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Ciber, Inc. (NYSE:CBR)

Q1 2014 Results Earnings Conference Call

April 29, 2014 08:30 AM ET

Executives

Heather Pollard - Director of Finance

Dave Peterschmidt - Chief Executive Officer

Christian Mezger - Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Vincent Colicchio - Noble

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Q1 2014 Ciber Earnings Conference Call. My name is Annette and I will be your coordinator for today. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Following the company’s remarks, we will conduct a Q&A session and instructions will be provided at that time for you to queue up for questions. (Operator Instructions). Please be advised this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I will now turn the conference over to Heather Pollard. Please proceed.

Heather Pollard

Thank you, Annette. Good morning, everyone. My name is Heather Pollard, Director of Finance at Ciber. Welcome to Ciber’s first quarter 2014 earnings conference call. With me today are Dave Peterschmidt, our Chief Executive Officer and Christian Mezger, our CFO.

Before turning the call over to Dave, I will remind you that some of our prepared comments and responses to your questions will constitute forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such statements. Such risks and uncertainties include but are not limited to those factors set forth in today's news release and discussed under the risk factors section of our quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and our Annual Report on Form 10-K as well as other SEC filings.

Also during this call, we will reference certain non-GAAP financial measures that we believe provide useful information for investors. We have included reconciliations of those measures to GAAP measures in our news release and on the Investor Relations section of our website ciber.com. Today's discussion will be on a continuing operations basis. Please refer to our SEC filings on Forms 10-Q and 8-K for a recap of historical comparisons.

With that, it is my pleasure to turn the call over to Dave Peterschmidt. Dave?

Dave Peterschmidt

Thank you, Heather. Good morning everyone. First quarter results gave us confidence that we are moving in the right direction and the first half of the year is unfolding about as we expected. While we are taking it quarter-by-quarter, we now have two solid quarters to build on and are encouraged by the underlying trends we are seeing.

Christian will go into greater detail on first quarter results, but here are a few of the highlights. We improved gross margin again this quarter on a year-over-year basis and held gross margins sequentially. Operating margins expanded from our solid fourth quarter level and also increased year-over-year crossing the 3% mark, the highest level since early 2012. And while revenue was affected by normal seasonality, our top-line trends are aligning with our plans and we are encouraged by the activity we are seeing in both bookings and revenue mix.

Finally, we maintained a strong balance sheet with very low debt and ended the quarter net cash positive. At a strategic level, we have significant opportunity as we transition the company to growth. We maintained a view that the total company’s operating margin can reach 8% and expect to make visible progress this year towards that longer term P&L objective.

As a reminder, our strategy is built around three areas of focus; first to invest in and maintain our core ADM business; secondly to expand our higher growth higher value ISV practices and third to build on our momentum in the rapidly growing managed and cloud services market.

In the near-term we are implementing our strategy for growth along with restructuring initiatives to improve overall profitability. The principal areas of emphasis for our operating plan, outlined on our fourth quarter call remain intact and we are making tangible progress.

We are augmenting our operating discipline to drive margin expansion. Focus areas include improving utilization and bid management, as well as further integrating our global delivery resources. Utilization was approximately 82% for the company in Q1, as we better managed our bench and gained more experience in our key growth practices. At the same time we are providing a growing portion of our work through our global delivery network.

At the end of the first quarter, 16% of headcount operated in global delivery centers compared to 13% a year ago. We continue our prudent investment in key growth opportunities as we drive a mixed shift in our revenue to higher growth, higher value services.

Overall bookings exceeded plan in North America. Our ISV revenue and bookings are especially strong as our focus on these practice areas is playing out with key wins in the market. ISV represents more than one-third of our North American revenue and is growing at a healthy low double-digit annualized rate.

Our restructuring continues to deliver on overall cost reduction and operating margin expansion as we had anticipated. Over the past year, we have benefited from a 70 basis point improvement in gross margins and nearly a 100 basis point improvement in operating margins. At the same time we are diligently addressing challenges specifically in the Netherlands and ADM that are offsetting some of the good progress underway.

Let me take a minute to provide a bit more color on these two areas. In the Netherlands, we hired a seasoned new executive to lead the effort in this market. He has brought significant experience and discipline to the team. The Netherlands remains an area of focus as we regain our market position in what is a very challenging environment. And while we continue to see some softness in ADM, particularly on pricing with select accounts, revenue declines continued to slow and results are coming in as forecasted.

We have made modest investments in key client facing positions in our ADM practice, with a focus on improving margins as the sales team ramps up to full productivity during the year. While it is still early days, we are encouraged by the current trends and optimistic that we are on the path to recovery.

Finally, while both Ciber segments continued to make progress, both financially and strategically, the levers and timing for improvements are different for each. North America is focused on revenue and gross margin improvement, through better use of global delivery resources and the continued strategic shift in revenue mix. We believe based on current bookings and revenue trends, North America will start to demonstrate sequential revenue growth in the second quarter.

International is focused on direct cost reduction from previously announced restructuring as well as gross margin improvement from better sub-contractor conversion and better utilization of global delivery resources.

And while we’re making progress on costs, realistically we anticipate that it will be a quarter or two before our international top-line has the same visibility as North America. Our success with customers in the marketplace is further evidence that our strategy is right on target with client demand.

Some key wins in the quarter include: Clariant, a leading global specialty chemical company represented by more than 100 group companies and some 18,000 employees, selected Ciber to oversee a pilot implementation of an SAP production execution system; Malmberg, one of the largest educational publishers in the Netherlands has re-selected Ciber to deliver and scale a flexible pivotal cloud infrastructure plus application management services for all current and new digital learning environments.

Malmberg’s adaptive-learning environments are currently serving around 1 million users in primary, secondary and professional education; the State of Nevada Gaming Control Board engaged Ciber to migrate its mission critical OpenVMS Alpha Systems into a new custom solution to be created by Ciber’s ADM practice, Ciber was selected based on its years of custom application development experience, methodologies and code accelerators to use in developing this new system, which will house records require all gaming organizations within the state; C. Hoare & Company, the oldest private bank in the United Kingdom, chose Ciber to implement Microsoft Dynamics CRM to manage key processes and reap significant efficiency gains through this investment; and the University of Texas System engaged Ciber to implement higher education ERP software and a portal interaction hub. Part of a shared services environment, the new solution will serve two academic institutions: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

In summary, we have [build] our 2014 plan based on a solid foundation and have continued to make significant progress towards our near and long-term objectives. With the good fourth quarter and a continuation of positive trends in the first quarter we are encouraged by the evidence that our strategy initiatives or having a visible impact on both revenues and costs. We expect continued improvement in operating margins this year towards our long-term objective of 8% overtime.

With that, let me turn it over to Christian.

Christian Mezger

Thanks Dave. Good morning everyone. It is only the first quarter of the year and while there are some puts and takes the quarter came in about as that we have plan and the business is gradually getting stronger.

At a higher level, we made disable progress in a number of areas in the first quarter in key opportunities to continue to leverage this momentum for 2014. Our restructuring initiatives are beginning to deliver the benefits we set out to achieve and as a result SG&A declined as a percent of revenue. And gross margins held sequentially and improved year-over-year. Operating margins grew to over 3%.

In the first quarter, revenue of $218 million declined 1% year-over-year in both U.S. dollars and constant currency. Revenue declined 2% sequentially from the forth quarter of 2013 in both U.S. dollars and constant currency.

Operating income or EBITDA increased 13% to $6.9 million from $6.1 million before restructuring charges in the fourth quarter of 2013. Year-over-year operating income was up 35% from $5.1 million also before restructuring charges in the year ago quarter. And operating margins before restructuring were 3.2%, the highest level in two years and solidly above year ago first quarter margins of 2.3% and fourth quarter 2013 margins of 2.8%. Net income from continued operations in the quarter increased to $4 million or $0.05 per share compared to $1.8 million before restructuring or $0.02 per share a year ago and $0.04 per share in the fourth quarter also before restructuring.

Net cash at the end of the quarter was $14 million, operating cash flow used in continuing operations totaled $30.5 million inline with our seasonality in previous years.

Touching on restructuring, we continued to expect run rate annual savings from the 2013 plan of approximately $12 million, most of which will be realized in the second half of this year.

Let me turn to the segment results. In North America revenues of $103 million were down slightly sequentially given typical seasonality from fourth to first quarters. Operating margins improved to 8.2% benefiting from gross margin improvement and flat SG&A as a percent of revenue.

Year-over-year revenues declined 3% due in large parts to the pressures we have been experiencing in the ADM business offsetting solid ISV performance. The rate of revenue declined in the ADM business slowed again in the first quarter and as Dave mentioned earlier was offset growth in the hour ISVs.

This being said the ADM business will continue to be an important piece of our portfolio for the long-term. As highlighted in previous calls we are investing in additional sales and accounts managers to enhance relationships with our clients. We achieved about 90% of our hiring goals at the end of Q1 which should begin to contribute to improving the trends as the year progresses. For North America, gross margins totaled 26.8% in the first quarter of 2014, up sequentially from 26.5% in the fourth quarter of 2013, but down from 27.8% a year ago. We continue to benefit from restructuring and are seeing steady improvement in utilization across key practices as a result of our focus on this metric offset by some limited pricing pressure in ADM.

We continue to believe we can extend gross margins overtime as we benefit from better use of global delivery resources and mix shift as well as gain scale and high our growth, higher margin services. We have made progress in driving process improvements including incorporating global delivery resources into our bids and we anticipate additional margin improvement as the year unfolds. We captured the benefits of our cost discipline as SG&A decreased by more than 10% year-over-year. Sequentially we have SG&A flat at $19.3 million given as we invested in client facing resources as we continued to benefit from ongoing cost management.

Shifting to international. Revenues of $115 million increased 2% year-over-year a 1% increase in constant currency. Revenues were down 3% sequentially and down 4% in constant currency reflecting typical seasonality. International revenue results continued to be driven by the growth in three of our four large markets mainly the UK, Norway and Germany offset by the Netherlands.

Revenue in our four large markets continued to comprise about 80% of our international business. We experienced double digit growth in managed services across our international markets a core element of our strategy to shift the business mix overtime. International gross margins declined slightly to 24.9% in the quarter, but improved by more than 200 basis points from 22.4% in the year ago quarter, comparing sequentially we kept our savings from our restructuring plans offset by normal seasonalities moving from Q4 to Q1.

Our margin expansion initiatives of tracking to plan in this segment as we made good progress converting subcontractors and we're steadily increasing the use of our global delivery resources. SG&A in the international increased year-over-year, as we invested in key practice areas and continued our focus and verticals as part of our effort to enhance our go-to-market capabilities in this segment.

Finally, at the corporate level, we continued to benefit from improved financial flexibility. We ended the quarter with $11 million in debt reflecting uses of cash related to the timing of compensation and restructuring payouts.

Total interest expense was $0.4 million for the quarter, as we reduced average borrowings by nearly $20 million versus a year ago. We expect interest expense to remain at this quarterly level for the next few quarters.

Income tax expense was $2.5 million in the quarter, compared to $2.7 million in the previous year. We continue to expect full-year taxes to be in a range of $10 million to $15 million in 2014 and we'll refine this range as we go through the year. As it relates to corporate expense, stock compensation expense was $1.8 million, we expect stock compensation expense [to remain] close to the current quarterly level going forward.

Cash flow used in continuing operations were $30.5 million in the quarter, mainly driven by changes in accrued compensation expense and normal seasonal trends. DSO of 63 days was in-line with recent levels, reflecting improved collections and seasonality.

In summary, in 2014, we expect to achieve a significant improvement in year-over-year operating leverage, gradually improving throughout the year, while considering Ciber seasonality. In the near-term, as Dave mentioned, we expect to see improved revenue stability on a quarter-over-quarter basis in North America.

Consistent with the timetable we outlined last quarter, cost reduction initiatives should impact reported margins within the next couple of quarters. The cost improvement work is more likely to improve gross margins in the medium term that is 3 to 6 quarters from the beginning of the year, while the business mixed shift is likely to take 6 to 10 quarters to be (inaudible) achieved.

We have delivered two solid quarters; Q4 of 2013 and now the first quarter of 2014. While that is not yet the trend, it is encouraging.

With that, I would like to open it for Q&A. Operator, please give the instructions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen we will now conduct the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) The first question comes from the line Brian Kinstlinger from Sidoti & Company. Please proceed.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Could you talk about the demand environment during 1Q and how you see it progressing over the next three quarters? I know there is some seasonality in the third quarter in the international segment, but with the benefits also of restructuring should we expect the first quarter revenue and pre-tax profit results will be at the low point of the year?

Dave Peterschmidt

Let me talk to the demand first and then I’ll let Christian answer the back half of that Brian. We clearly are not seeing any lessening of demand in either North America or in the countries that are dominant for us in Western Europe. So we believe we've got a very positive market environment both in North America and in Western Europe.

We're actually seeing even in the smaller countries that demand is good. But if I look at Germany, the UK and Norway, demand curve there is very solid. The Netherlands as we’ve talked about before that market is starting to if you will flatten out and not show deterioration as a marketplace, not Ciber’s market, but the Netherlands as a market for IT services. So, we're encouraged by what we see in the demand curve out there.

And I’ll let Christian handle the other part of your question.

Christian Mezger

Yes. Hi Brian, hope you’re doing well.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Hi.

Christian Mezger

I think in reality, as I said in my remarks, we see improvement that gradually improves out throughout the year with this one caveat and you’ve pointed it to yourself is the third quarter where we see revenue seasonality and margin compression in the international certification period. But as I said, we will gradually improve that's what we see today.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Right. But if I take away a revenue piece, you’re benefiting from restructuring. You're talking about the ADM business to pace decline slowing, you're talking about the Netherlands flattening out that suggest to me at least from a pre-tax profit level, you should be improving pretty much every quarter still or at least in the third quarter not having a significant decline as you're getting that benefit from the structuring you talked about in the second half of the year. Am I thinking about that right?

Christian Mezger

I think you're thinking right along on my remarks.

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes. Brian and I agree in foresaid. But yes, you should anticipate with the exception of the third quarter seasonality. We will show progress quarter-on-quarter now.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Okay. Can you highlight the sub-contractor ratio in the international segment or overall either way in this quarter compared to the fourth quarter? And then have you, did you benefit from that at all in the first quarter or is that also a benefit in the second or even more in third and fourth quarter?

Christian Mezger

So I think Brian, I think there is two parts of this answer. Number one, we don’t necessarily how sub-cos at any point. I can tell you that the European team worked very well to significantly decline the use of sub-co FTEs. They made good progress in the quarter that is something that you see in this quarter results. Obviously our plans outline the continued trend there.

This being said, we are not going to be foolish about it. We assess on almost a daily basis what is the best labor mix we can apply to a project, apply to work. That means our own resources that means our offshore delivery resources and near shore for international becomes a more important part of that and it means the sub-contractors.

So, we work on that, but we do it in a very diligent way and we assess it almost on a project-by-project basis based on the skill set that we have available.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

And did you benefit in the first quarter from this yet or is that -- have you not seen a benefit yet from that mixed shift in personnel and delivery?

Christian Mezger

Yes. There is some benefit in the first quarter for sure.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Now in terms of pricing pressure, Accenture and IBM highlighted the same. You mentioned your expected, the rate of decline in ADM was slow, but with those pressures how will that be the case and what kind of impact you expect that will have on North American revenues over the next couple of quarters?

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes. As we said Brian, we expect North America beginning in the second quarter just show sequential growth on the top-line. And that’s for two reasons. Number one as I mentioned, we’re seeing that our ISV business, which is the higher value business is now over 30% of our revenue in North America and growing at double-digit. So, it’s growing at a faster rate than the modest decline that we’re now seeing in ADM.

There are other indicators that we have about ADM that suggest to us that we really do now have that business with good visibility and we expect to show progress with that business contributing to the growth of the top-line.

Some of that’s due to the fact that we talked about in Q4 that we’ve realigned dedicated sales resources to that practice where before we had geographic broad coverage we now have focused dedicated sales coverage. And we believe that is seriously starting to impact the nature of that business.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Hey, two more quick ones. You mentioned 82% utilization rate globally, pretty sure and I could wrong, that’s new information. Can you give us a sense for what it was last quarter maybe a year ago so we can compare how that’s changing and what’s your sort of target overtime given the limited growth the company is producing?

Christian Mezger

Yes. So, thanks Brian for recognizing it’s a new data point, yes you are right. And we’ll report discipline going forward quarter-by-quarter. And then the way that I think about utilization what this should be for this company, I would say it’s going be in the mid 80s range. And obviously…

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Where was it?

Christian Mezger

So, we don’t disclose that. We’re going to start reporting this metric on a going forward basis.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

All right, helpful. Before I ask my next question, it’d be helpful to think about even I mean how do we compare, how it’s been improving, if you’re talking about improving utilization. But the last one is the share count is up about 4% year-over-year; we saw some healthy stock [range] in the recent filing, maybe just over this and as you generate cash, are you thinking about repurchasing shares, if your plan that you’re discussing over the last six months of successful, obviously buying these depressed values would add significant shareholder values, maybe talk about that please.

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes Brian, I think we talked about this before, but we are just now moving into an area where our balance sheet allows us to really start thinking about a capital allocation strategy. And that is something that we’ll be presenting at our annual strategy session to the Board in the June timeframe. And until we get passed that, I’m being very cautious about cash and any concept of how that will be used until we have demonstrated to ourselves that we have a sustainable cash flow position. So, it’s a little premature for us to talk about that.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Okay, I’ll get back in the queue. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). The next line of question comes from the line of Vincent Colicchio from Noble. Please proceed.

Vincent Colicchio - Noble

Yes Dave, could you remind us; I’m sorry if I missed it. Why did international margins declined sequentially?

Christian Mezger

So, we see normal seasonality pressure on the margins here declining in international, actually that was offset by some of the savings from the -- early savings of the restructuring program. There is some normal seasonality in that. Remember, our fourth quarter in international is the quarter with high revenue and high margin.

Vincent Colicchio - Noble

Okay. Can you give us a little more of granularity on the ADM business, I think there are certain areas that are currently slow; what you are referring to?

Dave Peterschmidt

Well, we just as we talked before, we had number of major clients that if you will, our share of wallet with them declined. And part of the corrective action for that was that we dedicated sales resources to those clients. And we’re starting to see the positive impact of that, that is we’re not seeing further deterioration in share of wallet and we’re actually starting to see that we’re picking up business now and picking up share of wallet in some very selected accounts that are big accounts for us.

And so I would tell you that. The second thing that we did to mitigate that is we actually went and looked at that practice and said we’re going to carve out four or five specific solution sets that we are going to emphasize that we believe we have superior offering around, and really crafted some high value offering positions in these scenarios. And that also is starting to have impact. The combination of dedication sales resources and more focused offerings is what is allowing us to regain some traction there.

Vincent Colicchio - Noble

Okay. Thanks Dave. And then did you continue to grow your Polish operation in the quarter and are geopolitical concerns factoring into your thinking at this point?

Dave Peterschmidt

We don’t see an issue with Poland to be quite frank with you. Poland as a market is seeing more and more companies established the types of platforms that we’ve established there. And I believe that’s a totally different scenario than what you’re seeing in the Ukraine. And I would tell you that Poland to us from a geo-political standpoint is a very secure environment.

Vincent Colicchio - Noble

Okay. Thanks guys.

Operator

Thank you. The next line of question comes from the line of Brian Kinstlinger from Sidoti & Company. Please proceed.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Yes, thanks for taking my follow-ups. Just to go over some of the puts and takes of ISVs and app developments since I think long-term that’s the driver of the mix shifts in revenue and a big piece of the margin improvement. You mentioned the application development business; the rate of decline is slower than recently. Can you just give us a metrics of how big it is right now and maybe what the rate decline was this quarter versus maybe a quarter or two ago, so we can gave how much improvement is going on there?

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes. Brian, In North America that business is about 60% of our revenue.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Okay.

Dave Peterschmidt

And that business’s decline is down to low-single-digit decline now where it was in double-digit decline.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

And the double-digit decline was a quarter ago or was that more like two or three quarters ago?

Dave Peterschmidt

I would tell you…

Christian Mezger

A couple of quarters.

Dave Peterschmidt

Two quarters ago.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Okay. And then maybe -- I know much smaller, but that’s the story here. Can you talk about maybe the similar ISV metrics; how big is that and what’s the rate of growth this quarter year-over-year versus maybe where we were a year ago or maybe where we were a quarter or two ago?

Christian Mezger

Sure. So the ISVs in North America are about 30% of the revenue base, right. It’s growing at double-digit rate on year-over-year basis. And there we’re relatively consistent in that growth. And that’s why you see that portion going to 30%.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

I assume when you say double-digit, we are talking somewhere in the 10% to 15%, not north of there?

Christian Mezger

Somewhere in that range.

Dave Peterschmidt

Somewhere it varies by the different -- three different ISVs are different, Brian. The other thing I would tell you to keep in mind is and I mentioned this earlier in my script was that bookings were very positive, both in North America and in Europe. So it’s not just what the revenue is but our visibility now looking into future quarters is much better based on what we are seeing in consistency of bookings.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Well, since you bring up bookings, maybe can you give us a book-to-bill; can you maybe put some context around positive bookings?

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes, I would tell you that -- well first off, both North America and international exceeded their bookings plan for the quarter. And the plan is set up such that it’s positive ratio of bookings to billing. We haven’t been specific about what it is as the ratio but I can tell that the ratio continues to get stronger for us.

Brian Kinstlinger - Sidoti & Company

Okay, thanks so much guys.

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes.

Operator

Thank you for your questions. Ladies and gentlemen, now that concludes the question-and-answer session. I would now like to turn the conference over to Dave Peterschmidt for closing remarks. Thank you.

Dave Peterschmidt

Yes. In closing, let me just say we are very encouraged by another quarter of evidence that our initiatives are having an impact on revenues and cost and remain confident we are on a path to longer term 8% operating profit. In North America, the underlying trends and momentum are solid. I see a team that is coalescing and making steady progress consistent with plan. We anticipate quarter-on-quarter revenue growth on top of further improvement in the already solid operating margin foundation in place.

While the solutions and challenges in the international segment are a bit different than those in North America, I am confident we are focused on the right levers to improve the revenue and margin trajectory. Realistically, it will take a quarter or two for this segment to demonstrate the stability we are seeing in North America.

Finally, our goal is to continue to deliver very tangible business value, driving sustainable growth and value for you, our shareholders. And we look forward to sharing with you our progress over the next several quarters.

Thank you everyone for joining us on the call today and for your continued support in Ciber. As always, we are available to answer further questions following the call. Thank you everybody.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Have a good day.

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