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OMNOVA Solutions Inc. (NYSE:OMN)

Q1 2014 Results Earnings Conference Call

April 02, 2014, 11:00 AM ET

Executives

Kevin M. McMullen - Chairman, CEO and President

Michael E. Hicks - SVP and CFO

Analysts

David Begleiter - Deutsche Bank

George D'angelo – Jefferies & Company

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

William Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the OMNOVA Solutions First Quarter 2014 Earnings Discussion. For the conference all participants' lines are in a listen-only mode. There will be an opportunity for your questions. Instructions will be given at that time. (Operator Instructions). And as a reminder today's call is being recorded.

With that being said I’ll turn the conference now to the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Kevin McMullen. Please go ahead, sir.

Kevin M. McMullen

Thank you and good morning. Thanks for joining us for our conference call to discuss first quarter 2014 results. Joining me today is Mike Hicks, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. I'd like to turn it over to Mike to make comments on forward-looking statements.

Michael E. Hicks

Thanks, Kevin. During this conference call OMNOVA representatives may make forward-looking statements as encouraged by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements in this conference call and in subsequent discussions with the company's management, other than historical information, are forward-looking statements. These statements represent management's current judgment on expectations for future results and other matters.

A variety of risk factors highlighted in the company's Form 10-K and in our most recent earnings release could cause business conditions and the company's actual results to differ materially from those expected by the company or expressed in the company's forward-looking statements.

In addition, certain financial measures referred to during this call are non-GAAP financial measures. For an explanation or reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures see our most recent earnings release. Kevin?

Kevin M. McMullen

Thanks Mike. In our first quarter OMNOVA posted year-over-year improvements in both net income and adjusted income from continuing operations. Our financial results continue to reflect another quarter of strong segment operating profit in Engineered Surfaces, as well as improvement in several specialty chemical product lines.

The first quarter has historically been seasonally OMNOVA's weakest and this year was particularly challenging with the snow, ice and bitter temperatures encountered to the Southern United States. The severe weather caused periodic plant closures and made transportation of raw materials and finished goods difficult across all of North American industry. The increased energy and maintenance need added to the challenging environment. In total OMNOVA had another -- had over $125 million of higher operating costs in the quarter due to weather.

At the same time volumes in oil and gas and specialty coatings, two target growth areas for OMNOVA increased during the first quarter, on the strength of new products we've recently introduced in these markets. Demand for specialty elastomers that go in to the modification of PVC and thermoplastics was also up solidly during the quarter.

Operating profit performance in Engineered Surfaces continued to benefit from actions we've taken to lower the segment's operating cost base and improve its competitive position. The decision in 2013 to exit certain low margin furniture applications in China was -- has improved product mix and allowed us to focus more aggressively on winning new automotive specifications in Asia and building on our successes and strong product offering for the recovering U.S. housing and refurbishment markets.

During the quarter we continued to move ahead on initiatives to broaden our global footprint and respond to the changing needs of our customers and markets. We made progress on a number of these investments during the first quarter and I will expand on the status of our actions in a few minutes. But first I'd like to summarize our consolidated first quarter results as reported in our earnings release.

First quarter net sales were $225.9 million, down $25.8 million compared to the first quarter of 2013. The year-over-year sales decline was driven primarily by 4.5% in reduced pricing and 5.9% in lower volumes. The lower volumes were the result of the company's decision in 2013 to exit some lower margin business in China as well as weaker volumes in certain markets.

Gross profit in the first quarter of 2014 was $49.1 million, up slightly from the first quarter of last year, boosted by a favorable product mix, gross profit margins improved year-over-year to 21.7% versus 19.5% in 2013. Gross profit was negatively impacted by approximately $1.5 million in weather related expenses during the quarter.

Overall raw material price declined $9.7 million when compared to the first quarter of last year. However cost for certain key feedstocks were up, more on this in a few minutes.

Net income for the first quarter was $1.2 million or $0.03 per diluted share compared to a net loss of $200,000 or breakeven per diluted share for the first quarter of 2013. Adjusted income from continuing operations was $2.3 million or $0.05 per diluted share, which excludes expenses primarily related to the asset write-off in connection with the Akron, Ohio capacity conversion project and severance cost in other parts of the business. Adjusted income from continuing operations in the first quarter of last year was $1.5 million or $0.03 per diluted share.

Selling, general and administrative expense in 2014 first quarter increased slightly to $30.6 million as compared to last year's first quarter. Interest expense declined almost $1 million year-over-year to $7.7 million due primarily to lower borrowing spread as a result of a second quarter 2013 refinancing effort and lower foreign borrowings.

Income tax expense for the first quarter of 2014 was $1 million, a 41.7% effective income tax rate. Income tax expense in last year's first quarter was $600,000, or a 75% effective tax rate. Higher tax rates in the first quarter of both years were due primarily to losses in foreign jurisdictions in which no tax benefit can be recognized. The company estimates its full year 2014 effective tax rate will be approximately 30%.

Cash tax payments in U.S. over the next few years are expected to be minimal as the company has approximately $113.6 million of U.S. federal net operating loss carry-forwards and $108.9 million of state and local tax net operating loss carry-forwards with expiration dates between 2022 and 2033.

Turning now to business segment results beginning first with Engineered Surfaces, first quarter net sales were $54.3 million, a 10.2% decrease or $6.2 million lower than the first quarter of 2013. The decline was driven by lower sales in U.S. coated fabrics and a 2013 decision to exit from certain low margin China residential furniture applications.

Despite the lower sales in the first quarter adjusted segment operating profit for the Engineered Surfaces segment improved to $3.7 million compared to adjusted segment operating profit of $1.8 million for the first quarter of 2013. The improvement was due to favorable product mix, improved yields and lower manufacturing costs, related to the closure of our underutilized Columbus, Mississippi plant in the first quarter of last year.

Our adjusted segment operating profit margin improved to 6.8% in this year's first quarter from 3% in the first quarter of 2013.

Global Coated Fabric sales were $23.3 million during the first quarter, down $5.6 million compared to the same period last year. Volumes were impacted by the previously mentioned exit in 2013 of certain low margin business, inventory adjustments by key coated fabric customers in United States as well as a slow ramp-up of demand in Asia following the Chinese New Year.

However, U.S. based school bus and motorcycle seating customers are expected to restock in the second quarter. OMNOVA has served these applications for many years with durable and pliable products like our PreVaill coated fabrics which have a strong reputation in transportation seating market.

In China the company won new business with a lot of motor seating customer adding to the list of platforms and models we now serve with the growing Chinese OEMs. Several of the recent wins are for models that are among the highest production volume vehicles in China. Coated fabric sales from the first quarter are expected to ramp up over the next few quarters.

Sales for the laminates and performance films products lines were $31 million in the first quarter of 2014 a year-over-year decrease of $600,000. Weather related issues played the biggest part in decline however there was a strong backlog in leverage for residential and commercial construction related markets where our products are used in kitchen and bath cabinetry, interior window profiles, retail displays and home furnishing applications.

An exciting and relatively new area for our laminates is in specialty acrylic applications. Lot of these applications is in bath surround systems which are the walls that make up shower stall and bath enclosures. Our laminates offer the functional and static qualities that are critical to today's demanding requirements for bath refurbishment and construction.

During the first quarter the company was awarded new volume with a market leading bath surround supplier.

Turning now to Performance Chemicals, net sales were $171.7 million in the first quarter of 2014, down $19.5 million for the same period last year. The sales drop was driven by decline in volumes due to severe weather in the United States plus lower raw material input cost, which resulted in lower index-based pricing as well as competitive pricing pressures in certain North American performance materials markets.

Performance chemicals generated $12.7 million in adjusted segment operating profit in the first quarter compared to $15.1 million for same period last year. Higher expenses due to the extreme weather and lower pricing in volumes in the Performance Materials product line accounted for most of decline in adjusted segment operating profit.

While as a company OMNOVA's raw material costs were down overall one of our key raw material inputs, Styrene hit a record high during the first quarter due to tight supply of Benzene in North America. Industry experts expect Styrene to moderate over the rest of the year. Butadiene was also was up in the first quarter to approximately $0.60. This price was lower than last year's first quarter but sequentially higher than the fourth quarter. Butadiene was up further in March. We will of course continue to moderate global raw material prices and supply and take action as necessary.

Looking more closely now to performance chemicals product lines, sales and performance materials which includes our Paper and Carpet chemicals products were $57.4 million in the first quarter of 2014 compared to $67.3 million in the first quarter of last year.

While the company is committed to defending share in our traditional paper and residential carpet markets we also are focusing on growing sales in adjacent applications where technology can deliver greater customer value. These include the growing packaging, specialty paper and commercial carpet applications.

Our specialty chemical product line had first quarter sales of $114.3 million a $9.6 million decrease from $123.9 million posted in the same period last year. Again the severe weather in United States negatively affected volumes. However certain of our more global specialty product lines had increased volumes, these include coatings, oil and gas and elastomeric modifiers.

I want to take a moment to expand briefly on our capabilities in areas that will play pivotal roles in our growth strategy going forward. One is our specialty coatings product line which builds on the strong global brands acquired through our acquisition of ELIOKEM in late 2010. The business was originally focused primarily on the European markets. However, our coating resonance are now benefiting from the recovering North American construction market and growth in Asian infrastructure both.

High value specialized applications include protection of exterior masonry, intumescence or fire-resistant coatings, stain blocking paints and primers and horizontal concrete sealers to name a few. OMNOVA recently introduced a unique water-based resilient in the PLIOTEC brand for direct to metal corrosion protection, that is getting great interest in the market.

Another high growth area is oil and gas drilling. OMNOVA's product line leverages technology to provide fluid loss control and ceiling, flow control, cementing and other stabilization properties during and after well bore drilling. We have industry leading products used in particularly challenging high temperature and high pressure environments which have been a rapidly growing segment of the market. We're broadening our offering to meet the specific requirements of a broader set of operating conditions at both sea and on land.

Another product line that grew during the first quarter is elastomeric modifiers. Our products -- our range of products used to modify PVC and thermal plastics providing improved flexibility as-well-as oil and chemical temperature resistance and color retention. Manufacturing capabilities for these product lines as well as others across the Performance Chemicals business segment are being strengthened by the high return investments we've made in our facilities around the world.

These include the conversion of certain excess styrene butadiene capacity to the manufacturing of hollow plastic pigments which was completed in our Mogadore, Ohio site last Spring; the completion late in 2013 of the styrene butadiene latex expansion at our Caojing, China chemical plant to serve the growing Asian market; new acrylic emulsion capabilities coming online at our facility in Le Havre, France; and the investment to convert additional styrene butadiene capacity in Mogadore to the production of acrylics and other specialty emulsion chemistries.

When completed at the end of the year the company estimates that it will receive operating savings of $4 million per year beginning in 2015 and have improved capability to serve the growing acrylic markets. These new capabilities which are in varying stages of construction, and product trials, qualification and production are intended to ensure that OMNOVA is well positioned for long-term growth of our performance chemicals business.

In summary OMNOVA's first quarter results reflected year-over-year improvements in earnings despite extreme weather conditions that compounded what is seasonally our weakest quarter. We remain encouraged by the progress of our Engineered Surfaces segment, our actions to divest or exit unprofitable businesses, reduce operating cost and consolidated our global footprint are having positive tangible results. We're equally excited about the progress of our many investments to increase or realign capacity in our performance chemicals segment. These actions will improve our capabilities to produce a wider range of polymers to serve a broader global landscape and meet the changing needs of our customers and markets.

We're also encouraged by the positive trends in markets where we're well positioned such as oil and gas exploration, automotive and transportation and construction and refurbishment. We will continue to work to capture those opportunities presented by these improving markets, optimize our manufacturing footprint and leverage our lower cost base while increasing our focus on enhancing value to our customers and our shareholders.

With that Michael and I now would be happy to answer any questions that you might have. Operator I'll turn it over to you.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions). And the first on line is David Begleiter with Deutsche Bank. Please go ahead.

David Begleiter - Deutsche Bank

Thank you. Good morning.

Kevin M. McMullen

Good morning.

Michael E. Hicks

Good morning, David.

David Begleiter - Deutsche Bank

Hey, guys. Kevin, just on Performance Chemicals looking at Q2, can you talk about trends you see in March and do you think you can actually grow operating profit in Performance Chemicals year-over-year?

Kevin M. McMullen

Certainly, that's our objective. I think a weaker first quarter from a volume standpoint I think it's always our weakest seasonally as you know. But it was compounded this year by some tough weather in North America that many industrial companies experienced and we certainly were not immune to that. And so I think we're encouraged by some of the trends and some of the improved mix with oil and gas growth that we are seeing and better mix with our specialty coatings and so certainly that is our focus as we go forward.

David Begleiter - Deutsche Bank

And just secondly on Engineered Services, do you think about the earnings power of the segment has improved substantially. You witnessed some volume growth, what do you think the earnings power is here, either of margin basis or absolute dollar basis over the next one to two years?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah. Our focus is to get this business to double-digit operating profit and we are looking at 2015 as a timeframe to get to that level. I think we've -- our cost base is much better than it's been with the restructuring we've done. We are more focused on business where we are generating value for our customers and being rewarded for it with more attractive margins.

And so I think we will see increasing profitability in this business and double-digit operating profit, which would translate in probably 12% or 13% EBITDA margins is what we are focused on here over the next 12 to 18 months.

David Begleiter - Deutsche Bank

Thank you very much.

Kevin M. McMullen

Thanks Dave.

Operator

And we'll go to George D'angelo with Jefferies. Please go head.

George D'angelo – Jefferies & Company

Hi, good morning. Can you guys give us some color on pricing of raw materials trends heading into the summer?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, so we expect that there will be modest raw material inflation going forward and with index pricing, that will translate to some price reductions that are built in to our business mix and again that's in roughly 40% to 45% of our chemicals business that has index pricing. And so I think there we will have price increases that will go with raw material inflation that we experienced.

Michael E. Hicks

And all of that what Kevin is referring to is in the Performance Chemicals business and Engineered Surface that we look at raw materials being pretty benign through the year. PVC resin plasticizer I would expect to be very controllable, still a lot of volatility as all of you know around butadiene. It has been moving up from $0.60 to about $0.68 in the month of March, so that's one we'll have to really watch and again mix is difficult to forecast but with the index pricing we will pass that on pretty quickly.

George D'angelo – Jefferies & Company

Okay, thanks, and just one more, have you guys seen a surge in decorative laminates as the weather fades in March due to pent-up demand, or are you simply seeing normal seasonality?

Kevin M. McMullen

Well, I think we are seeing a strong growing backlog in laminates which has been an ongoing thing for us. I think we are -- I believe we are growing share in a construction refurbishment market that is improving. So we are getting the double benefit of that. First quarter had some weather challenges but we are excited by the backlog and the opportunities that we see here going into the second quarter and the rest of the year.

George D'angelo – Jefferies & Company

Thanks guys.

Kevin M. McMullen

Thank you.

Operator

And we'll go to Michael Sison of KeyBanc. Please go ahead.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

Hey guys, good morning.

Kevin M. McMullen

Good morning, Mike.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

In Performance Chemicals or SP Latex you talked about some competitive pricing there, what's your strategy in that environment given that raw materials are going up quite a bit?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, so our focus is our Paper and Carpet business is we will defend share in the traditional markets that we play in. And we believe that there are growth opportunities in adjacent markets like packaging still within the space of Paper and Carpet packaging that we have technology that's really relevant and in commercial carpet and in other specialty paper applications.

So from that standpoint we see growth in certain segments in the markets that may not have as much growth. Our focus is to defend share. It's a competitive environment out there but we have very strong assets, very strong technology and we are committed to using those that technology and those assets to defend our position.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

And I know you are reducing some of your capacities, are your competitors reducing capacity too or the industry might be a little bit tighter as we close this year?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, so our focus as you pointed out Mike has been to repurpose some of the underutilized capacity to areas that offer more opportunities for growth and I think we have been, we will continue to look for opportunities to do that. I am not sure of what our competitors have done in that space. From the standpoint of BASF our sense is that they have done similar actions as they have repurpose some of their facilities that just what we read in the public and industry information with regard to Styron or [Trinsio] it's not clear what they are doing.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

Okay. And then in terms of the move into the specialty acrylic capacity additions that you are doing, can you may be give us a feel how -- are you getting good orders for that capacity? Do you have a good amount of that sort of lined up to go as you bring that capacity on?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, so there is a lot of different markets that technology would get used in but there is, I think we have a growing position in specialty coatings which is one of the markets that will be a big user of that and we're getting a significant amount of interest there. There are other specialty markets as well where the interest has been strong. It will take us time to fully utilize that capacity but we think this gives us -- this continues to grow our ability to be a solutions provider with our customers and it broadens our technology, capability into the emulsion polymer space. So it's very -- we know very well and have lots of experience in but it grows our ability to provide the right solution for the right customer application and not simply [sell one] chemistry that we happen to manufacture in. So we're becoming one of the broader space solution providers in our space which we think will give us a long-term competitive advantage.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

All right. And one last one, I know you don't give direct specific guidance for '14 but you had given some commentary generally on whether you will have some growth in terms of op income or net income. Any update there, based on what you saw in the first quarter and a nice job overcoming the weather to put up your numbers?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, I think we will continue to focus on these improvements that we're making. I think we're excited about several of the opportunities in some of the markets that we've highlighted but we recognize and play, in one our markets in particular there is a lot of competitive activity right now and so that is an area that poses a challenge, but I think we're very clear on what our strategy would be and what our focus is. And we're not going to give guidance given some of the dynamics but we continue to press along with growing our business and getting the right assets in the right place to meet the needs of our customers and markets and we're encouraged by that.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc.

Okay, great. Thanks.

Kevin M. McMullen

Thanks, Mike.

Operator

Next we go to Bill Hoffmann with RBC Capital Markets. Please go ahead.

William Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Hi, thanks. Good morning.

Kevin M. McMullen

Good morning, Bill.

William Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Just a follow-on on a prior question. I guess I want to try to get a sense of just sort of -- you mentioned having a pretty decent backlog in some of the specialty chemicals and I just wonder to what the trend or recovery in the year looks like this year and do you expect to be sort of more heavily back-end weighted as opposed to where you might have been prior years?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, I think our first quarter is always seasonally our weakest and I think this quarter was even a bit more pronounced if you -- because of the weather situation. So I think we will see some improvement certainly going into the next couple of quarters and through the rest of the year. How much pent-up demand there is out there that we believe that there is certainly some of that, we believe that the new housing construction and housing refurbishment activity will continue to grow and expand and we have lots of exposure in that space.

The automotive and transportation sectors look to be reasonably strong from our perspective, so we're encouraged by that. We're encouraged by our position and growing position in China and in Asia in general in the automotive space there. So I think as the balance of the year goes on with some of these markets improving we are encouraged by what that will lead to.

William Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Thanks, and then just also more specifically in the European markets are you seeing any change in dynamics or is that market still pretty flat at this point?

Kevin M. McMullen

We're seeing in our end users, Bill some improvement and again we're heavier in coatings that go into construction and refurbishment and products that go into the automotive side. And I think after a four year decline in particular some of the coatings areas that go into high-end architectural paints for masonry and stucco and the like there is a demand picking up because they have just deferred these purchases and these jobs as long as they could. So we're actually starting to see in the specific segments we serve here pick up a bit.

William Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Appreciate that, thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). So I'll go to Rosemarie Morbelli with Gabelli and Company. Please go ahead.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

Thank you. Good morning all. I was wondering the new plant in China and your sales into the automotive industry there, what kinds of a margin are we looking at? Is it higher than your current margin or do you need that plant to be 80% filled in order to get the margin you are looking for?

Kevin M. McMullen

The margins there are roughly the same as they are in the rest of our business here. So there's not a big difference there. And we see very strong ramp-up of volumes there here as we move forward. You may recall that some of that business we've been serving either through toll production or through exporting. So we already have a market presence and we've already primed the market so to speak with the business that we've been doing. And so some of that will be just transitioning the business into that plant and there will be new volume on top of that as well.

Michael E. Hicks

Yeah. And the bulk of our existing automotive sales there Rosemarie were coming from the Minhang plant for Engineered Surfaces which was an existing facility and the Ningbo plant for Performance Chemicals. The new plant that we have and I think you are referring to in China is primarily a tape, label adhesive which continues to ramp up and SP Latex which will not be serving the automotive business. So as we ramp that up margins in that part of the business will be a little bit lower until we start to fill some of that capacity.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

Okay. That's helpful. Thanks. And then I was wondering okay so Q1 is usually weak, it was weaker because of the volume, because of the weather. Are you seeing -- do you think that the orders that you missed so to speak in the first quarter, are you seeing those coming into the second or are they lost forever?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, I know we think we will get -- there will be some -- there is some makeup with what we're seeing in the backlog from the weaker first quarter that we will start to see in the second quarter.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

And if I may on Engineered Surfaces revenues were down 10.3%, what would it have been if you exclude the product lines that you exited by choice?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yeah, it's probably we would have been down probably 3% -- 3% or 4% if we took out the effect of the business that we exited last year.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

So this year now we have anniversaried it, right?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yes. It's coming up -- will be in our second quarter when we would have made that decision to exit that business. So at really in the third quarter or beyond we will have the year-over-year comparison of having exited that business.

Michael E. Hicks

And that 3% or 4% drop that we experienced was slower sales ramp up after the Chinese New Year and some of the weather issues and again we had plant shutdown in Pennsylvania and North Carolina for quite a few shifts because of the weather in January and February.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

Okay, so we should really see a big gap in year-over-year growth in revenue for that particular segment, right?

Kevin M. McMullen

Yes, you are right.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

And if I may ask one last question; when you say the school bus and motor cycle have -- are done with their inventory correction. Is this based on what you hear out there or is it based on actual orders picking up showing that indeed the inventory correction is over?

Kevin M. McMullen

I think it's a little of both, certainly that's the indication that we get directly from the customers and then we're starting to see that in the backlog as well.

Rosemarie Morbelli - Gabelli & Company

Okay, thank you very much.

Kevin M. McMullen

Thanks.

Operator

Okay, the presenters there are no further questions in queue.

Kevin M. McMullen

Okay. I'd like to thank you all for joining us for our first quarter call. We look forward to speaking with you again at the end of our second quarter. Operator if you want to give the replay information that would be great.

Operator

Certainly. And Ladies and gentlemen a digitized telephone replay is scheduled from April 2, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern until April 23, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. The code for that is 321438. Also, an audio replay will be available on the OMNOVA Solutions website at www.omnova.com until noon Eastern Time on April 23, 2014. That does conclude your conference for today. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.

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