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CARBO Ceramic Incorporation (NYSE:CRR)

Q1 2014 Earnings Conference Call

April 24, 2014 11:30 a.m. ET

Executives

Gary Kolstad – President and CEO

Ernesto Bautista – VP and CFO

Analysts

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

Tom Dylan – William Blair

Operator

Hello and welcome to today's CARBO Ceramics Inc.'s First Quarter 2014 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After management's remarks, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will follow at that time. Please be advised this call is being recorded today, April 24th, 2014, and your participation implies consent to our recording this call. If you do not agree to these terms, simply disconnect.

I would like to remind all participants that during the course of this conference call, the Company will make statements that provide information, other than historical information, and will include projections concerning the company's future prospects, revenues, expenses or profits. These statements are considered forward-looking statements under the Safe Harbor provision of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from these projections. These statements reflect the company's beliefs based on current conditions, but are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that are detailed in the company press releases and public filings.

Your host for today's call is Mr. Gary Kolstad, President and Chief Executive Officer of CARBO Ceramics Inc. Mr. Kolstad, please begin your call.

Gary Kolstad

Thank you and I want to welcome everyone to our first quarter 2014 earnings call. This morning I'll provide you with an overview of the first quarter results followed by an update on the outlook for the business and then we'll open it up for questions.

So in the first quarter, sales volumes with first quarter impact by weather disruptions in the northern regions in North America, especially the Bakken. In addition to the reduced fracturing activity at the well site caused by the cold weather, the railroad's distribution issues and congestion caused delays at the main rail terminals in the north and negatively impacted proppant deliveries throughout those regions.

However, we saw improvement in March and we believe that the potential for higher industry activity levels exist for the remainder of the year driven by a continuing trend of more fracs per well in modest drilling in completion efficiency gains.

Given these challenges, we're pleased that the overall profit margins improved in North America ceramic proppant sales volumes which we define as Canada and the U.S. were slightly higher compared to the first quarter last year.

The ceramic proppant pricing was relatively flat. We also add year-over-year growth in our recent coded products in StrataGen and consulting business. StrataGen continues to grow in the key resource place and we continue to add experience technical personnel to meet our client's demand. CARBO's production enhancement technologies delivered through our design, build and optimized the frac platform continue to improve well performance by increasing our client's production and EURs.

As a result, their client list grew even though quarterly sales volumes were challenged due to weather. Construction on Millen Line 1 is on schedule and should be completed by the end of the second quarter, which will add 250 million pounds of annual ceramic proppant capacity. Falcon Technologies or Environmental Services business was also impacted by weather disruptions in the northern regions.

On the finance side, few brief remarks there, revenues for the first quarter of 2014 increased 1% compared to the first quarter of 2013. This increase is mainly attributable to an increase in proppant sales volumes. Operating profit for the first quarter of 2014 increased 8% compared to the first quarter of 2013. The increase is primary the result of favourable ceramic product mix.

Net income for the first quarter of 2014 increased 5% compared to last year. The company repurchased 37,000 shares of its common stock at an average price of $109.88 per share during the first quarter pursuant to our previously announced stock repurchased program. Since September 2008, over 1.8 million shares have been repurchased at an average price of $44.33 per share.

Now let's discuss our outlook for the coming year. As we previously mentioned, we remain positive on industry activity in ceramic sales volumes for the balance in 2014. We believe the majority of the completion activity that was delayed in the first quarter due to weather has shifted to the second and third quarters of 2014.

We believe our ceramic volumes could increase for the second quarter of 2014 when compared to the first quarter of 2014 subject to the norm of second quarter spring breakup and weather effects. We believe pricing for our product lines will remain relatively flat during the second quarter.

The construction on Millen Line 1 and Millen Line 2 remains on schedule with anticipated completion dates by the end of the second quarter of 2014 and 2015 respectively. When completed these two lines to bring our total ceramic proppant capacity to 2.25 billion pounds annually, the retrofit in existing manufacturer line also continues with our KRYPTOSPHERE proppant technology. Initial sales of KRYPTOSPHERE LD from this retrofit are presently expected by the end of the second quarter of 2015.

We continue to build inventories of KRYPTOSPHERE HD, our new ultra-conductive, ultra-high strength proppant for deep well applications. The Gulf of Mexico is the primary target market, but some Gulf of Mexico deep water completion activity has been delayed at least until the second half of 2014. Our RCS sales continue to evolve while we develop long-term strategic relationships and establish CARBO as a leading provider of high quality, high conductivity RCS.

We're continues on our proppant delivered technology platforms, production assurance, production intelligence and production flow enhancement. Through collaboration with our clients, we strive to deliver solution that solve practical issues in the reservoir. One resulting product of this collaboration is a new version of SCALEGUARD. We anticipate deploying SCALEGUARD to several new clients over the coming quarters.

Falcon Technologies as products and development had the potential to launch in the second half of 2014. We believe these engineered product solutions for the environment and our client's assets will drive future growth for Falcon. Over the longer term, we believe a continued focus on technology development will drive growth for both the production enhancement and the environmental services businesses. We're excited about the technologies we have to execute on in 2014 and we'll continue to listen to our client's needs in order to provide value-added solutions in the future.

And with that, we will turn it over for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

And our first question comes from Jeff Tillery of Tudor, Pickering, Holt. Please go ahead.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Hi, good morning guys.

Gary Kolstad

Good morning, Jeff.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

The ceramic volumes in Q1 were pretty good in light of what ultimately took place and there is like the Bakken in terms of total completions. Did your geographic mix change much in the quarter? Do you think that customers took deliveries and volumes that haven't yet been pumped? I'm just curious how you think about what actually transpired in the first quarter and follow through impact in the Q2.

Gary Kolstad

I think we just didn't complete wells for the most part, Jeff. If you look at the Bakken there, they actually spell out North Dakota when we -- I think I made an example at the recent conference where we gained 200 wells that are behind pipe non-completed in the Bakken going from October to the end of February. So they're gaining the amount of wells that are behind pipe that aren't completed. So I would say that is the majority of it.

The railroad cost, of course, enormous issues up in north. So I don't think that we have proppant delivered in customers waiting to pump. I think it was more mattered to shifting the activity.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Okay. And as you think about the second quarter, obviously Canadian now, they heard you guys -- is it too early or how are you thinking about potential breakup issues in the Bakken and how that influences your potential volume sales this quarter?

Gary Kolstad

Well, I think Canada might do its normal breakup. I think the Montana, North Dakota, we've been through a couple of freeze-thaw cycles already. So I think it might be a mild breakup up there and I think just in general when we look at Q2 of this year. Last year, if you look at Q1, Q2 of last year, we wouldn't be surprised to see a mere image of that in 2014 whereby last year Q1 was pretty decent and Q2 went down a lot. We'd expect the flip of that this year.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Okay. And then for the KRYPTOSPHERE HD and kind of first completion there, have you actually been hired for the wells and just the function of when the timing of those completions are? Or how does work mechanically?

Gary Kolstad

Nobody has purchased a product yet, I can say that. But we're dealing with all these people. We're going through the test. Everything is favourable; if not, maybe be classified as excitable. So they get it. They get the conductivity. They get the durability, all that stuff. So it's just a matter of waiting on the wells now.

And I think what could happen in the meantime is that some of the clients are also thinking about maybe we should pump some of the KRYPTOSPHERE HD and some other wells. In other words, they don't necessarily have to be lower tertiary. So we're looking at those opportunities as well. But for us, we want to build inventory. So that's what we're doing right now, building inventory.

We're fairly in deep conversation with these clients. We kind of know what the job size will be. And so we have to get ready for that to when it does come. And so everything I think is on the go in there.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

My last question is around the KRYPTOSPHERE LD. Is there kind of well performance results yet, and any color -- have you guys received on customers as well as kind of what this may do in terms of from a cost structure for you guys?

Gary Kolstad

We have not pumped that yet. That is going to come from the first production. We've, of course, made it at the R&D plan. We know the performance characteristics and everybody, all our clients would talk to or excited about that. But we haven't produced commercial quantities yet. That will come from the plan we will retrofit. And I think it will sell itself. I don't see any issues there, or whatsoever.

And on the cost side of equation, in a perfect world, that'll be similar in cost to what we're producing today. Now, at the initial part of all things like this whenever you come out with products like this. It's going to have a higher initial cost.

But some of the stuff in the secret sauce, we will back to integrate overtime, whether that's one year, two years, things like that. And we hope to get the cost similar to what we produce that today. And if that's the case, you have enormous conductivity improvement and all those things. I mean KRYTOSPHERE LD should really do well.

Jeff Tillery – Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Great. Thank you guys.

Gary Kolstad

You bet.

Operator

Our next question is from Blake Hutchinson of Howard Weil. Please go ahead.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

Good morning guys.

Gary Kolstad

Good morning.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

I guess what stands out given the decline in ceramic volumes, RCS volumes is that the margin levels were quite resilient sequentially considering your fighting absorption, you're fighting some significant transportation issues. Is there something in there that you would caution us from taking that as a baseline and from here we should add absorption? Add the inner relief from the transportation going forward that was acting positively for you?

Ernesto Bautista

So Blake, this is Ernesto. I would say we really didn't see any benefit from a distribution standpoint yet. I think we're still (indiscernible) you'll start to really see that second half of the year. Margin improvement really stem from two things kind of coupled together that was the geographic mix, higher concentration of sales in North America along with a favourable ceramic mix.

And as you know the story well, selling a low-density ceramic versus high density or intermediate density ceramic yields of stronger margins. So that's how North America typically plays out.

As we look out over the balance of the year, we should see improvement in margin. It will come from the benefits associated with distribution as we look into the second half. But it's going to be adding flow based on sales volume and product mix. So my commentary would be as we look at over the course of the year, obviously, every quarter is just going to be dependent on those other two factors I mentioned.

Gary Kolstad

I will do a little shout out there.

The distribution team though has good plans in place. And we did get some benefit from that, but not of material nature yet. But they're doing a bang up job there on adopting us to the railroad issues.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

Okay. That's helpful. And then I understand maybe they're reluctant to talk, commit to much the volumes with the pocket we saw and activity in the first portion of the first quarter in the rail issues. But when we started the year, I guess we were thinking that volumes would be easily up, or maybe not easily but comparatively up 1Q versus 4Q. But we're confident enough in March to say that 2Q volumes would at least be greater than 4Q or is it just at this point, you don't really want to commit too much to making a harder volume assumption.

Gary Kolstad

Well, we certainly think that it could be above Q1 and we have to wait and see on whether it's above Q4. I made a reference to be in a mirror image of 2013 on Q1, Q2. And we were very pleased with the delta between March versus January and February. And we're feeling pretty positive about Q2 right now as we speak thus far into it. But our cautionary nature, as you know very well, right, won't put us out to where you want to be until we actually get there.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

Yeah, I thought I give that one a try.

And then just quickly, the KRYPTO LD timing, I guess that's kind of more loosely slip from kind of beginning of '15 to mid-'15. I mean is this just a harder level of diagnosis for when the retrofit, the process, what it's going to take and so we can start maybe dialling that and a bit harder to the model in terms of timing?

Ernesto Bautista

Yeah. We have a team of people who are doing a great job there. But this is -- we're breaking new ground and what we learned at the R&D plan. We continue to learn at the R&D plan impacts what we do. So we're just giving ourselves another quarter in there and it all has to do with the building side of things, not the product development or anything like that, the products there. And it is fantastic. But this is strictly a "When can we get the plan to retrofit it" type of discussion.

Blake Hutchinson – Howard Weil

Great. That's it. Exactly what I was looking for. So appreciate it. Thanks for talking about it.

Operator

Our next question is from Marc Bianchi of Cowen. Please go ahead.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Good morning guys.

Ernesto Bautista

Good morning, Marc.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Just a follow up on the last question with regard to margins, can you quantify the impact of the rail disruptions to margins during the quarter? Were there extra fees such as demurrage that if we remove those, we could get an idea of what the result was without the impact?

Gary Kolstad

I think you should probably strictly stick to volume. And so our volume got restricted because we couldn't get product delivered, and then there's just the actual weather itself, all right, which prevents people from fracturing on its (indiscernible) in the Bakken. But it's strictly "can you get up there?" Like I said, our distribution team has done a good job of offsetting additional cost. I'd call it cost neutral in Q1.

So they did a brilliant job of offsetting the additional delays and all that stuff. But just go with delivery and not being able to get it there.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Okay. Fair enough. Thanks.

On the competitive front, maybe you could offer a few comments on what you're seeing domestically from competitors and from any imports?

Gary Kolstad

Yeah, we continue to like the trend on the imports. They peaked in 2011. They dropped down considerably in '12. They dropped down considerably in '13 and '14 starting off. It's kind of the '13 rate. So we really like what's happening there.

Domestic competitors, yeah, they've got new capacity here. We don't see that impacting us that much. I think with kind of all of our competitors, if you don't have the conductivity, right, for other quality of products, you're going to price lowering and that's lever on that. So we don't see much difference quite honestly. I think there's a growing awareness about the Chinese, the poor quality and the poor conductivity of Chinese both by E&P operators and service companies. And I think everybody is putting more responsible behaviour there for preventing the damaged wells and all those things. So I think we're making an impact there and we'll keep shouting that every day.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Okay. Excellent. Thanks Gary.

Operator

Our next question is from Stephen Gengaro of Sterne Agee. Please go ahead.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

Thank you. Good morning.

Two questions, I'll start with the sort of non-ceramic proppant in the quarter and the mix was kind of have rescued towards the (indiscernible) side. RCS volumes were down a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about how we should think about that going forward? And maybe as part of that, it seems like I sort of thought maybe that the margin in the quarter will help buy a little bit of loose ends. How do those margins compare to what you do in the ceramic side?

Gary Kolstad

Well, first of all, we got in the resin-coated-sand business and as a result of that, our plant in Marshfield that produces the raw sand to feed New Iberia resin-coating produces other products than what we need, okay? And what we found out is that our sand is probably the highest conductivity in the industry just because of the way we manufacture, say, who can do everything else and there's a demand for it.

So the Xs amount of sand that we produce that isn't used for resin-coated sand were seen a lot of demand for it. So we're going to make the asset work as hard as it can. So we are moving all the sand that Marshfield produces that isn't used for resin coating.

As far as margins go, it's not going to keep up with the ceramic. So you might say when you move more volumes through as asset, you're going to get a better return, right? It's obviously going to be better because if you just low the fix cost better. But it still won't enhance. It won't reach the margins of our ceramic business.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

Okay. That's helpful.

Ernesto Bautista

And I think this quarter, I don't know what we did, we did 150 some million or something. We've kind of said that the plant in Marshfield have produced a billion pounds. I think the team has done a brilliant job up there too. They can run that plant harder than that. They've proven that.

So you're going to see figures at a bounce around, and it bounce around a lot just like resin coated sand. But if you're stuck at 150 there, sometimes it's going to be lower or sometimes it's going to be higher. But on balance, that's probably a good figure to stick with. And the resin-coat sand, we don't produce a lot of it. And remember in New Iberia, we also produce resin-coated ceramic. And so because we have 400 million pounds of resin-coated capacity there, sometimes some of that is used for ceramic, sometimes sand and we would prioritize resin-coated ceramic, of course.

And with a small amount of clients we work for, you'll see some movement there on the RCS on a quarterly basis as well.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

But the sequential drop in RCS, they're (indiscernible) to about 48 million pounds. That's just noise. There's nothing there. We should think about a reading to. And how we should think about that going forward?

Gary Kolstad

Well, I think you're always going to see if you have a limited amount of customers and they increase or decrease their activity. We're going to see it. But I mean that's not really going to move the needle for CARBO. So I'll move up and down, but we're in that business. We produce fantastic resin-coated sand and we produce the highest conductivity sand. So the team in New Iberia and Marshfield are doing a good job on that and they've done a great job on lowering our cost base as we increase the utilization of the assets.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

Okay. Thank you. And then just as a follow up, how would you suggest we -- when we look at the Millen Line, we sort of have assumed maybe that half of it is kind of commercially active in producing in the third quarter. Is that reasonable or conservative? How do you think about that?

Gary Kolstad

It's reasonable and that it's a Greenfield plant. Historically, sometimes when we start Greenfield, that's what it turns out. At (indiscernible) we rolled along, of course. We started by ten. We started the fourth line up there was almost the next day we're going full speed. So it's going to be somewhere – we would expect 50% (indiscernible) could possibly do better than that and we'll know that as we roll into the beginning of Q3.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

And just one final quick one. Is April better than March?

Gary Kolstad

It's a little bit early to do comment on Q2, but we certainly don't mind the way April starting off for sure.

Stephen Gengaro – Sterne Agee & Leach, Inc.

All right. Great. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions)

And our next question is from (indiscernible) of Simmons & Company. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Analyst

Good morning guys. Just a quick question for me. Most of the frac companies claimed to be essentially sold out in Q2 from what we're hearing. So if that's the case, why shouldn't we see a robust increase in volumes for Q2?

Gary Kolstad

I think we'll see an increase in volumes, but if you've been watching us a long time, we won't probably go that far. So we expect an improved Q2 and we'll see how it rolls out.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Fair enough. And then one quick follow up. So when we look at the sand volumes that jumped between Q1 and Q4, whether it impacted ceramic and RCS sales, can you explain the variance between the sand volumes versus the other two?

Gary Kolstad

Yeah, we have more clients that have contacted us and our team has done a good job of securing some of that work. So a lot of those was just working through that contractual side and people becoming more aware of what we have and sometimes there's geographical locations and rail aligns, and everything else. The rail is a complicated bugger. And so sometimes if we're sitting on a line and somebody else sitting on another line, a car stranded here, car stranded there. So it's a combination of gaining clients as well as the distribution itself.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Great. Thanks. That's it for me. I'll turn it back.

Gary Kolstad

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is a follow up from Marc Bianchi of Cowen. Please go ahead.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Hi guys. I was hoping you could offer some thoughts on SG&A going forward, especially with Millen 1 coming on in third quarter. Should we get some SG&A leverage as that facility comes on or is it going to remain pretty consistent as the percentage of revenues?

Gary Kolstad

So Marc, I think we previously commented that SG&A we thought would want -- for the year again, would want somewhere between 10%, 10.5% of revenue. I don't think we would change that at this point. We're looking at again on the full year basis that will change as volume and revenue changes throughout the individual quarters. But from an average for the full year, I think we'll stick with that 10% to 10.5%.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Okay. Great.

And would you be able to provide the average price per pound this quarter?

Gary Kolstad

So that actually will be in the queue. That'll be out here relatively soon.

Marc Bianchi – Cowen and Company

Great. Thanks guys.

Operator

Our next question is from Tom Dylan of William Blair. Please go ahead.

Tom Dylan – William Blair

Hi. Can you talk about the growth in ceramic volumes from new customers versus the existing customers may be doing more?

Gary Kolstad

Well, the commentary we did make on that is we said we continue to gain new clients. And that actually took place in Q1 as well. Most of them are fairly sticky once we get them. We don't really break out, sometimes we'll give you geographical things that are happening and a few times we'll give you some client names. But we kind of keep that guarded for competition reasons.

But I will say, we did see in all kind of the big three place in the U.S. we saw – well, I should include Canada too. Canada did well, the southern part of the U.S. did well, meaning the Eagle Ford, stuff like that. We get in the northern part there of the Bakken and that's where a lot of our challenges came from the weather and the railroads. But we kind of see new clients literally in almost all the new place.

Tom Dylan – William Blair

Okay. That's helpful. And then can you talk about your international opportunity, especially the Middle East, Argentina? Argentina in particular has given the geology there, the high pressure I guess to deal with.

Gary Kolstad

Yeah, Argentina is a crowded space we feel, and so we don't have real high expectations there. We have a competitor that sits down there. So there's obviously the distribution cost and then there's sometimes other issues that we can address in those type of countries.

Russia, as a whole, was down in the first quarter. As you heard, all the service company say, but we expect that to come back a little bit stronger here as the year rolls on. China, they're such overcapacity there with that poor quality Chinese that you don't expect much out of that.

And then the Middle East is kind of – for us it will be a technology play and moving our technology in some of those spots. North America is us, right? That's where we're really focused on. That's where we're making big impact for clients.

Tom Dylan – William Blair

Okay. And then in the release, I noticed it said for the first time that you guys are starting to produce the northern white sand, and I was just wondering. Is that all coming from the Marshfield plant or are you buying some of it from third parties or …

Gary Kolstad

No, the outcome out of our Marshfield, Wisconsin plant.

Tom Dylan – William Blair

Okay. Got it. All right. Thank you very much.

Gary Kolstad

Thank you.

Operator

And our next question comes from (indiscernible). Please go ahead.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi. Did I hear correctly that the new technology that you have when it's produced the cost basis is going to be just a little bit more than what you have now and similar to what you have now with your proppant? Yet, you're going to be able to increase conductivity by a lot. That way you should be able to charge more?

Gary Kolstad

We were communicating about the KRYPTOSPHERE LD, the low density one, and that's the one the HD product, of course, will be a lot higher. But, yeah, we hope overtime initially will be higher cost. But overtime with what we normally do, the way we've done over the years will back into great things, then we should reduce that down. We've kind of said that we don't like to talk about pricing much at all actually.

But what we have said is that Carbolite is the best ceramic on the market with 10,000 PSI closure and at a price level a little bit higher than some other things. So we kind of tell people we use that kind of your baseline and the way we go.

Unidentified Analyst

Do you have any idea you're casting now in the KRYPTOSPHERE LD products how much more it will increase the conductivity?

Ernesto Bautista

We absolutely do and we're going to hold that data to ourselves and our clients for the time being. So the clients that we're talking about, we have to see that. But we haven't put that out publicly yet because remember we're not producing it commercially yet. It's just …

Gary Kolstad

Quarter next year.

Ernesto Bautista

Yeah.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Ernesto Bautista

Thank you.

Operator

At this time period, we have no further questions. Mr. Kolstad, I'll turn the call back over to you for closing remarks.

Gary Kolstad

Okay. Thank everybody for joining us this morning. A couple of points here, we continue to be focused on unlocking the synergistic value that resides in our design, build and optimize the frac platform. In the near term, we think ceramic proppant volumes for the second quarter of 2014 could increase when compared to the first quarter.

The current market conditions remain competitive, which leads us to believe that pricing remain at current levels. 2014 is a big year of execution for CARBO. We're rolling out new ceramic proppant capacity. We have 5 million pounds coming in over the next 12 months or so and we continue to work diligently to bring new technology aimed at production enhancement to the market and we look forward to providing a business and operational update on next quarter.

Thank you all and enjoy your day.

Operator

The conference is now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.

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