American Commercial Lines CEO Discusses Q3 2010 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Oct.30.10 | About: American Commercial (ACLI)

American Commercial Lines Inc. (ACLI) Q3 2010 Earnings Call October 28, 2010 10:00 AM ET

Executives

David Parker - VP, IR

Mike Ryan - President and CEO

Tom Pilholski - SVP and CFO

Analysts

Alex Brand - Stephens Inc.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

John Parker - Jefferies & Company

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the American Commercial Lines Incorporated third quarter 2010 conference call. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today's call Mr. Dave Parker, Vice President of Investor Relations.

Dave Parker

Thank you, Mary. Good morning. Thank you for joining us. Today, we will be discussing our financial results for the quarter and nine months ended September 30, 2010. Before we begin our discussion, I want to remind you that statements made during this conference call with respect to the future are forward-looking statements.

Forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results may differ materially from those anticipated as a result of various factors. A list of some of these factors can be found in our SEC filings, including our Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2009 and our most recent 10-Q, and other such risk factors as maybe included from time to time in the company's reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During the conference call, we may refer to certain non-GAAP or adjusted financial measures. A reconciliation of the non-GAAP financial measures to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures is available on our website at aclines.com in the Investor Relation sections under non-GAAP financial data.

Also, as a reminder, you can follow along today via a live webcast featuring a slide presentation which can also be accessed at aclines.com. I'll remind you that if you plan on viewing the slide presentation please listen to the call via your computer speakers rather than dialing in by telephone in order to avoid a time lapse between the slide presentation and the audio.

As you may know, on October 18, we announced the signing on an agreement to be acquired by Platinum Equity. We will not comment on the transaction this morning, nor will we be taking any questions regarding the transaction and the conclusion of the call. Background information on the transaction is covered comprehensively in our SEC filings that are now available to all of you for review. There can be no assurance that the transaction with Platinum Equity will be completed. At the conclusion of the call we will take questions on the quarterly results and limit the questions to only that topic.

Additionally, in today's presentation and in the slides references to year-to-date, those are intended to refer to the nine months ended September 30, 2010. Joining me on the call today we have Mike Ryan, our President and CEO; and Tom Pilholski our Senior Vice President and CFO.

With that, I'll now turn the call over to Mike.

Mike Ryan

Thanks, David and welcome to everyone on the phone. We just completed a good financial quarter at ACL. Year-to-date through September, we are now in a positive earnings position for 2010, erasing our first half losses.

Compared to prior year, third quarter transportation segment revenues increased by $21.6 million, while cost declined by $3.8 million, that is a good formula. Approximately one-third of the increase in revenue was driven by higher rates on grain shift this year, with the remainder attributable to higher demurrage and 7% and 16% increases in bulk and liquid ton miles.

While we are pleased to have a normal harvest season this year and the rate strength that a normal harvest season brings with it, we are also pleased with the results of the continuing progress and reducing cost and improving efficiency.

As we have shared with you in the past, our goal is building and maintaining an operating program, which is always profitable. A program which allows us to remain at least moderately profitable in the weakest of economic times, and highly profitable when the economy is strong. We are making progress with our strategic initiatives in cost reductions.

A noteworthy component of our Q3 earnings is that our gains from asset sales were $10.1 million lower in Q3 this year than last year. Last year in Q3 we sold three large horse power boats, which did not fit our power model. Despite the lower level of gains from asset sales, our third quarter transportation operating income was still $10.8 million higher than the prior year, with an operating ratio of 87.3%, which was 5.7 points better than last year.

We see the same improvement and year-over-year progress within our transportation segment operating income, when we look at the first nine months of 2010. Such progress is fueled by item such as the $5.1 million impact of non-comparable severance and other charges we saw in the first nine months of 2009, which we did not have in 2010. And in the 2010 year-to-date numbers, we do not rely as heavily on asset sales for our positive financial trends.

Our asset management gains were $6.5 million lower year-to-date, yet the transportation segments operating income for the first nine months improved by $27.4 million over the prior year, again driven by the improvement in business mix, rates, and our cost and efficiency initiatives.

In our manufacturing segment both in the quarter and year-to-date, we sold fewer total barges than in the prior year and had a different mix of hoppers, deck and tank barges. Those details are in earnings release and are in the appendix of today's presentation.

In the third quarter we began a production around of 40 deck barges. We incurred in our reporting, a loss on this job. Our issues were not quality issues, our issues were the result of not assigning the correct cost and build hours on a more intricate deck barge. Our optimization model tells us that deck barges are an attractive unit for us to build. We needed and now have a more robust new work order review process in order to ensure we are capturing all cost and anticipated hours of labor, when constructing a market based price bid.

Our employees and management team members have also risen to the challenge on the deck barges and reduced actual cost and labor hours by over 30%. So the shipyard team has been able to reduce the hours by over 30% over the life of this production run. We still recorded a $3.3 million loss, representing a sum of projected losses on the remaining deck barges. And the incurred losses on deck barges completed in the quarter. The loss on this run drove the segments small loss for the quarter more than offsetting the margin attributable to remaining sales in the quarter and year-to-date. Cost related to the April strike also contributed to the year-to-date loss.

Those of you who all have followed us now for some time in the past two-and-a-half years, know that we run our program focused on executing our seven strategic initiatives. Let's quickly review each of these with an update.

First and foremost safety. We have zero tolerance goal for unsafe acts or conditions. Zero means the target of an absolutely safe operation and flawless care of our customers' cargo. Year-to-date, we have reduced allision, collision, and grounding claims by 35% versus year-to-date 2009. And cargo, hull and personal injury claims by 32% versus year-to-date 2009.

These two categories are worth almost $2 million in savings year-over-year, and we continue to improve our training efficiency as we insourced our training to allow our employees to learn inhouse at ACL. Since 2008, we have now reduced our training cost by over $2 million annually, while providing new and superior training to over twice as many employees in the art and science of safe handling and safe navigating.

In business mix improvement, moving business to contracts with stronger contract terms has returned to the forefront of our commercial focus. Our previous high-water mark for success in these areas was in 2006 and 2007. As we forecasted spot pricing strength has been steadily growing in 2010 and is becoming more apparent in contract price negotiations. We renewed six contracts in the quarter with much less price compression than in past quarters. In addition, we have been able to once again push the barge demurrage rates higher, while reducing the number of free days we offer.

Organic growth in the quarter totaled $9 million as our year-to-date total increased to $38 million in the first nine months of 2010. With our busiest contract renewal season approaching, we are having many more discussions about moving business from spot to contract, as shippers begin to sense the tightening of capacity in a slowly recovering economy.

Our industrial development work bringing new market share to the river through joint contracts on ACL land improved as well in Q3, as ACL and CNW resources joined forces for a warehouse expansion contract on ACL's property in Lemont, Illinois. The deal is for a long-term barge to warehouse, to truck delivery flow for CNW resources cargo. We continue to take dormant properties and with partner customers turn them into revenue generating properties.

In fleet reinvestment, we are currently in our own production run to build 100 new ACL dry covered hoppers, 69 of them completed through last weekend with another 17 expected to be completed by year end. All of these units move into grain harvest service. The remaining 14 ACL units will be completed in early 2011. Our new build activity for ACL is not adding net new capacity to the overall barge marketplace.

We continue to retire our oldest barges, scrapping them at attractive prices. The earlier statistics we shared with you on barge maintenance cost advantages continues as our oldest covered hopper barges continue to cost approximately $12,000 per year for running maintenance, which is more than 20 times more expensive than the maintenance cost on the new barge. The new barges can also be used in the service of all lines of dry business, significantly increasing barge productivity. We have enabled to build these new units while still reducing debt for this year.

Scheduled service continues to move through the first of two phases and implementation. Phase I is implementing standardized practices with playbooks at all of our terminals. This implementation remains on schedule for completion by the end of 2010. Phase II is the modeling component, where we combine a network terminal locations with mainline toeing services to create the new through-service offerings for our customers.

Where we have completed Phase I work, we have been able to test new scheduled and performance with great results. On select test news from Gulf origins to the Ohio river, we have reduced transit by 40% or 8 days.

Working with customers on scheduled releases from their origin facilities, and then blocking their traffic in order to bypass terminals and not stop, we have improved the client inventory cost picture. We have the barges back sooner so we can reload them and improve the revenue production of the unit.

That is the motto for how you make more money with customers, it's not always just raising the rates because you can. It's about providing customers with a service that competes, with a service of other transportation modes, and other barge carriers; customers will pay for value.

The actions we have taken as a result of scheduled service reviews, have also allowed us to provide the same or better services at lower cost. In the quarter, using the standard model and beginning to run more dedicated lane service, we reduce the number of boats in use without compromising service to customers, and saved approximately $4.8 million year-to-date.

In addition to running fewer boats, we have reduced the size of main line cruise this year, saving over $1 million year-to-date. So far this year, we have also mothballed underutilized fleet facilities and consolidated operations saving approximately $2.2 million. At Jeffboat, we have two manufacturing lines operating and they are sold out for the remainder of the year.

The backlog of orders remains well below pre-recession levels, but we continue to see more interest in the number of bids, predominantly for dry barges. Our optimization model, still tells us to keep the yard production capacity down as the market returns to us. We will remain at two lines of productions and focus on dry, hopper and deck barges and only replacement level dry and liquid barges for ACL. We expect to continue to aggressively manage the cost and production work at Jeffboat.

In order to cash, we are continuing with our Six Sigma type approach to breaking down the process steps for our order to billing to collections. We are ordered in all of our work order and billing processes at terminal locations, as we continue to work to eliminate gaps in our work order processing and billing programs.

This work will allow us to capture $7 million in re-billing opportunity, as well as enhancing cash flow from accelerating DSO. We are also approaching a period now where the process elements of our billing will be tested for technology solutions, the application of technology solutions to help control the processes will bring accuracy and efficiency to the entire order to cash system as we move toward automation.

A desired outcome for ACL is to have customers find it easier to deal with our bills and billing process. Finally, in recruiting, retention and organization, we are operating with almost 900 fewer positions versus 2008, while we continue to provide better quality service and products to our customers.

We continue to relocate key positions to our northern and southern operating regions, moving them closer to our employees and our customers. These actions continue to allow us to consolidate and eliminate redundant positions. One interesting metric of productivity we're watching is our ton miles per employee in transportation.

Year-to-date, this number has improved by 10.6% versus 2009, and by 14.8% versus 2008. We have fewer people and when our new personal join forces with our long time barge experts, we are achieving much greater results with fewer peoples, again a great formula. We continue to see slow but steady improvements in our markets.

The October Federal Reserve base book analysis continues to report modest ongoing increases in economic activity in most districts. Manufacturing is described as expanding with production and new orders rising. Housing and commercial real estate remained weak, and new vehicle sales were steady to up.

Agricultural conditions were regarded as favorable. The Army Corps of Engineers industry tonnage statistics indicated positive year-over-year trends, but still lower than five year average tonnages. We have continued to see some volume recovery in our key transportation business lines of liquids and metals, but volumes still remain below pre-recession levels.

Pricing levels have, at least during the during the current harvest season, improved over the prior year, but also remain well below levels achieved in periods of normal volume. We continue to be cautiously optimistic relative to the sustainability of the recovery phase, as there is still a long road back to a healthy economy and to pre-recession business levels.

The economic recovery is still fragile at this stage, and manufacturing at Jeffboat, production demand remains below pre-recession levels as potential customers continue to delay capital spending for new barges, and attempt to time their reentry into the fleet reinvestment market.

Tom, will now take to us through a deeper dive in the numbers.

Tom Pilholski

The next slide contains a summary of our financial performance. Transportation segment revenues increased by 15.2% over the prior year quarter, while our transportation operating expenses declined 2.6%. this is over $10.8 million increase in transportation operating income in the quarter, despite $10 million in lower net asset gains and dispositions.

I will review the details of Transportations revenues in subsequent slides.

Regarding manufacturing, the decrease in revenues versus 2009 was driven by a change in both the volume and the mix of barges produced. The manufacturing segment had an operating loss of $600,000 in the third quarter due to the $3.3million projected contract loss on the deck barge contract Mike discussed earlier.

On the next slide are highlights of the components impacting EPS. EPS of continuing operating operations increased $1.08 per share of the quarter and $1.29 year-to-date compared to prior year.

The improvement in transportation revenues and reduced costs other than for the items specifically detailed here, increased transportation EPS, $0.89 in the quarter and $1.36 year-to-date. Lower net asset gains on dispositions negatively impacted the quarter and the year-to-date comparisons like $0.58 and $0.37 respectively.

EPS in the manufacturing segment declined by $0.20 in the quarter and $0.94 year-to-date excluding the deck barge contract, with a loss on this contract impacting EPS by an additional $0.14 in both periods.

Non-comparable charges in the prior year quarter and year-to-date which relate to a manufacturing segment customer dispute reserve, severance and Houston office closure expenses, and the customer bankruptcy last year, all of which we have discussed in the prior year quarters in which they occurred of $0.12 and $0.38 of the positive change.

The impact of the write-off unamortized debt cost related to our July 2009 refinancing though maybe $0.09 of the improvement in both periods.

Interest expense was also lower as we reduced total monthly average debt balances by $54million from last year's third quarter and by $63 million year-to-date while continuing to reinvest in the fleet. We also had an adjustment for the discrete tax item related to the reduction in the state tax benefit of the estimated 2009 net operating loss that reduced EPS by $0.04 this year in both comparative periods.

On the slide is a summary of transportation revenues by major categories. We've had nice increases in steel revenues compared to prior year while being relatively flat compared to prior quarter. Other bulk is also up significantly for both the quarter and nine months, but down sequentially from the second quarter.

Grain was also up quite a bit for the quarter driven by 24% higher pricing while year-to-date grain revenues are down due to 15% lower volumes partially offset by 7% higher pricing. The decline in salt is not a demand issue, but due to production and labor strike related issues, a major custom in this market experience.

Liquid including chemical and petroleum market revenues are up year-over-year based on improvements in volume partially offset by lower contract and spot pricing.

Non-affreightment revenues, including towage, demurrage, and charter are up in aggregate slightly for the quarter due to demurrage, but experienced 13% to 16% declines in all three categories year-to-date aggregating over $12million in reduced revenue. Excluding these non-affreightment revenue declines, affreightment revenue approximately $16 million year-to-date.

The next slide is a much more granular look at our revenues on a fuel neutral basis by commodity statement for the third quarter of the past three years. A similar slide for the year-to-date period is included in the appendix. As you can see, despite the year-over-year improvements in key steel and chemical markets and the coal and energy market, we are still well below the levels of 2008 as our towing and day rate charter revenues, which are generated almost entirely from liquid barges.

On the next slide, are the key changes in EBITDA from continuing operations compared to 2009 for the quarter and year-to-date periods. Overall EBITDA increased $4.2million to $31.7 million for the quarter with transportation up $8.9 million and manufacturing down $4.9 million.

Changes in the commodity volumes, rates and mix excluding grain positively impacted EBITDA by $2.6 million in the quarter but negatively impacted EBITDA by $13.8 million year-to-date. Decreased non-affreightment revenues in towing, demurrage, and liquid charters and higher fuel prices impacted the first nine months.

Higher grain contribution driven by favorable pricing in a more normal 2010 harvest season over $7.1million and $2.6 million increase in EBITDA for the quarter and year-to-date periods despite lower grain volumes. More difficult weather and other operating conditions this year reduces boat productivity by $2.4million in the quarter and $8.5million year-to-date.

Due to persistent high water conditions in most of the river system, lock outages and related delays and ice in the first quarter. Other operating costs and SG&A costs decreased a combined $11.5 million for the quarter and $43.9 million year-to-date. These cost reductions are primarily due to internally stepping both step formally who've operated using chartered crews and decreases in boat and barge repairs, average crew sizes and insurance claims and reserve adjustments as well as fuel efficiencies partially offset by higher medical claims and incentive compensation.

The impact of the prior year non-comparable severance and Houston office closure cost mostly in the prior year's first quarter represented an additional $5 million in the year-to-date SG&A savings.

Reduced gains on barge scrapping and boat sales negatively impacted the quarter and year-over-year comparison by $10.1million and $6.5million respectively. Last year was unusually high as a result of three large horsepower boats last September for approximately $23million realizing almost $60million of gains on this sale.

Our manufacturing segment's EBITDA declined $4.9million for the third quarter and $19.7million year-to-date driven by lower external production volumes and a loss of deck barge contract that I discussed earlier.

We do not foresee a rebound in the manufacturing segment until overall barge industry freight demand conditions improve. The long-term needs for barge replacement still exist due to the age of the industry fleet. However, barge freight demand, though improving, is not yet sufficient to drive new build demand for the replacement of retiring capacity. Our external backlog was $64million at September 30, 2010, an increase of $3million from the second quarter.

As you can see on next slide, we continue to generate positive cash flow from operations though changes at the working capital resulted in an unfavorable comparison to prior year despite the improvement in net income.

We generated $42.4million in cash from operations during the first nine moths compared to $83.8 million in the prior year. The negative impact of the changing working capital was primarily due to changes in receivables, inventory and accounts payable on the respective periods.

The very year increase in working capital resulted from differences in the production cycle and our manufacturing segment between the years and the early buy of some steel inventory to lock in favorable prices which increased manufacturing inventory levels.

Higher sales in the current year quarter have also increased accounts receivable which was a significant source of working capital in the prior year. The Company expects that uses of cash for working capital will be essentially neutral by the end of 2010 with the $13 million federal tax refund expected to be received in the fourth quarter.

Total availability into the company's revolving facility was approximately $235million at September 30, 2010, $5million better than the second quarter. Year-to-date ACL had $37.6million of capital expenditures primarily related to $22.4 million in cost of new dry covered barges. The Company generated $7.3 million in proceeds primarily from circles boat sales and received grant funding of $2.3million for the nine months ended September 30.

The grant reimbursed capital expended in 2009 for our manufacturing segment capital budget. For the full year, we expect our total capital expenditures to be approximately $63million.

I'll now turn the call back over to Mike.

Mike Ryan

We finished two and a half years of realignment and reinvestment. We've taken out over $50million in costs and moved our people on assets closer to our customers. We have a more cost efficient structure which actually provides better products and services to our customers at a reduced cost. By improving our business fundamentals, we are providing a greater value to our customers which allow us to optimize our company's earnings potential as freight demand levels return.

David Parker

Operator, before we get to questions, I'd like to again, respectfully remind our audience today that we will take questions on our quarterly results and limit the questions only to that topic. So with that we're now ready for question.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from the line of Alex Brand.

Alex Brand - Stephens Inc.

Mike, you talked a lot about how pricing is sequentially getting better and I wondered if you could just give us some specifics on what does spot and contract pricing look like year-over-year in terms of percentage changes and compare that to maybe the sequential changes?

Mike Ryan

I'll let Tom give you some numbers.

Tom Pilholski

We haven't renewed, Alex, to significant amount of contract so far this year. The fourth quarter as we've always said is a key period for renewing the contract. But for the year, the liquid contracts basically are the slight low single digit decrease and the same for dry contracts. And sequentially they're getting a little better, as you went to the third quarter.

But again, we haven't had a significant amount of contracts. It's more in the spot contracts where we've been impacted and the move from day rate guarantee charter contract into the spot rates. Formally, you had better charter rates and you guaranteed on the full day rate basis of getting the revenues.

Mike Ryan

Alex, on the spot side, we thought the strength would come back on the spot and the contract. And on the spot side, we have seen the numbers continue to move upward on spot. So I don't think we really tested the contract piece of it yet and we will hear in the next probably 60 days. But the ones that had been renewing on an ongoing basis, instead of being kind of double digit kind of reductions that we had to take, they were close to flat to low-single digits on renewals. But the spot pricing strength continues and I think that's kind of play in our favors, we start to renew contracts.

Alex Brand - Stephens, Inc.

All right, just so I'm clear, you're saying spots up a little now in both dry and liquid, but you're not sure about contract renewal rates yet?

Mike Ryan

Yes. Because, especially on the dry side, most of our dry contracts are going to renew here in November and December. So we'll get a sense of how sucuess will be converting that pricing strength from the spot into the contract. But the spots have moved pretty significantly in the last nine to 12 months.

Alex Brand - Stephens, Inc.

And with respect to the coal business that you mentioned in the press release being down, is that a strategic decision to improve your mix or something else going on there?

Mike Ryan

The largest piece of our coal business goes through hull street, and that it's really a function of what the customer designates to us, as far as their need. So that's more of a customer decision as far as what their burn requirements are going to be, their burn needs are going to be for the year. So that's not so much in exiting as it is us dealing with a smaller amount of volume going through the facility.

But on the non-hull street business, we're actually up in coal. And we've seen some nice growth in the domestic and some export market. So I think that's looking favorable for us. But it's gone overshadow just by this years size of the volumes that go through St. Louis.

Alex Brand - Stephens, Inc.

And what percentage of the mix is liquid now at the end of the third quarter?

Tom Pilholski

At the end of the or for the full year, and it should be relatively, the third quarter is impacted by the heavy grain. But on a full year basis the liquid is 29% of the total revenue. That's on page 20 of the slide presentation, where we have the portfolio mix.

Mike Ryan

And I think you'll see that. That might dip a little bit here as the year goes on, because we're going to get into heavy grain, we are in the heavy grain. And so that tail-end will, it will probably keep it right at about 29% on the liquids. But again the goal going forwards to go back to that 2006, 2007 program, where we focused on moving more into the contracts on the liquid side and moving that up to close to the 35% to 40% of our overall revenue.

Alex Brand - Stephens, Inc.

And just one more for me, if I could. You talked a lot about the changes in your asset management gains, but I didn't hear you say specifically how much you scrapped or gained in Q3. And if you can give us an idea as you scrap less going forward, what maybe a run rate should look like for that.

Mike Ryan

They're looking it up as we speak to give you a number for Q3.

Tom Pilholski

The asset gains for the quarter in the third quarter are $6.3 million.

Mike Ryan

And that's a little heavier than normal. I mean that's not a typical quarterly run rate. We had some opportunities towards the end of the quarter to realize some good scrap values and we took advantage of that.

Tom Pilholski

That program down by a number of units.

Mike Ryan

We're realizing somewhere in the area about $50,000 of barge, slightly higher now in some of the markets. That's an unusually high total. And for the year-to-date the total asset gains that we have in the, year-to-date total assets gains we sold a boat in the first quarter that gave us about a $4 million gain. And then the total balance for the entire year including that $4 million is year-to-date $13.4 million of asset gains. Alex, for scrapping that a pace of about 34 to 40 a quarter.

Alex Brand - Stephens, Inc.

And just outside of the one boat sale, the rest of it is scrapping?

Tom Pilholski

Yes. In some cases we've been selling off what we call spar barges that are not active barges, but taking barges out of our fleet that are basically used for fleet purposes and we're scrapping those inactive barges, and we did quite a business with that in the third quarter. And take advantage of some of the asset price out there with scrap values.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Kevin Sterling.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

Mike and Tom, going back to some of the follow-up on Alex's question about the scrapping of barges, it looks like you did sell some barges in the quarter. Just looking at the press release, you had a loss on disposition of equipment of about $3.8 million. Is that, Tom, is that the barges that were idle that you were talking about that you sold?

Tom Pilholski

A loss on disposition?

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

Yes.

Tom Pilholski

I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

Looking at page 10 of your press release, as you break out your operating expenses you had a $3.764 million it says loss on disposition of equipment. I just want to understand what that is.

Tom Pilholski

That should be gain.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

And that relates to some of those idle barges that you were scrapping at relatively high scrap prices. Is that right?

Tom Pilholski

To a certain extent, yes.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

And regarding Jeffboat, are you seeing any new bidding activity or is that still pretty stagnant?

Mike Ryan

There is more bidding activity, but it's certainly not where it was pre-recession. We're still talking about smaller size orders that might take anywhere from six to 12 weeks to complete at a time. But with the two lines running in our own builds that type of bidding activity and wins would fill up those two lines. So it's on us to sustain the production capacity we've made available.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

And Mike, you talked about just being more operationally efficient, reducing horsepower and crews. But as you grow your volumes, do you think you'll have to add some more tugs and crews or how much more volume growth can you take on without incrementally increasing some of your horsepower and crewing expenses?

Mike Ryan

That's where we're going to test, Kevin. What we need to do first is fill out these tows. When you're running 12 and you can run 15, and you're running 24, where you can be running 30, which is a lot of our tows today. So we're going to push to fill those out on the service platform that we've talked about. And the desired end is to get to a point where you filled all of that capacity up and you have to put boats back on.

But until that happens, I've given instructions to Bill Braman, whose our Chief Operating Officer, you run it tight and we'll make sure we make the moves and fill that capacity out first. So I think what comes back first here in the rest of this year and going to 2011, we'll use existing tows to handle that, and not have to incur new cost.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

And then Mike, maybe a little bit could you talk about some of the barging trends you saw throughout the quarter? Imagine we saw a pickup in volume pretty significantly in the last couple weeks of September. How is that carried over into October?

Mike Ryan

While on the grain side, the harvest is continuing which is good. It's a more traditional harvest, so it's compressed and we're into it. And the pricing that goes along with that compressed to that is good. But we've also seen modest recoveries in volume in other areas, which is at the time of the harvest which is some good price leverage and price pressure. We've seen it on the scrap and the raw materials for metal production.

We've had actually increased as in cement, I know that's not, something a lot of carriers can say. But in our lanes we've had good increases in the cement business. We've also seen the raw materials on the liquid side continue to stair step up on as the recovery comes through. We're not seeing major spikes but we're not seeing a lot of follow-up of that, that sustains modest growth curve either. So we're taking some comfort in there.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

And then one last question. I think it was about a year ago you had your fleet appraised. Was that appraised at a little over $1 billion? Is that right if I remember correctly?

Tom Pilholski

Yes. Slightly over that, I think the last public disclosure we had was in that range.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

Did that appraisal, did that include Jeffboat or is it just your tugs and your barges?

Tom Pilholski

That's just a fleet. That does not include on any Jeffboat assets.

Kevin Sterling - BB&T Capital Markets

Is that the most recent appraisal or have you had another one done since then?

Tom Pilholski

We've had another one, but we have not disclosed. It's part of the ongoing bank agreement and you have appraisals each year. But we haven't disclosed the values on the more recent one, which was done in April 2010.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of John Parker.

John Parker - Jefferies & Company

Can you talk about the fact, it seems to me that the spot rates for grain voyages are really well up in the third quarter, continue to be higher, but the volumes are down from last year. And why is there that disconnect? I mean I'm talking about the overall industry wide volumes.

Tom Pilholski

If you look at last year, at least for the year as it impacted us. Last year we had a significant spike in grain volumes compared to what was in 2008 for example. So last year was on the high end, this year is back towards the 2008 levels. And last year grain volumes particularly in the first eight months of the year was significantly higher than they were in the previous year. And then last year if you recall, in September we had delayed harvest that impacted the grain volumes last year and pushed them out more into the fourth quarter.

Mike Ryan

The grain didn't really take off here for us, and so just about the last seven to 10 days of September. So the preponderance of the volume of the harvest I think we're going to see hit in the fourth quarter. But it did start right there in the last 10 days of September.

John Parker - Jefferies & Company

But my question is why are rates so much higher when volumes are down compared to last year?

Mike Ryan

Why are rate so much higher?

John Parker - Jefferies & Company

In the grain trade, in the third quarter of this year compared to last year, for spot rates.

Mike Ryan

There's been recovery, the standard barge can be used for a dozen different commodities. And I think the resurgence and recovery in all of those commodities has really helped pressurize the system and provide more price leverage. We've seen that in our own model, where a year earlier we were handling no steel and this year we've seen that recovery come back, and they compete for that same barge.

John Parker - Jefferies & Company

And then you shipped a lot less coal in the quarter as you indicated, was that intentional change because you saw better rates in the grains or are you seeing, because I think coal volumes have been up over last year. But did you intentionally move away from that business because you saw better rates in the grains or why did you move away from that?

Mike Ryan

Our single largest customer, who goes through Hull street can move anywhere between 6 to 9 million tons of coal, and this year we're closer to the 6th and the 9. So you'll see that, but on the domestic side and the export side not related to that, we've had good growth, but again it kind of loosen the shadow of that big move at Hull street. But we're not intentionally moving it that way, it's just the customer didn't needed much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Jimmy Gibert.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

I wanted to ask about where do you think your grain barge utilization is now versus the same time last year?

Mike Ryan

Our overall barge is higher this year. It's just a function as a demand. But I think the utilization that we have this year is higher because it's compressed. Before we kind of move and waited and sat, and now because they're empty we're running north to go get the next ones. So it's higher, I guess I don't have confirm statistics.

I don't know if you guys have any turn rate statistics that you have, but we can dig those up. All I can say is that last year we didn't have much else to handle, but grain and this year we've got much more to handle including the grain in a compressed timeframe. So the turn rates and the loaded days are a lot higher this year

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

That's what I was thinking. And obviously liquids are a little better. And I am assuming the coal, although in your press release it says that coal volumes declined 16.1%, my impression was that coal was doing better. Is that not the case? It says lower rate coal.

Mike Ryan

Our biggest decrease on coal again is with the single customer. The customer that goes through hull street is about 80% to 90% of our coal volume. So when they say they have enough for a month or two and pare back a little bit, that's a big number for us. But the coal business outside the scope of that contract, we were bidding on other areas whether it's export or domestic, that's up, and it's usually higher rates than that contract anyway.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

Right, and that's related to the export business?

Mike Ryan

It's usually the smaller volume, 100,000 to 200,000 tons. That's small for a railroad and some of the other barge coal carriers. They like to play in the 7 million tons markets, and that's not really where we play in that. But we've seen some good upticks and some good opportunities in the smaller 100,000 to 200,000 ton markets. But again, it's good business, good margin, but a kind of lower-shadowed by the size of the volumes that swing back and forth at hull street cost tree.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

And then I just had one more question. I think no barges were built for internal use this quarter. Will that be the same next quarter or are you guys going to build some for your own use?

Mike Ryan

I think we've got 17 scheduled for fourth quarter and on the balance of the 100 in the first quarter of '11. The balance will be in 2011, but we'll build 17 here in the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

And those are strictly to replace barges you may retire?

Mike Ryan

This is replacement capacity, and it's not in one-for-one basis. We are scrapping far more than we're building. So we're preserving the capacity model on the river.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

I guess August and September were better for liquids, both for you guys and for others. Is anybody calling up and saying, hey, can you build me some tank barges? Is it too early for that?

Mike Ryan

I think, Jimmy, there is plenty of capacity on tank barges out there right now. I think what will happen is you'll see the markets continue to come back and strengthen. And I think once that capacity starts to fill, you will see the first thing that will happen is people step back into the replacement piece. As tank barges fall out, they'll work to replace those. But I don't think you need a major expansion in those markets. I don't think we'll see one.

Jimmy Gibert - Rice Voelker

Well, it sounds like you guys have made some great operational improvements, and it sounds like finally the commodity market and maybe even the economy to some extent is coming your way. So good luck and thanks for taking my questions.

Operator

There are no other questions at this time. I would like to hand the call over to Mike Ryan for closing remarks.

Mike Ryan

Thank you all for your questions and interests. You had high expectations of us, and I think that motivated everyone at ACL to reach for greater heights. So I thank you for pushing us. Our customers push us in that direction. So I am glad that you do too. Thank you all for participating and following us. And good luck to you.

Operator

Thank you for your participation in today's conference. This concludes the presentation, and you may now disconnect. Have a wonderful day.

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