Cliffs Natural Resources' CEO Discusses Q4 2013 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Cliffs Natural (CLF)

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE:CLF)

Q4 2013 Earnings Conference Call

February 14, 2014 10:00 AM ET

Executives

Jessica Moran – Director Investor Relations

Gary B. Halverson – President and Chief Executive Officer

Terrance M. Paradie – Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

P. Kelly Tompkins – Executive Vice President, External Affairs and President, Global Commercial

Analysts

Mitesh B. Thakkar – FBR Capital Markets & Co.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Brian Hsien Yu – Citigroup Global Markets Inc.

Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

Curt Woodworth – Nomura Securities International, Inc.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Operator

Good morning. My name is Ben and I am your conference facilitator today. I’d like to welcome everyone to Cliffs Natural Resources 2013 Fourth Quarter Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session.

At this time, I would like to introduce Jessica Moran, Director, Investor Relations. Ms. Moran?

Jessica Moran

Thanks, Ben. I'd like to welcome everyone to this morning's call. Before I turn the call over, let me remind you that certain comments made on today's call will include projected statements that are intended to be made as forward-looking within the Safe Harbor protections of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Although the Company believes that its forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. Important factors that could cause results to differ materially are set forth in reports in Forms 10-K and 10-Q and news releases filed with the SEC, which are available on our website.

Today's conference call is also available and being broadcast at cliffsnaturalresources.com. At the conclusion of the call, it will be archived on the website and available for replay. We will also discuss our results excluding certain special items, which is a non-GAAP financial measure. A reconciliation for Regulation G purposes can be found in our earnings release, which is posted on our website at cliffsnaturalresources.com.

Joining me today are President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Halverson; Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Terry Paradie; and Executive Vice President External Affairs and President, Global Commercial Kelly Tompkins.

At this time, it is my pleasure to introduce Gary, who will discuss the fourth quarter results.

Gary B. Halverson

Thank you, Jess, and thanks to everyone listening on today's call. I’m joining Cliffs at a time when strategic direction, financial discipline and strong decisive leadership needs to be implemented quickly.

On my second day on the job, I made the decision to indefinitely suspend the Chromite project. And as a result, we are reducing our 2014 Chromite spending by $45 million. Also not only do we put the immediate brakes on capital spending in the last two months of the year, but we are cutting our 2014 spending, capital spending by over 50%. We've also idled underperforming assets, paid down debts, increased liquidity and set further cost reduction targets in our 2014 SG&A and exploration expenses.

I know full well the issues that are of most concern to our investors and I’m fully committed to finding the most value enhancing solutions for shareholders quickly. My first three months have also given me a good perspective on the opportunities and challenges we faced in the near and longer-term. I visited all of our sites and had the chance to see the mines first-hand review the financial performance of each business unit and most importantly meet the talented people running our operations.

I think it’s pretty important to point out that the vast majority of Cliffs operations are running quite well, the full year costs in both Asia-Pacific Iron Ore and North American Coal decreased significantly and our U.S. Iron Ore costs remain relatively flat year-over-year. Another area of cost cutting success clearly recognized in our results were lower SG&A and exploration expenses.

All of this was a good start but it’s not enough, we must be more aggressive in cutting cost especially amidst of volatile pricing environment. So being new to this organization, I have identified two fundamental changes in the way we conduct business that have already been put in motion and will continue to evolve under my leadership.

The first change I believe is a true paradigm shift in the way we apply well defined financial metrics and discipline to our capital spending and future growth. An aggressive growth agenda has come at the expense of returns to our shareholders. Simply put this is not an acceptable trade-off. Fiscal restraint with a focus on cash flow generation and balance sheet discipline must guide our decisions.

Growth will come in due course but only after we’ve demonstrated improved performance with the assets we currently own. As you saw in our press release earlier this week, we drastically cut our 2014 capital spending budget in fact by more than half to around $400 million. This is largely comprised of sustaining and license-to-operate spending and approximately $100 million in carryover capital, cash capital from 2013.

Our first priority for any additional cash generated over and above our capital spending and dividend payments during the year will be to lower our net debt position. We will then evaluate a range of options for the next best use of the capital, all of which must have attractive return rates and drive long-term shareholder value.

The second fundamental change is actually just getting back to basics, which includes improving productivity, reducing costs and right-sizing our organizations to meet the businesses immediate needs. This begins with the top layer of management. I have recently initiated a reorganization that will delayer the senior executive team and provide a direct reporting line from the operations management to me.

I believe the structure will enhance the speed and quality of our decision-making and drive accountability to all levels within the organization. Additionally, we will continue to streamline the businesses support functions by eliminating duplication and ensuring our resources are directed to the mine, which is where the true value in our business is generated.

Moving to economic considerations, all signs according to solid economic growth in the U.S. in 2014 supported by higher year-over-year motor vehicle production, an uptick in building construction, and others fundamentals of which is expected to support domestic steel production and the related demand for steel making raw materials.

As for China, while growth maybe moderating, we do anticipate annual GDP growth to remain about 7% in 2014, still a strong way of development for the world's second largest economy and one that remains supportive of the broader commodity demand, including iron ore. Although, recent credit tightening measures have constrained growth in the near-term, these reforms would support a stable economy and steady demand for steel making raw materials in the long run.

While the Chinese and U.S. economies are constructive, we do acknowledge that there are multiple factors impacting price volatility that are simply out of our control. While we can’t control, however, is the manner in which we deploy capital, reduce costs, and improve our overall performance.

One last macro point that I would like to highlight is the growing quality premium that has begun to emerge for higher grade iron ore products such as Bloom Lake’s concentrate, as well as pellets and lump product. A few factors are driving this premium differential, including China's increased pressure on emission reductions for industrial manufacturing, including steel production and signs of recovery in Europe’s steel making utilization rate. While we have not take the full impact of these higher premiums into our full-year revenue realization assumptions, we are encouraged to see this trend in the marketplace.

Now, turning to the performance of our business segments during the quarter. In U.S. Iron Ore, fourth quarter sales volume of 6.2 million tons was relatively flat, compared to the year-ago quarter and included 650,000 tons of export sales to European and Asian customers. For the full year, we sold 21.3 million tons versus 21.6 million tons in 2012. Also, 2013 is higher than expected iron ore price enabled us to export a record 2.4 million tons from the U.S. into the seaborne market.

For the full-year of 2014, we are maintaining our expected USIO sales and production volumes of 22 million tons to 23 million tons, which includes selling roughly 1 million tons of pellets into the seaborne market. For the first quarter of 2014, we expect slightly lower volumes due to the extremely cold weather that has hit the Midwest over the past month. At this point, we expect these shipments will be made up in the years subsequent quarters.

Turning to Eastern Canadian Iron Ore, before I touch on the quarters results, I would like to add some further context to our Bloom Lake announcement earlier this week. We have cut the projects 2014 capital budget to largely include what’s required from a sustaining and license-to-operate standpoint. By adjusting our tailings and water management strategy utilizing different vendors and by spreading the spending over more years, we have been able to lower the capital deployed for tailings and water management in 2014.

We will continue to operate the first phase given the current pricing environment. We will not spend capital for the stake of increasing volume growth. Maximizing our free cash flow and reducing net debt is our first priority. Bloom Lake is an orebody well suited for a global market that increasingly values quality. However, it also requires time and capital to be properly developed, built-out and operated to its full potential.

Accordingly, we will only spend the minimum required capital until we develop the path that extracts the highest value from Bloom Lake for our shareholders. We are examining every alternative for this asset, which could include a range of outcomes from strategic partnering to a sale. I want to be clear that running Phase I is not a long-term solution and if pricing substantially declines for an extended period we will not rule out idling this operation.

In the meantime, I have charged my team to reduce Bloom Lake’s capital and operating cost as much as possible. From an operating expense perspective, I believe improved cash cost of Bloom Lake are achievable. Over the past four months extremely cold winter months I might add. Bloom Lake’s production volume has averaged over 500,000 tons of concentrate per month. While these volumes are still below the original expectations and cash cost remain unacceptably high, production volume consistency is a critical step forward.

Turning to Wabush. Earlier this week, we announced the idling of our Wabush Scully Mine. Over the past 24 months, we undertook a number of initiatives at Wabush for lower cost, improved productivity, increased long-term profitability. Unfortunately these initiatives did not impact the operations cost structuring up to justify continuing to run this mine. We understand this is a very difficult time for our employees and the community impacted by this decision and we will do our best with system through this transition.

We expect to incur approximately $100 million in cash costs related to the Wabush Idle in 2014. For the fourth quarter results, ECIO sales volume decreased 6% to 2.2 million tons from 2.3 million tons in the prior year’s comparable quarter. This was primarily driven by December’s extremely cold weather, which limited the loading of ships at the Pointe Noire port. On the positive side during the quarter, we loaded and shipped the Chinamax vessel from the Port of Sept-Îles to China, the first ship of that size ever loaded in North America.

For 2014, we expect to produce and sell 6 million tons to 7 million tons from our ECIO business segment. This was comprised of approximately 500,000 tons from Wabush and the remainder from Bloom Lake, already expected sales tonnage from this segment is fully committed for the year.

Now turning to Asia Pacific Iron Ore. Fourth quarter sales volume increased 5% to 3 million tons from 2.8 million tons in the prior year’s comparable quarter, which was driven by the favorable timing of shipments in 2013. Over the past year, we conducted a significant amount of work to identify cost improvement efficiencies in various systems, processes and activities. In 2014, we expect the implementation of these efficiencies will begin to materialize in our results. While the weaker Australian dollar is favorably impacting our cost, these efficiencies improvements have helped us to offset inflation in a number of our inputs from labor to transportation rate.

As we approach the end of the mine’s life in 2020, the team will be looking at ways to sustain the product quality as well as opportunities to offset Australia’s inflationary cost pressures. In 2014, we expect to produce and sell 10 million tons to 11 million tons from our APIO business comprised of approximately 50% lump and 50% fines.

Now turning to North American coal, due largely to lower domestic demand and export sales our fourth quarter sales volume decreased 7% to 1.8 million tons from 1.9 million tons last year.

On the operational side 2013 was a remarkable year for our North American Coal team. We achieved record sale and production volumes and significantly lower cost across the segment, while meaningful these achievements have been partially over shadowed by an over supplied market that has negatively impacted pricing.

Although our cash cost profile enabled us to be competitive in North America. We will continue to evaluate the economic implications that lower coal pricing could have on this business. In the meantime we’re viewing the current pricing situation as an opportunity to increased market share and attract superior talent and what continues to be a war of attrition in the domestic coal market.

Also last week we brought back a second shift of workers at our Toney Fork thermal coal mine in West Virginia, which will drive slightly higher thermal coal volumes year-over-year. For 2014, we’re increasing our expected production and sales volume to 7 million to 8 million tons comprised of 900,000 tons of thermal coal with met coal making up the reminder.

Now, before I turn it over to Terry, I have one last item to address. Recently one of our shareholders publicized the recommendations for steps we could take to enhance shareholder value. We welcome open communication with all of our shareholders and both the board and management are open minded to new value enhancing ideas.

In the interest of time allotted for today’s earnings call, I would refer you to the detailed press release we issued this morning that addresses our analysis for several of the recommendations we have received, we will not take questions regarding this matter during the question-and-answer session on today’s call.

And now, I'll turn the call over to Terry for his financial review.

Terrance M. Paradie

Thanks Gary. I would like to start off highlighting a few impressive points from 2013, before I jump into the financial details. We achieved full year adjusted EBITDA of $1.5 billion, our full year cash from operations more than doubled to $1.1 billion, and we generated a $157 million and free cash flow after dividends, we also cut our year-over-year SG&A and exploration expenses by a $135 million or 32%. A very strong performance enabled us to repay all borrowings on our revolving credit facility at year end.

Also we exited the year with $2.7 billion in net debt and a debt-to-EBITDA leverage ratio of less than two times. As many of you know our revolver covenant suspension period ends on March 31, 2014. At that time, we’ll resume formal measurement of our debt-to-EBITDA leverage ratio with a maximum level of 3.5 times.

In the near-term we’re comfortable with this covenant given our current balance sheet position our significant lower 2014 capital spending expectation and additional costs cutting opportunities on the horizon, despite this we’ll not stop looking for areas improve our operational and financial performance.

Moving forward, we will still instill a great discipline in our capital allocation process so that we are well positioned for the future. This starts with an over 15% cut to our 2014 capital spending budget to a range of $375 million to $425 million for the year. This range includes approximately $100 million in year-over-year carryover capital and $275 million to $325 million in new license to operate and sustaining capital. As we generate cash from operations throughout the year. We’ll look for ways to improve our financial position and deliver value to our shareholders.

Moving onto our results for the quarter, consolidated revenues for the fourth quarter were $1.5 billion, slightly lower than the previous year, this was driven by lower market pricing and sales volume for the metallurgical coal products, partially offset by a 10% increase in seaborne iron ore pricing to an average of $135 per ton.

Cost of goods sold decreased by 6% to $1.2 billion, primarily driven by favorable foreign exchange rates, lower cost at Wabush, and lower cost rates in our North American Coal business.

Our fourth quarter 2013 SG&A expenses were $64 million and included $8 million in severance costs. Excluding severance costs, fourth quarter SG&A expenses were $56 million, an 18% decrease on a comparable basis year-over-year. Fourth quarter exploration expenses also decreased significantly by 72% to $13 million. The decrease was driven by a cut to drilling and other professional services in our Global Exploration Group and lower Chromite related spending.

In November, we announced that we’re significantly scaling back on our Chromite project development work due to the uncertain timeline and risk associated with the infrastructure to bring this project online.

With this change to projects timeline, we took an $81 million goodwill impairment charge related to the Chromite project during the quarter. As reported in our announcement earlier this week, we recorded a $183 million in charges related to the idling of our Wabush Mine in Eastern Canada.

These charges were comprised of $155 million non-cash asset impairment charge, which was reflected within the goodwill and long-lived asset impairment line items in our income statement and a $28 million supplies inventory write-down charge, which was reflected in the quarters cost of goods sold.

Our miscellaneous net income this quarter and has increased to $50 million and included $45 million in insurance recovery proceeds related to our North American Coal mines, and a favorable impact of $28 million related to foreign currency remeasurements. Miscellaneous net also included a penalty of $16 million related to minimum take-or-pay volume commitments with the QNS&L rail line.

Excluding some of the one-off items incurred during the quarter, we reported fourth quarter 2013 adjusted net income attributable to Cliffs shareholders of $218 million, or $1.22 per diluted share. This compares to $89 million or $0.63 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Before I review the segment’s financial performance and outlook, I would remind you that we are providing full year business segment revenue per ton guidance and related sensitivities and future iron ore pricing in the outlook section of last year – last night’s earnings release. We will use the January year-to-date iron ore price of $128 per ton as a proxy for the full year average price. It’s important for me to stress that this is not our internal outlook on iron ore pricing for the year.

In the U.S. Iron Ore, revenues per ton increased to $113 from last year’s fourth quarter revenue of $112 per ton. The increase was primarily attributable to higher pricing for one customer to the reset of their contract base rate. This was partially offset by customer mix, increased sales to seaborne customers, which have lower realized pricing due to higher freight and handling cost, and an unfavorable true-up on hot-rolled steel pricing.

Based on the January year-to-date average iron ore price of $128 per ton, the full year 2014 revenue per ton expectation was $105 to $110 per ton. The year-over-year decrease is driven by lower iron ore pricing assumption and customer mix. Our USIO revenue per ton sensitivity for every $10 change in iron ore pricing is $2 per ton and reflects fewer tons exposed to seaborne pricing versus 2013 sales mix. This is driven by a change in one customer contract and less expected seaborne export tons.

Cash cost per ton for the fourth quarter remain relatively flat, increasing less than $1 to $66 per ton. The quarter’s cash costs resulting approximately $0.50 per ton in severance related costs. The remainder of the increase was due to a – to lower production volumes and the resulting unfavorable impact on the mines cost per ton rates.

Also, I think it's important to highlight that our full year 2013 cash costs per ton increased only $0.58 versus 2012, due to exceptional cost controls by our USIO operators and supply chain group. Each year we are faced with rising energy and labor costs and the team has done a tremendous job finding ways to offset those increases.

Our 2014 cash costs per ton expectation for U.S. Iron Ore is $65 to $70, relatively flat with 2013’s results. Our expectation includes – increased fixed cost leverage to modestly higher sales volumes offset by higher maintenance costs. In Eastern Canadian Iron Ore revenue per ton increased to $109 up 8% when compared to last year's fourth quarter. The higher per ton revenue was attributed to 10% year-over-year increase in Seaborne iron ore pricing and higher quality premiums versus the prior year.

During the quarter Bloom Lake and Wabush Mine realized quality premiums of $12 and $8 per ton respectively. These increases were partially offset by the quarter’s product mix which was comprised of a higher proportion of iron ore concentrate and pellets versus the prior year’s fourth quarter and higher freight rates.

During the quarter Bloom Lake’s cash cost increased 5% to $90 per ton primarily due to higher mining cost driven by increased year-over-year strip ratios and additional overburden removal activities. Cash cost per ton at Wabush Mine was $143 down 14% from the year ago quarter. This was primarily due to the absence of pelletizing costs from the Pointe Noire pellet plant.

The decrease was partially offset by previously mentioned Wabush Mine supplies inventory write-down of $28 million or $34 per ton. Our full year cash cost expectation for Bloom Lake is $85 to $90 per ton. We also expect and heard approximately $16 million per quarter in rail penalties related to Bloom Lake, which is reported in our miscellaneous net line items in the P&L.

Turning to Asia-Pacific Iron Ore, year-over-year revenues increased 9% to a $109 per ton from a $100 per ton on last year's fourth quarter primarily driven by higher market pricing and lump premiums. Fourth quarter revenues were unfavorably impacted by foreign exchange hedging loss of $2 per ton, compared to a gain of $2 per ton in the prior year’s fourth quarter.

Cash cost of ton decreased 11% to $59 compared with $66 in the year ago quarter. This was primarily due to favorable foreign exchange rate variances of $7 per ton. Our full year 2014 APIO cash cost expectation is $60 to $65 per ton, slightly lower than previous years cash cost range primarily due to favorable foreign exchange rate assumptions. In our North American Coal segment, revenue was $90 per ton, down 19% from the previous year results. This was primarily driven by lower market pricing for metallurgical coal products and customer mix.

For the full year 2014, we have approximately 50% of our sales volume committed at approximately $87 per short ton at the mine. Based on this, we expect 2014 revenues of $85 to $90 per ton. This expectation includes all anticipated 2014 thermal coal sales volume, which will be slightly higher than 2013’s volume as Gary mentioned earlier.

Our North American coal cash cost decreased 13% to $85 from last year’s fourth quarter results of $98 per ton. This was primarily due to a significant lower year-over-year cost rate driven by improved operating efficiencies throughout the year.

For the full year, cash cost decreased $20 per ton, or 19% to $85 per ton, again, driven by operating efficiencies, and improved production volumes, and the resulting favorable impact on the mines cost per ton rate.

Our full year 2014 North American coal cash cost per ton expectation is $85 to $90 per ton. Our very strong fourth quarter results enabled us to generate $460 million in cash from operations versus generating $239 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. At year end, we have $336 million in cash and cash equivalents. Also, during the quarter, we reduced capital expenditures by 64% to $119 million versus $334 million in the prior year’s fourth quarter. This was driven by stronger focus on financial discipline and reduced spending in Eastern Canada.

During the quarter, we collected a $103 million in cash from equipment loans financing arrangement, which was included in our total long-term debt of $3 billion at year end.

Turning to our 2014 overhead expenses, we are expecting another significant year-over-year decrease of approximately $90 million in our expected full year 2014 SG&A and exploration expenses.

For the year, we anticipate SG&A and exploration expenses of $185 million and $15 million respectively. These decreases are primarily driven by expected reductions in employee-related expenses, outside services, and legal settlements, as well as meaningful lower spending from our exploration in Chromite groups.

In summary, over the last few months, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work to delayer, reposition, and improve the company’s financial profile. While we’re starting to gain traction with the quarters good results, we still have a lot of work to do. The manner in which we’re deploying capital and operating this company is changing. We will be leaner, more efficient, and prepared for the inevitable volatility in commodity pricing.

With that Jess, I think we’re ready to open the call for question.

Jessica Moran

Dan, can you please prompt the callers for the Q&A.

Question-And-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our first question today comes from the line of Mitesh Thakkar of FBR Capital Markets. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Mitesh B. Thakkar – FBR Capital Markets & Co.

Good morning, everybody, and good job on the quarter.

Gary B. Halverson

Thanks, Mitesh.

Terrance M. Paradie

Thanks.

Mitesh B. Thakkar – FBR Capital Markets & Co.

Can you just talk a little bit about Bloom Lake Phase II and provide some incremental color in terms of how should we think about tailings CapEx this year and next year and like you said if Bloom Lake Phase I doesn’t work, how should we think about some of the other options which you might have?

Gary B. Halverson

Sure, Mitesh. Yes, Phase II, I think we made it pretty clear that we are not going ahead with Phase II on our own. We determined that the Phase I with reduced capital spend and focusing on operating cost performances, where we have to stay right at this point. I think the guys have further work to do in that in the short-term. But if I look at the longer-term, we’re not going to be running Phase I forever either this is a transition period to look at opportunities from a strategic partnering and up to and including of sale just to give the range.

It's too early to say what that will turn into for us at this point, but we've had interest from financial partnering, from customer interest, and Kelly may add further through that. But overall, the focus here is to reduce and get better performance out of Phase I right now while we look at those strategic options.

On the tailing side, the spend on tailings has been dropped about $65 million. The main driver for that is the structure in the tailings pond is really focused around a $12 million to $14 million ton annual capacity. I changed that to focus on what we have right in front of us on Phase I, which is $6 million to $7 million ton, because of not having as larger basin that's actually allowing us to run a more minimized capital spend in that.

That doesn't mean that you wouldn’t have to spend more money on the capital with Phase II, but that’s too early right at this point. We’re looking just at Phase I and looking at how we can convert this asset into better value for our shareholders.

Mitesh B. Thakkar – FBR Capital Markets & Co.

Great. And you already started cutting a lot of cost, what are some of the other buckets which we’re looking at right now? And is there any color you can provide on further reduction in the cost side?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, as we’ve said, I think the guys have done a great job of obviously reducing SG&A exploration year-over-year from 2012 across 2013 and dropped to $135 million. I put on the table that we’re going to reduce another $90 million for 2014. But I’ve also, as I mentioned, I’m charging each of my leaders in the regions to look at how they can further reduce costs at each of the mine sites. And I’ll won’t get into each of those mine sites, but fair to say, we’re going to be looking at key performance indicators of cost reductions for those guys and look at ways that based on those volatile market we are in, we have to do better and I’m going to take that on to make that happen.

The – just to talk about Bloom Lake, for example, one of the things I noticed going up there was, we have an opportunity to get better at blending of our ore, getting better on our overall throughput. We’re doing some differential analysis of our blast-hole data in our iron unit analysis, that’s going to help us differentiate and get the best ore product going into the mill and processing that.

I think that’s been a result in us not only hitting markets, but also doing better than that. The guys are also doing some real good work on some new spiral testing and I think that will help us on the recovery side. And what sits below all this is looking at labor productivity and how we can improve that. So – and that kind of thought process really starts to transfer itself across APIO into the U.S. and there other operations.

Mitesh B. Thakkar – FBR Capital Markets & Co.

Great. Thank you very much guys. And best of luck.

Gary B. Halverson

Thank you.

Terrance M. Paradie

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Michael Gambardella of JPMorgan. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Yes, good morning.

Gary B. Halverson

Good morning, Michael.

Terrance M. Paradie

Hi, Michael.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Just two questions. First do you have any near-term goals for net debt?

Terrance M. Paradie

Yes, from a net debt standpoint what we’re looking at is, we currently we’re at $2.7 billion from my standpoint I’m looking at increasing our cash balance from where we’re at today, I would like to essentially get to double where we’re at today, so that will take our net debt down to something like $2.4 billion, and I think that’s a decent goal for 2014.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

And then, I think I heard you made a comment about an unfavorable adjustment on prices, U.S. Iron Ore prices due to steel pricing and I’d like you explain that because steel pricing was up almost 25% in the second half of 2013.

Gary B. Halverson

What we have is the – we have a sensitivity to our hot band pricing and that is based on an average over a period of time and so we just add some financial true-ups of that during the quarter, but there is nothing really do with steel pricing, it’s more of our arrangement with our customer.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Well I thought you had a comment that on unfavorable steel pricing true-up?

Gary B. Halverson

The hot band steel price true-up on our contracted rate with one of our customers that impacted our revenue rates.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Or is that just a change in the contract?

Gary B. Halverson

There was a change in estimate from our standpoint.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

Okay.

Gary B. Halverson

There is nothing to do with steel pricing.

Michael F. Gambardella – JPMorgan Securities LLC

All right. Thank you.

Gary B. Halverson

No problem.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Brian Yu of Citi. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Brian Hsien Yu – Citigroup Global Markets Inc.

Great, thanks and congrats on the quarter.

Gary B. Halverson

Thank you, Brian.

Terrance M. Paradie

Hey, Brian.

Brian Hsien Yu – Citigroup Global Markets Inc.

My question is going back to Bloom Lake I know you had touched on some of this, all right, but I want to get a better sense just on the cost side you carefully borrow term from your prior background, you could have fall-in sustaining costs at Bloom Lake that’s around 110 realized price at 128 benchmark, gets you to 100. So what do you see in terms of maybe lowering the over burn removal rate or do you see strip ratios improving anything along those lines that could maybe help the cost structure bit more besides the blending of ore and other operational stuff?

Gary B. Halverson

Thanks Brain. No our target of $85 to $90 of ton, we were if you look at our earlier comments on unit costs, they were down around the mid-70s on that, a lot of that was to do with the transhipper installation which never actually materialized in that and that was a big portion of it. In terms of – and the other thing that’s a slight increase in the operating cost is along with minimizing that capital, we do have some material placement that cause a bit more to on an operating cost basis to get that into the various tailings basin that we currently have.

In the strip ratio side, as I’m talking about blending I guess that’s all encompassing fees, but I’m talking about it, it does take into account that opportunity of making sure that we’re pulling the ore from the right areas. We currently mining from three different pits and they have different characteristics that give us the right feed to the mill and that mixture needs to be optimized more, ultimately the plan that we have currently with the strip ratios is already baked into that plan, there could be some minor adjustments to that, but that’s going to be based on optimizing how we can get the maximum tonnage through that plant, which I think it’s the biggest unit value decrease we can see.

Terrance M. Paradie

But Gary has challenged the team to do go further and look at other opportunities throughout the year, but hopefully be able to reduce costs further Brian, so yes, that will be a focus for 2014.

Gary B. Halverson

Does that answer the question. Brian.

Operator

Looks like Brian has disconnected his phone line. Our next question will come from the line of Timna Tanners of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Your line is open, please go ahead.

Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Yes, thanks, good morning.

Gary B. Halverson

Good morning.

Terrance M. Paradie

Good morning, Timna.

Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

I said one of the most compelling arguments in Gary’s onto opening remarks it’s really about the strength of the Chinese market for pellets and exports. And then I was surprised about the comment that there was pure exports expected into 2014. So can you talk a little bit about the export market and what might change that or what’s going on there?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, maybe I will turn it over to Kelly to answer.

P. Kelly Tompkins

Yes, Timna we had over 2 million tons of export of our USIO business last year as you will recall in our guidance this year, in closer in the range of 1 million tons and on those export tons, we’ll see some pick-up from the pellet premium. But it’s going to have relatively muted impact as you might imagine on the overall USIO portfolio, because of other contracts of arrangements we have with the balance of customers in that business. But we’ll continue to be opportunistic with those optional export tons. And we also look – continued to look very hard and expect at an appropriate time via player in the DR, great pellet market and so those export tons could also play into that equation as we look at our DR strategy going forward.

Terrance M. Paradie

Yes, Timna I’d like to add to that. I think you know overall it’s really good things happening here in U.S. we’ve seen with the two contracts we’ve extended this summer we are having additional incremental tons here international business unit in USIO. Therefore we are saving on the freight costs from the export tons moving to China. So net-net this is because of better ton movement in our domestic market here in the United States.

Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Okay that makes sense, thanks. And I guess the other question if I could, can you characterize the opportunity as you might be looking at in the coal market and talked us a little bit more, I know it’s a small segment but the outlook there was kind of muted with that cost in the revenue is looking fairly similar. How are you looking at that business and what’s the environment like for the potential options you will be looking at?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, as I said Timna the, that the coal side of the sector on the positive side over the last two years, these guys have done a wonderful job of reducing our costs by over 40% in fact 19% for 2013. And then we have been chased down on the pricing side, swallowing up that differential.

That being said though we are actually in a, I think in a fairly good position not generating the revenue side, but there is in a domestic marketplace we’re into that lower quartile and as I said this is bit of an attrition award going on of seeing what’s going to happen on and I think there is tremendous upside the potential on this.

So I am challenging the guys with continuing to push more we are getting good return on the thermal side and that’s increase somewhat we are trying to balance that, but its fair to say from a economic standpoint we are going to continue to look at that sector quarter-over-quarter look at where the pricing is go and react accordingly into the market to make sure that we don’t lose money on this proposition.

Terrance M. Paradie

Timna just from the, the commercial side we are gaining some very good traction with a much more diverse customer base that we see this year versus last year and also saying some a little bit diversification from a geographic standpoint you know times to Asia relatively flat year-over-year as a percentage of placing the tons by region but we’ve seen and expect a pretty nice uptick in our mix in our European market and we are making some inroads in South America.

So as Gary said this is really a bit of a tail of two cities if we can get a tailwind on pricing with some good customer traction and we have already have coupled with very outstanding cost position. We are feeling very good overall about the met coal business.

Timna Tanners – Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Tony Rizzuto of Cowen and Company. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

Thank you very much. It’s good to see some steps in the right direction.

Gary B. Halverson

Thank you, Tony.

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

Several questions here, one is with regard to Bloom Lake, what level of interest have you guys been receiving as you engage with WISCO and other Chinese parties?

P. Kelly Tompkins

Tony, this is Kelly. We continued a very good relationship with WISCO. We have as I think you know a long-term commercial relationship with WISCO and they are also still a partner in the mine. Late this year, WISCO did the term and contribute a portion of their equity back into the partnership, so their percentage ownership interest is down from 25% to about 17%. But we are in active dialogue with them about our strategic options for this asset.

And we’ve also just with the inroads we’ve made in other Asian markets who have a very strong appetite to this Bloom Lake product. Some of these current and prospective customers could be potential partners down the road. But again, we’ve got a range of things we’ll look at and, again, there is a real validation of the quality of this orebody in the marketplace. And we’re seeing, as you’re seeing I’m sure in the market this growing spread in terms of hefty quality premium that Bloom Lake plays in there as well.

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

Absolutely, thanks Kelly for that. Question on Australia if I may, can you elaborate, I think, Gary mentioned efficiency gains in Australia, and it sounded as if they’ve been enough to offset inflation. But I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit more and also is it possible to increase the mine life in Australia beyond 2020?

P. Kelly Tompkins

Thanks, Tony. Yes just to talk about some of the improvements that the guys have done there, again it’s, I said this before again, it’s blending of ore. One of the things that we need to do and we initiated now was getting a better stockpile mix. We mined from number of different pits across a 25-mile length, and it’s important for us to get that proper blend to the customers. And so we’ve initiated a much more rigid stockpile mix blending campaign. And then our ability to move that material and you’ve seen some of the increase in tonnage that we’ve seen, which has really driven behind the ability to meet a limited line availability down the rail line to the port.

And so we’ve actually got that measured down into hours of efficiency to get that loaded up and on its way. One of the other things that the guys have put in place, some of these pits are getting in for lower levels below the water table. And we have a washing system we put in that's working well to actually lower chloride and contaminate levels and impurities.

And I guess the other big one I keep mentioning is, there is labor productivity. When I went over there, I looked at this as a large mine site, but when we took over the Portman assets, we had an infrastructure which was larger and we’re dealing with the single mine.

So we’re going to continue to make some labor productivity improvements at that site, and stay tuned, there is more to come. In terms of long-term production, we have identified within that 20-20 plan about a years expansion already with our current blending facilities that we have. And we’re looking at adjacent properties in the neighborhood that we can we can add to that as well. They’re not going to fundamentally double it, but I think there is more to be added there Tony.

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

It sounds positive. And my final question is, how are you guys dealing with the severe weather at your U.S. and Eastern Canadian operations, I know you’ve been a master in iron ore industries in general – in weather. But can you give us an update on how severe it’s been and the kind of defects we should be thinking about?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, it’s been fairly nasty. If I just look at Minnesota, Michigan and they’re used to minus 40, but they’ve been dealing with some minus 40 weather for a number of weeks. They can handle it, but it does affect the efficiencies of how we operate and a lot of it with the moving of materials. So we’ve seen the worst of it. It’s already over now. And as I’ve said, we’ve still got the materials moving through. We run into a couple of problems of some of the concentrate freezing mainly seen up in Wabush concentrate for example.

So that does get unlocked as we get into the warmer months to make it more efficient. So the guys are used to but not this extension of it. So it’s put a bit of a pressure point on Q1, but since we’ve got the material off the back door, it’s just a matter of getting it through in subsequent quarters. So we’ve got the capability for it.

Jessica Moran

And Al as you know that our Q1 U.S. Iron Ore sales are typically seasonally like when you compare in to the other quarters. So they’ll probably be another little impact there from the weather, but we expect to make it back in the second half of the year.

Tony B. Rizzuto – Cowen & Co.

Thank you very much.

Gary B. Halverson

Thanks, Tony.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Curt Woodworth of Nomura. Your line is open, please go ahead.

Curt Woodworth – Nomura Securities International, Inc.

Hi, good morning.

Gary B. Halverson

Good morning, Curt.

Curt Woodworth – Nomura Securities International, Inc.

First question is just on capital expenditures, going forward and I know you had some deferral CapEx it’s going to hit this year. So I’m wondering where do you see CapEx trending in the 2015, then also on the take or pay I think, you got $30 million of Wabush and $60 million to $70 million at Bloom Lake, do you see any opportunity to minimize those penalties going forward?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, I’ll start just with the bigger picture of where we are at on capital spend, it’s too early to say into 2015, but we’re focused in – on return the value to shareholders. And our focus right now other than sustainability expenditure and what we need for license-to-operate, that’s really ruling the day for where we’re at in today’s market. We are in pretty good shape from, how we’ve looked at equipment purchases in the past in capital allocation. So we’re in a good shape there as we go forward.

But with that, I think it’s too early to predict too much beyond 2014 and what we’re doing. Terry, you probably got more to add there?

Terrance M. Paradie

Yes, I think it’s just important for us from a capital disciplined standpoint. I think for a first priority as we’ve mentioned earlier is to increase our cash balances. And we would like to get especially by double where we’re at today. And then going forward we got to look at the returns on these projects, and we got to compare them through our cost of equity. And if we don't have a substantial improvement from a cost of equity standpoint on these projects, and we got to look at other options, and I think those are other options of returning cash back to the hands of the shareholders. So that’s the focus on priority going forward.

Gary B. Halverson

Thanks. And maybe Kelly you can comment on QNS&L.

P. Kelly Tompkins

Yes, I think you and everyone on the call is well aware of our – the challenges for the QNS&L to take a play of it, Bloom Lake. That will be one of the key elements as we continue to evaluate the strategic alternatives for that – for that asset. But right now the best thing we can do is put tons across in Phase I and that will have some mitigating effect on that penalty. But clearly, it's going to be a big factor in terms of our longer-term options for Bloom Lake.

Curt Woodworth – Nomura Securities International, Inc.

Okay. And then just last question if I may. One of the strategic options being discussed is the MLP opportunity. And I know you guys said that last several months you've been evaluating that. So I just wondering if you could provide some details or highlights in the outcome of what you've been looking out there?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, thanks Curt. In the MLP we've been looking at for a little while now few months. And we’re looking at its structurability for our U.S. Oil business and its still got more work to do around it, we’re not in a position to really provide anything definitive at this point, as you know it certainly lends itself well to the energy industry, and there has been some forays into the pure mining side, but where we’re at in our volatility and there is complications on the tax side, we just got to look at all those aspects and make sure that we fully understand that before we would entertain going down that road.

P. Kelly Tompkins

Yes, I think in the meantime though we just need to stay focused in on capital allocation leading the organization out and lowering our cost overall. So that’s where we are focused today on.

Curt Woodworth – Nomura Securities International, Inc.

Great. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Sal Tharani of Goldman Sachs. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Thank you very much. Welcome to the board, Gary.

Gary B. Halverson

Thank you.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Looks like you have your work cut out for you. And I just wanted to reconcile something which we are hearing from some of your buyers of U.S. Iron Ore, one of them was this morning on earnings call is that they’re expecting a significant discount in iron ore prices based on the new contracts which you have signed recently. When I just do a clued math of what iron ore price IODEX was last year to the ratio of what you actually got or realized and I used the same sort of math in this year $128 and what you have said you’re going to be, the range you gave mid point, it doesn’t make, it is almost the same ratio, I was just wondering is that that number which they are throwing out $25 to $30 a ton of discount year-over-year per ton, does it I mean it wipes out half of the money you made last year in some cases and I’m just wondering what should we, how should we think about it?

P. Kelly Tompkins

Sal it’s Kelly. This seems to be a better way a replay from discussion we had in the third quarter, first of all our contract with this particular customer is part of our overall U.S. sales portfolio and that particular contract which again we value is a key long-term contract for the stability and overall fixed cost leverage opportunities that offers for our U.S. sales business. But that pricing on that contract is baked into our guidance overall.

And I for us to try to comment on whatever Matt discussed and was doing wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. We value the customer, it’s a good customer we like the contract and like what it brings to our portfolio and it’s baked into our guidance so.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay, the other thing is the WISCO contract of iron ore, how is that that setup, what portion of Phase I that they’re taking out, they are taking the whole Phase I and would that be are they also entitled for Phase II and of course that would be part of your study decision, if you want to sell it that contract will be rolled over to the new buyer?

Gary B. Halverson

Yes, so WISO has right around 3.5 million, 2.7 million ton commitment for the Phase I for Bloom Lake, they have no front commitment for Phase II volume, it certainly if we were to bring on Phase II at some point is part of its strategic alternatives. So WISCO would be a potential customer, but they have now locked on that volume. So there really it’s – there for 3.7 million tons as part of Phase I and we have a outstanding commercial relationship with WISCO and they’ve been a very key partner in terms of marketing and technical based opportunities with other Chinese central market customers as well.

Terrance M. Paradie

Yes, and those contracts with WISCO, is a market based contract as well.

Gary B. Halverson

Yes,

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay. Great. And one just quick housekeeping question, I look at the – I’m looking at your reconciliation, non-GAAP reconciliation that you have $1.22 and I see that you have adjusted for several things. I was wondering what would be the – because of tax that you saw, so different I don’t know exactly how to apply the tax rate that $50 million benefit you got from the miscellaneous items, if you were to adjust that what will be impact of that on EPS will be? Can you tell us?

Jessica Moran

Yeah, so I can help you to that offline.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. And ladies and gentleman, that does conclude our question-and-answer session for today. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Gary Halverson for any closing remarks.

Gary B. Halverson

Thanks Ben. Thanks again everyone for joining us on today’s call, we’re very pleased with the way we closed out the year, but I would like to leave you with a few additional thoughts. Cliffs Foundation Legacy was really built on its operational excellence and I think simply getting back the basics through a large de-layering effort, a sharp focus on improving productivity in our mines and disciplined capital spending. We expect to really improve our overall performance and enhance long-term shareholder value and I really look forward to meeting many of you soon and reporting on our progress in the upcoming months. So with that thank you very much.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This does conclude the program and you may all disconnect. Have a great rest of your day.

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