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TPC Group Inc. (NASDAQ:TPCG)

Q2 2011 Earnings Conference Call

August 11, 2011 10:00 AM ET

Executives

Scott Phipps - IR

Mike McDonnell - President and CEO

Miguel Desdin - SVP and CFO

Analysts

Edward Yang - Oppenheimer

Gregg Goodnight - UBS

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Barry Haimes - Sage Asset Management

Operator

Good day ladies and gentleman and welcome to the TPC Group quarterly earnings conference call for quarter ended June 30, 2011. At this time, all lines are in a listen only mode, later we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will be given at that time. (Operator instructions) I would like to turn the conference over to your host Scott Phipps; Investor relations please begin.

Scott Phipps

Thank you John. Well good morning everyone and welcome to today’s conference call to discuss our second quarter of 2011 earnings results. With me today is Mike McDonnell, President and CEO along with Miguel Desdin, Senior Vice President and CFO.

While management will not be referencing slides today, we have posted a presentation online that include supplemental financial information about the quarter. These slides along with other quarterly financial results can be found in the Investor Relation sections on our website at www.tpcgrp.com.

Please note the slide in the presentation which refers to the forward looking statements and the statements made during this call that refer to management’s expectations and/or future predictions are forward looking statement and tentative recover by the Safe Harbor provision of the security act as there are many factors which could cause the results that defer from our expectations.

We also do not plan to update any forward looking statements during the quarter. Please note that information recorded on this call speaks as of today on August 11, 2011, and therefore you are advised that time sensitive information may longer be accurate at the time of any replay. In addition, some of our comments may reference non-GAAP financial measures.

Reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures and other associated disclosures are contained in our earnings release and on our website, and with that I will turn the call over to Mike.

Mike McDonnell

Thanks Scott. Good morning everyone and thank you for joining the call. I am very pleased with our excellent performance in the second quarter. We posted record EBITDA of $71 million, double the EBITDA of the prior year’s quarter as we drove strong execution in favourable market conditions.

Earnings per diluted share were $2.12 versus $0.80 a year ago. The strong performance in the quarter validates TPC’s market leadership position, mission critical products, longstanding- customer and supplier relationships in our unique and well positioned infrastructure logistics capabilities.

I like to provide some colour on the significant profit drivers in the quarter. First; we executed very well on the quarter continuing our initiatives to improve volume and margins in our C4 Processing segment. These initiatives included ongoing improvements in our value added services model including aggregation, logistics and other infrastructure services for our customers.

Our operational excellent initiatives including our high return low-risk capital projects also contributed significantly to the quarter through cost reductions, reliability and productivity improvements and additionally logistics capabilities that bring greater value to our customers.

Second; crude C4 feed stock volumes were stable in the quarter. Our source of crude C4 feed stock supply is from US ethylene crackers. The global cost position has become more competitive though plentiful natural gas liquids such ethane, propane and butane, which are becoming cost advantage as a result of shell gas drilling.

Ethylene cracker operating rates in the United States for June were 91% and they continue to run at higher rates versus a year ago. The shift from heavier to lighter cracker feed slates over the last few years continues to drive a tight market for crude C4s and butadiene in particular over the short to medium term.

Our ability to source and secure crude C4 supply is a significant capability in the company and obviously very beneficial to our customers. Recently a number of companies announced plans for new scheme crackers and capacity increases in North America. We believe that this new capacity may offset further shits to light cracking ensuring a tight but stable level of crude C4s into the future and I will speak later about our strategies will address these type product supply conditions.

Third; the increase in butadiene market prices also benefitted the quarter significantly. Demand and pricing for butadiene derivative products such as synthetic rubber and nylon remain very strong, for example synthetic rubber use entire production continues to be driven by global growth and auto bills, the strong market for replacement tires and the penetration of higher performance tires. One of our largest butadiene customers in this market reported record sales in the quarter.

I have already discussed the constraint supply of butadiene due to light cracking. These factors have constrained supply and growing command drove increases in butadiene market prices to an average of a $1.39 a pound were 57% higher than a year ago and 41% higher than the average of the first quarter of 2011.

Natural rubber prices remain volatile but above synthetic rubber prices further supporting elevated butadiene prices. As a result of this increase in butadiene price during the quarter, we generated a favourable impact to EBITDA of $27 million due to the timing between procurement of crude C4 and the sales of finished butadiene. This compares with a benefit of $10 million in the prior year quarter. It is important to understand that if BD prices stay flat then we keep the EBITDA we earned.

If butadiene prices rise further beyond Q2 and prices have continued to rise in July and August, then we would expect a see further benefit from buying crude and selling finished BD in a rising price environment, generating EBITDA and using cash to fund the higher value BD inventory. Should prices ease, there would be an unfavourable impact to EBITDA in that period, but we would get the cash back very quickly since we turn our inventories almost twice a month.

This profit associated with the improving value of BD in the market place is in addition to inherently stable and steadily improving core margins we earn the aggregation, processing, and logistics on other services associated with butadiene as well as the rest of our product suite.

Fourth; we benefit from the increase in gasoline prices due to higher crude oil prices and seasonally stronger summer driving season versus last year. Higher gasoline prices impact our margins favourably. Many of our products including butene-1 and raffinates have a cost spaces as fixed percentage of gasoline and a selling price basis is the higher fixed percentage of the gasoline. For example, during this time of year we tend to sell more raffinates at the raffinates prices associated with our gasoline prices.

Butene-1; our co-monomer used in the production of polyethylene is benefitting from overall global growth and polyethylene production particularly in the Middle East and Asia, so we have also been able to improve margins overtime in this product as a result of supply and demand factors.

Now turning to our performance products segment; which provides products to the fuel and lube additives, plasticizers and surfactants markets, we saw stable volumes in our core products. We continued to improve our market position as we drive favourable substitution with our propriety highly reactive polyisobutylene product line.

Prices increased in the quarter and margins were relatively stable sequentially. The lower year-over-year gross profits in this segment were due in part to contract lags. So overall, we executed well in a favourable market environment in the quarter and with that I would like now turn the call over to Miguel to discuss the financial results.

Miguel Desdin

Thank you Mike. I would like to spend a few minutes going through the financial for the quarter and then touch on the June reporting segment. As we reported in our press release; second quarter revenue was $793 million which was up 49% compared to the second quarter of 2010.

Volume was 860 million pounds, up 7% year-over-year and 15% sequentially. Average sales price overall rose 39% from a year ago or $0.26 per pounds driven by the increasing commodity prices.

Gross profit was a $116 million in the second quarter of 2011 compared to $78 million in the second quarter 2010, which amounts to an improvement of almost $0.04 per pound, that improvement was aided by a very good execution on our corporate initiatives, increases in butadiene prices which helped gross margin because of the timing differences between the crude C4 purchases and the sales of finished butadiene and higher absolute margins on contracts that were priced of the percentage of gasoline.

Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $71 million, a $35 million improvement versus a year ago. The improvement was driven by higher margins and volumes mainly in the C4 processing segment. Depreciation and amortization for the quarter was $10 million, consistent with levels both a year ago and the previous quarter. We continue to expect G&A [ph] to be $40 million for the full year.

Interest expense in the quarter was $9 million compared to $4 million a year ago. The increase is directly related to the replacement of a term loan in October of last year with $350 million of senior secured notes that are due 2017. As a result of the items I have mentioned, second quarter 2011 net income was $34 million or $2.12 per diluted share compared to $14 million or $0.80 per diluted share in the second quarter of 2010.

Turning to the balance sheet, sole debt at the end of the quarter was $348 million and the cash balance was $56 million resulting in net debt of $282 million. At quarter-end, the Company’s net debt to the capital ratio was approximately 48% and net debt to trailing 12 months adjusted EBITDA was approximately 1.8 times.

On the cash flow statement, the cash balance increased $5 million from the previous quarter as cash provided by operating activities of $28 million reflected strong the operating results. That number includes an increased investment and working capital of $21 million as prices continues to rise during the quarter.

As I stated before, while we build working capital and prices rise, in general we benefit from the corresponding margin expenses due to the passes in nature of many of our contracts. Capital expenses for the quarter were $13 million, which included $4 million for high-return discretionary project, $4 million for the new research lab, which is expected to be ready in the third quarter of this year and $2 million for the engineering study on the first dehydro.

With the recent decisions to restart the first dehydro and to commence engineering studies to assess the possible restart of the second unit. We expect capital expenditures for the year to be at the high end of our previous guidance range between $45 million and $50 million.

Turning to the reporting segment, C4 processing segment reported revenue, gross profit and EBITDA that were all significantly better than a year ago driven by higher volumes and margins resulting in more than doubling EBITDA from the prior year. Volume in the quarter was up 7% versus the prior year largely due to higher raffinate sales.

Gross profit per pound was up 68% or $0.05 per pound due to margin expansion from our ongoing initiatives and rising commodity prices. Exceptional work by our commercial team and opportunistic spot cargos with margins ahead of their contract equivalent and a seasonal impact of higher gasoline prices during the first summer guiding season we have had in several years.

Recall that we buy and sell raffinate as a percentage of gasoline. For example, we may buy those molecules at 70% of the price of gasoline and sell them at 80%. In an environment of higher gasoline prices, we make more money because our 10% spread is applied to a larger number. In the performance product segment, while revenues and volumes were higher, gross margins were constrained in part due to contract lags and the pass-through of feedstock costs.

The price of butane; one of the primary markers in the segment fell 3% from Q1 2010 to Q2 2010, but rose 7% during the same period in 2011. Higher gasoline prices also dampen the margins and performance of product, but more than compensated for that by increasing margins with the few products in the C4 processing segments.

Overall, we believe performance products has a solid foundation on which the build volume growth in the segment will have a lumpy profile as new PIB customers are added in batches because of the significant amount of time required to gain new counts and qualify the products.

We are accelerating our progress towards our stated 2012 target and it is our intention to work through the annual operating plan this fall and update 2012 guidance yearly next year. I will now turn the call back to Mike.

Mike McDonnell

Looking forward, we do expect strong and stable demand in our core markets including synthetic rubber, nylon, polyethylene, and fuel and lube additives. Remember that our products are essential to our customer’s products during short supply and we expect this structural supply tightness to continue.

We also expect to see the normal typical seasonal easing and prices and margins sequentially later in the year as in previous years. Based on what we are already seeing in the third quarter, butadiene prices continued their upward trajectory and are now up a 105% during this year to $1.70.

Butadiene’s pricing is historically volatile, but the demand and supply factors are expected to support elevated price levels for the near term. We have not yet seen any substance of demand destruction in our segment with these high price levels as we placed the majority of our butadiene into rubber and nylon markets, which have shown resilient for these price levels.

We are also actively executing our operating plans for margin expansion, growth in selected product lines and operational excellent. We continue to position our product portfolio in higher value markets and applications and to enhance our business model to value added services to further capitalize on our unique manufacturing and logistics assets.

Additionally, our operational excellence programs continue to gain momentum and should generate significant value through improved reliability, cost savings and expansion of logistic services for our customers. We are also making good progress in developing our strategies for long-term sustainable earnings growth. We plan to the leverage idled namely our dehydrogenation units and associated infrastructure as well as our proprietary technologies in decades of operating experience.

We are capitalizing on three-key industry dynamics. First, attractive long-term market fundamentals in our core markets; driven by the global megatrend mobility. Second, structural tightness in crude C4s as a result of the shift to lighter cracking; resulting in increasing value of mission critical products and third, the anticipated favourable economics of natural gas liquids providing cost advantage to these stock options.

We are progressing now in the development of two strategic game changing projects to drive our strategies. First is the restart of one of our idled dehydrogenation units to produce isobutylene from cost advantage natural gas liquids to be used as an additional source of feedstock for our growing performance products and fuels product businesses.

We call that isobutylene is valued relative to gasoline and other crude oil products and the spread between crude oil and natural gas liquids is expected to continue to increase over time as a result of shale drilling. We received our operating permit and recently completed primary engineering on this project and are proceeding now with detailed engineering and initial construction and refurbishment. We are forecasting the project to be operational in the first quarter of 2014.

The second project is the restart of our other ideal dehydrogenation unit and the use of our proprietary Oxo-D technology and decades of prior operating experience to produce butadiene on purpose from cost advantage natural gas liquids. Today, nearly all the butadiene in the world comes from crude C4 by-product screen for ethylene crackers and we project a substantial and growing gap between supply and demand well into the future based on the very modest growth assumptions.

North America is net short now and that gap is expected to increase as well. This project will allow us to enhance our operating model as will be able to capture the full margin on the butadiene we produce from this project. The project will provide long-term security of supply of mission critical products to our customers and their early feedback has been very positive.

Earlier this week, we announced that we are beginning a detailed engineering study now of this project, which should be complete by the end of the first quarter of 2012. The project is expected to produce up to 600 million pounds of butadiene with a capacity to expand as needed to additional phases as the market grows.

Overall, our current operating plans coupled with our compelling longer term opportunities provide a strong foundation for sustainable earnings growth consistent cash flows and increase in returns on invested capital.

And now we are happy to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you (Operator instructions) our first question comes from Edward Yang with Oppenheimer. Please go ahead.

Edward Yang - Oppenheimer

Hi, guys, terrific quarter.

Mike McDonnell

Thanks Ed.

Miguel Desdin

Thanks Ed.

Edward Yang - Oppenheimer

Mike mentioned butadiene prices are off to a strong start again, up in July and in August as well, what’s your outlook for September and the fourth quarter?

Mike McDonnell

Really what we are seeing Ed, and we are seeing for some time now this disconnecting, between butadiene price and oil and napalm and is really normal; however, supply in demand, relationship that is stubborning this butadiene pricing. The structural factors are all pretty strong, we are going to see some turnaround over the next few months through November in North America affecting crude C4 and therefore butadiene supply, so that ought to keep a tight market.

Historically, though we do see a little bit of a trending down every year in the back half of the year, we may see some of that maybe moderated, but those are generally the factors. We still see very strong fundamentals both on supply and demand side with butadiene.

Edward Yang - Oppenheimer

And have you started engaging your customers on service and logistics fee increases, I know those contracts are coming due in about a year or so.

Mike McDonnell

Yes, we have been in that process for a while, we are working very collaborative with our customers on that and as contracts come up, we will be taking the opportunity to address those issues.

Edward Yang - Oppenheimer

And you have done extremely well, but there is a lot of concern about the economy right now. Assume that we enter some sort of recession, how would you gauge the impact on your C4 business? Raffinates would presumably get hit on the gasoline side, but what about butadiene? Is there a buffer there because of the structural underpinnings from light cracking that seems to be a market where you were not producing an adequate supply to begin with? So if demands were to decline, would you see volumes decline or is there a buffer there?

Mike McDonnell

I think there are number of buffers and we have to remember too that our products are in short supply, tight supply, that supply is very constrained and we do not see real changes in that situation. Also, that core margin is inherently stable in our business model and just as we have shown years ago, that margin will continue to be stable. So, I think we have confidence in the future.

Ed Yang - Oppenheimer

And just one final question and sort of a math question. I would just like to better understand this Dehydro 2 project that you are evaluating. 600 million pounds of butadiene - that is a 60% capacity increase and you are also changing your business model, since with that plant, you would be taking the raw material risk, but presumably would capture more of the economic value there.

So as a sanity check, if you start looking kind of back of the envelope, what are the cash costs per pound that you think is reasonable for a plant, I would think it is somewhere between maybe $0.70 to $0.80 per pound. Is that correct? And with current selling prices in the $1.70 to $1.80 or so, are you basically talking about $1 per pound of EBITDA on this new plant, or $600 million of EBITDA once it is filled up? I mean, these numbers are fairly substantial, and I want to make sure that the math and assumptions are correct.

Miguel Desdin

Ed two points on that, first on the volume itself. We have spent up to 600 million pounds. We want to make sure and liaise with our customers and build to what is required in the market place. So, on the high side it is going to be that there is no guarantee that at the end of the day we will scale this to that side.

Ed Yang - Oppenheimer

Okay.

Miguel Desdin

As far as the actual margins go, it is really early to tell. I think generally you are in the ballpark with your cost estimate, but that is variable obviously and we are talking about a project that is way in the future. So, we are really do not have a good grasp to what the net margin of TPC is going to be. Obviously, as you stated we will get to keep much more the margins than we do today through the contract mechanisms that we have.

Ed Yang - Oppenheimer

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from Gregg Goodnight with UBS. Please go ahead with your questions.

Gregg Goodnight - UBS

Morning, gentlemen. A little bit of a follow-up for Ed's question. Have you guided to a capital range for this OXO-D process that you intend to put in, or is it a little bit too early and we should know in January?

Miguel Desdin

It is Gregg. We have not guided to any particular number yet. We need to do the engineering study to have a better grasp of what that is going to entail. So, sometime next year, we will come out with a little bit of guidance on that, but at this point we have not.

Gregg Goodnight - UBS

Okay. And I presume this OXO-D process, you mentioned it was a proprietary technology, I guess which you guys have developed in your lab. Have you benchmarked that process to potentially other processes that are out there?

Miguel Desdin

Well, let me just say that the OXO-D technology actually has a long history of TPC. We used to run it for a long, long time, so it is not something new that we just developed in the lab, although we continue to work in the lab obviously to make it better.

So, it is something that we have a lot of experience with. Relative to other technologies out there, we looked some alternatives, this to us appears to be the best technical path to take with the assets that we have, so I think generally you can assume that we are very comfortable with this technology. This will be any other one that might be out there.

Gregg Goodnight - UBS

Okay. Is it likely that you will be able to use your Line 2 D [ph] hydrogenation facility, or is there a possibility that you just have to start from scratch with a blank piece of ground?

Miguel Desdin

No, we are very blessed by having an infrastructure in place around these potential start-up units. So, from that perspective, we have a lot of capital leverage. We will be able to leverage that dehydro unit that is out there today and then obviously the OXO-D unit will be a brand new unit. There is not as much capital leverage on that side, but certainly we have the OSBL and the existing infrastructure for the dehydro in place.

Gregg Goodnight - UBS

Okay. That is all I had, thank you, gentlemen.

Operator

Our next question comes from Wilson Jaeggli with Southwell, please go ahead with your question.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Congratulations on an actually phenomenal quarter. Mike, your timing of joining here was pretty good, wasn't it?

Mike McDonnell

It’s always good.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Talk a bit about the stock repurchase program. I know it is still in effect and there is about $22 million left on the program. The stock has been very volatile here; had declined substantially and then popped up here. Can you talk about what your plans are there?

Miguel Desdin

We obviously as you mentioned still have some capacity left under our existing plan. Our strategic projects are at the top of the list of priorities for capital deployment now Wilson as you might expect, but we continue to evaluate all of the alternatives with the use of cash and we will make those determinations as we go. We continue to evaluate them and make sure that we make the right choices to enhance shareholder value.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Okay. And just to clarify, on your plant, your dehydro plant number one - having the engineering be complete, has the Board and obviously management made a decision to go forth with number one dehydro here?

Mike McDonnell

We are now into the stage of detailed engineering and that will be completed early next year and then we will make a decision to proceed into construction at that time.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Okay, so that looks like next year, but I would assume with the way pricing is going that is not to be a very tough decision. Would you - our share of market here as a merchant supplier of BD, in the marketplace, what do you think our share of market is?

Mike McDonnell

About 35% is what we charecteristically say.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

About 35% and the balance would be supply in here coming from the other big integrated manufacturers. Is that correct?

Mike McDonnell

Yes, the integrated players.

Wilson Jaeggli - Southwell

Right, okay. All right, all my other questions have been answered. Again, congratulations.

Mike McDonnell

Thanks very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from Jonathan Chung with Lord Abbett; please go ahead with your question.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Hey, guys. How are you guys? Great quarter, can you guys remind me - when you guys were doing kind of the analysis, I know you guys had talked about some historical return on invested capital type measures for the two dehydro plants. Can you remind me what that was in the past, what you guys have historically used?

Miguel Desdin

Jonathan, the only thing we have put out is that the return on the first dehydro project would be between 18% and 24%.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

And that is based on historical economics, I am assuming, right?

Miguel Desdin

Yes, correct. It is a little bit early for us on the second one yet, but when those are ready we’ll share those as they are available.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

And just remind me on - where was kind of BD pricing - kind of in that type of scenario, that 18% to 24%, or is that too much detail to kind of ask?

Miguel Desdin

BD pricing when we were going through this about third or fourth quarter of last year when we started to do the economics was in the 90% range.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Okay, so things definitely have changed a bit okay. All right and then so from a timing perspective and I apologize if I missed this; I came on the call a little late - but from a timing perspective, we get this - hopefully, by the end of the first quarter, we will figure out all the plans and stuff, engineering portion of the project. And then from an actual physical, I don't know what you do - the physical components of it, actually, the construction or commissioning of it, what is the earliest that can kind of come online?

Mike McDonnell

That is going to really depend on a variety of factors including the timing to obtain an operating permit.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Okay.

Mike McDonnell

Applying for it sometime next year. The scale of the project ultimately size to the market and with the expansion and further stages planned in etc, so lot of factors to be considered there.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

But it is not something that is going to take two years right

Mike McDonnell

Multi-year, multiyear.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Probably '13, you think, early '13, we could probably get this up and running?

Mike McDonnell

Later than that, we will be back to you to sharpen that timing probably next year.

Jonathan Chung - Lord Abbett

Okay. That is all I had but fantastic quarter, guys. Thanks a lot.

Mike McDonnell

Thanks Jonathan.

Operator

Our next question comes from Barry Haimes with Sage Asset Management, please go ahead with your question.

Barry Haimes - Sage Asset Management

Hi thanks, great quarter. Just following up again on the BD project, I know you can't give any precision yet on the cost, but is there a broad range, just bigger than a bread box that you can give to give us a sense of what the capital costs might be? Thanks.

Mike McDonnell

Really, it is difficult to do that at this time because we are still trying to figure out and will be for the next 4 or 5 months. The appropriate scale and configuration, so the range should really brought to be meaningful at this point. So, I think it is really best we come early next year with a much more definitive statement on it, if that is okay.

Barry Haimes - Sage Asset Management

Okay, thanks appreciate it.

Operator

I am not showing any other questions; I will like to turn it back over to Mike McDonnell for closing comments.

Mike McDonnell

Thank you. As our second quarter performance clearly indicates; we are executing our plans for growth, margin expansion and operational excellence with focus and discipline. We are committed to the long term growth and development of TPC group and we are excited about our many opportunities ahead.

In closing, I would like to recognize and thank our dedicated employees for their ingenuity and hard work in delivering a record quarter results and thank you all for joining the call this morning.

Operator

Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank for your participation in today’s conference, this does concludes the conference you may now disconnect, good day.

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