Echelon's (ELON) CEO Ron Sege on Q4 2015 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Echelon Corporation (ELON)

Echelon Corporation (NASDAQ:ELON)

Q4 2015 Earnings Conference Call

February 11, 2016 04:30 PM ET

Executives

Annie Leschin - IR

Ron Sege - CEO

Mike Marszewski - CFO

Analysts

Operator

Welcome to the Q4 2015 Echelon Corporation Earnings Conference Call. My name is Anna, and I’ll be your operator for today's call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. Please note that this conference is being recorded.

I’ll now turn the call over to Annie Leschin of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Annie Leschin

Thank you, operator. Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us this afternoon for Echelon's fourth quarter 2015 earnings conference call. With me on today's call are Ron Sege, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; and Mike Marszewski, Vice President and CFO, both of whom will present prepared remarks. By now you should have received a copy of the press release that we issued a short time ago. If you would like a copy, please visit our Web site at www.echelon.com.

Additionally, we will refer to a set of slides that we have posted on the IR section of the Web site to help walk through the quarter’s results and outlook for our markets. You may have noticed that we are evaluating a new communication where we are take questions from our investors prior to earnings. Watch for the Echelon link on the homepage prior to call.

I would like to remind everyone that during the course of this call, we may make statements related to our overall business outlook, future financial operating results, accounting matters and future prospects. These are forward-looking statements based on certain assumptions and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. We encourage you to read the risks described in our press release, as well as those in our SEC reports, including our report on Form 10-K and subsequent reports on Form 10-Q for a more complete disclosure of the risks and uncertainties related to our business.

The financial information presented in this call reflects estimates based on the information that is available to us at this time. Actual results can differ materially. Echelon, undertakes no obligation to update or revise these forward-looking statements and guidance will not be updated after today's call until our next scheduled quarterly financial release.

Now I’d like to turn the call over to Ron Sege. Ron?

Ron Sege

Thank you, Annie. Good afternoon everyone. We are pleased to be talking to you from our new corporate headquarters here in Santa Clara, California. I will begin my comments with a brief look at our 2015 accomplishments and a snapshot of our fourth quarter results. Then I will review our strategy for what we see as a growing opportunity to make lighting systems strategic and discuss how some of our new products are moving us towards that vision. Finally, I will close with an update on our embedded platform IIoT business and how we are executing with a continued eye towards financial discipline.

Turning to Slide 3, in 2015, we largely completed our multiyear strategic restructuring. Revenues from our lighting solutions grew by more than 50% in the year with wins across targeted verticals. We expanded our capability by introducing new product offerings and upgrading existing solutions. We began to develop our lighting sales model through direct and indirect channels. In our embedded platform business, we started to see wins with our updated solutions which help customers more easily migrate from legacy control protocols to the Internet protocol. We lowered our operating expenses by reducing G&A and existing our long-term headquarters lease.

Our current cost structure and upcoming product cost reduction plans should reduce our breakeven revenue levels to approximately $40 million annually depending on product mix. With a clear vision driving our growth strategy we believe we are on the right path to capturing a larger share of the dynamic lighting controls market and ultimately improving shareholder value.

On Slide 4 for the fourth quarter revenue came in at $9.6 million, slightly below our expectations due to supply constraints and a weather related delays that pushed some orders into early 2016. Non-GAAP gross margins increased to 57.6% above our guided range due to product mix and lower indirect costs. We reduced our operating expenses by 95 quarter-on-quarter particularly in G&A. This resulted in the lowest net loss we have seen for a number of years. Fourth quarter non-GAAP loss of $0.07 on a post-split basis or less than $0.01 pre-split a significant improvement when compared to the $0.50 on a post-split basis or $0.05 on a pre-split basis for the same period last year.

Let me now turn to our lighting controls business on Slide 6. As the movement to solid state lighting or LEDs progresses, lighting has the potential to move from simply providing utility to becoming a ubiquitous strategic platform that can host a variety of sensors and valuable functions. With our controls heritage and increased lighting focus we believe that Echelon is one of the few pure play companies offering a platform capable of unlocking this strategic value. Intelligent lighting can be especially valuable to retail businesses, educational institutions and municipalities by allowing them to achieve better enterprise outcomes through data driven decisions led by sensor enabled lighting systems. Our product strategy is designed to help customers realize this value with flexibly to connect and control almost any light source, fixture and sensor.

Turning to Slide 7, with the recent addition of our LumInsight Central Management Software or CMS, our Lumewave by Echelon strategic lighting systems can take our customers through the full range of lighting control applications. We look at these applications in three categories, room level apps, which represent most of today’s market demand allow customers to save energy and meet increasing stringent regulations utilizing simple sensors and controllers. Slightly more sophisticated applications provide enterprise and citywide lighting control and monitoring, adding a CMS to gateway sensors and controllers.

These applications focus on energy savings and improvement in safety, comfort and maintenance. The third category which is just developing in the market today is enterprise wide strategic applications, which can provide significant benefit by adding analytics, Big Data, and more sophisticated sensors to the basic components. Our Lumewave by Echelon solution is being designed to deliver all three application categories to any lights source and fixture leveraging the increasing variety of third party sensors on the market. We believe this gives our customers and our channels the most value and flexibility in the market today.

With our LumInsight CMS, customers can now start up, commission, monitor and manage through those wired and wireless connections across the enterprise in-door and out, on-off, diming cycles can be set individually or in group so light output can be tailored to particular situations. With the help of the system the light sources can be monitored and maintenance scheduled more efficiently. Activity within the lighting area can be monitored with our own or third party sensors which will become more sophisticated over time. For example, the count customers locking down isles of retail stores to measure merchandising effectiveness. Data from sensors will also in the future feed into Big Data Analytics this can offer increasingly efficient modeling for building operators or commercial real estate managers particularly across multiple properties.

With BACnet and LonWorks interfaces energy usage and the performance of lighting HVAC and other traditional building systems can be easily monitored via secured cloud based applications. Big Data should benefit business by making it easier for owners to make smarter, faster decisions that affect the top and bottom lines. And because our system is open and based on standards including our powerful LonWorks system, our customers can chose to use our complete solution or to mix and match with third party, CMSs, gateways and control nodes. Again we believe this offers our partners and customers the greatest amount of flexibility in a rapidly changing market.

The unique value of our outdoor lighting solution is evident in our 7,500 plus node installation in Cambridge Massachusetts. The City’s deployment of Lumewave by Echelon Solution demonstrates how an entire municipality migrated from a utility service using simple photo cells to an enterprise solution from Echelon. As an example with our system groups of city lights turn on automatically to varying brightness levels at sunset. At program times the light dim to save energy and all lights turn off at sunrise. Lighting levels and dimming schedules can vary depending on the type of area served such as residential or business. Individual light levels can be varied according to community feedback. In the future Cambridge can add sophisticated sensors to the system to capture additional data that can improve the operation of the city for example by measuring traffic flow on city streets.

In Minnesota we are helping transition the city’s outdoor lights from simple photo cells to one with enterprise light control. This city of approximately 86,000 people as already purchased a pilot system to connect 450 decorative pathway lights using Power Line Communications. For the remainder as the 4,000 wide roadway system the city is planning to use our wireless controllers which would make this one of the first to utilize our unique hybrid wireless-wired system to reach every light using one network. In the future the city can evenly add a range of sensors to monitor traffic levels, pollution and more over taking the system from an enterprise level to one that add strategic value to the city.

While the examples I have highlighted are U.S. customers the opportunity for smart lighting in Europe is equally significant. Given this we now have the pilot quantities of the European version of our wireless lighting control module that could bring the benefit of the hybrid system to the large European market.

Turning to our building automation business we continue to seek design wins with our refreshed product line of embedded systems based on the IzoT platform. Earlier this week we highlighted four customers that were utilizing the FT 6050 system on a chip that we announced in early 2015. The 6050 is versatile solution that supports BACnet, LON and IP protocol stacks in the same system. This helps OEMs give their end user the flexibility to easily migrate to the IIoT without ripping and replacing installed systems or using expensive complex gateways. These four customers highlighted the benefits of the FT 6050 including reducing design and installation time which greatly accelerates time in the market. This quarter we once again saw a solid revenue from our long-time customer ENEL, however after significant large purchases in 2015 ENEL has indicated that they do not plan to make further purchases after the first quarter as they evaluate their futures supply strategy. Revenue from our grid customer, Network Energy Services formally S&T continued with the roll out of the Tauron project in Poland which should be ongoing this year.

Moving on to our sales strategy throughout 2015 we have try to strike the balance between directing our sales teams toward the fast emerging lighting market opportunity and pursuing heat design wins in the embedded systems market. While we have made progress with both it is becoming increasingly clear that the skill set requires and secure embedded design wins and lighting project wins are different. Therefore we have decided to dedicate sales teams through our embedded business and higher sales representatives with lighting experience and industry context. Long-term this investment should lead to an increased sales and market penetration across our verticals. In the first half of the year our expectations -- our expectations, as the new sales force comes on board and begins to add to the pipeline. Then finally the third leg of our stool, our financial discipline was clearly reflected in our quarterly and annual results for 2015 which Michael will discuss in more detail.

In closing we entered 2016 with a clear product and go to market plan to capture what we believe is a very compelling opportunity in the intelligent lining controls market. In many ways we enter 2016 with a cleans slate compelling products coming to market, a growing installed base with customers who speak highly of our solutions and increasingly focused and capable sales force and a cost structure that has been right sized for the opportunity in front of us. Leveraging the modernized long wards platform we have already integrated into intelligent lining controls. Our advance product offerings are redefining the roll of lagging controls to meet the growing demand for a strategic IIoT solutions.

Finally, I again wish to thank our shareholders, employees, customers and partners for their ongoing support of the Echelon family and vision.

I will now turn the call over to Mike. Mike?

Mike Marszewski

Thank you, Ron. Please note that all references to non-GAAP amounts are detailed in the non-GAAP P&L on the investor relations section of our website. Also as a result of the one for ten reverse stocks split we configured in the fourth quarter we will be referring to our loss per share on both the post and pre-split pages for these fourth quarter discussions. Beginning with the first quarter’s conference call and materials we will reference port split numbers only.

Let me begin with revenues on Slide 12. Fourth quarter revenues of $9.6 million were down from 10 million in the previous quarter and were essentially flat compared to a year ago, and all contribute 1.4 million in the quarter compared with 1.7 million last quarter and 446,000 a year ago. Revenue came in slightly below expectations this quarter due in large part of factors beyond our control. Including constraint at one of our suppliers for products we ship to ENEL as well as weather related delays for an overseas lighting project.

In terms of the ENEL revenues, after a string of relatively strong quarterly revenue totals from ENEL in 2015 we expect the solid first quarter after which we do not expect any additional shipped shipments for the remainder of the year. We have not yet been apprised of ENELs plans longer-term.

Our fourth quarter non-GAAP gross margin was 57.6% an increase from 55.9% in both the third quarter this year and the fourth quarter of 2014. These improvements were primarily due to a greater mix of higher margin product.

Turning to expenses our non-GAAP operating expenses decreased to 6.1 million this quarter from 6.7 million last quarter and 7.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2014. The significant declines were due to lower sales in marketing cost as well as continued decreases in G&A and R&D expenses. While some of these OpEx reductions are one time, overall we are pleased at the leverage we’ve been able to build into our operating model during 2015.

In total, our non-GAAP net loss for the quarter was $293,000 or $0.07 per share post-split or $0.01 per share pre-split. This compares to a non-GAAP net loss in the fourth quarter a year ago or $2.2 million or $0.50 per share post-split and $0.05 per share pre-split. Again, while some of the OpEx benefits are one time this quarter, the improvement in our non-GAAP loss in the fourth quarter illustrates the leverage in our model once the top line begins to grow based on our lighting strategy. As Ron mentioned, once we begin to ship the lower cost versions of some of our higher volume lighting products later this year, we expect our breakeven to come down to approximately $40 million depending on product mix.

On a GAAP basis, our net loss for the quarter was $5.6 million or $1.27 per share. Included in the GAAP loss this quarter was a $5.7 million non-cash goodwill impairment charge as well as a reduction in our G&A expenses of $577,000 resulting from the reversal of an accrual related to our 2014 acquisition of the Lumewave. Let me first provide a little more color about the non-cash goodwill impairment charge on Slide 13. For the last several quarters, as a result of the drop in our stock price, we’ve been evaluating our goodwill for a possible impairment. Based on a thorough review of the underlying data and in accordance with the applicable accounting literature, we concluded that as of December 31, 2015 a complete write off of the goodwill balance of $5.7 million was appropriate.

As for the adjustments to the Lumewave accrual you may recall that our agreement with the former Lumewave shareholders contained a provision that would require us to pay them an additional amount for certain financial targets being met or exceeded within a two year window. Lumewave continues to contribute significantly to our product strategy and revenue and we remain optimistic about its long-term prospects. Given the relatively short duration of the remaining earn out period however we now believe that the financial targets will not be met at a level that would require a full payout.

Accordingly, we’ve reduced this accrual by $577,000, which is the primarily reason why our GAAP G&A expenses look unusually low this quarter. We expect they will return to more normal levels in the first quarter of 2016. The combination of these two items called for a GAAP net loss per share to increase to a $1.27 this quarter post-split and $0.13 pre-split. This compares to a GAAP net loss per share last quarter of $0.24 post-split and $0.02 pre-split and the GAAP net loss per share in the fourth quarter of 2014 of $0.58 post-split and $0.06 pre-split.

Looking at the rest of the P&L interest and other income of $224,000 increased slightly from $184,000 in the third quarter again resulting from favorable foreign exchange translation adjustments on our intercompany balances. This quarter we had a net tax benefit of $14,000 compared to expense of $97,000 in the fourth quarter last year. The benefit this quarter resulted from the expiration of certain statues of limitations in foreign jurisdictions where we pay taxes.

Moving to the balance sheet on Slide 16, we ended the quarter with $26.1 million in cash and investments, a sequential decrease of only $535,000 from the third quarter. Year-over-year our net cash position which included the lease obligations on our former headquarters’ facility declined by less than $1.4 million.

Now let me turn to guidance for the first quarter of 2016 on Slide 17; we expect revenues in the range of $9 million to $9.4 million, we expect non-GAAP gross margins to be in the range of 55% to 57%; non-GAAP operating expenses are expected to be in the range of $6.2 million to $6.5 million; non-GAAP loss per share is expected to be in the range of $0.20 to $0.35 based on $4.4 million fully diluted weighted average shares outstanding and the GAAP loss per share is expected to be between $0.25 and $0.40, including $0.05 per share of stock compensation expense.

With that, I’d like to turn the call over to the operator for questions, operator?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session [Operator Instructions]. I will now turn the call over to Annie Leschin with Investor Relations for any online questions.

Annie Leschin

Thank you, operator. And if other questions come up please let us now. So, Ron we’ve got a couple of questions that have come in from our online, beginning with, you noted 50% year-over-year growth in lighting. Do you expect that pace to continue in 2016? Or with the sales force retooling should we anticipate a slowdown?

Ron Sege

Thank you, Annie. Well; first, let me say we don’t provide guidance fee on Q1 as you know; second, from what I can see we’re in no way constrained by market opportunity just in the mid-sized city category alones, city the size of Cambridge there is at least 2,000 of those in the United States. I think in terms of $150 per end point revenue to us for the 7,500 lights at Cambridge.

So we have enormous opportunity and long-term getting experience lighting sales people in here we believe will accelerate our growth. But sales cycle reserve are six months or longer, so although we’re seeing some great candidates, it will take a little bit of time to get ramped up, so that's why we’re tempering our expectations a bit for the first half of the year, but we hope to see acceleration thereafter.

Annie Leschin

Okay. Operator are there any other questions online?

Operator

And we have a question from Mark [Indiscernible] from Stanfield Capital. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi, guys. Thank you. Actually I have a few questions. What is the ENEL drop revenue disappearance, I mean for Q2, what percentage of revenue in Q4 and Q1 were from ENEL?

Mike Marszewski

Q4 revenue from ENEL was just under a $1 million. So it will be -- we expect it to be about 1.3 million in the first quarter, but after that we don’t have anything forecast for the rest of the year at this point.

Unidentified Analyst

So versus Q4 you are essentially starting Q2 a $1 million behind the 8 ball so to speak, is that correct?

Mike Marszewski

Nothing -- we’re not giving guidance for the second quarter at this point, but right now there is no backlog for ENEL in Q2.

Ron Sege

And Mark it is our expectation that ENEL will not be making additional purchases in this calendar year.

Unidentified Analyst

Right. No I heard you saying that. What's the gross margin on the ENEL business?

Mike Marszewski

We don’t talk about gross margin by product line, but historically if you go back to some of the historical financials when the ENEL revenue was pretty significant, you can do the math and it’s pretty comparable from total with our embedded systems.

Unidentified Analyst

So that means it sort of in line with the overall numbers for the company?

Mike Marszewski

Correct.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. There is the $40 million -- the new $40 million breakeven number, does that include the newly hired lighting sales staff?

Ron Sege

Yes. Our expectation is, that breakeven number is after we have the appropriate sales expense on board.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. Could you guys, could you be a little more specific about the supply constraints and the weather that would be different from any other winter that made you miss the revenue guidance a bit for this quarter. The one you are reporting.

Mike Marszewski

Sure. The supply constraint was simply onetime thing, frankly we missed ordering on our suppliers for one order that we had received and that's just a onetime thing. We hope it don’t happen again. On the weather related project, it was a relatively large project seen the lighting business, that lighting business is lumpy, so while yes weather happen year in and year out, one deal moving around can affect the overall outcome for the quarter.

Unidentified Analyst

So it's moving around accept that the next quarter which is the one you’re in now you’re guiding to less revenues. So it either moved into this quarter and you are losing other stuff or its gone forever right? Help me think that's through.

Mike Marszewski

Well we don’t get into that level of detail. I’ll just say that while the lighting market, I'm very optimistic about the -- it is a projects, a business and therefore the revenues from it will be lumpy. Especially as we’re ramping up our sales force and ramping up that particular product line. So that's all factored into our guidance and as I said before we’re hiring sales people, we let other ones go and that has tempered our guidance near term.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay so last question, but it's a concerning one and probably for other shareholders also. It's great that you cut to burn in the quarter you just reported to $0.5 million or whatever that's terrific, but it looks as if for Q1, the one we’re in now you’re guiding to around a $1 million of burn and then if ENEL goes away in the next quarter assuming say a 50% gross margin on a million of watts [ph] revenue it looks as if -- again I’m not looking for guidance, but it looks as if we’re starting with 1.5 million of burn in that quarter unless you can make it up on other orders, do you want to comment on that?

Ron Sege

Again I don’t want to drift into longer term guidance. We said in the past and we stick to the fact in our fast burn should equal our or net loss or gain in general.

Unidentified Analyst

What does that mean?

Ron Sege

Well I mean that we don’t expect changes in working capital, there is no more leashes to buy out and so on. So as we guide the EPS, we would expect the cash burn. So beyond that I don’t know what to say, we’re really focused on growth. We expect some of the OpEx reductions that we’re showing in Q4 to continue throughout this year we’re both on the lighting --.

Unidentified Analyst

Well, do you mean that there will be more OpEx reduction? Or what we’ve seen in Q4 is what we got, I mean what we’ve got going forward. In fact it goes up a little because you’re hiring the sales guys.

Ron Sege

Right, yes. So certainly don’t expect to take on more OpEx, there may be some marginal opportunity for improvement. But at this point we’re really focused on top line growth to get us to breakeven.

Unidentified Analyst

Do you want to speculate as to when you can get to breakeven?

Ron Sege

I don’t, again that’s for me drifts into guidance, but I think the track record shows that we have been marching steadily in that direct, $40 million of the breakeven point is certainly the lowest number that I’ve been able to given in my tenure and for many years --.

Unidentified Analyst

The breakeven point is -- that’s terrific, I guess I am concerned and I am looking for some way to relay that concern that we seem to be going in the wrong direction on the revenue side once ENEL goes away. But you’re not willing to comment further on that?

Ron Sege

Again, the lighting market is unconstrained for us. Mid-sized cities are three quarters of million dollars of revenue to us as we secure them. So yes, I’m disappointed ENEL went away, it's been a great customer for 12 or 13 years. We knew it would happen at some point. And frankly after this year we don’t know whether they’ll ramp up again or not, that continues to be in operating providing great service. So, we believe that lighting is our best bet and we’ve got a great breakeven point and we’re going to march as far as we can towards it.

Unidentified Analyst

Can you give some color as to what run rate revenue from lighting is now?

Ron Sege

I think we said in the past, its 12% to 15% of revenue. I am giving you a general -- we don’t report on it that way. But we provided that guidance in the past.

Mike Marszewski

And it fluctuates as Ron said from quarter-to-quarter,

Ron Sege

Yes.

Annie Leschin

Ron we have a couple of other questions that have come in online. Number one, can you talk about the advantages of [indiscernible] to this LumInsight CMS product?

Ron Sege

Okay, LumInsight CMS yes, I am especially excited about that. First of all it’s the start of Echelon creating value through application software, so we’ve historically focused as you know on chips modules and embedded software. We’ve now in response to customer request and what we see is an opportunity to long-term create recurring revenue and to improve margins. We’ve introduced LumInsight, which is a suite of applications, software elements that allow customers to start up, commission, model or manage their systems in the near term, longer term to aggregate data off of variety of sensors and pass it off to analytics system.

So it's really the cornerstone of our lighting and strategic strategy and for those customers who want it, it offers one-stop shopping for the controllers, the gateway and the CMS. Of course customers that want to mix and match and buy controllers and gateway from us and CMSs from our partners, that’s perfectly viable because we remain an open standard system. So it gives customers more flexibility and as I said it allows us to continue to move up the food chain.

Annie Leschin

Just a follow on, Mike, it looks like -- about the Lumewave accruals. So can you comment a little bit on they’re not meeting their sales targets, where you concerned at all about the product not seeing traction or this did this have more to do with the revamping of your sales force?

Mike Marszewski

It's a good question Annie. When we negotiated the agreement with the Lumewave shareholders, we set some stretch goals for the total payout of the additional amount. And while everybody was confident that we were going to meet those when we negotiated the agreement, based on the current status of the remaining time period and the earn out period and where things are with the sales force, we’ve come to the realization that not all of those goals, which by the way weren’t only related to revenues, there were other items in there as well. Not all of those goals are going to be met at a level that’s going to require a full payout. So at the end of the last year we adjusted the accruals accordingly.

Annie Leschin

Ron we just got another question. What is the best way to think about the lighting business in terms of number of pilots, average sales price, sales cycle, which I think you already commented on, how many do you believe will have the potential to turn into meaningful projects?

Ron Sege

So I mentioned sales cycle, six months plus longer for municipalities, shorter for what we call outdoor retail opportunities, shopping malls, car dealerships, enterprise campuses. You know as I mentioned before, there is 2,000 cities here in the United States that are roughly in the zip code of Cambridge Massachusetts in size, 10 of those in 2016 or in any one year would drive meaningful growth for us, or twice that number of corporate headquarters. So we don’t need an enormous number of wins from the sales force that we’re building up to drive meaningful growth for the overall corporation this calendar year.

And yes generally these projects start with pilots, and those of you who’ve been shareholders of Echelon for a long time know that we did a lot of piloting in the meter business from what I can see lighting pilots are not at all like meter pilots, they’re small, they go in quickly, decision are made quickly and then they turn into rollouts.

And then the other guidance I gave you previously that I’ll just reiterate is that, a lighting deal think of it as a $150 per end points revenue opportunity for Echelon versus our embedded systems that are, you can think of them in terms of $10 per end points and frankly semiconductors are under price pressure, so that’s going to be heading down.

Annie Leschin

Okay, I don’t see any more questions at this time. I’ll turn it back over to Ron for final comments.

Ron Sege

Okay, great. Well, thank you all very much for joining us on this call from our new headquarters across some beautiful Levi's Stadium and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

Operator

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. This concludes today’s conference. Thank you for participating. You may now disconnect.

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