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China Gerui Advanced Materials Group Limited (NASDAQ:CHOP)

F4Q 2013 Earnings Conference Call

March 20, 2014 9:00 ET

Executives

Kevin Theiss - Account Director, Grayling

Mingwang Lu - Chairman and CEO

Edward Meng - CFO

Analysts

Echo He - Maxim Group

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the China Gerui Advanced Materials Group's Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2013 Results Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

It is now my pleasure to turn the conference over to your host Kevin Theiss of Grayling. Thank you, Mr. Theiss. You may now begin your conference.

Kevin Theiss

Thank you. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and good evening to those of you joining us from China. I'm Kevin Theiss from Grayling. And I would like to welcome all of you to China Gerui Advanced Materials Group's conference call to discuss the unaudited financial results of the fourth quarter and 2013 fiscal year.

With me today, I have China Gerui's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mingwang Lu; and Chief Financial Officer, Mr. Edward Meng. We will translate for Chairman Lu with his opening remarks and help with the Q&A.

I would like to remind our listeners in this call, management's prepared remarks contain forward-looking statements, which are subject to risks and uncertainties and management may make additional forward-looking statements in response to your questions. Therefore, the company claims the protection of the Safe Harbor or forward-looking statements that is contained in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Actual results may differ from those discussed today due to various risks including, but not limited to the availability of funds and working capital to finance its activities; the actions and initiatives of current and potential competitors; the company's abilities to win new customers, merchants and vendors for its products; the development and acceptance of new steel products, marketing and promotional activities; pricing policies of suppliers and competitors; competition in the steel market; and other risks detailed in the company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Accordingly, although the company believes that the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are reasonable, there can be no assurance that such expectations will prove to be correct. In addition, any projections as to the company's future performance represent management's estimates as of today.

China Gerui assumes no obligation to update these projections in the future as market conditions change.

The 2013 fourth quarter and 2013 fiscal year press release and the script includes the use of non-GAAP EBITDA, which is a financial measure that is not defined by U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or U.S. GAAP. The non-GAAP EBITDA is defined in the fourth quarter and fiscal year 2013 press release and in this script as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization which were incurred in the fourth quarter and full year of 2013.

I will now turn the call over to China Gerui's Chairman and CEO, Mr. Mingwang Lu for some openings remarks. Mr. Lu, please begin.

Mingwang Lu

(Foreign Language)

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today and welcome to China Gerui Advanced Material Group's fourth quarter and 2013 fiscal year unaudited financial results conference call.

(Foreign Language)

2013 was a year of restructuring for China's steel sector and for China Gerui as well. We faced numerous challenges during the year, but we persevered, tightened our fiscal policy and strategically prepared for identifying new areas of growth.

In 2013, we managed those aspects of our business that were within our control such as unit productivity, control book cost, product quality, sales and marketing, and certainly our customer relations.

Product quality, high levels of customer satisfaction and the fiscal discipline cornerstones of our strategy enable China Gerui to weather a volatile market conditions and to achieve our revenue guidance for the full year 2013 at $165.8 million.

(Foreign Language)

In this regard, we are pleased to report that we had zero retreated products in 2013, while retaining 95% of our customers. While our financial and operating results in the fourth quarter of 2013 continue to reflect slow economic growth over capacity and the ongoing weak demand for steel products in China. We are encouraged by our improving utilization and steadiness of demand for our premium high-precision products.

(Foreign Language)

The utilization of our 500,000 tons of specialized cold-rolled steel was approximately 67% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with approximately 44% in the third quarter of 2013. The utilization of our higher margin chromium production line was approximately 49% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with 38% in the third quarter of 2013 and 43% during the second quarter of 2013. The company plans to further deploy its more specialized steel lines in 2014 to cash the market share as market conditions improve. We continue to believe demand will gradually improve although it may still be some time before we substantiate margin improvements.

(Foreign Language)

While we were enabled to mitigate the depression in average selling pricings, we did implement a more aggressive pricing policy as previously announced to improve our customer relationships and protect our market share in this unsettled market. As a result, we generated another year of positive EBITDA of $7.0 million and net cash from operations of $37.5 million, while reducing short-term debt by $40.9 million compared to a year ago.

(Foreign Language)

The depressed steel processing market in China over the last two years forced many companies to compete on price and to incur heavy losses or go out of business. The China Iron and Steel Association reported that for the year 2013, its members reported an average gross margin of only 2.9% while China Gerui generated 2013 gross margin of 4.1%. In addition 16 member companies were unprofitable versus 26 companies that reported a loss in 2012. For those that reported positive earnings, much of those earnings were from non-core business or investment vehicles.

(Foreign Language)

Further weakness in steel pricing signal the continuing imbalance of excess steel production and steel demand in China. Chinese government policies design to correct this imbalance have been initiated, but have not yet had a significant impact on the steel industry. The Chinese government's commitment to restructuring the steel industry is best demonstrated by the upcoming capacity reduction in both Hebei and Shangdong provinces both important steel manufacturing hubs. We anticipate these policies will have a noticeable effect in stabilizing the market equilibrium over the next several quarters in the steel industry.

(Foreign Language)

It has also been announced that two specific Chinese government programs will help bolster steel demand. The first is to improve housing in China with a focus on construction of affordable public housing projects and the second is commitment to the construction of more high speed rail stations to improve long distance travel.

(Foreign Language)

As we look through 2014, we believe we are well positioned to benefit as a premier high end specialty steel producer from the government's restructuring plans for the steel industry and have put in place the strategies to capture growth. First, we're committed to accelerating China Gerui's business into new higher margin steel sectors including laminated processed steel, which completed trials in 2013 and will commence commercial production during the second quarter of 2014.

As we build our comprehensive portfolio of steel products and demonstrate new product applications, we're becoming a more powerful competitor especially compared with the many similar or smaller steel producers who are losing market share or lack the ability to regain their momentum.

(Foreign Language)

We continue to cultivate our export business and have seen interest from new markets such as Taiwan during the fourth quarter of 2013 that will expand our end user applications and geographic reach. We expect our export business to eventually account for 35% to 45% of total revenues over the next five years.

(Foreign Language)

Lastly, we continue to actively pursue viable mergers and acquisitions or strategic partnerships that will enable positive contribution to cash flow broaden end-user applications, provide R&D innovation and complement our product portfolio. As previously announced, we sign up external consultant to help screen potential overseas acquisition or partnership target companies. We have reviewed a number of proposals, but unfortunately not all of the aforementioned acquisition criteria were met and as such were not being a good strategic fit for China Gerui at this time.

As we enter into 2014, we will build upon these strategies and continue to make progress and add value to China Gerui's growth and profitability profile in order to better deliver value to our shareholders and compete effectively in the global marketplace.

(Foreign Language)

Thank you everyone for joining us. I will now turn the call over to Edward Meng, our Chief Financial Officer.

Edward Meng

Thank you, Mr. Lu, and thank you all on this call. I will present a summary of the fourth quarter financials. For more detail please refer to our earnings press release which was distributed early today.

Revenue decreased 27.7% to $46.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 from $63.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. The decrease in revenue was primarily due to a 15% decrease in the company's average selling price to $661 per ton for the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared to an average selling price of $778 for the fourth quarter of 2012, as well as a 13.8% decrease in sales volume to approximately 70,000 tons for the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared to approximately 81,200 tons for the same quarter of 2012.

Gross loss was $2.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to a gross profit of $6.9 million in the same period of 2012. Gross loss margin was 6% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to gross margin of 10.7% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The loss was consistent with a revised aggressive pricing strategy announced last quarter to solidify our market share as well as margin will be temporarily sacrificed to maintain market position.

The decrease in gross margin was due to a significant market driven pricing pressure of the company's raw material a slow down in China's economic growth and demand for China Gerui's product and intensified competition into the company's target sectors within the steel market. To maintain the company's competitive position we solidified our market share a more aggressively meaningful demand from our customers despite the continued depressed average selling price in the sector which reached a 19-year low in the fourth quarter.

Operating loss was $6.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 decreasing from operating income of $700,000 for the fourth quarter of 2012. The decrease in operating income in the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared to the operating income in the fourth quarter last year is primarily due to a 140.2% decrease in gross profit in the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared to the same period of last year. Net loss was $6.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to a net loss of $500,000 in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Non-GAAP EBITDA was negative $2.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to $3.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. Non-GAAP EBITDA is defined as earnings before net income, expense, taxes, depreciation, and amortization incurred in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013. For this please see the section in the press release entitled Use of Non-GAAP Adjusted Financial Measures and the Reconciliation Table at the end of the press release for an explanation and quantitative comparison of non-GAAP measures used in this press release to their GAAP equivalents.

Now for the full year fiscal 2013 results, for the whole year revenue decreased 37.5% to $165.8 million for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, from $265.5 million for the fiscal year 2012. The decrease in revenue was primarily due to a 13.9% decrease in the company's average selling price to $690 per ton for the fiscal year 2013 as compared to $801 per ton for fiscal year 2012, and a 27.5% decrease in sales volume to 240,300 metric tons for the fiscal year 2013 as compared to approximately 331,500 metric tons for fiscal year 2012.

Gross profit decreased 88.2% to $6.7 million for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, from $56.9 million for fiscal year 2012. Gross margin was 4.1% for fiscal year 2013, compared to 21.4% in fiscal year 2012 reflecting the highly competitive pricing pressures the company faced in the second half of 2013. Operating loss was $6.3 million for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, decreasing from operating income of $42.3 million for fiscal year 2012. Operating loss margin for fiscal year 2013 was 3.8% compared to an operating income margin of 15.9% for fiscal year 2012.

Net loss was $11.5 million for fiscal year ended December 31, 2013, as compared to net profit of $26.1 million for fiscal year 2012. Net loss per diluted share for fiscal year 2013 decreased to $0.19, including the impact of stock-based compensation expense of $30,000 from net income per diluted share of $0.45 for fiscal year 2012. Non-GAAP adjusted EBITDA of $7 million adjusting for non-cash stock compensation expense was down 87.8% from $57.6 million in the same period of 2012.

If you look at the general financial condition of the company, as of December 31, 2013, the company had $237.1 million in unrestricted cash, $24.2 million in current certificates of deposit and an additional $114.8 million in restricted cash, as compared to $228.9 million in unrestricted cash, $16.4 million in current certificates of deposit, and $145.4 million in restricted cash as of December 31, 2012. Working capital was $142.9 million as of December 31, 2013, compared to $151.7 million as of fiscal year end 2012.

Company's short-term debt consisted of notes payable and term loans that totaled $276.1 million as of December 31, 2013, compared to $317 million as of December 31, 2012. The company's long-term debt was $13 million as of December 31, 2013, compared to nil as of December 31, 2012. Shareholders' equity was $301.9 million as of December 31, 2013 as compared to $330.1 million as of December 31, 2012.

The net cash provided by operating activity for the 12-month ended December 31, 2013 was $37.5 million compared to net cash used in operating activity of $2.1 million as of fiscal year 2012.

Now, coming to the financial guidance for 2014, given the current market conditions, the volatility of raw material costs and the slower than anticipated price recovery for premium processed steel, the company is providing its full year 2014 revenue guidance in the range of $175 million to $180 million. However, the company may adjust such guidance as macroeconomic conditions, operations and the competitive landscape changes.

We will now begin the business update and outlook session and provide better insight into China Gerui's strategies in a difficult domestic marketplace even as we began to focusing on becoming a global metal processor.

I will begin with a brief review of China's steel market in the fourth quarter. The Chinese economy grew 7.7% in the fourth quarter below the prior three quarters 7.8%, but slightly above expectations. With this result in the fourth quarter that is 7.7%, GDP for 2013 exceeded the government's growth target of 7.5%.

However, the steel industry in China remains in an oversupplying situation resulting in a highly competitive pricing environment restricting profitability. Investments in steel fixed assets grew by 0.7% in 2013 which provides limited encouragement as the steel industry struggles to reach a supply-demand balance. China Gerui's steel output grew by 7.5% in 2013, 779 million tons representing approximately 48.5% of total global production.

The central government has set new policies to encourage consolidation in the steel industry. The objective is to create stronger balance in steel production and supply to alleviate the highly competitive pricing environment. Additionally, a stronger steel industry with reduced production capacity will also lower emissions from steel companies to help the environment.

An environmental policy from the State Council mandates a reduction in air pollution. Small steel companies and operations using older technologies are the primary targets of policies. China Gerui has implemented an internal policy to upgrade the quality of air provided for the safety of its employees and will evaluate a broader sustainable policy as a socially responsible corporate citizen.

With the central government's new policies, the steel industry is being opened up to foreign capital to create a more market-oriented environment where greater technology content will increase the competitiveness of domestic manufacturers. Also, both Hebei and Shangdong provinces, both important steel manufacturing hubs, are being mandated to reduce their steel production capacity by approximately 70 million tons, to demonstrate the government's commitment to reform. Hebei currently contributes approximately 25% of the entire steel production in China.

Overall, a reduction of over 80 million tons of steel capacity is targeted by 2018 which will significantly reduce the currently estimated 100 million tons of excess capacity in the Chinese steel industry. An estimated 400 million tons of steel production never received full licenses with the government; we are now reviewing possible closures of some low end capacity as well.

The banking industry has also restricted new loans to the steel industry at the encouragement of the central government, which will strongly impact smaller and the weaker steel companies.

China Gerui will remain fiscally disciplined with its cash resources in the working capital intensive nature of our business. Consolidation of the Chinese steel industry is focused on the upstream of the value chain which beneficially impact the raw material suppliers to China Gerui.

Higher raw material costs were initially crippled and then eliminate smaller and [inflation] (ph) cold-rolled steel producers. China Gerui will have the opportunity to add market share especially with high technology, high-end cold-rolled steel products. Once the Chinese steel company or industry begins to regain the supply and demand balance, our diversified portfolio of high value strategies to niche products will focus us on high growth steel markets thereby increasing utilization of our capacity and generates greater profitability.

We have become more aggressive with our pricing strategy beginning in the fourth quarter to protect our market share and improve customer relations. As the industry conditions improve we expect to reestablish our premium pricing with our newer innovative products which have less price competition and commodity type steel products.

Higher prices on newer products, we improved gross margin as volumes rise. As pricing becomes less important in the purchasing decision, our ability to provide increased delivery of high-end steel with precise specifications becomes a great importance. With (indiscernible) customers are more focused on just in time delivery which require producers like China Gerui to accommodate smaller, more frequent orders as well as use inventory management as means of cost control.

To control cost and improve gross margins, our R&D is privileged on developing production enhancements to quickly lower unit costs as the volumes rise. Our wider range of cold-rolled steel products provides a great number of steel solutions and opportunities to serve our current customers and attract new customers.

We believe we have the management, production, financial, marketing and product mix to succeed as the current environment becomes more favorable over the next few years. We want to emphasize that we appreciate investors support and recognize your constraints over our performance and the future results.

Due to the launch of the 10 million share repurchase program in April 2012, as of December 31, 2013, our company as repurchased a total of 2,010,918 ordinary shares at an average price of $3.06 per share for a total repurchase price of approximately $6.2 million.

While we are recognize the importance of building investor confidence in our stock, we have to carefully manage our cash resources to opportunistically capitalize on the investments and/or assets that would generate a higher return on invested capital. As we enter into 2014, we particularly look forward to the second half of the year, as our strategies will begin to yield results.

Commercial production of laminated processed steel will commence in the second quarter of 2014, continued evaluation and/or expansion of new export markets and assessment of variable strategic projects, mergers and acquisitions that may post a positive contribution to cash flow, broaden end-user applications, provide R&D renovation and complement our product portfolio.

At this time, we would like to thank our long-term customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and partners for supporting China Gerui during challenging times. And we look forward to continuing to build our competencies that define China Gerui in the marketplace such as superior customer relations, high premium products and the sound fiscal management.

I will now conclude my comments, operator we are now ready for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Thank you. We will now be conducting a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from the line of Echo He with Maxim Group. Please proceed with your question.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Hi. Thank you so much for taking my questions. I will like to ask a question from a macro standpoint first, and then go to some technical details. Just I understand that Chinese government is imposing a capacity reduction plans here and I saw some of those. And then the steel manufacturers and hot-rolled or cold-rolled steel and they all have to be qualified to be able to remain in their current operation.

And first of all, I wanted to check whether China Gerui is on their list, I just want to confirm that actually. And second of all, I want to know whether this plant in Henan Province has started and whether you have seen any steel manufacturing peers have closed their plant due to this planned execution?

Edward Meng

Okay. Do you want to translate and after that –

(Foreign Language)

Echo He - Maxim Group

(Foreign Language)

Edward Meng

Thanks to Echo for the question. Let me breakdown your – the answer to your question couple from price points. Number one, yes, the government is looking at I mean reduction over capacity and also restricts the operation on some of the companies with uplift technology or high machines I mean support to the environment. So right now, we China Gerui, we are not impacted because that consolidation right now primarily a result in assessing hot-rolled steel or crude steel production.

China Gerui, I mean if you look at the size of the company I mean we have right now a total capacity of 500,000 tons of cold-rolled steel with the addition of 250,000 tons of chromium plating capacity as well as the newly built 30,000 tons of laminated steel. So in this niche texture of the market, we are company of a very significant size. So we are not on the blacklist like I guess right now the people of – actually who are on the blacklist probably have to receive notice and keep them waking in the middle of the night like we don't have to go through that ordeal.

No, we are not impacted. And secondly, looking around as this niche sector of the market, I mean precision cold-rolled steel producers, as we said earlier a lot of similar or smaller companies they have been, I mean forced to compete on price incurring very heavy losses and we do know that some of them actually are closing down for business, I mean its just – its not viable to operate for them.

And also I mean one thing I want to share with our investor is, which is – I don't want to say this is good news, but look at the downstream. Some of our customers, I mean for example, I mean who uses our raw material, who uses our product as raw material to produce for the end application product they have been under very strict EPA supervision make sure that they are not really, I mean generating emission that isn't over very stressful of the EPA which it sets.

So given that I mean customers are coming to us asking us to actually conduct more value add processing of our finished product to bypass this hurdle. So I mean to meet that requirement we are that is why takes longer for us to fine tune and also test trial the laminated steel products. So eventually our newly introduced laminated steel products they are going to be targeting high-end decoration material as well as food grade packaging material. Thank you, Echo.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay. Yes. Thank you so much for that. The next question I think is about your raw material cost. I just want to know what do you see right under raw material cost are going to, and is that going to be moving towards the direction of favorable of course not in the future?

Edward Meng

Starting from the – you want to do the translation first?

Echo He - Maxim Group

Yes. Okay. Sorry. Yes, I will.

(Foreign Language)

Edward Meng

Actually starting from the fourth quarter of last year we see actually, well, if you look at it. I mean actually at end of October beginning of November, you see the raw material cost is actually hitting a rock-bottom for the year actually for the last 19 years. So the consensus among the industry experts' people are saying yes, the price is going to gradually come back with some hesitation, which we do not see that very strongly in the first quarter because in the first quarter of 2014, we have the calendar New Year and then the Chinese New Year holiday.

So don't see that I mean rebound very evidently. But from the increase from our customer and also from the price quotes from the supplier hitting the second quarter of 2014, we will see its gradually coming back as well, although I mean out of pace, I mean below our expectation. And we do believe that once we get into the second half of the year with the excess capacity of reduction effort is going to take some real impact and also with the promotion of the urbanization program of this new government. We are going to see probably – we do anticipate the amount is going to warm up…

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay.

Edward Meng

Overall supply I mean price of the raw material and then as consequentially, I mean these two raised price for the finished product of China Gerui. Thank you.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay. Yes, I got you. Also in essence what kind of a level of course margin, are you look at?

(Foreign language)

Edward Meng

For year 2014 assuming, I mean all these pieces of the puzzle, I mean getting the size as we expected, we are right now looking at a gross margin about 15% and that is going to – we expect the primary margin contribution will be coming from the chromium plated as well as the laminated steel going forward.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay. Got you. And last quarter, what percentage of volume was from chromium plated product and going forward in 2014 full year basis what percentage volume would it come from chromium plated products? And then whether you expect that laminated products will account for?

(Foreign Language)

Edward Meng

Thank you. For instance about the percentage of the total sales volume, I mean chromium plated products accounts for approximately 49% in the fourth quarter and on a whole year basis accounts for about 39% volume wise. And then dollar revenue wise is accounted for about 49% in 2013, so you can see the dollar wise percentage the contribution from the chromium plated is shifting higher than the what we call that vanilla, I mean cold-rolled steel.

Getting into 2014, we expect the chromium plated on both wide and narrow strip to account for about 50% to 55% then coming to the laminated steel, which we call I mean (indiscernible). We have 3500 tons of total capacity as I said earlier it's going to stop the official production starting from the second quarter of 2014. So we expect we will be running at full capacity about one quarter down the road because right now even the kind of interest we get from potential customers for the chromium plated, I'm sorry for the laminated steel that's early I mean which is targeting the high-end decoration material and also food grade packaging material, it's very high. And so we are very optimistic on this new product I mean that way we are getting introduced to the market this year. Thank you.

Echo He - Maxim Group

All right. So the laminated product that will likely a ton for how much like 10%...

Edward Meng

If you see, volume wise is not going to be that high because I think I said there is only 30,000 tons.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay.

Edward Meng

But talking about this dollar revenue, we are looking at anywhere between 10% to 15% because we tested margin on that one, I mean it's very encouraging.

Echo He - Maxim Group

(indiscernible) dollar share or…

Edward Meng

Yes, dollar wise.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Dollar wise.

Edward Meng

Because…

Echo He - Maxim Group

All right. Thank you. Yes.

Edward Meng

From ordinary wide strip or narrow strip cold-rolled steel or the chromium plated, it's sold per ton, I mean price per ton. For the laminated steel, we are actually selling the dollar wise per square meters, so that's very high in premium pricing. Thank you.

Echo He - Maxim Group

Okay. I got you. Thanks a lot. And that's all about my question. Thank you.

Edward Meng

Thank you, Echo. Good questions.

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Thank you. And Mr. Meng it seems we have no further questions at this time. I would like to turn the floor back over to management for closing remarks.

Edward Meng

Thank you. Thank you for all of your participation in China Gerui's fourth quarter and 2013 year-end earnings call. We will now conclude the call and you may disconnect your lines. Have a good day.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation. This does conclude today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time.

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