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Aircastle Limited (NYSE:AYR)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

May 5, 2010 10:00 am ET

Executives

Julia Hallisey – IR

Ron Wainshal – CEO

Mike Inglese – CFO

Analysts

Rich Shane – Jefferies & Company

Jim [Autshul] – Aviation Services

Andrew Light – Citi

Mark Streeter – JPMorgan

[Rim Shankar] – FBR Capital Markets

[Grace Cahill] – Goldman Sachs

Operator

Welcome everyone to the Aircastle first quarter 2010 earnings conference call. (Operator instructions) I would now like to turn the conference over to Julia Hallisey, Head of Investor Relations. Please go ahead with your conference.

Julia Hallisey

Thank you, Ashley. Good morning, everyone. I would like to welcome all of you to the first quarter 2010 earnings call for Aircastle Limited. Joining us today are Ron Wainshal, our Chief Executive Officer, and Mike Inglese, our Chief Financial Officer.

Before I turn the call over to Ron, I would like to mention that this call is being recorded and the replay number is 800-642-1687 from within the US or 706-645-9291 from outside of the US, with the replay pass code of 67163459. This call will also be available via webcast on our website www.aircastle.com in addition to the earnings release and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation.

I would also like to point out that statements today which are not historical facts may be deemed forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from the estimates or expectations expressed in those statements and certain factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from Aircastle Limited’s expectations are detailed in our SEC reports. I direct you to Aircastle Limited’s earning release for the full forward-looking statement legend.

Now I would like to turn the call over to Ron.

Ron Wainshal

Thanks, Julia. Thank you all for joining us today. I will cover Aircastle’s performance during the first quarter, current market conditions for aircraft leasing and growth opportunities we see ahead. Mike Inglese will then speak about our financial highlights and we will open for your questions afterwards.

Once again Aircastle delivered solid results during the first quarter of 2010 as the company benefited from excellent execution and improving market conditions. Earnings and cash flows were strong with adjusted net income plus depreciation for Q1 coming in at nearly $80 million or $1 per diluted common share.

Our portfolio continued to perform well and we again recorded fleet utilization of 98%. As we said last quarter and during our investor day presentation last month we are well positioned to pursue growth opportunities we see in the market. At the same time, we are encouraged by a recovery in financial market conditions particularly the bond market. We believe one of our cost strengths is the ability to source and finance attractive investments in the aircraft market.

Turning now to our first quarter results, we continued to deliver consistently strong portfolio performance despite pockets of volatility in the global markets. Thanks to our high fleet utilization rental revenue increased from $126 million in the first quarter of last year to over $130 million last quarter. Total revenue in Q1 declined due to lower maintenance revenue which is reported at lease expirations and is by nature lumpy and irregular.

We reported net income of $18.9 million or $0.24 per diluted common share during Q1 2010 slightly beating our 2009 first quarter results. Cash flow remained healthy. EBITDA for the quarter increased by $4.7 million in last year to $121.2 million. Unrestricted cash at the end of the quarter was $121.6 million even though we made nearly $40 million in progress payments to Airbus for the A330 program. In addition, restricted cash at March 31 was $230 million.

As of the end of Q1 our fleet stood at 129 aircraft. The weighted average remaining lease term is nearly 5 years and we have 59 customers based in 33 countries reflecting a good spread of risk. We continue managing our portfolio proactively, keeping a close eye on market conditions across the globe and on the financial health of our customers. We are also continuing to stay on top of receivables. In fact currently we have no accounts receivables more than 30 days overdue.

Turning to current market conditions that latest data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows continuing improvements in demand for passenger travel and freight shipments. Passenger travel increased 8.6% during Q1 2010 versus the same period of last year while freight traffic increased almost 28%. Further, the monthly statistics are improving sequentially as the overall tone of the world economy strengths. To illustrate, passenger traffic rose more than 10% during March.

According to IATA overall passenger capacity levels are still below the peak achieved in 2008 but with the pickup in travel load factors are coming in at record highs. That is an encouraging trend that we believe is translating into increasing aircraft demand. This trend is particularly strong in the freight market where the 28% demand increase in March significantly outpaced the 5.3% capacity expansion. I think this dynamic could well give rise to attractive transaction opportunities for us.

Growth in the emerging economies is driving much of the air transport market’s recovery. For instance, Asia and Pacific carriers reported demand growth of 12.6% during March compared to capacity increases just over 1%. Robust growth in the region’s major economies is fueling these encouraging results. More specifically, the Chinese economy grew almost 12% during the first quarter while India’s GDP grew by 7%. Not surprisingly, we are seeing the strongest demand for leased aircraft in the Asia Pacific area.

While European and North American markets are also posting positive results again they continue to lag the rest of the world due to slower economic recoveries. Demand in Europe seems particularly vulnerable given the weaker overall economic conditions and issues such as fiscal problems in several countries such as Greece and Portugal. It is a bit early to assess the impact of the sharp week-long reduction in travel caused by the ash of the Icelandic volcano in April. We continue to watch our European customers closely.

Nonetheless, demand for lease aircraft is continuing to improve and rental rates for modern aerobodies are increasing particularly for 737-800 and A320’s. With each new remarketing situation we are also seeing a longer list of airlines expressing interest. Demand for mid-body such as the A330 is also improving though the recovery for these aircraft is in the earlier stage. For older generation aircraft, however, market conditions remain weak. By contrast, the market for modern long-haul freighters such as the 747-400’s have seen a striking resurgence over the past few months.

We continue to make good progress in securing new leases for our aircraft with lease expirations this year. At this point we have just three aircraft coming off lease for which we don’t yet have commitments for 2010. Looking ahead to 2011 our lease placement requirements are also relatively small with only 9 aircraft left. In short, our portfolio is in good shape allowing our team to focus on new business.

We are continuing to monitor the pockets of volatility among certain European countries as well as other markets but we would note we have no aircraft leased in Greece, Portugal or Ireland and we still feel pretty good about our Spanish and Italian exposure which totals one dozen aircraft or roughly 7% of our net book value. Of these dozen, six aircraft are leased to Iberia, the Spanish Flag carrier. The other aircraft are spread across four other airlines.

Regarding our Airbus A330 program, we are taking advantage of significantly improved financial market demand for government backed debt and we are also working to secure commitments from the European export credit agencies for our deliveries over the next 18 months. We believe getting these commitments in place will not only allow us to put in place term financing for these aircraft on delivery but it also could allow for pre-delivery payment financing on reasonable terms.

As we look ahead I think it is very important to note the considerable improvement in the capital market conditions. IOCs recent success in completing over $4 billion of secured and unsecured financing is encouraging. Given the strength of our capital structure and our track record which I consider to be competitive advantages we believe this is a market worth exploring carefully given the greater degree of flexibility it reflects both with respect to asset acquisition and with portfolio management. While the bank market has also become more attractive over the past several months I believe the recovery there will be a little bit more slow paced than the capital markets.

On the new investment front though it appears RBSs and CITs aircraft leasing businesses are no longer for sale we believe there will be an increasing level of attractive transaction volume as the year progresses. We are seeing a growing number of good investment opportunities for Aircastle in the current market in the following areas; firstly, new aircraft with export credit agency backed debt where we can capitalize on our access to flex financing. Secondly, 5-10 year old new generation aerobodies and top quality and high yielding mid-bodies where competition is very limited. Thirdly, the freight market recovery plays where we leverage our team’s specialized market knowledge to connect new demand with well priced acquisitions.

We are very excited about a rapidly building pipeline of acquisition opportunities and in fact just last week we signed a letter of intent to acquire a 737-800 coming off lease soon and have secured strong lease indications from several customers around the world. While this isn’t a done deal yet it highlights the way our world class team can match terrific origination capabilities with the strength of our placement network. It is an excellent time for us as we believe that our team’s financial strength, top notch servicing capabilities and track record places us in very good position both to source really attractive new investments and access capital.

Mike?

Mike Inglese

Thanks Ron. First a few words on the first quarter performance. Lease rental revenue for the first quarter 2010 was $130.1 million, up 3.3% year-over-year and includes increase of $3.8 million from aircraft transitions mainly from aircraft that out of service during the first quarter 2009, $3.8 million of revenue from 2009 aircraft acquisitions net of dispositions. These increases were partially offset by the impact of lease extensions and floating rate adjustments of $3.5 million.

First quarter 2010 total revenues were $130.6 million, a decrease of $1.6 million year-over-year and reflect higher lease rental revenue of $4.1 million offset by lower end of lease payments revenue of $1.3 million and higher non-cash lease incentive amortization of $3.8 million. It is important to note the dollar amount and timing of maintenance revenue and lease-end revenue is driven in any particular quarter by the number of lease transitions that occur and the particulars for those leases. Therefore, it is inherently volatile but the fundamental driver of the operating cash flow of the business is lease rental revenue which continued to demonstrate strong performance in the first quarter.

For the first quarter of 2010 the annualized portfolio yield and annualized lease rental revenue compared to the weighted average aircraft assets held for lease was approximately 13.98% compared to 13.2% in the first quarter of 2009. Quarter end lease rental revenue run rate was approximately $43.4 million per month. Adjusted net income plus depreciation and amortization for the quarter was $79.6 million or $1.00 per diluted share up $5.8 million year-over-year due primarily to higher lease rental revenue and lower maintenance and other costs of $3.6 million. These were partially offset by lower end lease maintenance revenue of $1.3 million.

Adjusted net income from the quarter was $20.6 million or $0.26 per diluted share down about $600,000 year-over-year and reflects total lower revenues of $1.6 million, higher depreciation expense of 2.6 offset partially by lower maintenance and other costs of $3.6 million. Depreciation expense for the first quarter was $54.1 million and the quarter-end run rate for depreciation on a monthly basis was approximately $18.1 million. Reported interest net which includes hedge related charges was $41 million in the first quarter of 2010 net of about $600,000 of capitalized interest during the quarter. Cash interest which excludes all non-cash interest charges and hedge items was $36 million for Q1 down about $800,000 from the first quarter of 2009.

For Q1 2010 total SG&A was $11.7 million up approximately $600,000 from the first quarter of 2009 and includes non-cash share based compensation expenses of $1.8 million and $1.7 million for Q1 2010 and Q1 2009 respectively. The year-over-year increase in quarterly SG&A of about $500,000 was driven primarily by higher personnel costs. For the full-year 2010 we expect this cash SG&A level to be consistent with last year at the $39-40 million range.

Our first quarter tax provision was $2.3 million for an effective tax rate of approximately 11% and reflects the revenue on income sourcing mix from the portfolio during the quarter and the Q1 2010 impact of stock vesting that occurred during the quarter. Consistent with our 2009 full-year rate we expect our full-year 2010 effective tax rate should be in a range of 7-8%.

A few words on capital structure and financing activities. At the end of the first quarter we had total cash of $351.6 million comprised of $121.6 million of unrestricted cash and approximately $230 million of restricted cash. We had $2.4 billion of securitization and term debt outstanding comprised of six separate long-term facilities with the earliest maturity being in September of 2013. Our net debt outstanding was about $2.3 billion which is approximately 61% of the net book value of our flight equipment and our net debt to equity ratio excluding the mark to market on our interest rate derivatives was less than 1.6 to 1 at the end of the quarter.

With respect to the Airbus program, assuming no PDP financing we expect net funding required for the balance of 2010 to be approximately $82 million and for 2011 we expect the program to be a net source of cash of about $60 million. As a result we anticipate our equity funding will essentially be completed by the end of 2010. At the end of the first quarter the remaining A330 program funding for 2010 included pre-delivery payments of about $110 million and delivery payments for two aircraft scheduled to be delivered in the third and fourth quarter.

Assuming delivery financing at 80%, a lower advance rate than our 2009 deliveries and no PDP financing our 2010 deliveries will result in cash back to Aircastle of about $28 million driving the net program funding for the year of about $82 million. Similarly for 2011 the expected delivery financing for the A330 program assuming the same 80% advance rate will result in net cash to us of about $60 million.

On the A330 program we are actively discussing PDP financing arrangements for the six aircraft delivering to South African Airways in 2011 and expect to have more to talk about on that around mid-year.

With that operator we are ready to open up the call for Q&A.

Question and Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) The first question comes from the line of Rich Shane – Jefferies & Company.

Rich Shane – Jefferies & Company

Back in March when you reported earnings you talked about the fact there were five 2010 lease expirations you had in place. Now it is down to three which is a good sign. Can you give us a sense of with the two planes you put on hire during the quarter what types of terms, the strategy was shorter lease terms, higher quality counterparties, potentially lower lease rate factors, where did you come in versus those expectations? In particular on the lease rate factors help us understand where lease rate factors are in the context of the existing book.

Ron Wainshal

The two aircraft we took care of in between calls one was a 737-500 and we secured a short-term, one year lease rental for that aircraft. Demand for classic aircraft remains weak as I noted during my remarks. The other aircraft is an A330 and that aircraft also is just starting to see a recovery in terms of demand. That is a 3-year lease in terms of the term. The lease rentals on both of those aircraft are mower than what they were before and particularly for the A330 we see that market coming back. I think in the case of the 737-500 we think there is actually an interesting sell opportunity on our side and we are just buying some time to get that affected. That is not to say it is a done deal but with respect to the A330 we particularly wanted to keep things short because the outlook I think will [inaudible] considerably.

Rich Shane – Jefferies & Company

The remaining three planes for the year I know we can go and figure it out from the Q but help us understand what type of aircraft those are in the context of what you have already placed so far this year.

Ron Wainshal

One is a 321. Two of them are coming off lease in Q4. One is a 757 with the 321. We also have the 737-300 right now.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of Jim [Autshul] – Aviation Services.

Jim [Autshul] – Aviation Services

A balance sheet question. I would say that the increase in the restricted cash balance, it is now up to $230 million, does much of this relate to the A330? Is any of it likely to be freed up this year or early next?

Mike Inglese

Most of that relates to just the normal maintenance inflows and out flows in our bank deals and our securitization. It is not related to the Airbus program. So those payments and those assets are reflected in the progress payments line on the balance sheet. The ebbs and flows of restricted cash run quarter-to-quarter but we would expect to see some of that released over the balance of the year.

Jim [Autshul] – Aviation Services

Since you were talking in passing about potential opportunities and RBS portfolio doesn’t seem to be on the market anymore, whatever happened with CIT? Did they decide not to sell their portfolio?

Ron Wainshal

We have read that they have announced that is off the block as well and they are going to keep it for awhile anyway. I see a lot of opportunity particularly in the used aircraft market. It is important to remember this is a huge market. There is $400 million or so of aircraft lying around today. The new inflow every year is $60-70 billion. That part of the market is being well served by the export credit agencies. The part that is not being well served is all of the second hand aircraft that need to trade. Airlines getting out of types, lessors looking for liquidity, sellers just needing to sell for whatever reason. That is billions and billions of dollars and the big players that traditionally occupy this space are on the sidelines so we feel pretty good about the opportunities there.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of Andrew Light – Citi.

Andrew Light – Citi

First of all on lease rates I think in the past you have said that the planes coming off this year are being released at a much lower rate, 15-20%. Would it be fair to say you would expect the lease rate on the renewals to be lower anyway because of an average like 4% depreciation per year on a plane or are you really referring to rates net of that depreciation factor?

Mike Inglese

First of all you are absolutely right. As aircraft get older rents go down. It is just a force of nature. Whether it is 4-5% or whatever percent it depends on the aircraft and the age of the aircraft or the stage of the aircraft in the technological cycle I think that 15-20% number we mentioned was just sort of year-over-year on a kind of constant age adjusted basis. So it is not really reflecting the depreciation per se. Maybe I can illustrate what I think has happened over the last year with an example.

We used the is anecdote at our investor day but I think it is good to kind of take that and maybe polish it up a little bit for today. We had an aircraft coming off lease in March that is a 5-year-old 737-800. Modern, very well in demand aircraft. We placed it on lease with a European flag carrier somewhere in the mid 250’s in terms of monthly lease rate; $250,000 territory. That happened in about August. In September or October one of the customers that we had approached earlier about that aircraft, a flight carrier in Asia said, “Is that plane still available? We will pay you $285,000 for it.” I think that aircraft today probably goes at $300,000 or so.

It is an anecdote and it is not necessarily representative of the entire market. I think it does give you a good sense for what is happening to the modern technology aerobodies and I think the recovery in the wide bodies is just starting to happen. The part we don’t see it happening in is on the classic side.

Andrew Light – Citi

A follow-up on maintenance revenues, that seems to be oscillating between $5-10 million a quarter. I know we have been through this before but is there any way of giving guidance on it because it does seem to I think lead to people misreading the overall financial statements.

Mike Inglese

It is very hard to predict or really guide to and I appreciate the frustration from your end on this topic. We are going to endeavor to find a way to provide some guidance around it or maybe just take that out of the equation as we think about the fundamental lease portfolio performance of the business. It has ranged from a low of $4 million in a quarter to a high of $30 million in a quarter.

Andrew Light – Citi

That would be very helpful if there is any way of figuring that out.

Ron Wainshal

The thing about that also is we don’t think it is in any way representative of a run rate of the businesses’ actual earnings profile. It is just something that happens from an accounting perspective at the end of the lease.

Andrew Light – Citi

On this line item fair value of derivative liabilities it is about $189 million. If interest rates remain constant how would you expect that 9 to actually move in the future? When are those derivatives likely to end?

Mike Inglese

The details on our derivatives, maturities, schedules and how much we will amortize out is in our K and will be in our Q we file today. Basically as you pay cash interest to the hedged counterparty that amount will basically amortize down as you approach the expiration of the hedged liability if you keep the interest rate constant.

Andrew Light – Citi

So that is a fair value though? That is a mark to market?

Mike Inglese

That is a mark to market. If I extinguish those liabilities today that is the mark to market on that liability. But they are only in place to hedge interest rate risk and specifically long-term financings which we expect will play out over the life of those finance.

Ron Wainshal

The other thing to point out there is it is kind of a one-sided thing because the rents on our portfolio are largely fixed. There is no interest rate variation with those in time. Even though you have the mark to market the hedged part of the capital structure, the liability side, there is no change to the asset side. Presumably in a low interest rate environment a fixed set of payments is worth than in a high interest rate environment.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of Mark Streeter – JPMorgan.

Mark Streeter – JPMorgan

I am wondering if you could talk just a little bit about funding the business going forward. Yesterday Boeing Capital had their financiers and investor session. They talked about several aircraft ABS transactions that they think are in the market or will be in the market and scheduled to close during the second half of the year. We have also seen [IOSC] really without sort of the parent halo anymore issue unsecured debt. I am wondering how you are looking at ABS going forward and maybe you are refinancing some of your other deals. Obviously those are down the road but even with some of your existing bank debt perhaps and then looking at unsecured debt within the capital structure. You had mentioned the 1.6 debt equity ratio and it seems like you could definitely tap the unsecured market as well. Can you tell us what you are talking to the bankers about and how you are thinking about funding the business?

Ron Wainshal

We are looking at everything. I think the place where we have seen the fastest recovery is like I talked about in my prepared remarks is in the capital markets as opposed to the bank market. We are taking a serious look at unsecured. We are taking a serious look at secured as well but unsecured has a lot of flexibility especially relative to the investment opportunities we see today. There is a real disconnect in my view between how things are trading outside of what banks will do. The bank market I think will come back slowly because there are very few players and they are going to be constrained from a capacity perspective for some time.

The Boeing comments about the bank market I think are largely very regional and largely do not apply to lessors. We have a huge edge I think on credit metrics versus many of the other public companies or companies for which financials are available. I think the public markets are not really open to anybody who is not really willing to put a credit rating on the line. We have explored that as well. I think we will know more in the next few weeks. I think the ABS market is going to be much less attractive one for us in terms of refinancing what we have. I will let Mike address that a little bit more.

Mike Inglese

Obviously we haven’t seen the ABS market come back yet. We are keeping our eye on that and we will look that as a possible refinancing for our existing securitizations. We are looking at the unsecured market and people have asked how can you finance at high single digit levels but in our view if you are looking at unsecured today and over time of 7-9% cost and looking at unlevered assets that you can acquire with yields in the 12-15% or better range we think that math should work very well.

Mark Streeter – JPMorgan

As a follow-up, if you do go the unsecured route you mentioned the 1.6 to 1 and if you do the quick math sort of low 60% or right around 60% debt to cap. Is that a level you think works with the unsecured market or would we expect lower leverage going forward or do you think that is the sweet spot?

Ron Wainshal

I think that should work well.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of [Rim Shankar] – FBR Capital Markets.

[Rim Shankar] – FBR Capital Markets

Can you give us any updates on cargo valuations? The early data you mentioned are you seeing any particular effect on cargo values for you guys?

Ron Wainshal

When you talk about valuation I presume you are meaning the aircraft?

[Rim Shankar] – FBR Capital Markets

That is right.

Ron Wainshal

I have said this many times and I will repeat it, valuations come from a group of appraisers who have a tough job in a market like this when there is almost no transaction volume. They tend to lag the market in my opinion by half a year or so. There are very few data points. I think there will be a thawing of transaction volume. The only things that were sold in the last six months were probably distressed but it is kind of an adverse selection effect there.

There could be a few situations that kind of continue that. For example, Japan Airlines is in bankruptcy and they have announced an exit from the freight market. That is a situation we are exploring ourselves. There could be good values there and I think the opportunities from a placement standpoint are pretty interesting. But I think the valuation story is really murky and I would expect the appraisal numbers will go down first before they show recovery. I expect a recovery will happen at some point in the second half of the year.

[Rim Shankar] – FBR Capital Markets

In terms of the acquisition opportunities are you looking at any particular geographies? Do you have a cap on what kind of exposures you would like to any particular country?

Ron Wainshal

No. Well we always look at transactions one at a time. We don’t say we are light on Korea or we need another 737-800. We kind of look at each deal on its own. The opportunities are everywhere. Our job is to focus not necessarily on the geographical element here but how do you piece together the asset, lease and lessee in a way that makes sense. So much of the focus from a deal origination perspective has been on situations rather than on the geography. We are trying to find basically guys who really need to sell.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of [Grace Cahill] – Goldman Sachs.

[Grace Cahill] – Goldman Sachs

What is the weighted average age of the aircraft in the portfolio now?

Mike Inglese

Weighted average age is 11.1 years at the end of the first quarter.

[Grace Cahill] – Goldman Sachs

I see that there seems to be a trend of growing older the average aircraft. I wonder if that is where you are targeting to keep it around 11 years or will it grow older over time?

Ron Wainshal

First of all we are very happy with our portfolio. I think the thing you should really look at is how we have kept them flying. The 98% utilization and the very strong and fairly consistent portfolio yield is a good sign of demand for the airplanes. As we look at the opportunities on the buy side, first of all we have about $1 billion of new A330’s coming online over the next year or so. That will on the one hand sway the average age a little bit to the newer side. Beyond that it is a function of what we see on the buy side.

Mike Inglese

I think it is also important to keep in mind almost 1/3 of our fleet is freighter aircraft which have about a 25-35% longer life than passenger aircraft. So looking just at existing age rather than the remaining economic life of the assets of the portfolio is a little distorting when trying to compare us to other people who only have passenger aircraft.

[Grace Cahill] – Goldman Sachs

I think older aircraft can be attractive because it has higher lease rate factor. The reason I wanted to get more color on that was I saw the depreciation cost went up a little bit over 2008 or 2009 levels. I wonder if that is an effect of an older fleet or is it just a one-off amortization of the capitalized maintenance costs or do you [keep] going forward?

Ron Wainshal

Basically the depreciation increase reflects number one we added aircraft during 2009; two brand new A330’s and also reflects the impact of capitalized maintenance costs across our entire fleet over last year.

Operator

There are no further questions in the queue at this time. I will now turn the call over to the presenters for any closing remarks.

Julia Hallisey

Thank you. This concludes the Aircastle first quarter earnings call. We look forward to speaking with you next quarter.

Operator

This does conclude today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.

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