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Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (NYSE:DTG)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

February 21, 2012 9:00 am ET

Executives

Vicki Vaniman - Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel

Scott L. Thompson - Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President

H. Clifford Buster - Chief Financial Officer, Senior Executive Vice President and Treasurer

Analysts

Christopher Agnew - MKM Partners LLC, Research Division

Michael Millman - Millman Research Associates

John M. Healy - Northcoast Research

Stephen O'Hara - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Jordan Hymowitz

Bill Kavaler - Oscar Gruss and Son Inc., Research Division

Operator

Welcome, and thank you for joining the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Fourth Quarter Year-end Financial Results. [Operator Instructions] Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time. Now I would like to turn the call over to your speaker, to Vicki Vaniman, General Counsel, you may begin.

Vicki Vaniman

Thank you. Good morning, and welcome to the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc. Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2011 Earnings Release Conference Call. Scott Thompson, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board; together with Cliff Buster, Chief Financial Officer, will be the host for today's call.

Some of the comments contained in this conference call may constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed in forward-looking statements due to many factors. These factors include, among others, matters that Dollar Thrifty has noted in its latest earnings release and filings with the SEC. Dollar Thrifty undertakes no obligation to update or revise forward-looking statements.

Today, the company will use certain non-GAAP financial measures, all of which are reconciled with GAAP numbers and can be found in today's press release or posted to our company's website at dtag.com under the Investor Info tab.

And now I would like to turn the call over to Scott to discuss our fourth quarter and full year results.

Scott L. Thompson

Thank you, Vicki, and good morning, everyone. I'm pleased to report that for the second consecutive year, the company has reported record earnings. Disciplined revenue and fleet management combined with a strong used vehicle market and lower financing and operating costs allowed us to achieve this performance in spite of a competitive rate environment.

Now for a few overall comments about the fourth quarter. Rental revenue for the fourth quarter of 2011 increased 1%, driven primarily by a 5.2% rise in rental base, partially offset by a 4% decline in revenue per day. Utilization of the fleet climbed to 81.1% in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to 79.7% in the prior year period. We continue to be very pleased with the demand for our value-oriented product offerings.

I should highlight that we had a significant reduction in our insurance expense this quarter. Our insurance expense declined approximately $10 million compared to the fourth quarter of 2010 due to favorable claims development resulting from loss control procedures and operational changes made over the last 3 years. These changes have proven successful in lowering our costs.

Fleet cost per vehicle for the fourth quarter of 2011 declined $218 per month compared to $308 per vehicle per month for the same period last year. Increases in residual values, driven by favorable used vehicle market, positively impacted base depreciation rates. Additionally, gains on sale of risk vehicles increased $3.9 million on a year-over-year basis.

Corporate adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter of 2011 totaled $63.5 million compared to $30.2 million for the fourth quarter of 2010. We were -- there were no merger-related expenses in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to $2.1 million in the fourth quarter 2010. Lastly, I'd like to highlight that the company's non-GAAP earnings per share tripled in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to the fourth quarter of 2010.

Now Cliff, will review the financial details for the quarter.

H. Clifford Buster

Thanks, Scott. As Scott mentioned, earnings were very strong this quarter. Non-GAAP net income, excluding merger-related expenses, totaled $34.1 million for the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to $9.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2010. Again, excluding the impact of merger-related expenses, non-GAAP diluted earnings per share for the fourth quarter of 2011 totaled $1.09 per diluted share compared to $0.31 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Consistence with -- consistent with our comments in the last 2 quarters, I need to highlight that our diluted share count increased by approximately 1 million shares compared to the prior year period, although there have been no significant equity grants since 2010. This is the result of the application of the treasury stock method for accounting purposes in computing diluted shares. Due to the increase in the company's stock price since 2010, approximately 300,000 fewer shares are assumed to be repurchased from the proceeds of option exercises. Additionally, approximately 700,000 fewer shares are assumed to be repurchased attributable to the inability to benefit the tax deduction arising from those assumed option exercises under the treasury stock method, as the company does not expect to be a cash tax payer in 2011. When the company becomes a cash tax payer, the situation is expected to reverse; thus, reducing diluted shares outstanding. For 2012 guidance purposes, we have taken a conservative position and have assumed that these shares will be outstanding for diluted EPS purposes.

Now turning to Table 1 in the press release. Rental revenues for the fourth quarter of 2011 were $338.3 million, an increase of 1% from prior year levels. As Scott mentioned, fleet utilization increased 140 basis points, as we were able to service a portion of the incremental rental demand without a corresponding increase in our fleet size. This increase in utilization helped to mitigate the pricing pressure we realized during the quarter.

Selling, general and administrative expenses in the fourth quarter of 2011 declined modestly to $45.4 million, primarily attributable to a decrease in merger-related expenses on a year-over-year basis. In spite of a 5.2% increase in rental base, direct vehicle and operating expenses in the fourth quarter of 2011 were effectively flat compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. This was primarily due to lower insurance expense as a result of favorable developments and loss trends in claims history. We would not expect this favorability to repeat next year, as it was the result of changes we've made in business practices that impacted claim estimates established by third-party actuaries.

Vehicle depreciation expense for the quarter decreased $24.2 million or 26.5% from $91.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 to $67 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. The decrease is attributable to the factor Scott mentioned earlier in the call with respect to base depreciation rates and vehicle gains, partially offset by an increase in depreciation as a result of a 3.6% increase in average depreciable fleet during the period.

During the fourth quarter of 2011, the company sold approximately 8,600 vehicles at an average gain of $436 per vehicle compared to approximately 7,900 vehicles sold in the fourth quarter of 2010 at an average loss of $17 per vehicle.

Interest expense, net of interest income, totaled $18.6 million for the fourth quarter of 2011, down from $23.9 million for the same period last year. The decrease in interest expense is the result of the repayment of all of our corporate indebtedness during the third quarter, combined with lower overall interest rates on the new fleet financing facilities completed during 2011.

Now moving on to key balance sheet items on Table 2 of the press release. Cash and cash equivalents totaled $509 million as of December 31, 2011, compared to $563 million at December 31, 2010. The decline in cash is attributable to the repayment of $143 million of outstanding corporate debt in the third quarter, the payment of $100 million under the share repurchase agreement executed in the fourth quarter, direct investments in our Canadian fleet totaling $65 million as of year-end, and the early settlement of an interest rate swap agreement for $9 million at year end. These uses of cash were partially offset by significant cash flow from operations. We currently have commitments from 2 financial institutions and expect to reinstate the Canadian fleet financing facility of CAD $150 million in the very near term. This will allow us to re-leverage the Canadian fleet and return approximately $65 million of cash to our U.S. headquarters for general corporate purposes.

Restricted cash totaled $353 million as of December 31, 2011, up from $277 million as of December 31, 2010. The increase in restricted cash is attributable to the fleet financing completed in the fourth quarter of 2011 in preparation for upcoming debt maturities.

Revenue-earning vehicles, net of depreciation, totaled $1.5 billion at December 31, 2011, an increase of approximately $130 million from December 31, 2010, levels. The increase in the book value of the fleet is due to an increase in our ending fleet of approximately 3% compared to the fourth quarter of 2010, directly as a result of higher fleet levels to service increased rental demand.

Vehicle debt increased approximately $150 million from December 31, 2010, to December 31, 2011, with vehicle debt now totaling $1.4 billion. The increase in vehicle debt resulted from the completion of $900 million in medium-term note issuances in 2011 in order to prefund upcoming fleet debt maturities. These issues were partially offset by the repayment of our Series 2006 medium-term notes, the Canadian financing facility and borrowings under our conduit facilities.

Now turning to liquidity and capital resources. As discussed last quarter, the company completed 3 new fleet financings during 2011 that lowered our borrowing costs and extended our fleet debt maturities. As announced last week, the company has also completed a new 5-year, $450 million senior secured credit facility. The new senior secured credit facility increases the company's available revolving credit capacity to $450 million and will mature in 2017. In addition to incremental financing capacity, the new facility provides the company with greatly improved flexibility to manage growth initiatives and capital structure initiatives. Among other items, the new facility provides for restricted payments for the purposes of making share repurchases and/or paying dividends, provides greater flexibility for completion of acquisitions and permits the company to incur additional indebtedness. Pricing under the new facility will be a spread of 300 to 350 basis points above LIBOR. And based on our current usage, we would expect to be at the low end of that pricing grid. The new facility contains various financial and other covenants, which are detailed on our Form 8-K that will be filed later today.

After considering that $100 million forward stock repurchase agreement that was fully funded and reported as a reduction to stockholders' equity as of year-end, we ended the quarter with tangible net worth of $586 million. I would like to point out that although the $100 million share repurchase was funded prior to year end, our diluted share count did not benefit from the repurchase in 2011 as shares were not delivered until February 10, 2012.

Finally, as we consider liquidity uses in 2012, we anticipate incurring capital expenditures of approximately $25 million.

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

Scott L. Thompson

Thank you, Cliff. As you can see, we have substantial liquidity available with over $500 million in unrestricted cash at year end, unutilized revolver capacity under our newly completed credit facility of approximately $250 million and approximately $65 million of cash that will be returned in conjunction with the re-leveraging of the Canadian fleet. This abundance of liquidity, combined with no corporate indebtedness and our expected substantial cash flow from operations, places Dollar Thrifty in a very good competitive position.

Now I'd like to briefly discuss returning cash to shareholders. As recently announced in February, we completed the repurchase of $100 million of the company's common stock, reducing our outstanding share count by approximately 1.45 million shares or approximately 5% of our outstanding shares. We believe this is an appropriate first step in the rationalization of our capital structure in returning cash to our shareholders. We continue to have $300 million of available authorization under our board-approved share repurchase program. We currently expect to complete additional share repurchases in 2012, and we'll continue to review our capital structure alternatives.

Turning to our shareholders' rights plan. As announced this morning, our Board of Directors approved an amendment to the company's shareholders' rights plan, extending the maturity of the plan to May 2013. The board believes this step is an appropriate and consistent with its fiduciary duties. The company has not received complete clarity on certain competitors' intentions or the status of FTC activity involving these competitors. Given the significant liquidity embedded in the company's balance sheet, scarcity value of our well-established brands and the history of our competitors' actions, the board believes the shareholders' rights plan is appropriate. Keeping the plan in place will ensure the Dollar Thrifty board maintains the power necessary to act in the best interest of all of our shareholders.

Turning to 2012 outlook. We expect an improving U.S. travel market and a very solid used vehicle market in 2012. We believe our well-established, value-oriented rental car offerings are positioned well for the current economy. Accordingly, we are projecting rental revenue growth of 3% to 5% in 2012 compared to 2011. Based on recent trends, we expect this growth to be primarily driven by further transaction growth.

Our outlook for the used vehicle market is that it will continue to be favorable in 2012, and for planning purposes, we are using an assumed Manheim Index of approximately 124 for establishing residual value assumptions. Additionally, we expect gains on sale of risk vehicles to moderate in 2012 as the result of continued refinement of residual value assumptions. Based on these factors, our full year 2012 fleet cost target is in the range of $220 to $240 per vehicle per month.

Lastly, as a result of overall interest rate on our company's fleet financing facilities compared to the above market fixed rates paid on the maturing and maturing financing facility and the repayment of all of our corporate debt in 2011, we expect interest expense to decline significantly in 2012 as compared to 2011. We expect this decrease to be in the range of $15 million to $20 million, as we somewhat backloaded as the last of the old fixed-rate debt structures will be repaid from February through July of 2012. Additionally, I would like to point out that approximately $4.4 million of the anticipated decrease represents the reduction in corporate interest and the write-off of deferred financing fees in 2011 due to the repayment of all of our corporate indebtedness in the third quarter.

Based on these factors, we are targeting exclusive ending merger-related expenses corporate adjusted EBITDA of $275 million to $300 million for the full year 2012. Additionally, we are targeting earnings per share to be in the range of $4.60 to $5.20 per diluted share for the full year of 2012. We expect to stop reporting non-GAAP EPS and will focus on GAAP EPS in the quarter. Looking forward to 2012 and beyond, we've established an internal goal of achieving annual EPS growth of 10%.

Turning to current operating trends. While we do not generally provide quarterly guidance given our expectations for a significant variation in earnings of approximately 100% on a year-over-year basis, we are providing our outlook for the first quarter of 2012. As announced this morning, for the first quarter of 2012, we are targeting EPS to be within the range of $1.15 to $1.40 per diluted share and corporate adjusted EBITDA to be within the range of $70 million to $80 million. This compares with EPS and corporate adjusted EBITDA in the first quarter of 2011 of $0.53 per share and $36.3 million, respectively. Significant drivers of this improvement in performance are expected to be single-digit revenue growth combined with significant improvement in fleet costs on a year-over-year basis. Based on anticipated remarketing activities and lower overall depreciation rates on our fleet, we are targeting fleet costs for the first quarter of 2012 to be within the range of $150 to $170 per unit per month. We expect rental rate environment to improve in the first quarter of 2012 versus the fourth quarter of 2011, as the year-over-year decline should mitigate. Nevertheless, we anticipate RPD will decline slightly as compared to the first quarter of 2011.

In conclusion, we remain keenly focused on profitable revenue growth, cost controls, productivity initiatives, disciplined fleet management and customer service. We believe these factors are consistent with our primary goal to maximize the company's return on assets. With the strength of our balance sheet, a highly competitive cost structure, strong relationships with strategic partners and increasing consumer demand for our value-oriented product offerings, we are pleased with our competitive position as a stand-alone company.

Thanks certainly go out to our over 5,900 employees for their efforts every day, helping the company achieve its goals. Additionally, I'd like to thank the suppliers, travel partners, lenders and shareholders for their ongoing support.

That concludes our prepared remarks. Operator, please open the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from Christopher Agnew with MKM Partners.

Christopher Agnew - MKM Partners LLC, Research Division

One question on guidance. 3 parts, if you don't mind. Airline capacity for 2012 is expected to be flat to down. So just wondering if you could comment on what trends you are seeing that gives you confidence in your rental revenue forecast. And then very quickly, can you comment on cash taxes in 2012 and if share buyback activities in your EPS guidance?

Scott L. Thompson

Sure. You managed on getting a lot of questions in on one. First of all, kind of to reconcile expected deplanements with the revenue guidance. I mean, I think first thing, if you study the deplanements, you'd see that mainly smaller airports have been getting hit harder than the major hubs, and the majority of our business, obviously, is coming from major hubs. So yes, you really have to do it on an airport-by-airport basis. Another point I would make is the length of rent. We continue to see the length of rent extending month after month. And so with just a little bit of a change in length of rent, you can end up with relatively flat deplanements in positive rental volumes. You asked about cash taxes, and I'll defer that to Cliff.

H. Clifford Buster

Yes, Chris, we expect to pay some cash taxes in 2012, but we would expect that the amount of cash taxes we'd pay would be below the statutory rate. I will give further guidance on that as the year progresses. And then with respect to your last question on the repurchase activity, the share counts are reflective of the $100 million share repurchase that we just concluded but does not currently include any further share repurchases.

Operator

Next question comes from Michael Millman with Millman Research Associates.

Michael Millman - Millman Research Associates

At least in January and likely to continue, there's been a couple of new entrants into your major market in Florida, and pricing seems to be brutal. Given that, what do you see happening? What do you see your revenue per day? It sounds like flattish or maybe down slightly. Do you see that there's a fundamental shift taking place, particularly in the Florida market, to the low end? And how do you see this affecting the business in the long term? So that's one long question.

Scott L. Thompson

It was a very long question, Michael. First of all, I don't see any fundamental changes in the competitive landscape. There have been a couple of new competitors in the Florida market, but the Florida market, it has already been a very competitive market. I think there's something like 20 rental car companies in Orlando. And so the addition of 1 or 2 here or there, I don't consider to be particularly significant. I think as you also know that the markets and airports have a tendency to have quite a bit of volatility in pricing, and you might be up or down 20% pretty easily within a given airport. And within Florida, there were some airports, the pricing had been competitive over the last 30 days. Before that, it was pretty good. And I would expect that we'll continue to see significant volatility on an airport-by-airport basis but nothing particularly fundamental. If you also go to other markets, it's not unusual to see -- if you go to like San Francisco, doing very well, and so it jumps around quite a bit from a pricing standpoint.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Healy with Northcoast Research.

John M. Healy - Northcoast Research

Scott, a couple -- 2-part question about fleet. Could you give us some color on how fleet levels kind of trended throughout the fourth quarter maybe in the industry, and maybe where you see them today, and maybe where your fleet is kind of as you exited the quarter, how tight you think it is? And with that, are we right in thinking about kind of your expectation that pricing will be somewhat softer on a year-over-year basis in the first quarter, that you have seen the pricing environment out there what I would say kind of firm up on a year-over-year basis a bit?

Scott L. Thompson

Let me see if I catch some of that. First of all, yes, I think we've been very clear that we'd expect the first quarter for the pricing to be slightly negative compared to first quarter last year, but not to the same extent as the pricing pressure we saw in the fourth quarter. So I want to be clear on that. From a -- what do we see from industry-wide fleet? We -- they don't send their numbers, so I don't know exactly what everybody's got from a fleet standpoint. Quite frankly, I learn more about people's fleet from the earnings call. Cliff, what's our fleet, at 3% give or take?

H. Clifford Buster

3% at quarter end.

Scott L. Thompson

About 3%, not too far off GDP. And from our perspective, we're where we want to be from a fleet standpoint and feel good about where the fleet is right now.

Operator

Our next question comes from Steve O'Hara with Sidoti.

Stephen O'Hara - Sidoti & Company, LLC

When you're talking about targeting 10% EPS growth annually, and I assume that's a long-term goal, where does that come from? I mean, at some point, I think you probably run out of costs cut, and if the industry only grows at, let's say, GDP, does that imply further expansion internationally or maybe opening up other lines of business?

Scott L. Thompson

Well, I think we've got a lot of leverage. First of all, that's an internal target goal. As we begun to get more focused on stand alone, we'd look to see what we think we can do long term. Certainly, the industry -- we believe the U.S. economy is growing. I wouldn't be surprised if the rental volume didn't grow faster than GDP, but it's probably not 2x of GDP, but probably something north of GDP. We also have some store openings that we expect to take part of -- this year. We continue to grow our franchising network worldwide. We have been very focused on costs and of course, we'll continue to work on the cost side of the equation. And I think our balance sheet also allows us some share buyback in the future, which is certainly positive to -- to EPS. And we may invest some of those proceeds in other opportunities. When you look at all the tools we have in the toolbox, with a improving economy underneath the company, it looks like a very doable internal goal.

Stephen O'Hara - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Yes, okay. And then second, on -- Avis Budget has been pretty vocal about their desire to grow the Budget brand in Europe. I think in terms of offering, I think, Dollar's probably at least comparable to Budget. And I'm just wondering, do you see that as a possible opportunity for you as well?

Scott L. Thompson

As you may or may not remember, we really don't have any corporate stores in Europe. We have a couple of small franchise operations in Europe that quite frankly aren't significant to the overall company, so we're really not a player on Continental Europe. I do think the expansion of the Dollar and the Thrifty brand into Europe over time is an opportunity, but it would have to be done in a franchising business model. And with the current situation in Europe, we're not particularly active in working on expanding the brand in Europe right now, but it is a long-term opportunity that we're underrepresented clearly in Continental Europe.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question comes from Jordan Hymowitz with Philadelphia Financial.

Jordan Hymowitz

I think that I have 2 great questions. One, your 3% to 5% rental revenues, can you break that out between price and volume?

Scott L. Thompson

No, but what I can tell you is generally we expect it to be in volume. But as you know, the pricing in this industry has to do with 4 players' pricing strategies, and we're the smallest player. So generally, we don't make any prediction of price really up or down.

Jordan Hymowitz

But given the first quarter trends, that would be indicative of the year more likely than not?

Scott L. Thompson

I would say the first quarter, obviously, we've got January booked, and January was a very good month for us overall in the bottom line. And we've got a reservation book that looks forward enough that we can see most of the first quarter, and what we've said is we would expect the pricing to be slightly down but improved from the fourth quarter.

Jordan Hymowitz

Okay. And the second question is that your depreciation at this point is -- per vehicle is substantially lower than Hertz and somewhat lower than Avis. Why do you think that is?

Scott L. Thompson

Don't know.

Operator

Our next question comes from Bill Kavaler with Oscar Gruss.

Bill Kavaler - Oscar Gruss and Son Inc., Research Division

Just a couple of sort of housekeeping questions. The $500 million of cash -- of unrestricted cash, does that -- is that net of the $100 million buyback?

H. Clifford Buster

Yes, it is.

Bill Kavaler - Oscar Gruss and Son Inc., Research Division

Okay. And so the 20.1, I think it is, that you said when you announced the termination of the buyback, is that like the current basic shares outstanding?

Scott L. Thompson

What our basic -- let's get you the basic now.

H. Clifford Buster

Yes. Let me get the basic shares for you real quick. Those do not -- the base shares that we reported did not have the effect of the buyback in them at this point.

Bill Kavaler - Oscar Gruss and Son Inc., Research Division

Okay. That's all I need. And then just sort of on a macro question, I think a lot of people are wondering. Given the amount of cash that you're generating and your -- the modest size of your market cap, I mean, when do you stop buying back shares and sort of start returning the cash as dividends or I mean, how small do you get?

Scott L. Thompson

Yes. No, I mean, great question and certainly it's something we're staying focused on. What we've said over time is there's obviously various ways to return cash to shareholders, and that we expected that we would use more than one tool in the toolbox over time. We are sensitive to our market cap. Our shareholders have been very clear from a liquidity standpoint that we -- they've given us some thoughts in that area. But right now, like I said, we expect to buy some more shares in 2012, but we are keenly focused on also thinking about other ways to return cash to shareholders.

Operator

Our final question comes from Michael Millman with Millman Research Associates.

Michael Millman - Millman Research Associates

Can you talk about -- maybe this is a long-term, splitting -- not splitting ownership, but splitting the market represented by Dollar and by Thrifty?

Scott L. Thompson

I'm not sure I understand the question, Mike.

Michael Millman - Millman Research Associates

Today, as they seem to sell at the same price, would you think of this...

Scott L. Thompson

Position and price-wise differently?

Michael Millman - Millman Research Associates

Position the brands differently, correct.

Scott L. Thompson

We are always studying the positioning of the brands, both with each other and against our competition, and we don't really have anything to report on that today. But that is something that we spend a good bit of time looking at and studying, and at times, even testing.

Operator

At this time, we have no further questions.

Scott L. Thompson

Thank you. We certainly appreciate your time and interest today. The team is looking forward to reporting the first quarter's financial performance in May. And again, thank you for your interest.

Operator

Thank you, and thank you for joining today's conference. You may disconnect at this time.

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