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Vectren Corporation (NYSE:VVC)

Q1 2014 Results Earnings Conference Call

May 12, 2014 02:00 PM ET

Executives

Robert Goocher - Treasurer and VP of IR

Carl Chapman - Chairman, President and CEO

Jerry Benkert - Executive Vice President and CFO

Analysts

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo

Operator

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Aaron and I'll be your operator today. At this time, I'd like to welcome everyone to the Vectren Corporation 2014 First Quarter Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, we will have a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions).

I would now like to turn the call over to Robert Goocher, Treasurer and VP of Investor Relations. Mr. Goocher, you may begin.

Robert Goocher

Thank you, operator. Good afternoon and thank all of you for joining us on today's call to review Vectren's 2014 first quarter results. This call is being webcast and shortly following its conclusion, a replay will be available on our website at vectren.com under the Investors link at the top of the page.

On Friday afternoon, excuse me. This morning, we released our first quarter results and filed our 10-Q. You can find copies of the earnings release, today's slide presentation and the 10-Q on our website under the Investors link.

As further described in slide three, I would like to remind you that many of the statements we made on this call are forward-looking statements. Actual results may differ materially from those discussed in this presentation. Carl Chapman, Vectren's Chairman, President and CEO, will begin with comments on the quarter’s financial results and year-to-date highlights. He will then turn it over to Jerry Benkert, Executive Vice President and CFO, who will discuss in more detail our Utility and Nonutility results. Also joining us on today's call is Ron Christian, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal and External Affairs Officer and Susan Hardwick, Senior Vice President of Finance. Following our prepared remarks, we would be glad to answer questions that you may have.

With that, I'll turn it over to Carl.

Carl Chapman

Thanks, Robert, and I'd also like to welcome everyone to today's call. And as always, we appreciate your interest in Vectren.

Let me start by taking a moment to reflect on our recently announced organizational changes. Our management team along with the Board has regularly assessed and maintained a robust succession plan which has prepared us for these kinds of change after nearly 30 years in the Utility sector Jerry has announced his intention to retire next spring. He’s been an integral part of Vectren’s and predecessor company’s leadership. His contributions have been numerous and without question a key part of Vectren’s success. As he moves forward toward full retirement next spring effective June 1st, Jerry will transition from his role of CFO and become Vectren’s Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer. Jerry will continue to contribute the corporate strategy as well as provide strategic oversight of Vectren shared services departments which include performance management and strategic sourcing, human resources, IT and customer service.

Succeeding Jerry in the CFO role would be Susan Hardwick, who had been with Vectren since its formation in 2000 as Vice President and Controller and most recently Senior Vice President of Finance. During her tenure Susan has been a significant leader of Vectren’s financial and regulatory strategy, a background preparing her well to move into this key leadership role. As Senior Vice President Susan has been joining us at various investor and financial conferences in the past year where many of you have met her. If you not have the opportunity to meet Susan she along with Jerry and the rest of our team would be at the AGA Financial Forum next week.

I would also like to send our thoughts and our prayers from everyone here at Vectren to Bill Doty who has been having health-related issues and has made the difficult decision to step down as President of Vectren Utility Holdings after many years of service in this role. Bill’s leadership has been instrumental in making our utility operations safe and reliable. I will have more to say about Bill’s contributions at our annual meeting later this month.

Stepping into Bill’s role will be Rich Schach who has more than 20 years of utility-related experience including the last 10 years in senior leadership roles in utility operations most recently as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Energy Delivery. I am confident in Susan and Rich and that the succession plan we have in place will provide a smooth transition as we move forward.

With that let’s move on to slides four and five where you will see first quarter 2014 net income was $51.2 million or $0.62 per share compared to the 2013 first quarter results of $54.4 million or $0.66 per share, excluding the impact of the 2013 operating losses attributable to Vectren’s investment in ProLiance.

ProLiance as you may recall, exited the gas marketing business in June 2013. While consolidated first quarter results are behind plan primarily due to the long cold winter and its negative impact on our infrastructure services business, we still expect by year-end we will complete the construction work that has been delayed and be back on plan for the year. As a result, we are pleased to affirm our consolidated 2014 guidance range of $2.15 to $2.35 per share.

Utility results were up more than $6 million compared to the prior year due impart to the unusually cold winter and its positive impact on our electric operations results, but also improved due to customer growth and lower interest expense in the quarter. Despite the extreme winter weather, I am proud to report our gas and electric systems reliability were strong and our employees’ attention to safety was excellent.

In addition to our systems being tested by the severe cold winter, we had damaging storms with straight line knocked out electric service to over 50,000 of our electric customers late Friday afternoon. With the keen focus on storm restoration, our crews, along with the assistance of contractor crews made available from neighboring utilities have worked tirelessly for the last few days. And I am very pleased to report that the number of customers that are still without power is below 100 at this time.

Obviously conditions following such extreme weather events can be challenging for both our customers and crews, heightening our ongoing emphasis on customer and crews’ safety especially during an intense restoration process. Regrettably, one injury has been reported in on the ground sleep and fall injury of a veteran employee.

We appreciate the dedicated work of our crews and other crews that assisted in these efforts to restore service to all of our customers as quickly as possible, as well as our customers’ patience during these extreme weather events.

Finally given the magnitude of the damage and replacement we expect most of the cost of the storm to be charged to capital rather than maintenance accounts. For the year we continue to expect utility results to be within previous stated guidance of $1.70 to $1.80 per share.

While non-utility group results excluding ProLiance were down nearly $9 million compared to the prior period, we still expect to meet our guidance for the year of $0.45 to $0.55 per share.

The primary drivers of the first quarter decline were the impact of harsh winter weather conditions had on our infrastructure services business and the large pipeline project that was underway in 2013 as we discussed in our February earnings call. However, as Jerry, will discuss in more detail, demand from both distribution and transmission customers remained very high as demonstrated by the March 31st backlog of approximately $585 million.

Additionally, as of April 30, Infrastructure Services already had nearly 2,800 employees, 450 more than at the end of January and nearly 150 more than a year ago at this time. The catalysts and resources are there for Infrastructure Services to provide excellent results for the rest of the year. As long as we typical weather conditions for the remainder of 2014 and continue to successfully add crews, I'm confident that Infrastructure Services will meet our original expectations for the year. Partially offsetting these lower results at Infrastructure Services were as expected much improved results for our coal mining operations which reflect the continued successful ramp of operations at the Oaktown mine, and improved operations and resulting lower cost at our Prosperity mine.

Turning to slide six, on April 1, we announced that our Energy Services subsidiary, Energy Systems Group acquired a federal sector’s energy services unit of Chevron Energy Solutions for $24 million, but with a possibility of additional payments to Chevron related to additional contract transfers and new orders. This acquisition with nearly 70 CES professionals including more than 20 contract employees who have now joined ESG as full time employees significantly increases ESG's capabilities to compete effectively in the federal sector.

This acquisition complements ESG’s expertise in developing and implementing federal energy projects with its 12 utility partners under utility energy services contracts. It also brings with it several federal indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts or IDIQ contracts that open the door to substantial project opportunities at U.S. government facilities all across the country.

We believe the federal sector is poised for significant growth due to the federal government’s strong emphasis on energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy security. We are excited to see this expanded organization have all the tools to meet the demand of the growing federal market. This acquired unit has a number of existing federal contracts, a strong sales funnel and recurring operations contracts that bode well for future profitability.

Due to the timing of the acquisition and length of time it can take for backlog to reach the bottom-line, we expect limited earnings contributions in 2014. However, given the expected additional federal opportunities associated with this acquisition and continued improvements in our existing business lines, we expect Energy Services to return to profitability in 2015. As we look forward, we believe this business is well positioned to grow into a meaningful earnings contributor over time.

And with that, I’ll one last time turn it over to Jerry to provide more detail on Utility and Nonutility results for the quarter. Jerry?

Jerry Benkert

Thanks Carl. And before jumping into comments on the quarter, let me make a comment or too on our management transition. Carl described the plan changes and with my leadership past development had on which will be a continuing role, I am most pleased with the work we've done over time to position very talented individuals to grow into new roles at Vectren. This work and the success Vectren has been achieving on many fronts simply allows me to consider stepping away from the CFO role after 14 years and for that matters a plan for retirement from Vectren a year or so from now after 29 years.

I look forward to the opportunity to pause and think where to dedicate my time and future energy at this point in life. Thanks to Carl and the Vectren Board for understanding first my interest in doing that and more so working with me on a extended approach that we've outlined to best accomplish the smooth and seamless transition. Vectren has been and is a wonderful opportunity. And as reported my family and me many blessings. I’ve had terrific experiences with many of you on the call and regret that those times have direct contact me diminish. So with the CFO had yet on for the remainder of this month there will be another AGA Forum in a week, there is one more quarterly story to convey let’s get to it.

On slide seven, you will see Utility earnings for the first quarter were $61.3 million or $0.74 a share as compared to $55.1 million or $0.67 a share in 2013. The increase in 2014 earnings include higher weather related margin in the Electric business from small customer usage as well as increased contributions from wholesale power sales as a result of higher prices. Margin were also up in the Gas business due to customer growth large customer usage and return on growing gas system investments. Rig design in both Indiana and Ohio limited the weather impact on gas margins, but we did incur increased weather related gas system maintenance cost in the quarter such as employee overtime, which for this quarter mostly offset the margin increases I just mentioned.

Interest expense was favorable quarter-over-quarter, and finally though not an impact to the bottom-line we saw approximately $8 million of the increased pass through operating costs quarter-over-quarter, primarily related to pipeline integrity in energy efficiency programs.

Turning to slide number eight, on the regulatory front. A hearing was held in Indiana on May 8th, from Vectren’s filing seeking recovery of capital investments for gas utilities under Senate Bill’s 560 and 251. The testimony filed by the other parties and the preceding is generally supportive of our investment plan and the related recovery mechanism and as a result there were no questions of Vectren’s witnesses during the hearing. As you will recall our filing contained a required seven year infrastructure plan under Senate Bill 560 and additional federal mandated related spending under Senate Bill 251.

We estimate our total infrastructure investment would total $865 million starting in 2014 and running through 2020. We expect to receive an order during the third quarter of this year and believe the outcome to be generally consistent with our filing. The substance of our gas filing is consistent with the gas filing [an] order received by NIPSCO at end of April. Recall that these mechanisms provide for 80% current cash recovery and 20% deferral a 100% income statement recognition.

In February the Ohio Commission approved our $187 million five year extension of the existing distribution replacement writer mechanism which will allow us to recover costs currently related to the acceleration of our bare steel/cast iron replacement program and additional gas infrastructure improvements. Also the commission recently approved a deferred cash recovery for our 2013 capital expenditures not otherwise tracked of approximately $27 million under House Bill 95 and we will expect similar filings annually.

Regarding our electric operations in March we filed a case in chief with the Indiana Commission under Senate Bills 251 and 29 seeking approval for additional emissions control equipment on our electric generating units. Hearings are schedule to begin July 9th, with an order expected in the fourth quarter 2014. We expect to spend $70 million to $90 million related to the EPA mandated including the new mercury and air toxin standard or MATS. As we mentioned in February, we have requested authority to postponed cash recoveries with the intend to mitigate [new] bill impacts even though Indiana Legislation provides for immediate cost recovery. However we do expect to begin income statement recognition once an order is issued by deferring cost including depreciation and the recording of the return on investment.

Moving to slide nine, in the Nonutility group. Infrastructure services produced the first quarter loss of $5.3 million compared to earnings of $6.9 million in 2013. As Carl mentioned in our February 20th, earnings call we cautioned investors that first quarter 2014 results for infrastructure services will compare unfavorably to 2013, due to a major project underway in 2013 and due to the poor weather that we have seen year-to-date in 2014 at that point in time.

Now the abnormal weather stayed with this for the remainder of the first quarter, which resulted in an even greater loss than we expected at that time. But as many of our investors know first quarter loss for this construction business isn’t that normal since weather conditions can impact our ability to perform work.

So even though the weather has shorten the 2014 construction season, we were able to utilize some of the first quarter downtime per training and demanded easily strong enough to provide the opportunity to make up for the loss time over the remainder of the year. Speaking of demand, estimated backlog is approximately $585 million at March 31 compared to approximately $535 million at the end of 2013 and $445 million at the end of the first quarter of last year.

Demand for distribution projects mostly maintenance work and replacement is remained strong as Utility has continued to announce sizeable pipeline replacement programs. Several new gas and oil transmission projects including many in the Bakken are also ongoing. These projects include constructing new pipelines, pump stations and terminals. In addition, gas and oil pipeline companies continue to utilize our services for pipeline integrity and maintenance work.

As Carl commented, with typical weather and a significant step-up with crews, we believe we can achieve the expected results for the year.

Moving on to Energy Services on slide two, the business produced the first quarter loss of $3 million compared to a loss of $1.4 million in 2013, primarily due to the reduced gross margin on lower revenues in the absence of 179D tax deductions related to energy efficiency projects, both of which were consistent with our expectations.

We called out our plan for the year and going forward include the addition of some larger, sustainable and infrastructure projects that we expect were on lower gross margins on a percentage basis, yet will lead us towards a more profitable future.

In addition to the recent acquisition across (inaudible) ESG recently shared other good news that it was awarded $45 million sustainable infrastructure contract for the design and construction of energy efficiency and infrastructure improvement at the West Winchester, Virginia water reclamation facility. ESG is one of few energy services companies with experienced developing, designing, constructing and operating large sustainable projects such as these and this contract is a recent example of ESG's strategic focus on this sector. Including the recent acquisition, we're not expecting overall revenues for the Energy Services in 2014 of approximately $185 million and unit backlog of around $125 million.

Lastly for Energy Services, the improving outlook for federal work was boosted last Friday with President Obama's announced goal of $2 billion in energy efficiency upgrade to federal buildings in the next three years. This new goal doubles the initial $2 billion goal announced a few years ago and reinforces the opportunity for additional growth that we see in the near future for the federal segment of Energy Services.

Turning to slide 11; coal mining results were much improved in the first quarter with the loss of $1.1 million compared to a loss of $6 million in 2013. This significant improvement, which was expected and has us on track to meet expected earnings for 2014 was driven by higher sales at a higher price and a much lower cost per ton compared to the first quarter of 2013.

Now that both lower costs Oaktown mines are up and running well and productivity at Prosperity have significantly improved, production for the quarter of 1.8 million tons has coal mining on pace to meet the target of approximately 7.3 million tons for the year, which is approaching coal production levels. Cost per ton have continued to decline, averaging $44.92 in the first quarter compared to $45.63 in the fourth quarter of 2013 and $49 in the first quarter of last year.

Looking forward, we currently have over 7.2 million tons already sold for 2014 at an average price of about $44 per ton, which represents more than 95% of our expected total 2014 sales of 7.6 million. This includes delivery of the 300,000 tons that were delayed in the fourth quarter of 2013 due to weather and rail issues. In addition, we have 5.5 million [booked] for 2015 at an average price of approximately $45.50 per ton, which represents over 70% of full production of 7.5 million tons for the three mines.

Finally on slide 12, we have recap of our 2014 earnings guidance, which as Carl mentioned earlier, we’re pleased to affirm. Operator that concludes our prepared remarks, we are now ready for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions). Your first question comes from the line of Matt Tucker from KeyBanc Capital Markets. Your line is open.

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Good afternoon and congrats Jerry on the planned retirement and congrats to Susan on the new role. First question, most of my questions are on the non-utility side, but I just have one on the utility side. A customer growth both on the gas and electric side ticked up fairly noticeably in the quarter I guess probably the strongest, I guess one of the strongest quarters in several years. Does that say something about term underlying economic growth in your territory or should we not read into that too much?

Carl Chapman

Matt, this is Carl. I’ll comment on it. I would say that I wouldn’t read too much into yet, I think it’s a good turn, there is no question about that, but wouldn’t read too much yet. Obviously for one of the reasons is that we still have the winter that was very cool which caused building to be slow. We’ll see how fast that gets turned around. But there is no question that it’s a better look that it has been in sometime.

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thanks. And then on the infrastructure services side, can you give us a sense how much of year-over-year decline in revenue was attributable to the lack of the large pipeline you had last year versus how much was related to weather delays?

Jerry Benkert

Yes Matt, for competitive reasons we have never really disclosed by quarter our detailed revenue and margin on that particular project so that’s just not something we would want to do. I think what we would just focus you on is that again as long as we’ve got typical weather keep adding crews the way we are, we think we’ll be fine to hit what we laid for you at the start of the year.

Carl Chapman

And our overall projection for the year on the infrastructure is certainly as strong as last year; we obviously took into account the lack of the pipeline and making up that difference also.

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Fair enough. I guess as we look at the second quarter should we still think of that lack of that project as a headwind in terms of year-over-year growth or do you think that will largely be offset by kind of this make-up work that you now have that was delayed from the first quarter?

Jerry Benkert

Quarter-by-quarter as you know Matt, we don’t give guidance we would say a couple of things; obviously in terms of revenue there would be the headwinds of that project. But I would also say we also have some road restrictions that continue in the Bakken area which we have fully factored into how we think we make-up these earnings. So again, quarter-by-quarter we just don’t think is the key on this business, we really are focused on what can we get made up for the whole year.

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Got it. Thanks. One more and I will just back in the queue. Obviously you can’t control the weather and I think a lot of your peers in the pipeline contracting business saw similar impacts. But I guess in retrospect, do you think there is anything you could have done differently or lessons you learnt in the quarter that you could apply in the future periods where you see this kind weather impact?

Carl Chapman

I don’t think so. It really is going to be totally dependent on the kind of work that we have. And so what we focus on or things like making sure that we take advantage of this downtime to get people trained and those kinds of things. We did that; we will continue to do that in weather situations to make sure we can hang on to folks for our key crews. But I don’t know there is a lot that we learned here. I think it’s really going to be dependent on the type of work that we have and how bad is the weather. And I think you all know that the Bakken was particularly hit hard with snow and really cold.

Matt Tucker - KeyBanc Capital Markets

Thanks, guys.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). Your next question comes from Paul Patterson with Glenrock Associates. Your line is open.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Good morning -- good afternoon. Excuse me.

Carl Chapman

Good afternoon, Paul.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Just to focus on the CES acquisition for a second here. What was the -- you mentioned 2.5 of margin, could you define margin in terms of what does that mean; is that gross margin or is that -- what is that before and after I guess?

Carl Chapman

Yes. That actually I believe in that case is our earnings expectations from those contracts. And that’s really operating and maintenance contracts and so that’s what we expect. And again that is just based on history obviously. Those contracts can expand at times, but that’s what we would expect based on history.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

So pretax net income kind of thing?

Carl Chapman

Yes, that would be pretax.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Right. And then what was the level of goodwill associated with the merger?

Carl Chapman

That is not something we’ve disclosed at this point, we’ll probably have more information going forward.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Okay. Are there any merger synergies that we should think about with respect to this or is this sort of just a standalone kind of business?

Carl Chapman

Well, I think there’ll be some merger synergies, but there is no question that it was done related to the top-line. And we tried to describe why it's really driven by where we had our utility energy service contracts with our 12 utility partners which gives us different types of contracts. And so, it's -- there will always be some synergies to be had in a deal like this, but it really is about the top-line.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

You sounded pretty excited about sort of the opportunities coming out of the Obama administration what have you. Would you like to elaborate a little bit more in terms of what that might be for EGS going forward?

Carl Chapman

I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Well, the opportunities that you mentioned regarding the recent announcements from the Obama administration regarding energy efficiency projects and what have you, you seem pretty excited by that. And I was just wondering if you could elaborate a little bit further on that.

Carl Chapman

Sure. Yes. And again, we think these 2 entities, the strings blend very nicely together, because of the different kind of contracts. And so what President Obama announced is just additional energy efficiency projects through 2016 for federal government units. And so with what we have in our existing on with the relationships on the utility side and now what we pick up in these additional contracts, it gives us a real nice opportunity to take advantage of additional projects that the Obama administration will address over the next three years.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Okay. And then switch to the coal mining issue now; I know you guys don't want to talk about 2015 in any great detail. But I was just wondering in terms of the general flavor for what you're seeing here now that we've got a little further into the year, any sense directionally you want to talk about in terms of what the outlook might be going out beyond this year?

Carl Chapman

Nothing in specific just as you mentioned, but we will just say conceptually is what we've been saying which is first of all, we’ve mentioned that we've got about 70% sold and we've given you the dollar amount that that those are sold at versus our expectations for revenue per ton this year. And beyond that, we continue to focus on Oaktown continuing in the ramp up mode, so there should be some improvement in costs and we're continuing to focus on trying to improve the cost at Prosperity. So directionally, we're comfortable with those comments. But beyond that, you're right; we're not really getting into ‘15 at this point.

Paul Patterson - Glenrock Associates

Okay. Thanks a lot.

Carl Chapman

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Sarah Akers from Wells Fargo. Your line is open.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo

Good afternoon. Just a follow-up to Paul’s question on energy services with CES having more of a foot hold in the federal projects, can you talk about the typical characteristics and margin levels of those projects relative to ESG's current mix?

Carl Chapman

Yes, and we've tried to take, say in the metric Sarah, we have tried to take account for the fact of what we expect margins to be. We really don't want to get into describing margins in detail by business unit for competitive reasons. But if you look there at the indication of margin, we try to give you a sense of what we expect. And that's both due to the fact of the federal unit acquisition, but also the fact that we've going down the path of trying to land more sustainable infrastructure projects which are bigger and have a bit lower margin. So, that lower margin that we have in our metrics versus prior years, takes into account both of those things.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo

Got it. And then one on coal. Can you talk about what you're seeing for 2015 market coal prices relative to the current 45.50 hedge price?

Carl Chapman

Yes, we would not have a lot of detail to provide today, but we would certainly acknowledge that prices are a bit lower than that right now. On the other hand, depending on the utility, the piles their co-piles, there is very different situation by utility. Some of the utilities are really starting to pick up buying right now because of the -- their own co-pile situation. So we expect that price to continue to move. But right now, if you were to look at it, the price is lower than that 45.50.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo

Got it. And then I think that 70% hedge level is the same as it was as of the year-end call. Are you intentionally waiting because you think that prices are going to strengthen throughout the rest of this year or should we expect ratable hedges to be layered on for the balance of ‘14?

Carl Chapman

I think you could expect that we’d be willing to do it ratably. We’re not sitting around as well; we don’t look at it that way; we really look at what makes the most sense for the long-term. And we think continuing to sell the coal as the opportunities are there is the right way and not just wait for higher price.

Sarah Akers - Wells Fargo

Great. Thanks a lot.

Operator

(Operator Instructions). And we’re showing no further questions in the queue. I’ll turn the call back over to the presenters.

Robert Goocher

Thank you, operator. Well we’d like to thank everyone for joining us on our call today. On behalf of our entire team, we appreciate your continued interest in Vectren. As Carl mentioned earlier, we will be attending the AGA Financial Forum next week and we look forward to seeing many of you there. With that we’ll conclude our call for today. Thanks again for your participation.

Operator

This concludes today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.

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