Air Products and Chemicals CEO Presents at 2013 Citi Basic Materials Conference (Transcript)

| About: Air Products (APD)

Air Products and Chemicals (NYSE:APD)

Presentation at 2013 Citi Basic Materials Conference

December 3, 2013, 9:30 a.m. ET


John McGlade - Chief Executive Officer



John McGlade

Thank you, John. Good morning. It is really my pleasure to be here this morning to talk a little bit about Air Products and our strategy for profitable growth going forward.

As always, I just remind you of the Safe Harbor language that’s on this slide. There will be forward looking statements in here that are subject to change.

If I step back a minute, and I’m sure many of you in the room are familiar with who we are and what we are about, but if I can at least just give you a really quick high-level summary of the company and our capabilities. We’re about a $10 billion industrial gas company focused on creating leading positions throughout the industrial gas industry on targeted markets.

We believe that we’ve moved the portfolio, as John acknowledged, over the last number of years, to those segments and those capabilities that should outgrow the underlying markets that we’re participating in, and we’re very, very committed to delivering consistent cash flow to our shareholders.

To that very, very strong point, delivering shareholder value is one of the key goals, obviously, of any CEO and any board of directors, and over the last six years, we’ve been able to deliver over $4.5 billion of return in capital to our shareholders through a combination of dividends and share repurchases.

Through that time, we’ve also been moving the portfolio and creating one of the industry leading backlogs focused largely - and I’ll come back to this - on our tonnage investments in hydrogen and our tonnage investments in oxygen for gasification, as well as taking discrete actions within the management team to continue to deliver underlying productivity across the business.

This next slide, it’s a little bit of a complicated slide, so let me try to just put it into pieces, how I look at this. First, I think the industrial gas company is unique and the industrial gas industry is unique in many ways, in some of the market opportunities that we get to participate in, to participate broadly in the underlying industrial production of countries around the globe.

More recently, the long term growth prospects for this industry have really centered around the three bubbles, or the three circles in the middle of here. That around emerging markets, that around environmental and energy, and that around energy in general.

And those have really created differentiated opportunities for industrial gases broadly, and very unique opportunities for Air Products, as we’ve focused our portfolio really around those key drivers in the middle, and really have been working hard to create leadership positions, whether it be in our hydrogen business, our oxygen for gasification, our unique position in the supply to the LNG, the broad LNG industry, or some of the geographic moves that we’ve made with the acquisition that John acknowledged in Indura, so we have a much stronger position throughout Latin America and the reshaping, over the years, of our electronics portfolio.

How we go to market, how we create that differentiation, is obviously our market position, but also the value that we bring to our customer base, and really helping our customer succeed in their manufacturing processes and with their customers globally.

It’s a little bit different view of Air Products than the view you might see from our segment reporting point of view, and many of you who know the industrial gas industry, you know the different business models that are practiced in the industrial gas industry. They’re shown more towards the bottom of the slide.

As you go across the bottom, you see the characterization of the different business models. These business models are significant in that once you’re successful in signing up a contract with a customer, you typically have that customer, obviously in the onsite pipeline side of things, for 15 to 20 years. The liquid bulk piece talks to the three to five years, but typically the cost of change is higher than that, and you end up being a supplier to that customer for a much longer period of time.

What I think is unique on this slide is how we’ve played the game over the last number of years relative to the broader industrial gas set of competitors, and if you look, and stepped out of this slide, which represents Air Products’ proportion of sales against the various business models, if you were to contrast that to the market, and how the market plays, most of our competitors, or the market in aggregate, would be 25% onsite, it would be 40% packaged gases, and closer to 30% in the liquid bulk area.

So we’ve consciously focused our portfolio more and more, and as we talk a little bit more about the backlog and a couple of subsequent slides, more and more on the tonnage side of the business, because we believe strongly in the growth opportunities there, but also equally strongly in the ability to create consistent, predictable cash flows and create the environment for greater shareholder value.

I want to spend one more slide here on where I also think Air Products differentiates itself relative to most of our competitors, and that is that we have a very large element of joint ventures that we operate in across the globe in emerging markets, close to $3 billion on 100% basis. These are some of the larger ones that we are partners in.

You can see the relative percentage of ownership of what we have in those different joint ventures. I should say that over the years there would have been a number of other joint ventures listed here, but we’ve subsequently acquired 100% or a majority owned piece of those, and now consolidate them in the operating lines of that P&L instead of the equity affiliate income line, which is where these are consolidated.

But examples, in Korea, where we’re now the number one industrial gas company in that market. Taiwan, where we have a strong majority ownership. Again, the number one player in that market. Typically that happens when it’s a generational change, and the point of emphasizing this on this slide is twofold.

One, they give us an opportunity to grow in high-growth markets and to profitability grow. They’re low risk bolt-ons or add-ins, as those generational changes happen. And as you can see from the profitability here, they have 300 or 400 basis points higher profitability on average than if they were aggregated on average relative to the rest of our business. And if they were aggregated into the business, they’d add almost 100 basis points to the underlying margin that we report on a global basis for the company.

I’m now going to move to several slides on our onsite businesses. Go back to my earlier comments. We have been consciously moving our portfolio to higher correlation to onsites. Here’s a high-level summary of some of what’s been driving that, that I will actually build out on a couple of other slides.

But let me just suffice it to say, market leading positions in hydrogen, a developing, nice opportunity in oxygen, particularly oxygen for gasification, and we’ll talk a bit about LNG and the opportunities that energy from waste have created for us, both on the current projects we’re executing and what we see to be an existing new market.

We go next, and first, to hydrogen. Title of this slide, obviously, we’ve got the leading position in hydrogen. Based on our focus on innovation as you saw on the other slide, one of the things that we’re really committed to is developing innovative technologies or innovative business models that allow our customers to stay in their marketplace.

We were the first industrial gas company really to take onsite hydrogen to the refining industry in the early 90s. We did that with an alliance with a company called Technip. We’ve built 40-some plants today. With this alliance, obviously these are all our capital, but the technology is coming from Technip. In fact, we’ve co-developed that in many cases, and improved that in other cases.

What we’re really trying to represent in this slide is many of you who know us know the hydrogen story from a refining point of view. There’s been a lot of growth. The market has shifted from make-case to sale of gas, continues to do that. The market originally started in North America and is now moving globally. Over the last year, we’ve announced projects in Asia and in Europe, and additional contracts and projects here in North America.

What I’m not sure is always fully understood is that there’s almost as much growth, and these bar charts are only a representation of our view of the amenable onsite market. So there will still be people buying sale of equipment, buying the plant, owning and operating.

The market’s going to almost double again over the next decade or so, driven by the same opportunities that drove it before: environmental regulation, the quality of the crew slate in emerging markets, the demand for transportation fuels that increasingly need to be meeting global standards from the standpoint of transportation fuels. So great market, good leadership position. We really believe that we’re poised to be successful in that.

You may have seen, and you may be aware, we’ve got the largest hydrogen pipeline tied into basically every refinery on the Gulf Coast, from New Orleans to the Houston Ship Channel and all parts in between. A lot of investment there, a lot of investments still to go in as it relates to the hydrogen opportunity there. But again, also globalizing, with projects in China, with projects in Europe, with projects in Canada and the rest of Asia.

Another exciting area of the onsite business, and if I were up here four or five years ago, we wouldn’t even be talking about the market opportunities for oxygen. A couple of quick facts. The total global installed oxygen capacity in the world today, and the metric we use in our business, is about 1.6 tons per day, and that took 40 or 50 years, or however old those assets are, to achieve.

Quite frankly, we see our market opportunity, again over the next 10 years or so, of another million tons a day of oxygen capacity that will go into the onsite arena. That will be largely focused in gasification, gas to liquid projects, with a lot of those projects but not all those projects happening in China. Obviously in the Gulf Coast, and the advent of low-cost natural gas continues to dominate the energy scene in the United States and Canada, the gas to liquids projects are starting to take some impact as well. So significant opportunity.

In many cases, these are more discrete investments, so they have to earn very acceptable returns from the time they’re envisioned, but a real opportunity to play. You can see sort of the mix of the projects, a lot of them really in coal to liquids or fuels, or coal to synthetic natural gas, and those are really being driven by energy independence and policy regulation in China, and then discrete opportunities around the globe to capitalize on low cost or stranded natural gas as a different way to play those than, say, LNG.

I think the energy from waste project in [unintelligible] is a great example of business model innovation, much like we took the onsite model to the hydrogen business in the 90s. That’s what we see ourselves doing here in the 2010s, with these energy from waste projects.

We’re building two projects. They’re due to come onstream in early fiscal year ‘15 or so, and also then the second project late in ’16. They really capitalize against our knowledge on how to develop and build complex process plants. They have the characteristics of the onsite business model, so we don’t take the volume risks, and we have guaranteed revenue in terms of how we get that revenue, how we recover the costs increases associated with that.

So again, very much like the hydrogen onsite or the oxygen onsite business model. And in the end, it’s really about producing syn gas that is then used to produce power. The revenue streams come from three places here. One is power, the other is from renewable obligation credits, so green power credits, by various European governments. In this case, these facilities are in the U.K.. And then we get paid for the shipping fees they call it, get paid to take the solid municipal waste, as the fuel for the facilities.

When they come up and are running, towards the end, they should contribute, these two projects alone, $0.25 to $0.30 per share in earnings. And there’s quite a number of these opportunities in different parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Again, let’s talk about innovation in LNG. Air Products is the market leader in LNG. Our patented equipment and licensed technology, we’ve built over 100 LNG exchangers over the last couple of decades, anywhere from base load facilities to increasingly medium-sized facilities to really develop small, remote fields in China.

In this market, we go to market by selling equipment, licensing the technology, and now more recently, developing opportunities with the [co-point] facility that we announced in the United States, where we’ll be providing the technology for that facility in Maryland, where they’ll reverse what was a receiving terminal into an export terminal. And even more uniquely, now, some floating LNG platforms to take, again, smaller fields in an environmentally sensitive areas off the coast of different geographies and produce the LNG.

So global demand continues to rise in the 5% to 7%. The marketplace and our backlog hasn’t ever been any stronger and our bidding activity, frankly across all three of these offerings, the LNG area, the hydrogen for refining, and oxygen for gasification, is at an all-time high.

Let me move us to what I see to be our greatest opportunity in the short term to drive improvement, and that’s in our merchant business. You’ve heard a lot about this from various calls and meetings that we’ve been at. The reality of the merchant business is of all of our businesses, this one is probably the most correlated to the underlying industrial product, or economic activity, in a given market or a given geography. And it’s the one where we’ve had the most margin compression due to, frankly, de-loading of the facilities over the last three or four years.

However, having said that, it’s also our greatest opportunity. We see between here and a little bit of volume and opportunity in the materials side of our portfolio, in the EPM segment, almost $1 billion of revenue that can come back, as these facilities load from the low to the mid 70% loading rates into a better operating scenario in the mid-80s to low 90s. That $1 billion in itself represents 30-40% incremental margins, or $300 million to $400 million of additional operating income potential.

Obviously, we’re going to need some economic tailwind to help with that, but we haven’t been sitting still. We’ve taken a number of restructuring portfolio actions last year and this year in this portfolio. We’ve delivered on them. In the United States, we’ve added sales resources to the business to help load some of that unloaded capacity. We’ve also added technical applications resources, and have made targeted investments in markets that we felt we could differentiate ourselves.

And while it’s early days, if I use just an anecdote from the North American business, we’ve doubled our sales force, and we’re really beginning to see the benefits of that coming through to the P&L in terms of new orders signed, and in the last couple of quarters, when I look at the liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen business growth year on year, it’s in the mid-single digits, which is the first time we’ve seen that probably in several years, in the last couple of quarters.

And I really believe that’s directly correlated to the addition of the sales resources, the focus on applications, technology in that marketplace, and then some targeted investments like the EPCO investment in CO2 to expand our offerings to the food industry, and some facilities that have been started up or announced in the oilfield services areas in the West Texas/Oklahoma area, which is a very, very strong market in its own right, as we look at it today.

If we take us to the electronics side of our portfolio, a question we get asked a lot. As you know, we’ve been working hard in this business to restructure it, to reduce its volatility during the inevitable cycle that you have in electronics. And I think we’re a long way there to achieving that, both from really focusing our business in areas where we can have strength.

So if you look at the left hand side of the chart, where you talk about the onsite and the liquid bulk products, those are the same products, typically at a higher purity level, that we deliver through all of the rest of our merchant business and our tonnage business. So they’re industrial gases that happen to play in a market segment like electronics. They have the same characteristics as the business model in the broad merchant segment. They’re just going into the electronics industry versus the glass industry or the food industry, or something like that.

Go to the far right hand side of the slide, and you see equipment. And that’s basically enabling equipment to deliver gases, the two gases being either in the performance businesses, the 11% on the pie chart, or the advanced materials piece, which is the 22%, to the tools of our customers.

When I look at the business overall, I like the play we have as we continue to move towards the industrial gas side of things, and as we continue to develop and grow out our advanced materials piece of the business. In the fourth quarter, we announced that we’ve taken continued and further actions in the performance side of the business, and we’re working to improve that. And I’m pretty confident that the team will be able to do that. But in general, this business is poised, as we see a recovery, in the electronics industry, over the next couple of years, to really be successful.

Beyond the product offerings, two other things have been at play here that I think are important when you think about electronics relative to the broad definition of electronics, which can include things beyond IC, like memory, like LCD panels, etc. 80% of our business is in integrated circuits. And that’s obviously the highest profitable segment of the industry’s business. It’s the one that’s most demanding on purities and advanced materials, but it’s also the one that gives us the greatest opportunity to grow and to grow profitability. And I really believe we’re going to start to see that as we start to see that industry recover more and more.

And then the other point of it is, we also have aligned ourselves with the industry leaders, and really have a large percentage of our business with the top three global players in this area. Again, that gives us stability in my mind, as those are the ones that have the money, frankly, to invest in the new technology, and frankly to invest in new capacity.

So let me take you to this slide around how we think about capital investment at the company. But before I go there, let me first start with the capital priorities that the management team and the board of directors have thought about, and how we think about it, at Air Products, for many, many years.

And that really is the following four points. One, to reinvest in the business in profitable projects that execute the strategy. And so what I’ve been talking about earlier here, we believe our profitable projects that are going to serve this business well going forward, whether they be the investments in hydrogen or oxygen for gasification, etc.

Second, maintain - and I’ll come back to this - and increase our payout on our dividends each and every year. We’ve done that for over 31 years. We see that giving capital back to shareholders is an important element of driving shareholder value. We strive to maintain an A capital structure. We think that gives us the best flexibility, some dry powder for when those generational changes occur with some of our joint venture partners, and then returning capital to our shareholders in the form of share buybacks.

And we’ve operated against those four guiding principles for quite a long time. Now, the slide that gives you a little bit more detail on how that’s played that in those particular areas, the shareholder return area.

But the other point I want to make from this slide, and there’s a lot of words, a lot of detail, we have a rigorous process in how we go about evaluating new investment opportunities from a risk point of view, from a return point of view. We do quite a bit of feedback in terms of how do we benchmark and root cause prior investments. It’s driven by our treasury and controllership project. It goes down to quite a low level in terms of, if you will, the dollar amounts that need to be filtered up through the process and analyzed and significant signoffs on that.

So I think from my perspective, having been in this company a long time, and it’s a pretty thorough risk return analysis that’s driven by our financial team, that goes all the way to our board in more significant size investments. So the board typically looks at a number of investments every board meeting of every year, to pass judgment as to whether or not they’re comfortable with the quality of the returns, the risk associated with the investments.

And once or twice a year, we also take the board through a root cause analysis and look back, make good we call it, on the investments that they approved a couple of years prior, to make sure that the criteria around risk, the criteria around pricing, the criteria around capital, truly is being met, and use that as a best practice and learning opportunity.

This particular slide I don’t need to dwell on, but it reinforces the point about the backlog. Our bidding activity is at one of the highest levels across those product lines that I mentioned earlier, that we’ve ever seen. We have a strong and robust backlog. It’s growing.

I’ll make the point again, 85% of that backlog, 85% of a $3.5 billion capital stack, is in the onsite side of the business. Not all in the tonnage segment, but in what I characterized on one of the earlier slides, that onsite pipeline business model, where you have long term take or pay contracts that don’t have the volume risk, that have changes in the cost of energy and operating costs passed through through contracts. So a very high quality backlog that has started to contribute, but will be contributing some more this year and even more in ’15 and ’16, both from the standpoint of earnings growth and then ultimately from the standpoint of return on capital and [unintelligible].

Let me talk about returning capital to our shareholders and driving shareholder value. Here you see a graphic from 2008 to 2013. What you see is $4.5 billion of capital returned to shareholders, split as seen up there, about $2 billion in repurchases and about $2.5 billion in dividends. 31 straight years. The last five or six years, almost an 87% increase in the amount of dividend paid back to our shareholders.

And you know, go back to my comment on what our priorities for the use of cash are. This is our second priority in terms of returning dividends and then making a judgment around the profitability opportunities and reinvesting in the business versus returning capital to our shareholders.

So if I were to wrap this up, basically in summary, a couple of things I’d really like you to take away. We are committed, we are focused, and we are, I believe, in action, returning an appropriate level of cash to our shareholders. While we’ve been significantly moving our portfolio over the last decade to where we started this discussion, to what I believe to be higher growth, leadership position for air products.

We have significant opportunity in loading some of our merchant assets. We’re not sitting by and waiting for the economy to recover. We’re taking action where we can take action, whether it be adding those sales resources, doing the restructuring, taking costs and assets out of the asset base, as we discussed. Our board’s committed to that.

We have had very robust discussions over the years on the right balance around how do we utilize that capital to the best effect and to the best long term benefit of our shareholders. And the management team is really committed to delivering on the goals and the priorities that we laid out in our end of the year earnings call in the ’14.

And as we said in that call, as we begin to bring that backlog on, and as we begin to really get the benefit from the unloaded capacity in the merchant and somewhat the EPM segment, a real opportunity to deliver more and sustained shareholder value for all of you, and our shareholders.

So with that, I think we have a couple of minutes for questions. I’m happy to take them.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Audience Member

You talked a little bit about what you’re doing in the electronics segment. And I’m just curious, can you help frame for us, if we assume there’s no growth in that segment going forward, just as a starting point, would you anticipate margin expansion by virtue of what you’re doing from an efficiency standpoint? Is there any way to kind of give a sense of order of magnitude, what kind of margin improvement you could see?

John McGlade

Great question. One of the things that we’ve committed to and we’d like to get back to is margins in that business in the mid to high teens. Obviously the last three years in that business there’s been almost no growth in terms of one industry measure, millions of square inches of silicon. We announced throughout this year that we’re taking further actions. It’s primarily in that processed materials area. They’re productivity driven, and they will help margins.

I’d look at that more, though, from the standpoint of continuing to raise the floor on where margins could go in a downturn, than, you know, they’re going to raise materially the whole portfolio margin. And then really what we want to capture, and what I believe we can capture, is the benefit of the investments we’ve made from a growth point of view.

So to me, it’s really raising the floor on what is the lowest level, or the highest level, that we’ll tolerate from an underperformance, if you will, continuing to raise that bar. Also continuing to shift the mix of where we play in that business. So the more traditional onsite merchant side of the business, which really doesn’t vary much by industry production rates, and really capture the growth and the value opportunities in that advanced materials area, where the margins are significantly greater than the average margins in the business, by orders of magnitude.

Unidentified Audience Member

You talked a little bit up front about emerging markets being a growth opportunity. Can you just quantify what your total exposure is to the emerging markets across the various service lines today? And a lot of discussion, obviously, about the outlook for emerging markets generally. Any thoughts that you could share on the markets that are particularly important to you, what you think 2014 will look like?

John McGlade

We would say today our mix is somewhere around 40% U.S., 25-28% Europe, and the rest pretty much emerging markets. I mean, you can back into it and cut a country here and there in a different category, but the remainder, frankly, 30, 30-plus, really exposed emerging markets. They vary. They’re Asia, they’re Latin America, and then they’re our JVs, which really aren’t in that mix. But as you saw on that one slide, many of the JVs are in emerging markets.

The beauty, and the opportunity in those markets, is the industrial gas, [intense], is about a tenth of what the industrial gas intensity is in sort of Western Europe, the United States. And so significant opportunity. As those industries improve, as they want to improve the quality of their products, the productivity of their manufacturing processes, compete more globally, industrial gases are one of the great solutions that really allow those companies to achieve that.

Unidentified Audience Member

You talked about the billion dollar revenue opportunity in merchant, the 30-40% incremental margins. You’ve doubled your sales force, you’re beginning to see benefits there. Can you talk about when you sort of see merchant utilization rates finally getting out of the 70% range and into something closer to that mid-80 level that you talked about?

John McGlade

We’re not going to get to those levels of operating rates unless you do have a fundamental change in the trajectory or the trendline of growth on a global basis, that we as an industry [comment]. There’s not a lot of capacity that is going in the ground anywhere today in what I call that merchant segment. There’s targeted investments such as the oilfield services area I commented on, or a competitor might be doing something in one of their particular areas.

The dynamics are going to be different. The dynamics, a lot of capacity went into Asia, particularly China, before the downturn in China. China was at a 10-11 trendline growth, probably 7 today. I believe strongly that will be worked off, but it’s going to take several years to work through that dynamic. Europe, in my mind, is more about restructuring the business and how and where can you sensibly take capacity out. And the U.S. will be, I think, probably the first region to really grow back into more normalized, if you will, operating rates where we’d like to be.

Unidentified Audience Member

You referenced a project, I think it was an energy from waster project, where you put out $950 million to get an incremental $0.30 per share. And I think if I do the math on that, depending on the tax rate you’re applying to that, it’s something in the 80s for a pre-tax income point of view. So that would be a high single digit return on invested capital pretax. And I’m just kind of wondering, is that the hurdle rate internally for capital projects?

John McGlade

First off, the way we look at hurdle rates, maybe I didn’t do it justice on that one slide, they are risk adjusted for the countries we’re operating in, the quality of the contracts that we have, so [take or pay] merchant. Also, for the customer risk and for any technology or execution risk. And then we’ve got to earn a spread over that. This business will generate margins well above the average margins of the business.

And while I know there’s been a lot of questions around it, it’s frankly very much what we do in other projects. It’s about producing and handling syn gas, producing and handling syn gas under an onsite or a take or pay business model. So from my perspective, we’ll see where it is when it starts up, but I think these are very attractive projects with very attractive opportunities to further asset mange those projects and even drive their levels of profitability higher.

Unidentified Audience Member

You have a lot of the JVs, and I think when you’re asked if you see a change of ownership of them, the simple answer in the past has been when the partner is willing to sell. Has there been a reverse of that? Is there any change in your willingness to sell to the partners?

John McGlade

That’s a very good point. There is always the other side of that equation, right? And it really gets down to do you like the market you’re in? Do you like the structure of that market, and do you like the position of that business? And I’m not going to get up here and differentiate between one JV or another, because there’s real people on the other side of that, but there is a diversity of marketplaces that those JVs are participating in, and our positions are different. We’ve got incredibly strong positions in some of them, and not so strong.

And so I never wanted to convey, and I appreciate you asking the question, it’s an outright if they want to sell, we want to buy. I wouldn’t want you to take that away. My point was, there are a number of those on that list. If they want to sell, we want to buy. Obviously at a reasonable transaction value.

But the analysis you’re going to go through isn’t, oh, because they’re a partner, we’re going to do it. The analysis we’ve got to go through is the analysis we would go through on any market, which is do we like the market attractiveness, what’s our position in that market, and then how can that be integrated into our broader business.

For example, we made the investment in Indura. We have an investment in Brazil. Through our JV in Mexico, we play as the number one player in Mexico. Also, in Central America. Putting that together someday, and having an ability to drive the synergies of having one entity running a very broad-based Latin American position could have attractive benefit. However, there’s two parties that have to get to that conclusion, and there’s a valuation that has to be acceptable.

Unidentified Audience Member

Do you have any update on the search?

John McGlade

That’s the prerogative of our board, and they’re off and doing what they need to do as a succession and search committee. Thank you.

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