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APAC Customer Services (NASDAQ:APAC)

Q1 2011 Earnings Call

May 12, 2011 11:00 am ET

Executives

Andrew Szafran - Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President

Kevin Keleghan - Chief Executive Officer, President and Director

Harriet Fried - Senior Vice President - New York Office

Analysts

Michael Kim - Sandler O'Neill & Partners

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Howard Smith - First Analysis

Matthew McCormack - BGB Securities, Inc.

Robert Riggs - William Blair & Company L.L.C.

Operator

Good morning, and welcome to APAC's First Quarter 2011 Earnings Conference and Webcast. This call is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Ms. Harriet Fried of LHA. Please go ahead, ma'am.

Harriet Fried

Good morning and thanks for joining us for the First Quarter 2011 Conference Call for APAC Customer Services. The company issued a press release yesterday afternoon containing financial results for the quarter. This release is available on APAC's website as well as on various financial websites. Company representatives on today's call are Kevin Keleghan, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Andrew Szafran, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Before opening the call, I’d like to remind you that statements about future operating and financial results are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and are subject to various risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause the company’s actual results to differ materially. Yesterday’s earnings release and the company’s annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended January 2, 2011 and its quarterly report on Form 10-Q for this fiscal quarter, ended April 3, 2011, discuss some of these factors. The company’s forward-looking statements speak only as of today's date.

To supplement the company’s consolidated financial statements, APAC uses certain measures defined as non-GAAP financial measures by the SEC, including EBITDA and adjusted EBITDA. A reconciliation of these results to GAAP is attached to yesterday’s earnings release and additional information can be found in APAC’s annual report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended January 2, 2011, and its quarterly report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended April 3, 2011. The company has posted a downloadable presentation to accompany the webcast in the Investor Relations section of its website. The presentation can be viewed in the Webcast section by clicking on the link shown under the title of today's event. It will also be posted under Investor Presentations after the call.

With that introduction, I'd like to turn the call over to Kevin Keleghan. Go ahead, please, Kevin.

Kevin Keleghan

Thank you, Harriet, and thank you to everyone for joining us on our First Quarter Conference Call. APAC had a strong performance in the first quarter generating $88 million in revenue and delivering earnings of $0.13 per share. We grew at a rate of 3.3% for the quarter but that really doesn't tell the whole story. Last quarter, we spoke at length about the headwinds we are facing in the communications vertical and that our hardest comps would come in the earlier part of the year. We were indeed down at communications vertical 25% for the quarter. At the same time, we are feeling cautiously optimistic about this part of the business for a few reasons.

First, the first quarter of 2010 is a particularly tough comp since it was our all-time peak in communications volume, which then declined throughout 2010. However, we were actually up sequentially from last quarter. Second, we are expecting growth coming from 2 new communications clients that were signed up late last year and early this year. Third, we are also seeing stabilization in our volumes with a major communications client that had overextended its outsourced capacity. They are taking excess capacity out of their network, and since we have remained a top performer for them, we feel confident that our volumes will increase from current levels as the year progresses. So while we were down in communications, we expect to rebound during the second half of 2011 in that vertical.

I'd also like to review our Healthcare vertical, which is showing that we were down 7.7% for the quarter. The driving factor behind this decline is simply the fact that one of our key clients sold a piece of their business. We also decided not to participate in a particular client's temporary program in 2011. Adjusting for these 2 exited clients, we actually grew our healthcare business 5.2% in the quarter on a same-store basis. Furthermore, as I mentioned on our last quarter's call, we renegotiated our contract with another very important healthcare client where we traded price reductions in exchange for increased volumes with less peaks and valleys throughout the year. As a result, although this has a negative impact on the first quarter, the annual program profit dollars will increase. Andrew will speak further to the margin impact shortly.

Healthcare remains one of our strongest markets and we possess unique know-how and capabilities for healthcare clients. We continue to have a very robust pipeline of opportunities in healthcare both with existing and new clients. At the same time, the revenue for the rest of our business verticals increased over 17%. We are especially pleased with an increase of almost 10% in our business services vertical and over 90% increase in our media vertical and we were up substantially in our smaller, but growing technology vertical. I will expand on our technology capabilities later in the call.

Based upon our strong overall performance, we have a greater level of confidence in our guidance and expect to generate revenue of between $346 million to $350 million this year. We also expect EPS to remain from $0.47 to $0.49.

I'm now going to turn the call over to Andrew Szafran, our Chief Financial Officer, to provide additional detail on our results for the quarter. Following Andrew's discussion, I will add some additional commentary. And after that, we'll open the call to questions. Andrew?

Andrew Szafran

Thank you, Kevin. We are pleased with our strong performance in the first quarter and I'm happy to review the numbers. So we're now on Page 6 of the presentation.

First quarter of 2011 revenue of $88 million was up 3.3% from the first quarter of 2010. Gross margin registered at 22.1%, which is down about 2% from prior year and consistent with our expectations. This reduction was driven by 2 key factors that we spoke about during our Q4 earnings call. About half of the reduction is due to the appreciation of the Philippine peso. This is spot on with the penny-per-quarter headwind that was discussed last quarter.

As Kevin mentioned in his opening remarks, the other half resulted from contract negotiations with an important healthcare client where we were able to offer price reductions in exchange for increased volumes throughout the year. This will help reduce the seasonality of our Healthcare business and we will see that benefit in subsequent quarters. During the first quarter, we experienced the cost.

Operating expenses improved to $8.7 million versus $10.5 million a year ago. On a percent of sales basis, we improved to 9.9% from 12.4%. Removing the impact of the small restructuring charge from this year and legal settlement from last year, operating expenses were $8.3 million and $8.1 million respectively. On a percent of sales basis, we improved to 9.4% from 9.6% on this adjusted basis.

Our IBT was $10.7 million for the quarter or 12.2% and 1% above the midpoint of our expected operating range of 9% to 13%. Net income for the quarter was $7 million and $0.13 per share. For EBITDA, we improved to $13.7 million versus $13.1 million in 2010, which is a return on sales of 15.6%.

Moving on to adjusted EBITDA, which adds back restructuring charges and the legal settlement, we decreased slightly to $14.1 million from $15.5 million, chiefly driven by the gross profit reduction that I mentioned above. APAC's adjusted EBITDA return on sales of 16% continues to lead the industry. Capital expenditures were $2.5 million for the quarter as we continued investing for new business. We also repurchased approximately 921,000 shares at an average cost of $5.90 during the first quarter.

So even with the significant repurchase activity and our capital investment, our cash on hand of $51.3 million is a $10.6 million improvement in our cash position from a year ago and slightly less than $10 million increase since year end. Our DSO improved to 48 days for the quarter, which is an improvement of 7 days since year end and consistent with our expectations. Regarding taxes, our book effective tax rate was 34.5%. Cash taxes ran at a lower rate of about 11%.

So with my review of the numbers completed, I will turn the call back over to Kevin.

Kevin Keleghan

Thanks, Andrew. Earlier this month, we announced the acquisition of a business unit of SEI LLC, which provides sales and marketing, as well as partner channel support for a leading technology company. This acquisition meets one of our strategic objectives to further expand our presence in the technology vertical especially when combined with 3 major technology clients that we signed during the past year. It also increases our capabilities in the high-end, value-added business services market, which we believe we can cross-sell to other clients. The acquired business generated approximately $10 million in revenue in 2010 and employs 200 associates in Fargo, North Dakota.

I want to emphasize that the revenue and associated earnings of this transaction are not included in our guidance as we are still completing our valuation analysis and purchase accounting. We do expect this acquisition to be accretive to earnings in the first year and we will update our outlook next quarter for any 2011 impact.

We have also continued to make progress in bringing on new logos and are off to a strong start in 2011. I will provide an update next quarter as is our midyear custom. We have moved forward on another strategic initiative, increasing our global footprint. We are completing the build out of our new center in Montevideo, Uruguay, and expect to be operational in the second quarter. We're also in the midst of opening a new call center in Manila which will become our fifth location in the Philippines. This new center will be filled with growth from both new and existing accounts, and the first of the 3 phases is already sold out and we are currently selling into Phase 2.

So with that, I'll turn it over to the operator. You can now open lines for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Matt McCormack from BGB Securities.

Matthew McCormack - BGB Securities, Inc.

My first question is on the guidance. Obviously, you just said it doesn't include the acquisition. You did say you're much more confident in it. So should we assume, in terms of the revenue, that you're going to come in before this acquisition near the high end of the range and is this really just due to the out-performance in the first quarter? Or are you expecting -- or are you now expecting better volumes throughout the year?

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, Matt. I think, and generally, it's early in the year, so overall, we're just reaffirming the range. It was a very strong first quarter. We do feel really good for the entire year but we just think it's early.

Matthew McCormack - BGB Securities, Inc.

Okay. Well, in terms of the margins, and again the margins in this quarter were strong, around 12%. And if I'm doing the math correctly, your guidance, roughly, it's about 11%. So you could talk about possibly a seasonal benefit in the first quarter or what you expect to pressure margins as the year progresses?

Andrew Szafran

Matt, it's Andrew. I think if you look at us historically, Q1 and Q4 are stronger than Q2 and Q3. So we expect that pattern to continue although to a lesser extent.

Matthew McCormack - BGB Securities, Inc.

Okay. And then in terms of the vendor consolidation with a large telco client -- well, first of all, is it the vendor, the one that is eliminating your own capacity, or are they eliminating vendors or both? Or do you already know that you are -- do you already have a good sense or contracted the amount of volumes that you are going to get for the rest of the year?

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, Matt. In general, there are some guarantees on minimums but when you see upside in the business, it's not necessarily contractually committed. It's just a conversation where you work with your partner and you build towards that. So clearly, the capacity that was out there was in the outsource network. And due to seasonality, due to product launches and so forth, they've realized that they have excess capacity in the network. They've already started to take it out from the bottom performers given how strong our performance is. We're getting every indication in the latter half of the year that there should be some modest growth.

Matthew McCormack - BGB Securities, Inc.

Okay. And then just lastly on the SEI transaction, is that the type of deals -- deal sizes, I mean, that we should expect to see? And it's a little unusual because you're buying the center, serving a client. Is that the type of transaction where -- what about possibly doing something with a captive, or buying a captive unit if there's any currently out there that you think would make a fit.

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, I think in the past, what we've kind of talked about is our criteria for acquisitions are: #1, to be accretive to earnings; #2, to expand our global footprint; #3, to get us in key verticals like technology and financial services; and #4, potentially, to get some additional services that we don't necessarily offer or we’re in the early stage of offering it. This one did not meet the need of expanding our global footprint but I think it is safe to say that it hit the other 3 criteria pretty nicely. So I think the general 4 criteria I just laid out is what we'll be looking at for various acquisitions in the future. Size depends on the opportunity. This one happened to be a nice, small one and easily absorbed. We're flexible going forward as long as we hit the other 4 criteria.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Robert Riggs from William Blair.

Robert Riggs - William Blair & Company L.L.C.

Kind of expanding on the last line of questioning, Kevin, from a financial operational standpoint, with the build out going on in Uruguay, the new center in Manila. How comfortable are you, I guess, in the near term of doing another transaction or would we expect to wait a while and get some of these other initiatives accomplished?

Kevin Keleghan

It's a great question, Robert. The fact of the matter is that we have diverse resources in the company. So the resources that are being utilized to open up Manila and Montevideo are different resources that we're utilizing in the integration of the current acquisition. Going forward, it's just going to depend on the opportunity. We're opportunistic with it. It's not something that we've built into our planning process, into our earnings outlook, saying that we have to do this. So really, we're out there continuously looking for opportunities. You saw the large cash balance and we're just trying to make sure that we're putting that to good use through the stock buyback program as well as potential acquisitions.

Robert Riggs - William Blair & Company L.L.C.

Great, thank you. And then if you could just give us kind of an update on the new business pipeline, kind of the peso conversion, what you're seeing in the first few months of this year versus last year. And is the growth really coming from new logos or are you benefiting from more volumes or new programs at existing customers?

Kevin Keleghan

It's a balanced growth. As I mentioned a little bit earlier, we'll give you a lot more detail next quarter. It's hard after one quarter to give you a lot of trend data so we'll do it after the second quarter results. But the reality is, is that we're getting balanced growth from organic with existing customers. We have a tendency to split our new logo bucket in 2 buckets. Our definition of new logo is the first 12 months of existence of a new client. So the runoff, I like that term from the 2010, new logos is doing extremely well and we're off to a very strong start on the brand-new logos in 2011. So I feel very good about that top line growth.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Howard Smith from First Analysis.

Howard Smith - First Analysis

I wanted to know if I could get any more detail on the center in Manila. You mentioned there's kind of 3 phases. What is the size of that? And if you can break it down by phases, that would be great.

Andrew Szafran

Howard, yes, we found a location where it had been vacated by a large insurance company, a captive center. So we're able to bring it up online relatively quickly and with a reduced capital requirement. We divided it into 3 roughly equivalent phases and we can scale it completely to about 800 workstations.

Howard Smith - First Analysis

Great. And so with that and your center in Uruguay, if we look at your available footprint, I know it always depends on where the customer wants the seats, but do you feel pretty good about having the capacity maybe for at least this year's business? And if you start looking at adding other centers or other new locations, you're really pretty far down the line or are we not at that point yet?

Andrew Szafran

No, we're feeling good about our capacity based on what's in our pipeline and what we've signed and any incremental spend or sites would be tied to incremental business.

Howard Smith - First Analysis

Okay. And one last question if I could. On discussions with clients regarding pricing specifically for work done offshore in the Philippines. How receptive is that discussion as far as the change in exchange rates and your rising cost structure and sharing the pain of that?

Andrew Szafran

We have a disciplined approach when we're bidding on a new business and I think everyone in the industry faces those rising costs of the peso and so it's a market phenomenon. I mean, there's still a compelling economic story with moving offshore. It's just a little bit more expensive.

Kevin Keleghan

And Howard, despite that upward pressure, we're still feeling very good about the margins offshore.

Howard Smith - First Analysis

Yes, that showed up this quarter, that's great.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Michael Kim from Imperial Capital.

Michael Kim - Sandler O'Neill & Partners

Could you just talk a little bit about your build out of complementary services, non-voice services and if you see that on plan year-to-date. Secondarily, is -- are the capability that you're building out something that you feel you can do organically or that you would need to complement your acquisitions?

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, it's a good question, Mike. In general, we have a tendency to group a lot of our closely-related services into the voice bucket. So if they're doing e-mail, if they're doing chat in general, inbound customer servicing and even if it's not voice, we kind of put it in that bucket. So that part of the business is growing proportionally. This year, the major growth that we have had in back office support, of pure back-office support, was with an existing client in the Medical business. So when I mentioned before that we had some peaks and valleys in the past, we were able to balance that out with back-office work. So that was a substantial win for us late last year. We haven't won any pure back-office business this year, it's been mostly voice. As far as capacity, we are very good at just-in-time inventory, which also helps with when we have a decent-sized building in Montevideo or the Philippines, building it out in phases to keep our capital expenditures in line with our growth. I feel good that we have the capacity domestically, offshore, nearshore to meet our growth plan and so that's built in there. So any acquisition of potential capacity offshore would more likely be in new markets where our clients are asking us to go versus the existing markets that we've been in historically.

Michael Kim - Sandler O'Neill & Partners

Okay. And then switching to SEI, can you talk a little about the opportunity to leverage, some of the capabilities that they bring into -- deeper into the technology vertical. Can you expand on what capabilities that they've developed over time with some of their specific clients?

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, it's mostly a single client but an extremely large, very critical technology client that we've been looking to sign for a period of time. So first of all, it gets us in the door at a very large technology client that is extremely diversified and allows us to expand in our normal call center business. In addition, this particular business is focused very much on the high-end business-to-business sales channel support. So some sales lead generation in B2B, obviously, sales response for qualified leads and then general support. That's more of a high touch business-to-business environment than the majority of our business. We do some of that now with a handful of our clients but this expands the capability and gives us more credibility there. It's typically higher-margin business. And so in addition to having the opportunity where our resources backing this business will allow us to expand with that client, we also have the ability to expand our traditional services with that client, and then also, will allow us to cross sell this capability to a handful of our clients and then also continue our expansion in the technology vertical.

Michael Kim - Sandler O'Neill & Partners

I know you're planning to talk a little bit more about the financial impact for 2011 but at a high level -- can you describe it, if their growth rate has been above or comparable to APAC? And it sounds like their margin profile is a little bit higher than yours?

Kevin Keleghan

Their margin profile is higher. Their growth has been similar but it's also been constrained. It is part of a diversified company that wasn't purely in the Call Center business. It had a lot of forays into other technology areas that were unrelated and that's where a lot of the capital investment for the holding company was going. And so the client has been looking for more investment in the business, more opportunity for different services, even nearshore and offshore, that this business did not have the capability of doing. So just by combining the 2 companies, that's going to open up greater growth opportunities for this former SEI business.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from the line of Josh Vogel from Sidoti.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the sales cycle today versus maybe what you were seeing a year or 2 ago just in terms of the process or time involved to actually start initial talks with the client to eventually signing them?

Kevin Keleghan

I don't think there's been a substantial change. We like to think that the typical, start-to-finish sales cycle, is close to a 12-month process. And like any given year, there's customers that you have to work for a long period of time as you’re trying to find the right fit and then there's some that just kind of drop in your lap real quick. And we continue to see both of those types. So the sales cycle is similar, what I feel good about is that, overall, our pipeline is a lot more robust than it was a year ago, a lot more opportunity. That being said, as I'd like to remind my team, we've got to get them over the goal line, so they need to get closed. We feel very good about the pipeline right now and there's no major changes from a historical perspective on timing.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Okay. What about when you're ramping a new logo, what's the average time that's taking?

Kevin Keleghan

It really depends on the client and the opportunity. So what we have been good historically at doing is coming in and doing proof of concepts. And so over the last quarter or 2, some of the deals we've inked get out of the gate really fast because they have a need for a large number of seats. And then there are others where it's a new opportunity. Let's say like the insurance sector with just a couple of dozen seats, it’s a proof of concept, but with enormous upside potential. And so we really continue to have a mix of clients and it's why we are so focused on understanding the client and performing because in either of those scenarios, if we do our job and get out of the gate with performance quickly, then the long-term growth potential is very strong.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Okay. Shifting gears a little bit, Kevin, you spoke to capacity both domestically and offshore. But I was just curious if you can maybe give us a little bit more detail about available capacity in the U.S. I know that some -- there is some trend of companies wanting to move back domestically and I was wondering if you were, one, either seeing that from many of your clients; and 2, if you were positioned to handle a large move in volume?

Kevin Keleghan

First of all, we're not seeing any shift. Our clients are growing with us both on and offshore at very consistent levels. There might be even a slight preference to be offshore in the Philippines right now compared to historical levels. As a matter of fact, if you look at our results for the quarter, we did the number of hours we expected but we had a few more hours offshore versus onshore. And as a result, revenue was slightly less than we expected but the margin -- the profit, the pretax profit was pretty much spot on. So once again, it felt good about the growth, it was just a little bit different from what we expected. So we're not seeing that trend that we've also heard other people talk about, about people looking to come back on, we continue to see a blend. We typically are very efficient with the utilization of our seats and don't have huge amounts of capacity just waiting to get filled. On the domestic basis, we have capacity and that's mostly due to the fact that we had a little bit, as you recall from the conversation, a little bit of a decline in the telecom sector. So we have capacity and as we anticipate getting a rebound in the second half with telecom, we expect those chairs to fill up again.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Okay, that's helpful. Thank you. And just a housekeeping question, how much do you have left on the current buyback authorization?

Andrew Szafran

A little over $3 million, Josh.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Okay, great.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Dave Koning from Baird.

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

I guess, my first question was the last couple of years, sequentially, revenues come down $7 million or $8 million. And I know this year, you landed this contract with a healthcare provider that's going to allow for a more stable progression, at least in that contract, through the year. So should we assume -- I mean, certainly, less of a pronounced sequential decline, but how should we model that? Is it maybe half the sequential decline that we've seen in the past?

Andrew Szafran

I'd say a little bit more than half in Q2, Dave. It's something about $4 million, $5 million. I mean, as Kevin pointed out, we're feeling confident about our guidance and any upside that we're feeling will come in the back half of the year but not in Q2.

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

The media client or clients that have been coming out, I mean, certainly generating a nice piece of growth. Are we getting to a point where sequentially, are those still growing? Or is it the year-over-year growth that really did the pronounced amount?

Kevin Keleghan

Well certainly, year-over-year is stronger but we still continue to see nice growth in that segment.

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

So it's building, it is building sequentially as well?

Kevin Keleghan

Yes, it is.

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

One thing I noticed was both -- in the last couple of quarters, there’s been stuff in the Q that we saw. Media and communications have roughly offset each other. Media is not extremely strong, communications weaker, and I was just wondering, as we get through the year, I would imagine media -- it's hard to keep up that huge growth for media. But at the same time, communications is going to get better. I'm just wondering, are those 2 impacts going to offset, or net, are they still -- is there going to be a benefit because of communications, the headwind's been so big that the net effect is going to be positive in the back half.

Josh Vogel - Sidoti & Company, LLC

It's the latter. We do feel -- we continue to feel good about media and the rebound that Kevin spoke about, we are expecting in kind of the back half of the year, with communications.

Kevin Keleghan

I'll just remind you, Dave, on communications, it's not only stabilization of a large client but it's also -- we booked 2 major logos in that sector, one last quarter and one in the first quarter. So we're hopeful that with our normal performance that we can get some nice growth out of the new logos, too.

David Koning - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated

Yes, that’s great. And I guess the last thing, I saw in the 10-Q that you redid your loans through -- the revolver through the end of September and that you're looking for a new lender. Is the Genesis behind looking for a new lender just to get a bigger facility so that your rest can make bigger acquisitions? I mean, maybe you can just talk through that a little bit.

Andrew Szafran

Yes, and we're not looking for a new lender, but a new lending agreement. And in answer to your question, absolutely. We are looking to get some more head room and more favorable terms. We have a very supportive group of banks that are working with us. We just put that -- a little bit of an extension because we were working full-bore with the SEI acquisition so we just wanted a little bit more time to get that in place.

Operator

I show no further questions in the queue. I would like to turn the conference back to Mr. Kevin Keleghan for closing remarks.

Kevin Keleghan

Thank you, operator. We'll close by, once again, saying thanks to everyone for joining us this morning. APAC is a results-oriented company. We're focused on delivering excellent service to our clients and great results for our shareholders. We're especially grateful for the work our clients trust us to perform and for the dedication of all the people who comprise our growing APAC team, and this includes our new associates in Montevideo, Manila and Fargo. We thank you for your participation and interest. We look forward to our next call where we'll be sharing the results for the second quarter.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today's conference. This does conclude the program and you may all disconnect at this time.

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