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Praxair, Inc. (NYSE:PX)

Citi Basic Materials Conference

December 03, 2013 11:00 AM ET

Executives

Matthew J. White - Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

(effective January 1, 2014)

Analysts

Matthew J. White

Good morning. I’d like to direct attention to our forward-looking statements, which will apply to all of my comments today.

And before I begin I’d like to give a brief overview of my background, given that I am new to this role here. I have been in fact here for about nine years. Prior to Praxair I had a variety of different roles, in engineering, operations and finance, across a few different industries but mostly chemicals and textiles. And when I started Praxair towards the end of 2004 I came on as a Finance Director for the largest division, the North American Bulk Gas division. Then in 2008 I took the role as the Corporate Controller; in 2010, the corporate treasurer. And then two years ago in the end of 2011 I took the role up in Ontario running our Canadian business, which is roughly a $1 billion sales, integrated gas business.

So most of you are probably familiar with Praxair or at least the industrial gas industry but for those who aren’t I want to take the next couple of slides just to give a very overview of our industry, who we are and what we do. And in Praxair we like the industrial gas space and we really like aim to be the best performing company in that industry.

And on this first slide I think you can see with some of the data here that we’ve been doing a pretty good job towards that goal. These two charts on the right show 20 year history since our inception in 1992. And in the upper right it shows the operating margins percent for Praxair versus the industry average. And I think two things that you can take away from it, is number one that we’ve been able to maintain a pretty consistent spread of anywhere from 400 basis points to over 600 basis points in the industry average. And actually the second thing is we’ve been able to grow over the last few years to beat some of the widest spread extended at almost 700 basis points.

And the second chart down on the right shows that we’ve been able to grow our operating cash flow at about 12% cumulative average growth rate every year since our inception in ’92. In fact we’ve reached the $2.8 billion record in operating cash flow at the end of 2013. And that’s despite several recessions and we even grew operating cash flow through the great recession in 2008.

So sometimes people ask how do we maintain this kind of level and how can we continue to deliver on this level? And for Praxair we really run our business for return on capital and growth and we focus on cash flow. So with that we use a disciplined model to focus on density, building out our integrated supply network. We don’t try to be number one in every country. We really want to focus on the regions where we can get our return on capital. We don’t sell equipment and we don’t deviate outside of the gas industry. So we believe that this focused approach and this model that we apply around all the geographies we participate in that enable us to get these types of returns.

So the next slide is what we do here at Praxair? And really there is two basic categories of gases that we sell. We sell atmospheric gases, which, from the names comes from here. We build large capital assets and take air, which is free, use electricity and distill that air into its main component, primarily oxygen which is what we build most plants for and then nitrogen as a by-product that we are able to sell into the market. And depending upon the size of the plant we can get Argon or some rare gases.

In addition we sell processed and specialty gases. These tend to be byproducts of chemical processes or they could come from the natural gas source. But mostly they are hydrocarbons or there could be things like carbon di-oxide, carbon monoxide, helium and other specialty gases.

And to thing about this industry is that the transportation costs really far exceed the production cost. So the real key to be successful is how do you get the product to the customer cost effectively and reliably to meet their production needs. And that really takes us into slide six here. In this industry we have an integrated model that’s fairly unique when compared to other industries. We have three basic modes of supply.

And as you can see in the graphic here we have the capital intensity starting at low going up to high at the top of the graphic but going the other way down is the number of transactions and flexibilities of those assets. So it all starts with the onsite plant. That’s the initial plant that we build to distill the air and get the product. We sign 15 to 20 year take or pay contracts with customers. We’ll have very strict terms and conditions that we enter into and we really get the assurances of return on that project.

And what that does is we get the base asset on the ground to make the product that we need and we can size that plant to actually create extra molecules for a liquid market. And that takes you into the merchant. These are bulk trailers that have liquid products and can generally build a couple hundred mile radius around that on-site plant. And as you can imagine as you build this density around this initial asset you can keep increasing your return on capital.

The merchant business is three to seven year contract. They are what we call requirement contracts, basically exclusivity with that particular customer site. We install the tank, we own the tank and we install the pipe work, the vaporization equipment, pump equipment. So as you can imagine it creates a stickiness in this business, that hard to switch out with these three to seven year contracts and the assets connected to the customers. In fact we really control the asset that delivers the gas and that’s another sort of unique feature in this industry.

And then the final is the packaged business. These are small high pressure gas cylinders that also distribute slightly smaller radius than the merchant business and you will have mixed cylinder trucks drive around and be almost like milk deliveries to various customers.

We have a rental model; we own those cylinders, charge a rent, regardless of whether they are empty or full. And we also bundle other services and products with the delivery in those cylinders. So at each stage, we are able to continue to increase our returns with less asset intensity but we have a greater margin that we’ll continue to add to that initial on-site plant.

So what now what I would like to do in the next two slides is just kind of go around of the world to the major geographies that we participate in and talk a little bit about what we are seeing. So first, North America. Our sales last year in North America were $5.6 billion, roughly half of the consolidated company and we really have a leading position across Canada, U.S. and Mexico. And I think you can see that with a density that’s out here in our production plans, distribution vehicles and pipeline.

And there is a couple of different dynamics we see going on in North America and some I am sure, you have read about and heard about in prior presentations. But first with our two-thirds of the business that’s really merchant and packaged, there has been a bit of a slowdown in non-residential construction and part of it was driven by private sector several years ago, then the government sort of stepped in with some programs to stimulate demand but both of those have kind of come down a bit. We are seeing some flattish results in both our merchant and packaged business, which tend to move a little bit with non-residential construction.

On the flip side our on-site business is doing fairly well. In addition to a lot of bidding opportunities we are seeing with some of the shale plays we are also seeing a lot of strong volumes running on our on-site. We just had two large Steam Methane Reformers go on stream of Valero. And we are seeing very good growth fundamentals in the metals industry, especially at the Great Lakes.

What you have there is, with natural gas being such a cheap feedstock now they are actually substituting that for coking coal. And what that does it gives them a better cost advantage in making steel and some environmental improvements, what it does for us is, it increases the amount of oxygen they need to maintain the same thermal characteristics in return. So that translates to us about almost 25% increase of oxygen intensity per ton of steel produced. So we are seeing a lot of increased opportunities on our pipeline in the Midwest and around the Great Lakes.

Energy and the pet-chem business are really sort of well positioned in North America to benefit from some of this shale play whether it’s cheap feedstock opportunities, whether it’s heavy bitumen coming from Northern Canada or some of the lower cost mine coming from Mexico, I think there is a lot of different dynamics that can play here depending what’s built. And there is so many different things to be built right now in the Golf which really remains to be seen, what gets built and what the gas intensity use is.

But regardless of what gets built I think a couple things the number one will be more infrastructure buildings, which should benefit our merchant and package business. I think number two you will probably see more steel and more basic materials that are going to be built for these projects. And then number three some of them definitely will require a lot of industrial gases, and we are well-positioned to capture that growth.

And the final one here is our packaged business. We have a strong number two position in packaged in United States and we’ve really had a lot of growth opportunities and acquisitions, roughly half of the market is still independent.

So we have been doing a roll out strategy and you can see in this cut out picture here, Texas is as an example, showing the yellow dots in 2005 and where we are today with some of these additions as of 2012 and 2013. And we have had almost a seven times growth in that area due to acquisitions and an even greater leverage in our operating profit growth. And what that has done is it positioned us well to get synergies from the integrated infrastructure on both fill stations, our logistics and also the gas supply but in addition positions us well for a lot of this area build out.

Moving to South America, sales in South America are little over $2 billion, about 20% of consolidated sales. Of that Brazil’s roughly is 80%. So Brazil clearly is the largest impact for us here. We do have a number one and two position in most of the countries in South America. But with Brazil, we really had an unrivalled network. We have a very strong dense model, fully integrated, we have been there over a 100 years.

It’s a difficult place to do business, has some high inflation, they have a volatile currency, the tax structure and the legal structure can be challenging. But I think the experience and the deep trench we have there and our time there is something that is useful.

Brazil’s had a bit of recession for a couple of years; especially in ’12 we saw a fairly deep recession, negative 4% or 5% type IP. We have seen some recovery of that over the last six months and there is some big events coming down the pipe, not just the World Cup next year, the Olympics in a couple of years and they also we have a big elections coming around next year. So what you should see is on lot of infrastructure investment and a lot of build out leading in to those events. In fact they recently had a large airport announcement or contracts signed for large infrastructure spend.

But we did need to take a lot of cost out of Brazil during the recession. We had some consolidation headcount and other costs that we took out with productivity initiatives. But while we expect sort of mid-single digit kind of growth in Brazil going forward we think as that volumes comes back we should benefit quite well. We don’t need to bring the cost back.

And the domestic demand, I think, in Brazil continues to be quite strong as you have a growing middle class, greater wealth and access to [inaudible] and over the long run we think that will play out positive for the intensity of gas use.

Europe for us really I kind of divide into three different sections. Southern Europe for us is primarily Spain and Italy and that part is hard hit from kind of the double dip recession that we saw there, with levels in the early 2000 that they were building out with government spending, with non-residential construction, while we benefited tremendously from that, was just not sustainable. And now you have these large austerity programs, you have a lot of cut back in manufacturing and Spain was hit quite hard because they didn’t have much of a manufacturing base industry within there.

So we really we’ve taken costs out over the last five to six years. We’ve done some consolidation of assets. We are primarily a packaged business more in Spain than the on-site, and we are well positioned that if that growth comes back we should be able to get at a fairly good margin, as we don’t, similar to Brazil don’t need to add cost back. Right now, we it’s still at the bottom, when you add Spain and Italy together but it’s very tough to determine in Europe what’s going to happen there.

Northern Europe for us is primarily Germany, Scandinavia and part of the Benelux area. Scandinavia has been quite good for us. The big oil plays in the North Sea, we’ve a strong position in Norway, and we’ve been happy with the performance there. And Germany has been good. I think that didn’t dip as much in the recession, not a lot of constructional activity, but what we have there has performed well.

And we are seeing some investment opportunities, most recently we announced the Port of Antwerp. So, petro-chemical assets in Continental Europe may have a competitive disadvantage given what’s been going in the U.S., I think port of Antwerp with its integrated infrastructure and its low cost access to sea ways will still make that a vital area. So that area should benefit I think as we start to see strength and petrochemical Europe assets be rationalized.

And then finally the third place in Europe for us is Russia. Russia is an area we are still early in our investment cycle. We’ve taken several projects on over the last few years, was a big decision for us to enter Russia and we are really focusing on two geographies, the Urals region, which is primarily a natural resource play and the [border] regions South of Moscow which is more a manufacturing and industry. And we are approaching this like any other region with our density model.

We are looking for blue chip customers, establish the onsite base, get the terms and conditions consistent with our return criteria and build out a merchant and package infrastructure to leverage the return on capital. So whilst early in the stage now, it’s a bit dilutive but we anticipate sales reaching about $250 million in five years there.

As you can see some of the points here really with the right sizing that we have done in Southern Europe but I think the last point on the bidding activity in Russia, Russia like China has a lot of state owned assets, and what you are seeing there which is I think even better than we anticipated with the aged infrastructure assets are very inefficient.

So what they are doing is start to decapitate these and let industrial gas suppliers come in and either take over this plant or build a new one that’s more efficient. And since there is no main player in Russia today there is a lot of opportunity.

The last region Asia, and Asia for us is really only four countries; China, India, Korea and Thailand. Sales at a $1.4 billion, about 13% of sales, of our consolidated revenue. And really in China what we’re seeing is sort of mid-to-high single digit growth versus the double digit growth that we’ve seen in past year. Part of that I think is just with some of that overall commodity slowdown. As you know they had a new government in there, that’s focusing on the environmental, focusing on corruption reduction. And while that something in the long term I think it’s slowed some of the bidding activity to be more cautious as they go into this new approach.

But when you look at the mid sort of single to high single digit growth in China plus our existing backlog that we have in the next few years we think China for us growing probably around 15% for the next couple of years. You can see our density play there with the very concentrated dots in a few key areas, like Daya Bay, Beijing, a few industrial areas that we really focus on getting that density build.

Well India, like Brazil, difficult place to do business, bit of a challenge with rupee recently, with some of the devaluations but we still like India and we are seeing a lot of good application opportunities to make our customers more profitable and more efficient. So still good bidding activity there.

And South Korea is primarily with Samsung we have strong relationship with Samsung and we have been able to grow well with them in that region. You can see sales here, anticipating in five years growing from $1.4 billion to $2.5 billion. So really good profitable growth here. We are not trying to be number one in sales in China, we want to be most profitable industrial gas company in China.

That takes us to the backlog. Right now our backlog is about $2 billion and just would like explain for those who don't know what our backlog means. We put things in the backlog that are $5 million or greater in capital expense. In addition they have to have contracts that are signed and executed with the customers. So very high probability that items in the backlog will generate sales. The only reason they wouldn’t, would be some kind of major contractual default and that as you can imagine would then up in legal battle anyway.

So really high visibility in to future sales with the backlog. You can see that about 80% of our backlog is split 40% North America; 40% in Asia. A lot of the North America is around some of the energy play. You can see up in Northwest Redwater in Northern Alberta that’s a bitumen gasification project and in Asia we have a combination sort of between some steel opportunities in India and a lot of different opportunities including some chemical gasification in China, in addition to several in Korea.

The remainder of the backlog is sort of spread between South America, and the only significant backlog we have in Europe primarily relates to Russia. But we’re focused on our geographies. You noticed we don't have a lot of this backlog spread across the world and we really think with this project selection we do bottoms up, it’s kind of an IRR bottoms up project selection that will continue to get accretive ROC projects that can get us to improve our position.

Looking outside Europe, you can see on the left hand side here we talk about high single-digit sales growth going forward. It’s really grounded in what we look at our 3 E, which is kind of a secular drivers we see around the world, the emerging markets, energy and environmental. And how we get that high single digit growth is a combination of roughly 3% to 4% sales growth from our existing project backlog. So like I said earlier we have very good visibility for that for the next two to three years.

Another roughly 1% to 2% on price; we have been able to get price every year even through the recession given the stickiness of the model of our business and the way our contract and our supply network is built.

About a percent in acquisitions and acquisitions for us mostly is going to be small tuck-ins in the package industry mostly. We had a largest acquisition in this year too and I think going forward we are just looking at small tuck-ins. And then 2% to 3% is kind of the base industrial growth assumptions around the world.

So that’s the one it can go higher, it can go lower and that will sort of cause that impact in our sales to go high or low. And you can see some examples that I’d mentioned earlier around in three E, for some of the energy projects, our Russian expansion and Brazil infrastructure and some of the efforts around the environmental.

We anticipate to increase operating margin greater than sales and that’s through some of our price, our approach to price plus productivity less inflation has to be accretive and help improve the quality of our earnings. We have a very strong energy management and we had a P&L accountability around the world really by region they have full integrated supply ownership, ensure we get the best cash returns and have the P&L improve.

And finally down at the EPS line with this business, with our focus on ROC and return on cash we generate a lot of free cash. But we look to continue our program of buying back share and get about 1% to 2% net accretion there which will improve EPS even greater than operating process.

And I really take think that the last slide is how do we look at our capital allocation sort of over the next five years. Now we expect that our operating cash flow as a percentage of sales would be about 24%, 25%. So when you project that out over five years that’s around $17 billion and we expect about $10 billion out of 14% of sales we’ll invest right back in the business. That averages about $2 billion a year in CapEx, could be higher, it could be lower again we look at projects on a single individual project basis. So if find more projects we like it will go up and if we find less projects it will go down.

And then the remaining $7 billion or 10% of sales we look to distribute back to shareholders. Rough half dividend, half in buy backs. Our dividend policy is to increase dividend every year sort of in line with our earnings. We’ve had about 15% increase average in dividends every year since our inception and we aim for about a 2% yield on our stock. On the repurchases, like I said we shoot for 1% to 2% net share buyback and that net of any dilutive effect from management options.

And that concludes my comments today.

Question-and-Answer Session

Undefined Analyst

[Question Inaudible]. And then second is there any inherent risks as oil prices go lower?

Matthew J. White

Okay I think on the first backlog question, our backlog did have a bit of a peak year, probably hit almost 2.6 billion, 2.7 billion. But part of that I think was more of a function of what happened three to five years ago. So it takes anywhere from two to three years to build the asset and our customers can generally take about a year to do the front end engineering and bidding proposal.

So if you go back in time when ‘08 hit and the commodities sort of plunged down there was a really freeze in any investment decision making for our customer base. You weren’t seeing greenfield projects you weren’t seeing expansion. And that continued for a good year and a half. Then by ‘10 and ‘11 we starting seeing a big rush of projects that want to begin on-stream when you had this gas. So what we saw was we saw our backlog sort of disproportionally rise with those projects and now it's getting more to what I consider a steady state of $2 billion.

So while it has dipped I think that’s more of a function of what happened with the crisis. We continue to see globally more projects than we want to bid on, that there are project out there that just don’t meet our return criteria that we are just not interested. So I think the projects that are available are pretty healthy. As far as oil, right now it's a spread between natural gas and oil that’s creating a lot of opportunity.

So I think if oil comes down from the perspective of the customer base we have I don’t think we have a lot of customers that are making decisions day to day on the oil side. When we build assets for customers we have take-or-pay arrangements. So regardless of some of their volumes or even what the prices are of their end product we still have the same either take-or-pay structure of pricing at our on-site.

So we are not directly sensitized to oil. I think there is a view of a long range much lower oil pricing might change the dynamics but right now a lot of the interest we’re seeing is, more around this spread of gas to oil.

Unidentified Analyst

I think one of the key aspects of your success of higher profitability has been sort of standardization of your assets of your plant as you drive efficiency for -- as you look next five to 10 years, in to the future growth opportunities do you see potentially disruption to that standardization meaning that more complex, more customers projects are the ones that are being looked at? And if so what could be the impact on your productivity or perhaps even CapEx as a percentage of sales could be in that larger more complex plant?

Matthew J. White

I think definitely with that respect, yes, we like to have standard plant product lines. So the nice thing about this industry is, you can always add trains like you can in any chemical industry. So if you wanted to do, make it up 15,000 ton a day opportunity you could do three 5,000 you can do five, 3,000. So the opportunity exists, that the larger it gets it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep making larger and larger plants.

So from that perspective I am not too worried and I think a lot of the opportunities we are seeing is the combination we are not just seeing the big mega sort of gas to liquids or gasification. But we are also seeing a lot of more remote standardized plants or even smaller plants. So we continue to see a blend. I mean if you see resource build out that tends to get in very remote areas as well and it can be smaller plant size. So I am not too worried in the next few years on that and I think our engineering group every year we challenge to continue to reduce the costs and to improve the standardization building of our plants. And we have been doing this for a long time.

Unidentified Analyst

I have two questions, one on the gasification technology in China and some of your competitors made the conscious decision not to go for this project because they believe water shortages in the future or carbon credits trading in China would make the subject not economical enough on the 10 to 15 years view. So what are your thoughts on this? Because you mentioned gasification as the opportunity. And secondly, on pricing what do you see at the moment in the market in terms of competition for projects?

Matthew J. White

I think gasification, in China I sort of look at two different gasification opportunities, there is for coal, so there is the coal to chemical that you see being pulled by the chemical industry and those will be an large integrated industrial park, there is the demand for the product, there is an infrastructure around which is being built and they are getting a lower active feedstock or lower cost feedstock to be able to remain competitive.

Those are the projects that we are participating in, that we have had two already running, and two in the backlog. They are all well capitalized, big names, global players and I think it’s something that’s well thought out and it should be valuable asset going forward.

There is another part of coal gasification, which a lot of it’s been done in the coal triangle which is kind of led by the coal industry bringing the project to the mouth of the coal mine. Those are much larger and the view there is we view this coal to liquids or coal to fuels and then transport it across China. I think those we are not bullish on, we are not interested in, they are much, much bigger projects and I think they are riskier projects, given the customer base, given how the assets are really in very remote stranded areas, there is not a lot of density play and in some cases, they are almost shale type structures around the coal mining company.

So we view them two very separately, and we feel very good about the ones that we are involved with. And one example in the steel industry there has been a lot of steel build out in China obviously over the years, and a few years ago, when they had the rolling blackout the steel mills knows that we were connected to kept running and actually we had some very good results in terms of Argon availability, whereas a lot of the other steel mills were shutdown. And I think as you get more pollution controls they are going to evaluate the best running asset and keep them and I think the lesser competitive assets will probably be rationalized.

We get expressions on competitive bidding on projects, you look across the world and like I said earlier, I think there is more projects that we can all bid on, probably half the projects that we bid on there is one or no competitors, given that it’s in the density region that we are operating in already, do have an existing infrastructure, an existing logistical structure, you can be much more competitive in that bid.

There are few more competitors bid and they will be more competitive. But for the most part, the project that we are going after, we haven’t seen a lot of pitching.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi, two questions. First one, how do you think about maintenance CapEx versus obviously as it stands and going over the next five years, and what percent of that would you say would be necessary to kind of maintain the business?

And secondly, you guys obviously great margins compared to your competitors and given you are kind of operating in little bit of [inaudible], who do you guys see as your competitors and how are you consistently earning those high margins over your competitors?

Matthew J. White

Sure. I think on the CapEx, we could assume roughly 16% to 20% of total CapEx is roughly our maintenance CapEx. So that would be the amount we would continue regardless of changes in growth opportunities. And as far as what’s sustainable, at least from our opinion on what we do, I think it’s similar to what I said earlier that we really kind of stick to industrial gases, we try not to deviate, we are not trying to be in every country, we don’t really do chemicals, we don’t get in to lot of varying services, we are not trying to do large penetration strategies in countries that we just don’t have an advantage and where our competitors do have advantage.

So I think that discipline has enabled us to keep getting the return we are. And I think part of it is how we are structured, like I mentioned we are more of a regional integrated structure versus a global sort of product line structure. So as an example, when I was running Canada, I had onsite, I had package, I had merchant. So when we made investment decisions, we looked at the higher distribution mode, we try and get the best possible return and how we could best leverage them in our investment. And I think that mentality around the world has in my opinion made us to be more sustainable better returns.

Unidentified Analyst

And just a quick follow up on the $10 billion CapEx, do you think that you will able to maintain the current margins or do you think there will be some, a bit of a melt…?

Matthew J. White

On operating margins?

Unidentified Analyst

Yeah, operating margins.

Matthew J. White

Yeah, I think so when we make capital decisions, we do it on IRR cash basis. So from that perspective, that’s how we run our investment process. Now when it gets to operating margins, it depends what you are doing, could have some distortions in the P&L, if it’s a large natural gas [pass-through reformer], that could dilute margins. If it’s more a tolling arrangement structure, at a very high facility it could be very higher margin. So we really manage CapEx projects by passion and margin could be depending upon the contract structure.

Unidentified Analyst

You talked about your contract of five to seven years at your plant and just as a read of how much of your business depletes over time. How many of those contracts or how many perhaps [inaudible] come to termination or you say we wish we had renewed that client but it isn’t coming back to us. So there is a portion of your business that goes away every year, right, that you have to replace as well?

Matthew J. White

Yeah, I think go to the supply mode, right. So start with onsite, that’s kind of 15 or 20 year contract. It is basically like a utility inside of their compound in the perimeter. So there your renewals are highly, high probable. The onsite time an onsite contract generally doesn’t continue to generate revenue is if your customer asset stops running. So there is it’s more of making sure when you get an investment with the customer, it’s a viable low cost asset and it’s a credible customer. Even if the customer has gone, somebody will still run their asset.

So onsite I’d say, the retention rate is extremely high.

Unidentified Analyst

[Question Inaudible].

Matthew J. White

Hard to get a percentage but I’d say any of the ones that aren’t removed, it’s because generally our customer is not operating the asset anymore and we have onsite that we’ve been supplying for 60 years. We have been in the field out there, right, it’s a different name, it’s been different customer name but we’ve been supplying the same mills for decades.

Unidentified Analyst

So 100% of the volumes are retained, is that what you are saying?

Matthew J. White

I’m not saying 100%, I’m just saying to have an onsite arrangement that you don’t retain, is generally the reason if we see a particular customer is not operating, because they have to replace that age infrastructure with a competitive infrastructure. Now merchant is a little bit different. Merchant is three to seven year contract, you have tanks, you have pipe work, you have vaporization. So that can turn over. But it tends to be longer range for turnover, it’s got to be a situation generally where if you have reliability problems, that may drive it, but it’s our product right now in the industry is low cost for the customer but it’s highly critical for a lot of their operations. So if they had a loss in the gas supply you can lose the customer down.

So if you have strong reliability you don’t lose the account. If you have a reliability problem, over time yes, you could have your client put you down. We are out of time. Thank you very much.

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