5 million, 3.5 million or what’s, what would --

Ron Stinebaugh

Just shy of 5 million a month a number we quoted was July 1 to October 30.

Unidentified Participant

That’s four month period. So you think you could have averaged just under 5 million gallon which I mean you’ve never averaged that before but with this new equipment, you’re hoping that’s what you can get. Does that a good as assumption as you put it?

Ron Stinebaugh

That’s our assumption.

Unidentified Participant

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) The next question comes from John Smith of Smith Investments. Please go ahead.

John Smith – Smith Investments

Hi, everyone, just one more question. Ron, I believe in your prepared Q&A, you referred to the idea that Syntroleum can run at any regulatory environment, whether that’s RIN or whether that’s the tax credit, could you speak to the case where the strategic projects does not pan out, where that is concluded without anything being sold, [inaudible] whatever the regulatory environment is, so in the case where a) where the tax credit goes away, b) if RINs are below your projection. Can you still commit to saying that plant will be open in that case?

Ron Stinebaugh

I think we’ve said and if we missed the word, any reasonable regulatory environment.

John Smith – Smith Investments

Okay.

Ron Stinebaugh

Because we’ve seen prices that have now fallen with RINs and we have an expectation that RINs would increase to offset the dollar, the profitabilities in those environments would have allowed the plant to run against a corn oil, the yellow grease base and that includes existing diesel prices. So a reasonable regulatory environment with current oil prices, reasonable RIN and reasonable yellow grease and corn oil prices relative to soy, we think we can run in those environments, yes.

John Smith – Smith Investments

Okay. And just speaking of reasonable areas, so just given everything happening in Congress, the tax credit up in the air, on the wind fronts, if you put there and where do you think the cost is there. So do you concern how reasonable trend, would that still allow for paying reopening or would that open up for new questions?

Gary Roth

We can’t hear you. If you are on a cell phone, you’re cutting out on 2/3rds of the last question, John.

John Smith – Smith Investments

The question was if RINs, the quarter comes down on that front which we have been hearing about, if the tax credit is not renewed, which is still viewed as a reasonable environment or would that cause a questioning on your end?

Gary Roth

We don't know if the tax credit is coming. We don't know that the mandated volumes are coming down, we haven’t heard that. They would be the same to us whether dollar comes back, who knows but to maintain profitability at the soy oil level, RINs need to increase to cover the cost of the soy.

John Smith – Smith Investments

Okay, got it. Thank you.

Operator

The next question comes from George [indiscernible] of Boenning. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Analyst

Thank you. One of the verticals is the phase change material and since you really can’t go into depth into the other verticals at the GTL and the Dynamic Fuels plan, can you give us some color in terms of how the phase change material area is developing the types of industries that you’re addressing and the type of the exchanges you’re having with those particular industry players and when do you think the economy start come in to play where you can start monetizing?

Ron Stinebaugh

This is Ron Stinebaugh responding. The largest segments of that uses PCM is the building products industry. That industry is more developed in Europe than it is here. There are other types of applications. They are companies that incorporate PCM in the clothing and a lot of number of different temperature type regulating products. And our PCM is, the PCM that we would manufacture is most well-suited for kind of the human comfort temperature regulation area which is where building product exists. As far as companies, we obviously can say who are talking with but we are having discussions related to how would this product perform with manufacturers of these downstream products, can I get the pilot volumes that would lead to commercial volumes. Those types of discussions are taking place currently.

Operator

The next question comes from Jerry McDonald a Private Investor. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Participant

Okay. Just go back to the RINs, it seems like the RINs are, the prices seem to be higher in the beginning of the year, it seems like towards the end of the year, the RINs as the production reaches, the mandated limits like the last couple of years, it seems like the RINs start doing a little down and going down and down and down. Now if this happens again and RINs like they have in the beginning of the last couple of years, are up high in February, March, April and May, are you going to try your best, I guess this plan going so you could capitalize on those RIN prices?

Gary Roth

Well, it’s not the RINs is the combination of diesel prices, RIN prices and feedstock prices. So, even though RIN prices have fallen in the near term, feedstock prices have fallen with them. And that was the earlier problem in our business as RIN prices fell but feedstock did not.

Unidentified Participant

Right.

Gary Roth

In the current, lower RIN environment, feedstock prices have fallen right along with RINs and profitability has fallen off somewhat but not near to the state delivery. So, a simple RIN analysis is the wrong analysis. It is a margin analysis and it consist of diesel price, you know diesel price has move against Brent, like because we’re big European exporters now. RIN prices dollar and feedstock.

Unidentified Participant

Right now, your feedstock is low.

Gary Roth

As our RIN, those profitability has been maintained.

Unidentified Participant

Correct. But, like I said, it changed like RINs increased in the beginning of the year?

Gary Roth

That is true but then feedstock prices improve.

Unidentified Participant

Feedstock will increase also.

Gary Roth

That’s right.

Unidentified Participant

So, it’s kind of a vicious circle I guess is one --

Gary Roth

You got to manage the business to maintain the margin. It’s not the absolute price of anyone item. It’s the margin.

Unidentified Participant

Right. Okay. Bye.

Gary Roth

Thank you.

Operator

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

Karen Power

On behalf of the Board of Directors and employees of Syntroleum, we'd like to thank you all for your participation today. Good afternoon.

Operator

The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.

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