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Dow Chemical Co. (NYSE:DOW)

Goldman Sachs Basic Materials Conference Call

May 21, 2014, 10:35 AM ET

Executives

Howard Ungerleider - Executive Vice President, Advanced Materials

Analysts

Unidentified Analyst

All right, folks, we're going to continue on with the program. Very pleased now to have Dow's Executive VP, and of course, many of us know from his, once upon a time tenure in IR, Howard Ungerleider. Howard, we're going to do as we've done all day, dispense with all the usual superfluous stuff and get right to.

Howard Ungerleider

I've brought my 30 PowerPoint slides.

Unidentified Analyst

First, I want to ask you just maybe talk about where Dow is today overall in its strategy, the priorities, what you're trying to execute? How do you get to this path of $10 billion and beyond? And just sort of give us an update on where you guys see in terms of that strategic path?

Howard Ungerleider

Yes, sure. Absolutely, happy, thanks for having me, Bob, I appreciate it. It feels good to be back here, little bit like old home week, seeing lots of familiar faces in the hallways and in the meeting rooms.

From an overall enterprise standpoint, what we're focused on is really this continued steady drumbeat and march forward of going narrower in the markets that we're selecting in and then going deeper in those markets.

You saw, we delivered $8.4 billion of EBITDA last year. You talked about the $10 billion. We've got north of $3 billion of catalyst, when you think about the different buckets. You've got the investment bucket, so clearly Sadara and our Gulf Coast projects. We invest between $2 billion, $2.5 billion of EBITDA or more. You've got our productivity savings that we had continued to get into the income statement, that's about $350 million over the next '14 and '15.

You've got our innovation where we are very much focused on playing in markets where science and technology differentiation, low cost to serve and operational excellence can allow us to get that sustainable competitive advantage over the long run. So innovation is clearly one of the levers. And there you've got Enlist. We can talk about Enlist, that's at least $1 billion NPV to Dow AgroSciences.

And then you've got our carve-out. So we talked about the chlorine carve-out as another lever, $4.5 billion to $6 billion. And all of those are the key buckets that we can talk through and that gets you north of $10 billion and on the way to even more.

And then one of the other things we've been very much focused on is total shareholder return. So you saw that our stock buyback program, we expanded that to $4.5 billion. Program to date, that's a $1.5 billion, and then we raised the dividend 15%, which is our view of the confidence that management and the board has and the implementation of the strategy, the continued growth in earnings, and then as a result as earnings grow continue to remunerate shareholders.

Unidentified Analyst

So if you had to characterize from a general standpoint, what exactly is Dow Chemical. How would you say?

Howard Ungerleider

We're an integrated downstream science and technology company that's focused on markets and going deeper in there and went into those markets. Things like packaging, things like electronics, markets like coatings and ag, those are some of the big ones.

Unidentified Analyst

So let's talk about a couple that you have responsibility for, electronics in particular, I mean you've got pretty terrific margins there, but we haven't seen a heck lot of growth in the last few years. Can you talk about why do you have such good margins? Why hasn't there been more growth? And what do you see on the horizon?

Howard Ungerleider

So Electronic and Functional Materials as a reporting segment had 23% EBITDA margins last year. It's really two big pieces of that operating segment. Electronics is slightly above the EBITDA margin, the average for the segment. You've got functional materials, which is slightly below. You're right. The topline has not really grown on the Electronic Materials side. If you think about our EM business, 70% is basically focused on the semiconductor.

We have roughly 80% share of the mechanical planarization CMP pads business. And so as go the MSI, millions of square inches of silicon, goes our semiconductor business. That industry for probably the last several decades has had a long-term CAGR of between 6% and 8%.

The last several years it's basically been no growth from an industry standpoint in MSI. And you got to go one level down to understand why you've got significant growth in smartphones and tablets, but that has been completely offset from an MSI perspective on the PC declines.

So PCs were, last several years, were down 13%, 12%. Last year PCs were down about 9%. Going forward, certainly the industry consultants like, Gartner, they predicted MSI this year growth will be about 5%. I would tell you I'm a little bit more conservative than that.

I would probably be in the 3% to 4% range. You're going to have PCs probably be more like flat. And then you're going to continue to see robust growth in smartphones and tablets, a new category, phablets, where you see people walking around with a smartphone that looks like an iPad, exactly, it looks like a Samsung?

Unidentified Analyst

Did I help the cause?

Howard Ungerleider

You did help the cause. There is Dow OLED industry potentially in there. So you're going to start to see some industry growth, which will be a nice tailwind. We will continue to grow in some market segments. In electronics, OLED chemistry is a great one. That's around $1.5 billion to $2 billion market opportunity. Dow is a key player in that business and that will be a significant growth engine for Electronic Materials business and Advanced Packaging.

So as the form factors continue to get smaller and more flexible and variable, you've got stack chips, and you've got to be able to get the heat out of those chips faster to enable the longer battery life and Dow has some interesting metallization chemistry. We're the number one player globally in metallization as well as in CMP. And so that's going to be another growth engine.

On the functional material side, we're are very focused on a few key markets, its food ingredients, pharma ingredients, home and personal care, and then in the energy space. Those are the key market segments. And we've got roadmaps in each one of those markets, where we're taking Dow chemistry and focusing on growth. So you should see growth return. We're not going to be back to the 6%, 7%, 8% CAGR on the MSI basis, but in the 3% to 4% range, and then having to 4% to 5% in the next couple of years.

Unidentified Analyst

Do you get the sense that as people just love to talk about ethylene and such things, this business just doesn't gets it fair shake?

Howard Ungerleider

I mean I think I love to talk about all parts of Dow. I mean Electronic and Functional Materials is a big one. You talked about the profitability. The margins are very good. They are very steady. We got to focus on just continuing to get the growth side of that business. But you know, it takes all parts of Dow to deliver the numbers.

Unidentified Analyst

Maybe a yang to that ying, let's talk about your other business, Coatings and Infrastructure, where you've been under some pretty good pressure, I think margins about half the level, we were just talking about in electronics in the low double-digits, but there was a little spur here recently, maybe Dow Corning influence. But can you talk about where margins used to be, where they are today? What you're doing from the cost saving standpoint? Obviously, you've got a PDH plant on the horizon, and so as we move forward, why we can get excited about this division?

Howard Ungerleider

I'm glad you noticed that the coatings moved up and certainly Dow Corning helped. But even if you extract out the Dow Corning numbers, the Coatings and Infrastructure businesses within Dow have delivered nice volume growth and a little bit of earnings growth. And so we've got the momentum on our side. I would say last several years have certainly been tough.

We are very much a northern hemisphere kind of construction and infrastructure. We're a big player in North America. And I would say, the last several years, if you skip 2013, because we saw that trend reverse itself in really the back half of '12 and most of '13, but the prior years before that it was a tough battle in construction in North America. So that's the bad news. But the good news is that period of time is behind us. In the next several years, I feel much better about the infrastructure and construction space in North America.

We even saw some signs of life in Europe in the first quarter, which contributed to some of those numbers and we're winning with customers. So if you look at our Coatings Materials business, last year we delivered, the market grew probably around 5%. We grew our emulsions business on a volume basis 10% last year. So we're starting to win again with customers. It's been a few years that I have not been able to say that, but that's going very well.

We're delivering technology in the marketplace, whether it's the much talked about EVOQUE or the lesser talked about FORMASHIELD technology, which sucks formaldehyde out of the air that we actually launched in China and we just now launched it earlier this year in North America at the American Coating Show or a FASTRACK bringing our traffic paint around the world, where we have a leading position.

So we're starting to win with customers. We put out a 300 basis point improvement in our margins from where they were. At the end of last year it was around 13%. About half of that is going to come from productivity, self-help, continue to optimize the cost structure and the other piece is going to come from partly the PDH plant that will come up around this time next year as well as market growth.

Unidentified Analyst

And on the PDH, I think you guys have said the economics that drives that $450 million of benefit is based on more historic spreads, not super-fat juicy spreads we see today.

Howard Ungerleider

No. If we were to say, point in time today, we will be north of that number. So that's [Multiple Speakers]. I have to talk to my IR colleagues, see if we've disclosed that, but probably not. But I would say we feel very comfortable that the $450 million is a real sustainable number.

Unidentified Analyst

And what's your view obviously, you buy propylene in one of your business. What's your view on the long-term price outlook for propylene? I mean, as you and others build PDH units, are we finally going to see some moderation or is it going to stay at a premium?

Howard Ungerleider

I think when we think about propylene, we think about propane, we think about PDH economics, in long-term our view -- my view, is propylene will trade with alkylate values. I mean there is just an economic incentive for the refineries to do that. There is also a product mix incentive, as the refineries continue to get lighter feeds in they're going to need alkylation capability to be able to hit the octane levels on the gasoline spec. So that will likely be where propylene trades.

And then if you look at propane, my view is propane will likely as now we've moved from being an importer of propane to being an exporter of propane from a U.S. perspective, propane is going to need to trade at a discount to European propane in order to suck those molecules out of the U.S.

And historically propane has over the long-run traded at about 70% of Brent propanes in an over supply situation globally because of a lot of the builds in Australia and Qatar. Certainly, the U.S. ramp will probably make that, put pressure on that 70% numbers, so there is likely to be downside on that number, but let's say, $200 a ton below European propane to bring it out.

Unidentified Analyst

And I've got obviously a thick list of questions here, but I know given the broad range of products here and the knowledge you have, there has got to be some questions from the audience, so let me give them a chance.

Howard Ungerleider

Please.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Analyst

Just one, when your PDH plant comes online, does that make you completely independent? You will no longer need to buy third-party C3 anymore?

Howard Ungerleider

No. It allows us to basically get close, but we'll roughly be a third propylene in North America, a third propylene coming off of our crackers, a third coming off of PDH, and a little bit less than a third still in the marketplace.

Unidentified Analyst

And to that end, do you got a contract with PetroLogistics through '18, I think, is that right?

Howard Ungerleider

That's right.

Unidentified Analyst

And what would be your expectations? Will there be another PDH unit? You guys have talked about before.

Howard Ungerleider

We'll make that decision, we really want to get the first PDH unit up running, wind out, and then we'll take a look, but certainly we could the second PDH.

Unidentified Analyst

And the unit you're starting next year, is that the first time that technology has been used?

Howard Ungerleider

No. It's a very well-qualified technology.

Unidentified Analyst

So we should expect a smooth startup?

Howard Ungerleider

It should be a very smooth startup.

Unidentified Analyst

We've heard so many mix signals about what's going on in the economy, yesterday it looked lousy, today it looks a little better. So my question to you is Dow probably has one of the broadest reaches of anybody in the whole world as knowing what's going on in the economy, et cetera. So from your advantage point, do you feel better about business today than you did in the beginning of the year, in terms of where you're going, where Dow is going, your product line, or maybe Dow, in general? And another one was what I'm trying to get you to say is that business is getting better, and things of that nature, based on the economy? If it's not, I want you to say that, or whatever you want to say?

Howard Ungerleider

That's a great tip. You want me to be an economist on the one hand and on the other hand.

Unidentified Analyst

Tie one hand behind your back.

Howard Ungerleider

What's that?

Unidentified Analyst

Tie one hand behind your back.

Howard Ungerleider

Overall, I feel good that not necessarily from a macro standpoint, but I feel very good based on all the catalyst that we talked about inclusive of Dow self-help that we have a path to go from the $8.4 billion of earnings last year to up to well north of $10 billion. And we've been on this steady drumbeat now for quite some time.

So through the first quarter we've got six quarters in a row of year-over-year EBITDA and year-over-year EPS growth. We've got five quarters of sequential return on capital improvement certainly, and it depends on the markets. So now I'll do my economist thing, it depends on the market and the geography.

So infrastructure, construction, certainly a big part of Advanced Materials, about 38%, 39% of Advanced Materials is infrastructure construction related, about just under 20% of Dow is infrastructure, construction. I feel increasingly better about that space over the next several years than I certainly have in the last several years. Certainly, the ag space continues to do well.

Europe. Europe was actually a surprise positively to us in the first quarter, low single-digit kind of growth, but certainly not shrinking. I would say the jury from my perspective on Europe is still out. The North America winter we had, no matter whether you were in Midland, Michigan, Philadelphia or even Houston, you had some ice days, I understand. We had a tough North America winter and I think we also had the European winter in North America as well. Europe basically didn't have a winter.

So I'm a little bit cautious on whether the Europe, I won't say growth story, but that Europe's demand has legs or whether it was just a little bit of a pre-seasonal push loaded into the first quarter from an industry standpoint. And I feel reasonable that it's going to be low single-digit growth.

Latin America, Brazil is tough right now. And I would say, China, certainly still doesn't feel like a 7.5% economy from an industrial standpoint, it's a little bit below, that I feels more like a 3% to 4%. So it depends on the market and the geography. But I feel very good about Dow's position, what we're doing to pull all the levers and all the buckets that we've talked about, presentation to date, to be able to deliver that earnings growth over the next several years.

Unidentified Analyst

So you feel better, is that what you said?

Howard Ungerleider

Yes. That's a good summary.

Unidentified Analyst

Howard, a question for you on the balance sheet. A rhetoric or a priority that Dow talked about for a while last year was reducing interest cost, but that's fallen out of discussions more recently. Is that something that the company would still consider? Or how should we think about that as the priority in the overall cash uses for the company?

Howard Ungerleider

We fundamentally are focusing more on total shareholder remuneration, getting the capital projects completed on time and on budget. It's not that that's not a priority, but we've done a lot of heavy-lifting over the last several years, last year included, where I think we took $3 billion of debt off the balance sheet. So we feel very good that we've got those ratios well below historical levels, whether it's net debt to EBITDA or net debt to total cap. So we're feeling good in that space and the focus is really on getting the capital projects completed and continuing to remunerate shareholders.

Unidentified Analyst

I have to ask you about the MLP options since it has become very topical lately. I'm sure you guys have thought it through a lot, but uniquely as compared to Lyondell and Westlake you have had some major, major new projects on the Gulf Coast coming still, and it would seem like that removes the hurdle of fully depreciated assets and having to put them in. But just as you think about when those assets come online, was there any disadvantage that you see operationally or legally or from a shareholders perspective about putting them into an MLP?

Would you take more consideration on that option now that we've seen what kind of a rerating the market is willing to pay for those things, and maybe along those lines you have a lot of pipelines, you have a lot of railcars, logistics that also would seem like there could be qualifying income too and thinking about it more broadly than just a new investments that you guys investigating and looking into that option?

Howard Ungerleider

Yes, absolutely. I mean I would say that we continue to study it and certainly the latest round of discussion and the reratings, and certainly it gives us pause, and we're continuing to look at it. I think you're right with some of the depreciated assets, you'll take a big tax hits to do that. But we do have some new assets like the PDH plant, like the new cracker that are coming that could fit.

Some of the variables that we're working through now, I would say one of the big ones is through cycle margins. If you look over the long-term, I mean today based on point in time economics, its $0.10 a pound margin, could we drop that into an MLP, and if not really blink, yes.

But if you go back, just five or six years ago, so that was more, $0.10 cents was more than the whole value chain margin. So that's an issue that we've got to work through. I would say, interest rates, I mean, if your view, and certainly my view is interest rates over the next several years will tick up. And so as interest rates tick up, that tends to depress the value of an MLP structure.

And then certainly as we continue the portfolio work, just narrower and deeper, having many joint ventures and other arrangements, that certainly makes strategic decisions and portfolio decisions much more complicated. So those are just a few of the things that we're working through. We have not made a decision.

I would say the last one is probably sized as well because most of the MLPs that I am aware of that have happened so far have kind of topped out around $600 million in total, about $50 million of EBITDA. So if you were to drop the PDH unit into an MLP, I mean that could be $450 million. So we have to look through and deal with that as well. Those are all the variables that we're working through, but we haven't made any decisions, but we are actively studying.

Unidentified Analyst

Can you remind me, what's the potential to retire some of the preferred issuance? I think it's again enclosed to the conversion price, but any update there?

Howard Ungerleider

We are past the point of the lockup, so that happened last April, this past April. $53.72 a share is the share point where Dow can force conversion, as the formula of 20, I think its 20 trading days of any 30 trading days that we have to be at or above that price to be able to force that conversion. So we're getting close.

Unidentified Analyst

Howard, you've got a -- the company has got crackers on the Coast in Spain and Holland, but I haven't seen you issuing any press releases about importing ethane over there yet. So can you just give us your view on the logic of these ethane exports?

Howard Ungerleider

You have not missed any press releases. We have not sent any press releases out. We have looked at it. I would say, when you think about ethane, and you say, look, you've got a $0.30 ethane number today in the U.S., you've got probably $0.30 of additional cost to transport, to store, to liquefy, to transport, to regasify, to store and to ultimately feed into a coastal cracker.

On top of that, you have to look at, I mean today at $0.30 there is zero frac spread. So let's assume you go to some crack spread, let's call it, $2 a million Btu, that's another $0.13 on a gallon of ethane. So now you're in the mid-70s kind of number on ethane. And then you've got to take whatever cracker you have and actually spend capital to convert it.

So based on our analysis and walking through those numbers, you're at or even above the landing cost of propane. So that's just not something that, at this point in time, based on our forecast that we see as an economical thing for Dow.

Unidentified Analyst

You lived through a few ethylene cycles, so I am curious --

Howard Ungerleider

Are you calling me old?

Unidentified Analyst

Yes. But I'm right there with you brother. And if you look, there's 12 crackers announced in the Gulf Coast, obviously one from Dow.

Howard Ungerleider

Yes.

Unidentified Analyst

But we're already hearing about escalating capital cost, your JV partner seem to have pulled out a part of your ethylene plant, because of capital cost escalation. What do you think actually happens as we go forward? Are we going to have one of these beautiful extended plateaus of earnings, because it just takes too long and it's too expensive? Do we get all that foreign money rushes in and you actually build too many crackers and kill the golden goose. What's your best guess on how all this pans out?

Howard Ungerleider

I would say that, yes, we've got 10 or so crackers announced. And our math says probably five or six of them will be built between now and 2020. Dow's will be one of those five to six. When you look at the total overall demand for ethylene, if you use 2.5% global GDP number, you're going to need 4.5 million metric tons of new ethylene capacity a year. If you use a 3.5% global GDP, using rough, as last several years' ethylene markers, you will need 7.5 million metric tons of new capacity every year.

Full five to six will probably come on, if five come on, and they probably don't come on all in the same year, so it's probably going to be between two and three years of building that capacity into the marketplace, depending on staggered starts. That's really one-year of global demand with five crackers of ethylene and it's going to be spread over a few years.

So I feel very good that the industry is marching up toward an ethylene cyclical peak. And I think depending on how GDP is in the '17, '18, '19, '20 timeframe, and depending on exactly when they come on, I think you could see a really nice run from here on ethylene profitability value chain.

Unidentified Analyst

I asked you, you mentioned Enlist earlier.

Howard Ungerleider

Yes.

Unidentified Analyst

In the ag business, Dow has been spending an awful lot of money. We're learning that the seed business isn't making any money because of all that spending.

Howard Ungerleider

That's right.

Unidentified Analyst

But maybe you are at the cusp of finally realizing some of that value. So what is the path on the seed side, and we're taking obviously chemicals have done well, and then also Enlist. Is it possible that could be the single-use service side or is it always going to be a dual program with glyphosate?

Howard Ungerleider

I mean that we feel very good about Dow AgroSciences. We have doubled the value of that business in the last five to seven years and we're very focused on doing that again. We have a phenomenal ag-chem franchise and we have accelerated the innovation in ag-chem. We used to bring a new ag-chem molecule out to the world one every three years or so. We've got one a year for the next several years that we're continuing to bring into the marketplace. And that's going to deliver and has been delivering nice earnings growth for us.

You're right on the seed side, we have been investing. We've got SmartStax in the market now and that's ramping. We're very excited about Enlist. I mean, when you think about it, you saw the EPA announcement probably last month on the proposed registration of Enlist Duo. We feel very good about getting that into the launch cycle for the 2015 season, both in corn and soybean. And remember, today we really don't have any branded participation in soybean. And so that's going to be a nice accelerator for us.

I mean when you look at Enlist, why we like to so much is it really allows the farmer, just do what they do historically with glyphosate. Last year, I think there were something like 70 million glyphosate-resistant acres already in the field and that number is continuing to escalate.

Why we like Enlist so much is it's got a very wide application window. It's got a very broad spectrum of control. And we feel very good about its relative competitive position on low-drift and low-volatility. So the proof will be in the pudding as we commercialize that we've had grower trials in the 2013 growing season and they vowed those trials with farmers, with growers, validated all of those competitive advantages that we see for Enlist.

Unidentified Analyst

And you'll be first to market with the Duo herbicide product, is that right?

Howard Ungerleider

I hope so. But I don't want to make any announcements here.

Unidentified Analyst

And you guys have come up with some pretty impressive NPV calculations. From the outside, though, it's hard to tell what the value added of Enlist is, so do you have any sense, what is average farmer paying on these 70 million acres for secondary weed control?

Howard Ungerleider

I think it's too early to give kind of $1 per acre view. We have said that it's at least $1 billion NPV. All of the work that we've done in the last couple of years says that it's at least going to be at that level, potentially higher, but I think I'd rather get the product in the field before we give you those kind of numbers. But we feel very good about the technology and the commercial launch that we've got in front of us.

Unidentified Analyst

And other questions for Howard?

Unidentified Analyst

You've had a shareholder that's been more vocal on making capital structure changes. And one of the things that they highlighted recently was that the commodity side of the business is under-earned in their view, some of your peers, so what is in their analysis missing? What should we be thinking about?

Howard Ungerleider

First of all, I was teasing with Bob earlier, I mean we engaged with all of our shareholders and I certainly have that personal experience working with Bob from an IR days. Look, we don't agree on the under-earning thesis. I mean we feel very good about what we're doing. I think we've laid out a very transparent path on the businesses that we do have challenges. Certainly, the chlorine space is a low single-digit kind of return business.

We've talked about that very publicly, that's why we're working on the carve-out and we are very focused on that. You also have to take into account, our legacy cost, our remediation cost, our legal cost, we've got pension, which is certainly in there as well. But we feel very good, I mean you take our plastics, you called me older earlier and you said that I have lived through several ethylene cycles, which I have.

We've done an analysis and I think we've put it in one of our investor decks not that long ago, looking at a total chain economic look on return on assets of our ethylene to polyethylene chain. And it is versus any other player in the world, it is best-in-class. And so we feel very good about that business. We feel very good about ag.

We feel very good about Electronic and Functional Materials, Coatings and Infrastructure. We've got a very good game plan. Clearly, chlorine is an issue that we're dealing with that's part of the carve-out that we're working on. And we've laid that path out and we're continuing on that drumbeat.

Unidentified Analyst

Just going back to the use of capital, you guys are buying back I forgot the exact amount of shares.

Howard Ungerleider

$4.5 billion.

Unidentified Analyst

$4.5 billion between now and yearend, I think. Is this something we should consider we'll see continually, given your cash flow and given that you're going to be selling I assume you sell the chlorine and caustic business, you should have a fair amount of cash should we consider this as something that you can't put into a model, but something we should continually consider or that you guys will continue to consider?

Howard Ungerleider

Without making any announcements today that's going to get Doug a little bit excited.

Unidentified Analyst

Does he ever get excited?

Howard Ungerleider

Occasionally, he can get excited. What we have said is, as earnings continue to ramp, we will continue to grow our shareholder remuneration. So in the first quarter we bought back $1.25 billion worth of shares. We increased our dividend 15%. That's based on where the Board and management saw we were through the end of last year and in the first quarter. As we ramp to the $10 billion and beyond, it's reasonable that you can expect to see more of that on shareholder remuneration.

Unidentified Analyst

Terrific. Unfortunately, we need to stop there. Thanks, Howard.

Howard Ungerleider

Thanks, Bob. Appreciate it.

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Source: Dow Chemical (DOW) Goldman Sachs Basic Materials Conference (Transcript)

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