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Ness Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ:NSTC)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

April 28, 2010 8:30 AM ET

Executives

Drew Wright – Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Sachi Gerlitz – President and CEO

Ofer Segev – Executive Vice President and CFO

Analysts

Moshe Katri – Cowen & Company

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Operator

Good morning. My name is Beth, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Ness Technologies First Quarter Earnings Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speaker’s remarks there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

Thank you. Mr. Drew Wright, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations. You may begin your conference.

Drew Wright

Thank you, Beth. Good morning. And welcome to the Ness Technologies first quarter 2010 earnings call. In our call today, we'll review the results for the quarter ended March 31, 2010.

First, I'll read the Safe Harbor statement. Except for historical matters discussed herein, the matters discussed on today's conference call include forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements are often preceded by words such as believes, expects, may, anticipates, plans, intends, assumes, will or similar expressions.

Forward-looking statements are based on management's current expectations and beliefs about current -- about future events as of the date of this conference call, and involve certain risks and uncertainties.

As with any projection or forecast, they are inherently susceptible to uncertainty and changes in circumstances, and Ness's actual results could differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of various factors.

Some of the factors that could cause future results to materially differ from recent results or those projected in forward-looking statements are the risk factors described in Ness' Annual Report on Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 15, 2010.

Ness is under no obligation, and expressly disclaims any obligation, to update or alter its forward-looking statements, whether as a result of such changes, new information, subsequent events or otherwise.

The audio from today's call is being webcast live on the Internet. A replay of the call will be available online at the Ness Technologies website about two hours after the call is over at investor.ness.com. Also available on the Ness Investor Relations website are today's press release and the related 8-K filing.

Our call today will be led by Sachi Gerlitz, President and CEO; and Ofer Segev, Executive Vice President and CFO. Sachi, would you please start us off.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thank you, Drew. Good day, everyone. Thanks for joining us on the call. We started the new year on a good fortune, as we continued the positive momentum we established last quarter. We saw solid booking growth and return to a year-over-year revenue growth at the corporate level and in our segment.

We won many significant bill in the past three months, number in each of our major geographies, including several large strategic deal in Central and Eastern Europe and in Israel.

The economy has turned the corner in the U.S. and in Israel. In the CEE region, it appears that the defense has stopped, which is encouraging. We recently announced the acquisition of Gilon Business Insight, the largest provider of business intelligence services in Israel, service strengthening our position as a leading provider of enterprise solution. The acquisition is expected to close in May.

As we saw in our earnings press release this morning, we’re in the process of selling our software distribution operation in Europe and our APAC system integration operations. This is in accordance with strategy to enhance margin expansion by focusing on our core higher margin service offering in our core geographic region.

These efforts are supportive by shutting of smaller and non-strategic operations and projects. The acquisition and divestiture are -- we announced with better align with our growth strategy and support our plan for 2010.

Ofer, would you please take us through the numbers.

Ofer Segev

Thanks Sachi. Hello, everyone. First, let me remind you and to help understand the underlying performance of Ness. We disclose non-GAAP P&L metrics that exclude one-time gains, one-time expenses, and recurring non-cash items.

Today's earnings press release contains a non-GAAP reconciliation table that details these calculations. The items excluded from our non-GAAP results are identified in the press release for both the current and comparable periods.

Please also note that we have reclassified two operations as discontinued operations. First, our Asia Pacific system integration business, which we have signed an agreement to sell, and second, our software distribution business in Europe, which we are in the process of selling, because it’s no longer strategic to our long-term business goal. Both were reclassified as discontinued operations and we have reclassified prior periods results accordingly. Our discussion today is based strictly on continued operation.

Let’s look at revenue. For the first quarter were $133 million, up 6% year-over-year. Backlog at the end of the quarter was $663 million, up 4% year-over-year, and up 6% sequentially. We are very encouraged by the continued growth in our backlog.

Our book-to-bill ratio for Q1, including our recent large multi-year booking was $1.25, exceeding our projection. Backlog for the rolling 12-month was [52%] of total backlog at March 31st, slightly below our normal range of 55% to 60%, as a consequence of our recent multi-year bookings.

Quarterly revenues by customer geographical region were, Israel 36%, North America 34%, Europe 29% and the rest of the world 1%.

Gross profit was $36.8 million for the quarter, or 27.6% of revenue, up from 25.3% in the first quarter of ’09.

Operating income was $2.4 million for the quarter. On a non-GAAP basis, quarterly operating income was $5 million, or 3.7% of revenue, compared to 5.4% in Q1 of last year.

This is in line for our seasonally weak Q1, recall that in Q1 last year, we had net gain in non-GAAP operating income of $2.5 million from commissions related to the 2008 sale of our Israeli SAP sales and distribution operations.

EBITDA was $7.9 million for the quarter. On a non-GAAP basis EBITDA for the quarter was also $7.9 million, or 5.9% of revenue, compared to 7.5% in the first quarter of ’09. Financial expenses were $200,000 for the quarter, down from $1.2 million in Q1 of last year, due largely to a reduction in our net debt lower interest rate on our long-term debt, and beneficial effects on exchange rate fluctuations.

Our effective tax rate for the quarter was higher than normal mainly due to jurisdictions where we are feeling current losses, but we were not able to create new deferred taxes.

Net income from continued operations were $700,000 for the quarter. On a non-GAAP basis net income were $3.4 million, compared to $4.7 million in Q1 of last year. This corresponds to GAAP earnings per share from continued operation of $0.02 for the quarter. On a non-GAAP basis quarterly diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0.09, compared to $0.12 in the first quarter of ’09.

First quarter operating cash flows were solid $4.7 million. And our balance sheet very strong. At the end of March, cash and cash equivalents, and short-term deposits were $65 million, with no short-term debt and net debt down to $1.4 million. We remain in our comfort zone regarding liquidity, including the $17.5 million cash payment anticipated in the second quarter for the purchase of Gilon.

Trade receivables were $124 million versus $131 million at the end of December, while unbilled receivables were $35 million, up $2 million from December. Unbilled receivables as a percentage of total trade receivables were 22%, up from 20% in December.

Days sales outstanding at quarter end was good 66 days, less from year-end due to our continue focus on collections. Remember that in calculating DSOs, we exclude VAT and software vendor pass-through from our trade receivables, since these amounts don't represent revenues for Ness. Our target range for DSO is 70 to 80 days.

Our top 20 clients in aggregate represented 43% of our revenue in Q1, with our largest single-client accounting for less than 7.5%. Revenue from existing clients continued over 85%. Approximately 32% of our revenue was from fixed price project in Q1 inline with historical norms.

Our total headcount for continued operations at March 31st was 7,470, up sequentially by 90 billable employees. For your reference, our total headcount including discontinued operations was 7,930.

Our percentage of billable employees from continued operations increased to 86.9%. Headcount in India increased for the fourth quarter in a row. We expect our headcount to increase by about 250 when the Gilon acquisition closed.

Now, let’s talk about operating segment results. First, we no longer report a separate software distribution segment. As our European software distribution operation reclassified as discontinued operation and now Israeli software distribution operation was reclassified to our system integration and application development segment, effective January 1st. This morning’s earnings press release includes restated segment data for prior periods.

In our software product engineering segment, quarterly revenues were up 6% year-over-year, and we continue to generate strong operating margin, delivering 14.6% in the quarter. This operating margin is expected to drop a little in Q2, as we paid wage increases in India, and we are still targeting 13% to 15% segment operating margin for the full year.

Our system integration and application development segment continued to recover [certainly] a year-over-year quarterly revenue increase of 6% and non-GAAP operating margin of 4.6%. We expect to see segment margin improve throughout the year as the revenue grow again.

Back to you Sachi.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thank you, Ofer. As you know, with the number of strategic structural action implemented and improving demand actions in our core business segments, our overall outlook is improving. Ofer just reviewed the numbers, and now, I’d like to give you a sense of the changes in the business.

First, I’m sure, you’d like me to explain, why we moved software distribution operation in Europe from the probation lease to the auction block. Fundamentally, it’s a good business. But it didn’t match our need in two respects. On one hand, within the change of plan synergies with our system integration business, as our NessPRO Israel operation successful did.

On the other hand, the recession in Western Europe introduce a lot of volatility into the normally predictable good results of these operations, which may lead a real challenge for our forecasting model. Bottom line, the difference in the business model between our core service business and our software distribution operation was destruction. It’s a good business but not for us at this time.

Second, we are starting to see some good pipeline activity again in most part of our business. We’re seeing more opportunities, dealing on more deals, and going after larger and more meaningful deal. Then we have seen offers in the past year and we have won (inaudible) number of deal in Q1, including some large and strategic one.

Finally, we are encouraged about our future as we have done in the last two quarter from tightening our best -- in making the best out of the global economic downturn to planning for and initiating our return to growth and margin expansion.

As Ofer mentioned, our software product engineering segment did well in Q1, with year-over-year revenue growth and nice operating margins. Headcounts in India continue to increase.

Our delivery operation in India remains very efficient, with very tight range and with average cost of billable hour in line with our plan. As you have probably heard, the job market in India is starting to heat up again, which we anticipate will translate into some level of increase in attrition and wage pressure too. We believe these will be manageable.

The pipeline is healthy and we are working on a lot of deals and prospects now. Sale side is a longer in this segment, so with client willingness to spend reemerging, most of you make these opportunities, are just now working the way in to and through the pipeline.

However, we closed some nice smaller software deal and we’ve also booked $16 million for expansion of existing lab in the quarter, including one $1900 million first in U.S. of one of our largest lab. [19 is a differently 19]. We are currently operating over 50 software product labs in India and Eastern Europe.

Our system integration and application development segment is starting to improve, especially in the U.S. and Israel, but Europe remains in the top of the recession.

Let’s go to the details starting with Europe. The CEE economy is still uncertain, but we feel that in our business the world is behind us. The election season in CEE region did not much -- not much -- but it is delaying public sector and other deals.

Despite this, we have several nice wins in the quarter, some of which you read about in our recent press releases. Of particular note are that the $24 million deal in Slovakia for the initial phase of a countrywide eHealth System funded by the European Union.

And over $10 million in the UN and multi-million dollar award from a large regional bank in the Czech Republic. With other nice wins in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is that around $5 million range, which we have not yet announced.

We are continuing to see good performance in Hungary with a good book-to-bill ratio and almost back to normal utilization.

Romania is still struggling, but we believe the market potential there is significant. Another good sign is backlog for Ness Europe, which increase for the fourth consecutive quarters.

We implemented some management changes in Europe during the first quarter. Appointed Milan Sames, is our new President of Ness CEE. Milan was formerly the Head of Ness Czech and most recently the Managing Director of Oracle, Czech Republic. Milan succeeds Ivan Hruska.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Ivan for his long-term service to the company. We welcome Milan and look forward to his contribution return in Ness CEE to growth and high profitability.

We also recently appointed new country managers in Hungary and Romania. I think strength those important business units. We continue to see tremendous long-term potential in the CEE region.

In the Israeli commercial and civilian market, the economic environment has recovered nicely, on track with our budget in terms of both revenue and operating margin. New big projects are still very illusive, but we have won some important large extension from existing client as the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Phoenix Insurance each for over 10 million Shekels.

As I mentioned before, we recently announced the acquisition of Gilon Business Insight, a provider of business intelligence solution and services. The acquisition, which has just received the antitrust approval is expected to close at the beginning to May.

This really positions us as a leading provider of enterprise solution with a proven length of ERP, BI and CRM capabilities. We have utilized Gilon’s capability to have some feel the growing demands for business intelligence solution and services around the world.

In our defense and homeland security vertical, revenue showed good year-over-year growth and operating margin were very strong. We won several new deals during the third quarter and where we can secure approval from our customers to issue press releases will do so. Our pipeline in this vertical is strong and we are pursuing some significant opportunities.

In our North American system integration business, we are starting to see some new light in the market, particularly in the financial services and healthcare sector and we are pursuing some large deals in each of these verticals.

Operating margin for Q1 improved, in this business unit we unified our remaining stuffing engagements into separate organization to provide a proper attention to this business without distracting management attention for more strategic and more profitable project business.

Overall the picture is improving. We clearly still have some work to do but we’re feeling optimistic about the coming quarters. Ofer, would you present our financial guidance, please?

Ofer Segev

Thanks, Sachi. We are reiterating our full year 2010 guidance of revenues in the range of $575 million to $585 million. And non-GAAP diluted earning per share of $0.43 to $0.47, which corresponds to GAAP EPS of $0.09 to $0.17.

Our guidance includes our two announced divestitures, which are already classified as discontinued operations, are announced Gilon acquisition and our solid organic revenue growth.

Our guidance assumed a tax rate of 30% and also assumed the foreign exchange rate to remain average April 2010, ’11. We are modeling an average diluted share account of $39.5 million in 2010.

Our guidance assumed that the acquisition of Gilon will close as planned. In terms of seasonality, we expect sequentially quarterly improvement in revenues and margins throughout the year.

There is a difference in seasonality though, the segment that don’t have software distributions -- software distribution doesn’t change the fact that Q4 is stronger and Q1 is weakest, but it reduces the magnitude of the seasonality in this quarter.

Over to you, Sachi.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thanks, Ofer. Over all, in most of our business, we see different environment and good momentum. And even in the CEE region, there are positive signs that gives us the confident that we are on the right track. We shall continue to focus on growth, margin expansion and better differentiation in our key markets.

To our 7,900 employees around the world, I’d say, thank you for your continuing diligence and commitment and for having what it takes to see us through the worldwide recession. And thank you our shareholders for continuing support.

That concludes our prepared remarks. Amanda, let’s take questions now.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Moshe Katri, Cowen & Company. Your line is now open.

Moshe Katri – Cowen & Company

Yeah. Thanks. And a nice quarter. I want to focus a bit on the pipeline, maybe you can talk a bit about the nature of the deals in the pipeline that are coming through, maybe talk about the sizes of the deal? And then in systems integration obviously the margins remain depressed?

What do we need to kind of expand these margins? I’m assuming it’s a function of utilization rate? Maybe you can talk a bit about that?

And then, what sort of long-term target that we have in terms of EBIT margins for these systems integration segment? Thanks.

Sachi Gerlitz

Hi, Moshe. Thank you for the question. I believe you asked three questions. Let me address the first and Ofer will address the second too. Regarding the pipeline, I think that what we see is a combination of two types of deals, let me called them in two different buckets.

The smaller deal has continue to ramp up and this is what I’ll called a business infusion kind of an environment, something that you have not seen throughout 2009 and we starting to see again, repeat orders from customer continuation of project and so and so forth.

In the other bucket, which I believe is more interesting bucket, we see more multinational deals, deals of a higher magnitude, deals that are actually responding to our positioning where we benefit from our core and confidence in specific domain, as well as our global reach in our mid-market focus.

These three components of our strategy are paying off and we see more and more deals that correspond to that. I believe that the large deal that we have been able to announce in the year, a $25 million Slovakia, I think is a good example to that. Is just the beginning of many more deals that are in the pipeline and we hope to win throughout 2010. Regarding system integration margin, I’ll transfer you to Ofer.

Ofer Segev

And so I think the long-term, you asked about the long-term and what makes to happen. On the long-term, I think the target has not changed, a 10% operating margin for this segment. What needs to happen is actually three things. First, to achieve, we’ll have the most effective short-term is Europe.

Europe is still not there where it used to be and I just to remind you that Europe use to have double-digit in operating margin on the consistent basis in 2008. And clearly, now we are very below this number and we need -- we just need the economy and the business there to come back to normal numbers.

And the second part is our business in the U.S., which is already improving a lot, but the mix between the offshore business and the project that we do in India, which is very profitable part of the business has to grow faster than our on-site operations in the U.S. where typically the lower margin.

And third, is the Israeli business has to continue to improve and we believe that we will see improvement as we go along on a quarterly basis. And the only thing that I would say again is Europe, which is a little difficult to know when the Sweden, the corner specifically when I see the news coming from Greece and Portugal. Clearly, this doesn’t have our financial services business in Eastern Europe.

Moshe Katri – Cowen & Company

Okay.

Sachi Gerlitz

So that’s a little bit of summary.

Moshe Katri – Cowen & Company

And then just two very short questions. Are you, can you give us any feel on how Q2 is shaping up. I didn’t see Q2 guidance? And then what’s a currency impact for the quarter?

Ofer Segev

The currency impact was actually was minimal, what I think, just around maybe 1% revenue, after all [$1 trillion] major effect so far. And Q2 and I think, we didn’t gave quarterly guidance, but Q2 sheds to be better than Q1. I think as we said in our -- in the guidance that we really improve from quarter-to-quarter.

Moshe Katri – Cowen & Company

Okay. Thank you.

Ofer Segev

Thanks.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thank you, Moshe.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of Manish Hemrajani, Oppenheimer. Your line is now open.

Sachi Gerlitz

Hi, Manish.

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

Good morning. Hi. How are you?

Sachi Gerlitz

Fine. Thank you.

Ofer Segev

Hey. Good morning to you.

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

Just a few questions from my side. Can you give us some more color on the recovery in Eastern Europe and whether this recovery you’re seeing is from the public or the private sector?

Sachi Gerlitz

Sure. I said good morning, I forgot that you are in India. So good evening, Manish. In Eastern Europe, as you remember we are predominantly in four different countries and there are different performance in these different countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Rumania.

I think that Czech Republic should be described as the highest retail since most of our revenue is coming from Czech Republic. Over there, I would say, we see quite a good performance in the public sector, we see utility and a little bit also in the private sector.

The weakness, most of the weakness in the Czech Republic, excuse me, is coming from the financial services sector. And I think that the reason for that, were well explained by Ofer when he answered Moshe.

And in Hungary, I see actually strong performance. Over there, I must admit it most of our business is the financial services but over there, I think that we have a very excellent performance and we were less affected like the rest of the industry. Slovakia, most of the strengthening that we saw is coming from the public sector, mostly fed by the European Union Funding and in Romania, we see weakness all over.

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

Okay. Got it. And can you give us your revenue including the discontinued operations for this quarter?

Sachi Gerlitz

Yeah. Including this would then another -- another $9 million today to the reported numbers which had been a $142.

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

Got it. And the Gilon acquisition, what was Gilon’s revenue last year and at what margins and how much you expect Gilon to contribute in 2010?

Sachi Gerlitz

Last year, Gilon did around 22. We expect this year to be higher, probably closer to the 25 million and the earnings running at a high single digit margin. Manish, where …

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

(Inaudible)

Sachi Gerlitz

You do the calculation, remember that we’ll consolidate Gilon for eight months or so.

Manish Hemrajani – Oppenheimer

Yeah. I got that. That’s all I have actually. Congrats again on the good quarter.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thank you.

Ofer Segev

Thank you so much and good evening.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of James Friedman. Your line is now open.

Sachi Gerlitz

Hi, Jamie. Good morning.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Hi. Good afternoon to everyone. My first question is about the tax rate because I don’t think you call that out in a -- I’m calculating, you paid a 68% tax rate in the Q1 which cost about $0.03 of earnings. First of all, I want to verify that calculation, Ofer, and then could you explain may be why the taxes were unusually high in the quarter.

Ofer Segev

Yeah. First in the calculation, you’re right about the calculation. This is -- and I think we explained it in the call, we didn’t get as a -- they aim – In some places, I mean, Europe, we’ve seen some of the countries may still don’t make money for tax purposes. And for that reason and you’re not writing the losses as an asset. Basically, we don’t create a new deferred tax asset that’s the reason, it’s higher than the normal. Again, this relates Eastern Europe, once we are back to normal profitability there, this will be a, at the normal level.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

So I know, you gave a 30% tax rate for the whole of 2010. Should we assume that the Q2 will have 30% as well?

Ofer Segev

I think we really see this gradually coming down as we -- the earnings -- an increase in euro. So, we don’t exactly but Q2 for the full year, I think will be -- we’ll get there.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Okay. And then, it seems like the focus now is going to turn to what the sustainable growth rate of the company is. My calculation is you had about a 30% [Cager] from the IPO till the 2007-2008 timeframe. And then you had a 17% decline in 2009, I guess, I’m asking what did you see as the long-term growth of this company and when does the long-term start?

Ofer Segev

I believe that the model that you are portraying is probably the right model. I think, that long term this company should grow 25, over high 20s [Cager] where in the historical terms, before the meltdown, half of these number was attributed to a position in half a week, was attributed to a organic growth. As we are not guiding to acquisition, I would say that assuming a thing as a long-term target growth for organic growth makes a lot of sense and I believe that long term this with acquisition will get us to the 35, 30% growth.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Okay. And then my last question is, there is a lot of chatter about wage inflation now in India with Infosys raising wages and then -- but there has been little conformation of that from other vendors like TCS, Tata’s commentary was much more muted but we’re waiting for everyone else to report, so what’s your observation because you tend to have a good perspective on that, I mean, if Infosys is saying I think 13% and Tata saying high-single digits, where is wage inflation in ’10 for Ness?

Ofer Segev

Yeah. I think we are relatively high-single that as I mentioned. We are in the little bit of different -- the mix of our people is a little different than the mix of those guys where levels and I think that’s part of the reason our rates are little lower than these guys rates. I think historically this would be -- it's been the case always, at least since the last three years. We were always on an average lower than these guys every churn increase.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Where was the key one attrition for India if you have that or if you don’t have it specifically, did it increase?

Ofer Segev

Yeah. We do see slight increase in attrition since 2009 when the market was really in a different mode, but we don’t see there will be problem for us and we have to remember that part of this business is attrition, that’s the reality. People can’t not always advance to the second level and they leave and that’s the nature of the business. I would say that 2009 was way below historical level of attrition and first quarter is still below historical level. We did not get back towards it used to be. I believe that probably 2010 as we see the market hitting up in India going to be at historical level for the industry as well as for us and we usually were below our peers in terms of attrition.

James Friedman – Susquehanna Financial Group

Okay. Thank you very much.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) There are no further questions. I'll turn the call back to Mr. Gerlitz for closing remarks.

Sachi Gerlitz

Thank you for joining us today. We'll speak to you again when we report our second quarter results at the end of July. That concludes today’s call. Have a nice day. Bye-bye.

Operator

This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect. Thank you.

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