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Rentech Nitrogen Partners LP (NYSE:RNF)

Q1 2014 Earnings Conference Call

May 13, 2014 4:30 AM ET

Executives

Julie Dawoodjee Cafarella – Vice President, Investor Relations and Communications

D. Hunt Ramsbottom – President and Chief Executive Officer

Dan J. Cohrs – Chief Financial Officer & Executive Vice President

Marc E. Wallis – Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing

Analysts

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

Operator

Welcome to the Rentech Nitrogen First Quarter 2014 Conference Call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session.

I will now turn the call over to Julie Cafarella, Vice President of Investor Relations. You may begin.

Julie Cafarella

Welcome to the Rentech Nitrogen’s conference call for the three months ended March 31, 2014. During this call, Hunt Ramsbottom, CEO of Rentech Nitrogen, will summarize the partnership’s activities during the quarter. Dan Cohrs, our Chief Financial Officer, will give a financial review of the quarter, and provide our financial outlook.

Also, in the room with us today are John Diesch, President of Rentech Nitrogen, and Marc Wallis, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, who will be available along with Hunt and Dan for the questions at the end of our prepared remarks. Please be advised that certain information discussed on this conference call will contain forward-looking statements. They can be identified by the use of terms such as may, will, expect, believe, and other comparable terms.

You are cautioned that while forward-looking statements reflect our good faith belief and best judgment, based upon current information, they are not guarantees of future performance. They are subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties and risk factors. We detail these factors from time to time in the Partnership’s reports and registration statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Note that the forward- looking statements in this call are made as of May 13, 2014. Rentech Nitrogen doesn’t revise or update these forward-looking statements, except to the extent that it’s required to do so under applicable law. In addition, today’s presentation includes various non-GAAP financial measures. The disclosures related to these non-GAAP measures, including reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures, are included in our 2014 first quarter earnings press release. You can find the release on our website.

Now, I’ll turn the call over to Hunt.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

We are pleased to report that Rentech Nitrogen’s first quarter financial and operating performance has improved significantly over the fourth quarter of 2013.

During the quarter, both facilities operated very well. We are producing at or above new nameplate production capacities. The ammonia plant at East Dubuque facility operated at 100%, and the UAN plant ran at 98%. This compares to 35% for ammonia and 39% for UAN in the fourth quarter. Our team did a fantastic job getting East Dubuque running after the fourth quarter of last year.

Onstream rates at the Pasadena facility improved to 81% for ammonium sulfate, and 98% for the sulfuric acid plant. This is up from fourth quarter rates of 60% and 78% respectively. We’re on track to achieve close to 90% onstream rate at the ammonium sulfate plant, and that’s by midyear. This is the targeted maximum onstream rate for that facility. We generated $0.08 per unit in the first quarter. Results for the quarter were seasonally low, although we expect a much improved second quarter.

First quarter results were impacted by lower product prices and higher natural gas prices, compared to last year. In addition, last year, we had an unusually high volume of UAN sales in the first quarter of 2013. A very cold and prolonged winter pushed natural gas prices higher, and our natural gas committee did – made some very smart moves in the quarter, keeping our gas costs relatively low, despite reasonably higher gas prices.

These decisions netted gross profits of $3.1 million on gas sales. These transactions contributed to better than expected results for the quarter. Overall Rentech Nitrogen made some great progress this quarter.

I’ll now turn it over to Dan. Dan?

Dan J. Cohrs

Right now, we’re seeing good deliveries out of East Dubuque, so we’re looking for overall improvement in the second quarter compared to the first. The first quarter showed mainly declines from last year’s strong first quarter. Let’s look at the first quarter results. For East Dubuque, revenues came in at $28.5 million, down 18% from last year. In Pasadena, we saw revenues up 11% at $27.8 million on much higher volume, although lower prices.

Gross profit margins at both plants dropped by roughly the same amount. In East Dubuque, the gross profit margin came in at 44%, down from 54% last year and the Pasadena gross profit margin was 5%, down from 16% as we normally see lower margins at the Pasadena plant.

SG&A for the partnership was up slightly and that was mainly due to personnel and severance costs at the Pasadena plant, as we changed out some personnel there. That brought us down to net income per unit of $0.08, which was down from $0.38 last year.

Adjusted EBITDA showed similar trends as we reported $11.5 million of EBITDA this quarter versus $20.6 million in the first quarter last year. Deliveries of UAN were better than usual at 49,000 tons, but that was still a decline from 61,000 a year ago. A lot of tons were delayed from the fourth quarter of 2012 and delivered in the first quarter of 2013, following a plant outage in 2012.

Deliveries of urea were up by 18% and AS deliveries more than doubled. The urea expansion project that we completed in early 2013 gave us more product, and we were able to sell the increased volume.

Ammonium sulfate deliveries also increased, thanks in part to higher production, following our capacity expansion in Pasadena. Ammonia got off to a late start this year with first quarter deliveries down by about one-third. Product prices were shortly down from the first quarter of last year, but that was in line with what we saw for the entire industry.

In the first quarter of this year, we averaged $541 per ton for ammonia deliveries that was down 27% from last year. UAN price averaged $265 this quarter, down 12% from last year, and ammonium sulfate came in at $191 per ton, 40% down from last year, all of that’s in line with the 25% to 30% price declines that we saw last year for nitrogen products.

The price of the natural gas that ran through our cost of sales in the quarter was one-third higher than it was in last year’s first quarter that showed the affects of the long cold winter that we just went through. We used 8% less gas as we reduced production when we sold gas for a profit and as we completed the repairs on the compressor foundation.

The average price of gas that ran through cost of sales was $5.28, which was an increase of about a third from $3.97 in the first quarter of last year. Those gas statistics are net of the effects of selling gas in the quarter.

Natural gas was about 50% of the cost of sales for the East Dubuque for the first quarter. Prices for the key inputs for the Pasadena facility were down from the first quarter of last year, but total cost of sales increased deliveries, because deliveries of ammonium sulfate were up more than 100%.

Results improved over the fourth quarter, but as we expected ammonium sulfate product margins were near break-even in the first quarter. The tons we sold were sitting in inventory at year end and they were mark-to-market based on expected sales prices that were close to the prices we realized in the first quarter that left very little margin.

Maintenance CapEX in Pasadena increased by almost $2 million in Q1 to a total of $3.7 million for the project to replace the sulfuric acid converter. Even though we classify that project as maintenance CapEx, this spending does not affect cash available for distribution, because we financed this project with the senior notes that we issued last year.

Growth CapEx was down 80% at East Dubuque from $8.9 million to $1.8 million, as we completed the ammonia expansion project. At Pasadena, growth CapEx increased by $1.9 million for the Cogen project, and the total was $2.4 million. We finished the quarter with $37 million of cash.

In East Dubuque, we expect significantly better second quarter results. We are in the midst of what currently looks like a strong spring application season. Deliveries have been robust so far in the second quarter. EBITDA for the East Dubuque facility in 2014 should be considerably better than it was in 2013, although we don’t yet have much insight into pricing for the second half of the year.

Domestic prices for ammonium sulfate have improved so far in the second quarter, but the scarcity of rail cars throughout North America has hampered domestic deliveries. To help solve this problem, we released rail cars directly and we’ve been able to shift, but our domestic spring deliveries will be lower than we previously expected for the second quarter.

AS margins have been squeezed internationally. The situation in the Ukraine has reduced production and led to higher prices for ammonia, which is the key input. Prices for ammonium sulfate have declined as we are seeing more exports from China of both AS and urea, which competes with AS.

Because of these factors, we now expect the Pasadena facility to be near break-even EBITDA for the second quarter and for the full-year of 2014. Forecasts of key operating metrics for the second quarter of 2014 appeared in today’s press release. These projections assume a typical spring planting season and normal weather.

Our quarterly results maybe very different than our projections, as deliveries can slip from one quarter into the next based on weather or other factors. Our guidance for the second quarter or any quarter should not be annualized to gauge our projected annual results, because the business is so seasonal.

Looking forward for ammonia, we’ve locked in an average price of $538 per ton on 39% of the deliveries that we expect in 2014. For UAN, we’ve locked the price of $285 per ton on 31% of forecasted deliveries for the year. In line with our general policy of purchasing gas to stabilize margins on pre-sold product, we secured 39% of the natural gas that we expect to need for 2014 production at an average price of $5.02 per million Btu, including transportation.

For ammonium sulfate, we’ve locked in 36% of the expected deliveries for the year at an average price of $199, all of that as of April 30. So given the activity so far this spring, we are looking for a much stronger second quarter and back to you Hunt?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

The spring application period is off to a great start. Demand for nitrogen remains very strong. The USDA forecast 2014 corn plantings to be close to $92 million acres. This will be the fifth largest corn acreage in the U.S. since 1944. The high level of expected corn acreage supports strong nitrogen application for the spring season.

Last week WASDE report estimates the 2014, 2015 ending corn stocks of $1.73 billion bushels. The WASDE – the USDA based its forecast on estimates of higher yields and lower exports. However, it’s really too early to tell if this will be the case. The weather will need to be nearly perfect to achieve yields 165 million bushels per acre. Yields of over 160 have only occurred twice before. That’s why other industry forecasters estimated lower yields this year than the USDA does. We see the potential for the ending corn stocks to come down, because of the possibility of lower yields and higher exports.

South America is the second largest global importer of corn is experiencing dry weather this year. There is also the geopolitical risk in the Ukraine that Dan mentioned, the third largest exporter of corn. Overall, we still see strong support for nitrogen demand as we think about 2014 the expansions and improvements at both facilities have positioned us for better performance.

Rentech, the General Partner of Rentech Nitrogen recently received $150 million investment from Blackstone’s GSO. The investment is a real vote of confidence in our fertilizer business. It was a result of a thorough evaluation of the East Dubuque and Pasadena facilities, our business plans, and our management team. They intend to be a long-term partner and Rentech Nitrogen will benefit greatly from its access to new opportunities and capital.

We’ll now take questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session (Operator Instructions) We have a question from Christopher Parkinson from Credit Suisse. Please go ahead.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Hi, good afternoon. This is Tom filling in for Chris.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Hi, Tom.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Looking to your distributions, you retained about $1.3 million to replenish the working capital you set aside last quarter. Is this something we can expect you to continue doing until the $18 million or so remaining is replenished?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Tom, this is Hunt. We haven’t made official decision on that. And as we usually do each quarter, we review it with the Board and we will make that decision as we move toward next quarter results.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Okay, great. Thank you. And then looking at your ammonia guidance…

Dan J. Cohrs

We’ve got the option of that and/or doing debt. So that’s why, I’m not being cagey, but that’s – we haven’t yet resolved that.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Okay, fair. Thank you.

Dan J. Cohrs

Yep.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

So anyway looking at your ammonia guidance, you have 70,000 tons locked in $538. When did you actually lock in these sales, and are you expecting any sort of pricing benefit towards the end of the quarter, as the pricing in the corn belt has remained high?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yes, I will turn that over to Marc.

Marc E. Wallis

Yes. So the 70,000 that’s reflected in the script were tons that were taken in the spring, excuse me, through the winter of last year locked in for spring delivery. Those have been shipped through the spring season and on a forward basis, we will be through the prepay in the next two weeks. So on a forward basis, we’re flat, the 70,000 is reflective of the full year’s sales. The market in general shows good strength as we look into the second half of the year compared to where we were a year ago.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Okay, that’s helpful. And then, sticking with pricing, can you comment on any sort of pricing that you’re seeing for UAN, and current pricing for ammonium sulfate as well?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

So right now, we’re seeing UAN approximately $345 in our marketplace. And domestic sulfur pricing, Marc, what are you seeing now domestic versus international?

Marc E. Wallis

Upstream today, we are looking at a $300 market, short ton basis out of the terminals. Offshore, though, as we mentioned in the script, the pricing, especially in Brazil, it’s been under pressure. A little disconnect from the domestic market and we’re under margin squeeze because of the escalation in ammonia and disconnect between the two products. But the Brazilian market today is running about 225 CFR metric.

Tom Ackerman – Credit Suisse

Okay, great. Thank you for taking my questions.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Thank you.

Operator

And the next question is from Adam Samuelson from Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Yes, thanks. Good afternoon, everyone.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yes.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Question first on Pasadena, the new guidance for EBITDA break-even this year. Is that really just the pricing and mix to more international shipments, or is there anything on the operating cost side that, beyond the inflationary environment, that’s driving that?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yes, – no Adam it’s really, – I think when you look at Pasadena over the last few months, we’ve increased production, improved reliability, and we reduced our overall cost per ton. We’ve gained market share on our product domestically and internationally. So from that perspective what we can control, we’re doing a very good job at that, and it really does come down to the input prices that we described and the soft product prices in South America.

And our view, that’s a short-term situation both on the geopolitical issues that’s driving those ammonium prices upwards, and hopefully that settles down, and we’ll get back to some normalcy here. And I think we’re also seeing the issue with the – with transport in the U.S. now settle down, so we can get access to those markets. So it really – that’s the issue.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Yes. So for the full year, I mean, I think last quarter you said you were running about 60/40 domestic/international on AS shipments. What – is that expectation meaningfully different today for the year?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Right now, we expect approximately the same this year. But, again, we’re going to watch the international markets carefully, and if we have to curtail sales internationally, if the margins aren’t as strong, we will do so.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay, that’s helpful. And then maybe just staying down there, has there been any thought or kind of exploratory work to look and see if you can find a long-term ammonia supply contract, tied to natural gas at the Gulf? I know – for – I mean for other producers, it actually creates a more steady income stream with more MLP-like income characteristics. Have you done any exploratory work to see if you can try to disconnect your ammonia costs from global ammonia prices?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

We are absolutely in discussions all the time and exploring those opportunities, and those are live today. And we’re exploring opportunities, how we can level out the margin situation in Pasadena, and that’s about all I can say on that, but those discussions are going on today.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

Okay, that’s helpful. And then finally from me, I know maybe it’s a little premature at this point, but UAN at East Dubuque – any view to summer fill at this point? And obviously pricing has been pretty healthy in the corn belt this spring, but summer fill isn’t that far away at this point. Any expectations or preliminary thoughts there?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yes. I think Marc is best positioned to give us some color there, Marc?

Marc E. Wallis

Good afternoon, Adam. The spring season is starting to move heavily in our trade zone on the UAN front. We have actually started getting some interest inquires for the summer period, and the price target level for us and I think where the buyers are going to start putting some money down, will be at or slightly above levels that we saw last year. And to add a little bit more color, when you look at offshore supplies and what the landed cost at New Orleans are on a forward basis, it looks like the markets gravitating towards the same kind of price dynamics or slightly higher than we saw one year ago.

Adam Samuelson – Goldman Sachs & Co.

All right. That’s very helpful. I’ll pass it on. Thanks very much.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Thank you.

Operator

The next question is from Brent Rystrom from Feltl. Please go ahead.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

Thank you. A quick follow-on to that, Marc. By summer refill, I assume you’re thinking this side project is going to be at higher prices, than the side rusting completes will rotate to the lower pricing.

Marc E. Wallis

That would be correct, Brent.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

All right. Out of curiosity from applications so far in the season, it’s been a very difficult season to do a lot of stuff here in the Midwest. How does the ammonia mix in the second quarter look, compared to historic averages?

Marc E. Wallis

It’s Marc. The – our ammonia business did start off a little late. Our volumes have been in line with what we have sold in the past, and we actually would have sold more tonnage, had we produced additional tons in the January period. We noted we were down in the first 15 days to 18 days of the month. So we zeroed our inventory out and sold everything we had available, and I would classify it as a very good ammonia year for East Dubuque. And probably the industry in general, I think we’ve purged ammonia out of the system and that’s going to be supportive as we move into the summer and hopefully into next fall.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

And then I would assume with all the moisture, there’s a lot of areas that couldn’t get ammonia, so I would expect a pretty good UAN side re-sap. Would that seem reasonable?

Marc E. Wallis

Yes, we would agree with that.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

From a margin perspective, or gross margin perspective, heavier UAN mix implies a little bit lower gross margin rate, but higher gross margin dollars. Is that a fair assessment?

Marc E. Wallis

Actually on a per ton basis, the gross margin on ammonia is better than UAN at that $675 price point. But margins are good on both product lines, so..

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

And I would – Brent, I would say your math is probably right. Gross margin dollars would probably be a little higher, because obviously you produce more tons of UAN than you do of just ammonia. So I think you are right, the math should work out the way you said.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

All right. And then final question for me, I would imagine you gu8ys statistically should have a much better fall ammonia application season. If we get all the acres planted in your region, last year, you had to have literally a million acres within a couple hundred miles of you that didn’t get planted, didn’t need the fall nitrogen app of ammonia to break up the corn stocks. Any thoughts on how that is comparing acres year-over-year?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Brent, this is Hunt. We would agree with that and then of course, depending on the weather situation, but that statement, we would agree on.

Brent Rystrom – Feltl & Company

All right. Thanks, guys.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yep.

Operator

The next question is from Joel Jackson from BMO. Please go ahead.

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

Hi, thanks. Good afternoon.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Hi, Joel.

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

Hi, thanks. I just wanted to ask firstly, in prior years, you have been giving distribution guidance, full-year guidance. We’re now into May and you’re not doing that. Maybe you could talk about some of the rationale around that? Thanks.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Yes, we haven’t – as we said at the beginning of the year, this is Hunt, that we weren’t going to give guidance annually. As we move towards the fall, we probably – and we get again better visibility on the year we will do so. But we will give quarterly guidance on what we think tons will be in so forth as we’ve been doing this year. But I wouldn’t expect we will be putting out annual guidance until we start moving more towards the fall application?

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

What if your competitors on the continent announced in the last week or so that they had hedged a fair bit of their gas for 2016, 2017, and 2018 to lock in some of their costs and provide more predictable cash flow. Have you considered and looked at some of the options there, can you maybe talk about the options are, and what conditions would make it right for you to do that?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

We have looked at options and we continue to look at options. And I think we frankly are going to get more visibility in that with our partner at Blackstone and GSO. So we are continuing to look at that. We know it’s been an issue. Our competitors were able to do that and we would like to able to do that. And so that is one of the things that’s on our agenda and my agenda for this year with the team. I don’t know if Dan if you want to elaborate any further on that?

Dan J. Cohrs

Yes, as you know our policy is to lock margins when we do forward sales, which is a pretty conservative strategy. So we lock in margins as we sell the product. There are pros and cons to hedging gas out further as you follow the strip out. So, we’ve looked at it. We are also looking at possibly some more creative ways of managing our long-term gas costs other than just locking in strip.

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

Okay, thanks, Dan. And finally on ammonium sulfate, I think we’ve seen some lower pricing from since caprolactam in China in China that’s maybe pressuring some of the markets. Maybe you could comment on some of that how it’s affecting your markets?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Marc, why don’t you take that?

Marc E. Wallis

Yes. Joe, there is no question in our opinion, or in our view that the additional and capital production that’s been brought on and still will be brought on in China is having an influence on our granular sales. I mean, we get a significant premium above the capital level, but as they press the values down, our net selling price also is coming down.

We think over time though, the new productions yielding much lower rates of AS, and comparatively speaking to the old and efficient facilities. And at some point the capital acting market has been under a pretty significant squeeze. We think that we will take of inefficient facilities over time and that relationship is one-third less ammonium sulphate on the new facilities versus the old. So you can build the picture at some point in the future that ammonium sulphate actually could be very tight.

Joel Jackson – BMO capital Markets

Thanks, guys

Operator

And we have a question from Matt Farrell from Imperial Capital. Please go ahead.

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

Hi, guys, just wondering if you could clarify on the – an earlier question, regarding pricing in the second half. Was it implied that pricing is going to fall, relative to posted pricing, what you’re seeing today in the spring?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Matt, if I understand that question right, you are asking is pricing going to fall from the current level into second half of the year?

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

Yes.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

That would be our view, and I think that’s a true – this fits into the cyclicality of the business. And we were marketing pretty aggressively at the $675 price point that has the ammonia season is starting to wind down right now. I think we’re still going to sell additional tons at that level. Then as we move into summer prices will come off, and as we move into Q4, I think it will come up again. But today, I don’t think we will move back to the $675 level when we get into the fall period, it would be nice if we could, but today we’re not seeing it.

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

And then just from a macro perspective you have two offsetting forces. You have the turmoil in the Ukraine, and you have the urea exports from China. I mean, is the net of these deterioration in the business, is that the way we should be looking at it, or does the higher price point for ammonia help the East Dubuque plant, relatively speaking which may offset Pasadena?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Well, this is – Matt, it’s Hunt. It certainly helps East Dubuque, and I always said that long when we purchased the facility, it certainly would help East Dubuque, and it doesn’t help Pasadena. I will say, we think as I said earlier, this is a – we think it’s a short-term issue from everything we see and we’ve also done some terrific work with some of our suppliers to low our input costs, which I think we’ll see on a go-forward basis.

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

Okay. And in terms of Pasadena, you mentioned that the thought of potentially – even in worst case scenario, focusing on domestic sales. I mean, is that a scenario that is feasible, or would that involve a fair amount of fixed costs not being passed through the gross margin line item?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

I will address the market question first and then maybe Dan might want to comment on the finance on the technical side of it. From a market perspective, Matt, we’re continuing to gain traction in the domestic market, which does give us good returns even under today’s compressed values. The – when we move offshore we also are focusing some of our tons, and an increasingly larger amount we hope into premium markets that do give us margin, again, even in today’s margin squeeze.

Where we’re really seeing the issue is in the Brazilian market, which is key to us. And that market I don’t think it’s going to change near-term. We really need to see the ammonia market readjust relative to the other nitrogen complex to put some margin back in that business. And that’s what we’re indicating if the margins are not there on that particular – on those sales, we are willing to forgo them if we have to if the margins are not right.

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

And what percentage of sales is Brazil?

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

At a 25%, 30%....

Matt Farrell – Imperial Capital

Got it. All right, that’s it for me. Thanks.

D. Hunt Ramsbottom

Thank you.

Operator

We have no further questions at this time. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s conference. Thank you for participating. You may now disconnect.

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