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Lihua International, Inc. (NASDAQ:LIWA)

Q4 2013 Earnings Conference Call

March 17, 2014 8:00 AM ET

Executives

Kathy Price - IR, The Piacente Group

Jianhua Zhu - Chairman and CEO

Daphne Huang - CFO

Analysts

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg, Thalmann

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Operator

Welcome to the Lihua International Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Financial Results Conference Call being held today, March 17, 2014. Throughout today's recorded presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, there will be an opportunity to ask questions. (Operator Instructions).

I'll now hand the conference over to Lihua Investor Relations representative, Kathy Price of The Piacente Group. Please go ahead, Ms. Price.

Kathy Price

Thank you, operator, and good day everyone. This is Kathy Price with Investor Relations for Lihua International. Thank you all for joining us today via telephone and over the internet.

Before we begin, I would like to remind you that the comments made during today's call may contain forward-looking statements that are within the meaning of Section 27-A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended and Section 21-E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended.

All statements other than statements of historical facts that address activities, events, or developments; the company expects, projects, believes, or anticipates will or may occur in the future, including and without limitation to statements about Lihua's business or growth strategy, general industry conditions, including the availability of copper or recycled scrap copper, future operating results of the company, capital expenditures, expansion and growth opportunities, bank borrowings, financing activities and other such matters are forward-looking statements.

Although the company believes that its expectations made during today's call are based on reasonable assumptions. Our actual results may differ from those projected in the forward-looking statements.

With that said, it's now my pleasure to turn the call over to Lihua's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Jianhua Zhu, who will provide an overview of recent operational highlights in Mandarin. I will then translate Mr. Zhu's remarks and provide some additional comments on his behalf before turning the call over to Ms. Daphne Huang, Lihua's Chief Financial Officer to discuss the fourth quarter and full year 2013 financial results. We will then open the call to your questions.

Mr. Zhu, go ahead please.

Jianhua Zhu

[Foreign Language]

Kathy Price

Thank you, Mr. Zhu. I will now provide some translated comments on Mr. Zhu's behalf. 2013 was a year of transition for Lihua. We started the modification to the dust collection system in our existing smelters, and I am pleased to say that we recently completed this project in March. Although this work resulted in some adverse side effects such as lost production days and lower production volume we believe both the time and investment made in this project were prudent and lays the foundation for future growth.

Our overall sales volume increased 11.6% year-over-year, primarily as a result of increased copper anode production, and sales from the addition of the third anode smelter in the year. Our 2013 profitability was negatively impacted by the narrower spread between the purchase price of our raw materials and the average copper market price. Copper prices were under pressure throughout all of 2013, and we don't expect this trend to reverse any time soon.

Nevertheless, we remain steadfast in our belief, that the price advantages of our refined copper and bimetallic alternatives provide us with a sustainable competitive advantage.

Turning to another important activity, in which we were engaged in 2013; the preparation for the broad commercialization and production of our new CCA superfine wire product. We commenced development of this new product, in partnership with the Shanghai Cable and Wire Research Institute, because we believe it presents potentially lucrative market opportunities, for which traditional CCA wire was not a viable solution, as well as offers far greater conductivity and durability as a result of its higher copper contents and new binding technology, yet a material cost savings compared to the equivalent pure copper wire product.

The product's seamless binding technology is beneficial to high electric conductivity, and has the transmission quality needed for higher technology applications. As such, the new CCA superfine wire products can be used in diversified applications, such as computers, cell phones, audio and visual equipments, automobiles and motorboats, household appliances, etcetera.

As I noted on last quarter's conference call, we commenced pre-commercial marketing activity for the new CCA superfine wire products during the fourth quarter, and even produced some small batch orders for customers to test the products first hand. In addition, we took the production process for the new CCA superfine wire products, completely in-house, creating a one stop shop, by adding the ability to find and draw pure copper and pure aluminum together ourselves.

We have filed 16 patent applications for the product and production process and expect to receive information about these submissions within two years. In 2014, we plan to gradually ramp up production and sales of the new CCA superfine wire products throughout the year and expect this higher margin product with better conductivity etcetera to ultimately replace our existing CCA products.

At Lihua, we continually look for opportunity to offer new products and/or improve existing processes. Since expanding into scrap copper recycling approximately four years ago, we have increased our production capacity to 125,000 to 140,000 tons of refined copper products per year. In 2014, not only do we expect to benefit from this enhanced production capacity, but our manufacturing processes will also be more streamlined, efficient and environmentally friendly. We believe the changes we made last year, and those we plan to make this year, provide a solid foundation on which Lihua can grow, capture market share, and generate value for investors.

While we are cautiously optimistic about our business environment in 2014, we remain confident in our longer term strategy, and believe we have the product and the capability to advance Lihua in the years ahead.

With that overview, I would now like to turn the call over to our CFO, Daphne Huang to review our financial results for the fourth quarter. Daphne?

Daphne Huang

Before I provide an overview of our financial results, I'd like to highlight that all of our financials are prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP. In addition to GAAP reporting, we will be providing adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP net income figures, which are non-GAAP measurements.

We believe that adjusted EBITDA and non-GAAP net income are important metrics that provide investors with information about our operating trend. We define non-GAAP net income as net income, excluding the change in fair value of warrants, and other one-time or non-recurring items that are evaluated on an individual basis.

We define adjusted EBITDA as net income before depreciation and amortization, interest income or expense, income taxes, gain or loss on extinguishment of warrant liabilities, change in fair value of warrants and non-cash share-based compensation expenses.

Turning to fourth quarter of 2013; in the fourth quarter of 2013, we generated sales of $217.3 million, compared with sales of $254.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. The decline in sales was due to the suspension of production in December of the copper rod smelter for the maintenance upgrade and to lower average selling prices for all Lihua products, as a result of the decline in copper prices.

Our overall sales volume was down from 8.3% for the fourth quarter. The lower volume was the result of a decrease in production and sales of overall products. With copper rod sales volumes being the biggest decline of 27.7%, which was caused by the December production slowdown for the smelter maintenance upgrades.

The revenue and volume breakdown for the fourth quarter for each of our products is as follows; we sold 11,179 metric tons of CCA and copper wire, which equates to $89.4 million in sales, compared with 12,060 metric tons or $102.5 million in sales in the fourth quarter of 2012. Copper anode volume in the fourth quarter of 2013 totaled 16,566 metric tons, accounting for $112.7 million in revenue, compared with 16,495 metric tons or $129.7 million in revenue during the same period last year.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, our copper rod products contributed sales of approximately $15.3 million on volume of 2,076 metric tons, compared to $22.7 million in sales and volume of 2,871 metric tons during the same period last year. Our gross profit for the fourth quarter of 2013 was $20.5 million, down 17.9% from the same period a year ago.

The gross profit breakdown by product category is as follows; CCA and copper wire products accounted for $10.5 million of gross profit or 11.8% of sales in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with $11.7 million or 11.5% of sales in the same period last year. Copper anodes contributed a total of approximately $9.4 million to gross profit or 8.3% of sales in the fourth quarter this year, compared with $12.1 million of gross profit or 9.3% of sales in the same period a year ago.

Copper rod products accounted for $568,000 of gross profit or 3.7% of sales in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared with $1.1 million of gross profit or 4.8% of sales in the same period a year ago.

As a percentage of total sales, gross margin declined to 9.4% in the fourth quarter of 2013 from 9.8% in the same period last year. The year-over-year decrease was due primarily to reduce profitability of our products, resulting from the narrow spread between our raw material costs and the market price of copper, in a declining copper price environment.

Selling, general and administrative expenses or SG&A for the fourth quarter of 2013 were $2.6 million compared with $3.4 million in the same period in 2012. The decline in our SG&A expenses year-over-year was primarily attributable to lower administrative expenses. We recorded a provision of income tax of $4.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, based on the effective tax rate of 26.5%. This compares to an effective tax rate of 26.7% for the same period in 2012.

Net income for the fourth quarter of 2013 was $13.2 million or $0.44 per share. This compares with net income of $16.8 million or $0.52 per share. Both the 2013 and 2012 fourth quarter EPS calculations are based on 30 million weighted average diluted shares outstanding. Adjusted EBITDA for the three months ended December 31, 2013 was $19.1 million, compared with adjusted EBITDA of $22.9 million for the same period in the prior year.

Turning to the balance sheet; we finished the fourth quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $203.4 million or approximately $6.78 per diluted share. Cash flow from operations in the fourth quarter was approximately $15.4 million compared with $13.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. Our working capital at the end of the quarter totaled $274.6 million, and we remain debt free.

With respect to guidance, assuming that the current infrastructure spending in China and copper demand and prices remain stable and the gradual ramp-up of the new CCA superfine wire sales throughout the year, we expect modest full year 2014 gross profit and non-GAAP net income to bet $89 million to $91 million and $58 million to $68 million respectively, representing a year-over-year increase of 3% to 5.3% and 3.3% to 6.6% respectively.

With that, we will be happy to take your questions. Operator, we are ready for the first question.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions). The first question comes from Geoffrey Scott from Scott Asset Management. Please state your question.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Good morning.

Daphne Huang

Good morning Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

In the last quarter you said that you had provided some samples of the superfine CCA to potential customers for their evaluation. Can you talk about how many customers have actually received products, where they are in that evaluation process? What's you’ve heard back from them, and when you might expect to receive production orders?

Daphne Huang

That's a good question. As I mentioned and as Mr. Zhu mentioned earlier on the conference call, we have actually started doing small batch selling in really the last couple months of 2013, namely November and December. So we have obviously disseminated to a wide group of potential customers the samples, the product samples earlier in the year, really in the second half of 2013. But what we can record back is, obviously there – it’s not a handful. A meaningful number of customers have accepted our products, and have put in small batch orders already of this new product. So the progress is satisfactory from our end.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

How many customers are we potentially talking about, going out 12 months? Are we talking about 10 or 50 or 1,000, can you…?

Daphne Huang

This product obviously is very similar, the characteristics of this product is very similar in terms of customer order, to our existing CCA and copper wire products. Namely, the customer base will be quite diversified and order nature will be small quantity, but more justified orders in terms of diameter requirement and all the product details because obviously the winding wire in any end product, such as the cell phone or audio visual equipment, the weight is very-very small. We are expecting eventually, by the end of 2014, a pretty diversified customer base. If there is any guidance of -- for instance, our current wire product customer as of 2014 is somewhere along the line of 150 to 200. So if there is any guidance, I would say will be around that number or a little below for the CCA products.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Okay. Let's go to another topic, the cash balance. How do you invest these surplus cash balances?

Daphne Huang

Currently -- there are a couple of questions I think asked in the past conference calls. Currently, we maintain the cash balance in quite fluid business accounts with a number of local banks, obviously for convenience of working capital liquidity reasons; and there is another layer to the banking situation in China, where there is not a lot of very sexy investment product that's available, high yields or money market things, cash accounts, investment accounts, like what we typically see in the U.S. So for now, we are maintaining our cash balance in quite fluid business accounts.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Okay. How much of that cash is in U.S. dollars in banks outside China?

Daphne Huang

We have check-in accounts offshore, mainly only for U.S. dollar check-in accounts, of some -- mainly for really the public company expense purposes. But majority of the cash are onshore in renminbi.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Could you explain the process by which you would receive permission to convert local currency to U.S. dollars?

Daphne Huang

The currency is regulated by SAFE, which is the currency authority -- regulation authority in China. So currency conversion and transmission offshore is quite restricted.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Can you explain the process by which you would be able to convert some local currency into U.S. dollars?

Daphne Huang

We will need to obtain official authorization for a large quantity of currency conversion and send offshore. So typically, what we have been able to do in the past, is through a borrowing mechanism and payment onshore to fulfill the day-to-day operational and administrative expenses. These are obviously small quantity requirements, U.S. dollar requirements.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

So you have been borrowing U.S. dollars, secured by some local currency deposits?

Daphne Huang

Something similar to that, yes.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Okay. I will let somebody else hop on. Thank you very much.

Daphne Huang

You're welcome.

Operator

The next question comes from Howard [indiscernible] from Wells Fargo. Please state your question.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi. Good morning. How are you Daphne?

Daphne Huang

Good. How are you Howard?

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Have you elaborated at all about anything in the first couple of minutes, if you had said anything about going back to the idea about returning some type of capital to shareholders to a dividend payment or [indiscernible] any commentary about that all?

Daphne Huang

Can you repeat the question? The second half of your question was quite --?

Unidentified Analyst

I don't see it discussed it before, not about the idea of returning the capital to shareholders through a dividend or a buyback or some method?

Daphne Huang

We currently are taking all of that into consideration. Although, management and Board haven't made any immediate decision in terms of the capital market situation. But we are taking that all into consideration together with the business environment, and the bank's borrowing environment in China.

Unidentified Analyst

We have a great deal of cash on the balance sheet, [One is] [ph] the share price, and the share has been stagnant and it would seem that sufficient time has passed, if you have proven like you have been doing, and that there will be time thus far to show the shareholders that we are also being considered here, and doing something to help improve the situation. Certainly --?

Daphne Huang

We are taking all of these into consideration. But we also are very mindful of very tight lending environment in China and economic concerns, slowdown concerns and potential impact on our business. So we -- the Board and management are --

Unidentified Analyst

[Inaudible] our cash balances are way up above the share -- price of the shares. So seeing that now would be a reasonable time to address this issue?

Daphne Huang

Howard, we do have these consideration -- management and the Board are having -- are very mindful of the situation in the capital markets themselves. Thanks.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Thanks Daphne.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). The next question comes from Richard Deutsch from Ladenburg Thalmann. Please state your question.

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg Thalmann

Hi Daphne. I have a question, as you produce the new product, CCA fine wire, do you have any costs that you can anticipate for decommissioning or diminishing the old lines?

Daphne Huang

Not really, because what we had in the middle, remember, it was in August. In August of last year was we had [inaudible] all the drawing machines from the old plants to the new plants, in order to consolidate. And a lot of the drawing machines we can -- with some reconfiguration, we can apply towards the new process. So there is not going to be material decommission costs.

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg, Thalmann

Okay. That's great. What yuan rates did you use in recording the dollar converted numbers, because the yuan has recently declined?

Daphne Huang

For balance sheet, we used obviously the conversion rate as of the last day of the year. But for P&L and cash flow, we typically used an average conversion rate throughout the year. The other thing I wanted to mention, is obviously the dollar figures that we represent on our -- let's say for instance, the cash balance of our balance sheet, is also taken into, as fact of the yuan appreciation against the dollar throughout 2013. So you know, people should probably also take a look at renminbi terms of the cash balance at the end of the year, which are -- will be and have been representative in all of our 10-K and 10-Q filings.

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg, Thalmann

Okay. And just one final follow-up here. Since you can't do any buybacks or dividends in U.S. dollars, I am not really exactly familiar about all the rules and regulations in holdings, but is it possible, or would it make any sense to establish a buyback in yuan for people residing in China?

Daphne Huang

Unfortunately currently, it’s not feasible; because majority of our shareholders are really U.S. based, and if we were to buyback in yuan in China, we are listed in the U.S. and we are a Delaware registered U.S. company. Eventually, we are going to have to pay -- having to convert to U.S. dollar offshore.

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg, Thalmann

Okay. Is there any reason why you would not be able to market your stock to Chinese investors, in China?

Daphne Huang

Those are obviously still -- we have actively in the past, talked to some in China that are able to invest U.S. dollars in the overseas stock market. So we have actually been continuing talking to [indiscernible]. But for the time being, the current investor base, there are a few investors from within our stock, are actually China-based. But the characteristics of these funds are basically subsidiary -- China subsidiary funds of international funds overseas. But obviously, we will continue to explore the China based investors or institutional investors in the future as well.

Richard Deutsch - Ladenburg, Thalmann

Okay. Thank you.

Daphne Huang

You're welcome Rick.

Operator

The next question comes from Geoffrey Scott from Scott Asset Management. Please state your question.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

I have a follow-up please. In terms of capital expenditures for 2014, where do you stand on your plant expansions, and what else needs to be accomplished? Thank you.

Daphne Huang

Thanks Geoff. 2014, our main focus will be to add equipment for the new CCA product. So all the plants, all the factories on the plant and warehouses on the plant have been constructed, so that's all done. So we have factories that are reserved for addition of the equipment for the new CCA product. So the majority of the CapEx spending, 2014, aside from the regular maintenance and upgrades will come from there. In terms of estimate, will be somewhere around $10 million to $15 million as we look at now, in terms of current estimates, additions. But obviously, it all depends on the progress of the ramp up in sales.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

So the buildings have been constructed, and the spending will be for equipments, in the range of $10 million to $15 million, subject to customer orders?

Daphne Huang

Yes.

Geoffrey Scott - Scott Asset Management

Okay. Thank you very much.

Daphne Huang

You're welcome.

Operator

The next question comes from [Jeff Schecter] [ph] from TD. Please state your question.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi Daphne.

Daphne Huang

Hi Jeff. How are you?

Unidentified Analyst

Good, good. Can I ask you, how many employees are currently in the company?

Daphne Huang

Little over 400.

Unidentified Analyst

And with the new -- are you having any difficulty with skilled labor -- do you need additional labor, skilled, with the new products?

Daphne Huang

We will, we will. As we ramp up production in sales. But so far, we don't foresee any difficulty in obtaining skilled labor.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. And as far as the product goes, you originally were talking about -- like larger order from the utility industry for the new products? You mentioned a lot of small potential orders, but what is the -- you're talking about low cost housing, a lot of these things are going on within China. What's the situation, and why didn't you mention anything, with respect to larger orders for the utility industry?

Daphne Huang

In terms of the utility industry, we have actually submitted -- you need to obtain a couple of licenses, in order to bid for sales into the utility industry. There are two licenses that -- submitted applications that we have sent in, back in August. But we haven't heard from the utility, irrespective of order days. And the timing of that, obviously, we are dealing with the government agencies. So the timing of that is very unknown to us. We are obviously doing the best we can to try to push forward with obtaining the licenses, but because of that, because of the uncertainty of obtaining that, the timing -- for now we are not putting this side of potential economic benefit into our 2014 forecast. Obviously, if we get the permission and the licenses in this year, it will be a huge positive impact on us.

Unidentified Analyst

Is that what the cash is then for? I mean, is that what you are kind of keeping that large stockpile cash for, given that financing is -- with banks are difficult right now in this environment?

Daphne Huang

Yes. That's one of the main reasons as well; because potentially, there could be a big CapEx outweigh.

Unidentified Analyst

And is there any kind of expected size of what kind of order you are going after in that industry, or is it known, or are these companies testing the product? Like what's sort of happening there?

Daphne Huang

We have actually -- in 2012, we have discussed very high level preliminary with a couple state-owned, different province state-owned utility grids. And all of them actually had shown very strong interest. So if we are able to get these two licenses, obviously even if we supply to one province utility grid, the potential order size could be very sizeable.

Unidentified Analyst

And copper prices coming down, is it good or bad for the new products? I mean, it uses pure copper, but what the -- how does the margin situation still look and the benefit of that new product or that industry, the utility industry, let's say hypothetically, a lower copper price?

Daphne Huang

That's a very good question Jeff. Obviously, it could be a negative implication, because copper prices are coming down, but at the end of the day, we feel this new product will still present a cost savings opportunity for the end customer. So we are pretty positive on new products still.

Unidentified Analyst

And just, sorry just to repeat one thing, so these licenses that you are expecting or trying to get for the utility industry, what is the sort of expected -- do you think within 12 months, or that you will know some more information six months, [indiscernible] what you just mentioned?

Daphne Huang

It is very hard for us to speculate right now, given the unknown timing, once we send it into a government agency. So its very hard to give you any speculation, but we are hopeful that we are able to see some definitive answers this year.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. I will leave it for now, and I will let somebody else in.

Daphne Huang

Great. Thanks Jeff.

Operator

The next question comes from Brian Brennan from JHS Capital. Please state your question.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Good morning Daphne. Thanks for taking my call.

Daphne Huang

No problem Brian.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Just a question on the -- there was no mention unless I missed it, about the fourth copper anode smelter. Can you just give us some update, where we are with that?

Daphne Huang

Yes. Currently we just, literally as we speak, we just finished completion of the reconfiguration of the waste collection system. For the time being, in light of the domestic economic conditions and out of concern obviously of the overall TRP market which we sell into. We are delaying the completion of the construction of the fourth anode smelter, until we get a better [indiscernible] and picture.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Okay. When was that decision made?

Daphne Huang

It was made at the beginning of this year.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Okay. And then I noticed in the press release also, there was a shutdown of the copper rod smelter in December --?

Daphne Huang

That was for maintenance upgrades, and we had completed back in February.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Right. Okay. I guess what I am getting at is, as shareholders, this seems to be a lack of information flow between corporate and shareholders, and there was a filing comments from the SEC regarding on the timing matter, and here are two situations, the copper anode, the fourth one, and the copper rod shutdown in December. Shareholders are learning about this on March 17, and I just want to understand -- we don't receive any information from you guys, via any PRs or anything unless there is conference calls. Is there anyway we can get a little bit more timely information on what's happening with the company? Whether any sort of shutdowns or any events that might trigger a reason to hold the investment moving forward?

Daphne Huang

Brian, obviously these two events, we have provided updates within the filings at each quarter timely, in terms of CapEx. But this is obviously a good communication, and we will keep that in mind. And going forward, obviously, we will make sure that we have more detailed business update in the way of press releases to the market.

Brian Brennan - JHS Capital

Great Daphne. Thanks for your time.

Daphne Huang

You're welcome. Thanks.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that appears to be our last question. Please go ahead with your final remarks, Ms. Huang.

Daphne Huang

Thank you. Thank you once again for joining us on today's call. We look forward to what the future holds for Lihua and we hope that you will continue to follow our programs. If you have any further questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact our Investor Relations partners at The Piacente Group. On behalf of Mr. Zhu and the rest of Lihua's management team, I would like to thank you all for your continued support. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the Lihua International fourth quarter and full year 2013 financial results conference call. Thank you for participating. You may now disconnect.

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