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Western Refining, Inc. (NYSE:WNR)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

February 28, 2012 10:00 am ET

Executives

Jeff A. Stevens – President and Chief Executive Officer

Gary R. Dalke – Chief Financial Officer

Mark J. Smith – President - Refining and Marketing

Jeffrey S. Beyersdorfer – Treasurer, Director of Investor Relations

Analysts

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Jeff Dietert – Simmons & Co.

Joe Citarrella – Goldman Sachs

Operator

Good morning and welcome to the fourth quarter of 2011 Western Refining earnings conference call. After the speakers’ opening remarks, there will be a question and answer period. (Operator instructions)

I will now like to turn the call over to Mr. Jeff Beyersdorfer, Treasurer and Director of Investor Relations of Western Refining. Mr. Beyersdorfer, please go ahead.

Jeff Beyersdorfer

Thank you and good morning. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen in today and for your continued interest in Western Refining. Again, my name is Jeff Beyersdorfer. I’m the company’s treasurer and director of investor relations.

Joining me for today’s call are Jeff Stevens, our President and CEO; Gary Dalke, our CFO; Mark Smith, our President - Refining and Marketing; and other members of our senior management team.

We will be referencing our earnings call slides throughout the call this morning. The slide presentation, in addition to our earnings release, can be found in the Investor Relations section of our website at wnr.com.

Before we proceed, I would like to make the following Safe Harbor statement. Today’s presentation will contain forward-looking statements and I refer you to the forward-looking statement section of our earnings release and recent filings with the SEC.

We assume no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements to reflect new or changed events or circumstances. In addition to reporting financial results in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles or GAAP, we report certain non-GAAP financial results.

Investors are encouraged to review the reconciliation of these non-GAAP financial measures to the comparable GAAP results, which can be found in the press release, which is posted on the IR section of our website.

I’ll now turn the call over to Jeff.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Jeff. Welcome to everyone on the call. Today we will discuss our fourth quarter and full year performance. After my opening remarks, Gary will review our earnings in more detail and provide operating guidance for Q1 2012, and then we will open up the call for questions.

The fourth quarter wraps up an extraordinary year for Western. The actions we took during the year allowed us to capitalize on positive market dynamics for our business. As a result, we generated significant free cash flow during the year and reduced our net debt from $1 billion at the beginning of the year to a little more than $400 million by year’s end.

As stated in our press release on page three of the slide presentation, we reported a net income, excluding special items, of $48.6 million, or $0.48 per diluted share, for the quarter ended December 31st, 2011. For the full year, we reported net income, excluding special items, of $318.2 million, or $3.03 per diluted share. The two primary special items for the quarter and the year are a loss on a disposition of assets and non-cash unrealized gains from crack spread hedging activity.

Adjusted EBITDA in Q4 2011 was $42.9 million, which included a $298.2 million in unrealized hedge gains for the year 2011. Adjusted EBITDA was a company record of $965.9 million and included $182.1 million in unrealized hedging gains.

These strong results for the quarter and for the full year were primarily results of improved refinery margins driven by the Brent-TI spread. The Gulf Coast 3:2:1 benchmark crack spread averaged $20 per barrel in the fourth quarter and more than $24 per barrel for the full year. These are up more than $11 and $15 per barrel, respectively, compared to Q4 2010 and for the full year 2010. As shown on page four of our slides, our Southwest refineries demonstrated similar margin improvement.

At the beginning of 2011, we established goals to continue to improve the balance sheet to reinvest in our business. The market conditions during 2011 allowed us to achieve these goals and also opportunistically undertake other initiatives.

Let me briefly discuss five of these initiatives during the year. We sold the Yorktown refinery and an 82-mile segment of underutilized crude pipeline in New Mexico for $220 million. We retired our floating note rates, which reduced our annual pre-tax costs by approximately $30 million.

We refinanced our revolver and term loan, resulting in lower interest rates, extended maturities, and most importantly, removal of financial maintenance covenants. We strategically added to our crack spread hedging positions, ending the year with 32% planned production hedge for 2012, 16% for 2013, and 5% for 2014. A summary of our crack spread hedge positions and realized and unrealized gains can be found on page five of our slides.

Lastly, we added 59 sites to our retail network and 10 sites to our cardlock network, providing additional ratable demand for our refined products. These achievements set Western up to execute our plan for 2012, which we will discuss later in the call.

Turning to the fourth quarter, our refining segment throughput was 145,000 barrels per day, which is lower than our typical rate, but was consistent with the updated guidance that we provided on January 10th.

In mid-December, we experienced an emergency shutdown at our El Paso FCC unit due to a contractor improperly performing a hot tap. This error resulted in a seven-day shutdown of our FCC unit, which caused a loss in production and various other associated costs. Our preliminary estimate of the loss is approximately $20 million.

Our wholesale business performed well in the quarter for the full year 2011. Fuel gallons were up slightly in the quarter versus Q4 2010 and lube sales exceeded Q4 2010 by more than 26%. For the full year 2011, fuel gallons were up more than 7% and lubricant sales were up 15% compared to the full year 2010.

We’re also seeing positive sales trends for the first two months of 2012. We continued to develop our Mid-Atlantic wholesale business, and with the refinery closures on the east coast, we believe this business will become more valuable over time.

In our retail business in 2011, we successfully integrated 59 new sites, a 39% increase in our network in key areas, which are integrated with our refining and logistic assets. For the quarter and full year, same-store fuel volumes and merchandise sales were relatively flat, however, lower fuel margins and one-time costs associated with acquisition activity led to lower operating income. We are encouraged by our recent same-store sales trends and performance of our acquisition sites and we are confident retail will have a strong year.

Turning to the first quarter of 2012, Brent-TI spreads have widened since narrowing in the middle of December. The Brent-TI spread has averaged more than $13.50 per barrel quarter to date, resulting in a Gulf Coast 3:2:1 of approximately $23 per barrel, which compares to $20 per barrel in the fourth quarter of 2011. This start is even stronger than the margin environment at the beginning of 2011 where Gulf Coast 3:2:1 averaged a little more than $18 per barrel.

In the Southwest, we continue to benefit from crude cost advantages and some of the strongest values for finished products in the country, especially gasoline.

In February, we competed some planned maintenance at El Paso, including work on the north crude unit and the FCC. At Gallup, we continue to prepare for our turnaround and expansion, which will occur in the beginning of September.

Also for 2012, we’ve approved a capital expenditure budget of $162 million with $65 million targeted for discretionary capital. We’ve included some of the information on capital expenditures on page six of our slides.

I’d like to mention a couple of the major discretionary projects we’re working on. We will spend approximately $25 million on logistics build-out in the Permian Basin, which will allow El Paso to process higher yielding Avalon and Bone Spring shale crude oil. $6 million is allocated for the expansion at Gallup, which we will undertake during the quarter in Q3 and will increase crude throughput from 23,000 barrels per day to 25,000 barrels per day.

Finally, we are evaluating a project at El Paso to improve reliability and expand capacity by up to 25,000 barrels per day to further capitalize on the new crude oil production growth occurring in the Permian Basin. We are in the very early stages of this evaluation, but we will keep you updated as we make progress.

As part of our continuing goal to improve our balance sheet, we will repay $30 million on our term loan on March 1st, and for the full year, we’re targeting term loan repayment of approximately $100 million to $125 million. In January, our board approved a first quarter 2010 dividend of $0.04 per share, which was paid to shareholders in mid-January. We believe this demonstrates our confidence in our business and potential future cash flows.

Wrapping up, it was a very successful year for Western, and our primary goals for 2012 are to continue to reduce debt, reinvest in our business, and improve performance in safety and reliability.

We are encouraged by the strong margin environment that we’re seeing so far in 2012, and we’re confident we’re doing the things necessary to build on the momentum we achieved in 2011.

Now I will turn the call over to Gary, who will go through our fourth quarter financials in more detail.

Gary Dalke

Thank you, Jeff. On a GAAP basis, the company reported a net loss in the quarter of $64.6 million, or $0.72 per diluted share, and a full year net income of $132.7 million, or $1.34 per diluted share, in 2011.

This compares to a Q4 2010 net loss of $7.6 million, or $0.09 per diluted share, and a full year 2010 net loss of $17 million, or $0.19 per diluted share.

Excluding special items, the company had a net income of $48.6 million, or $0.48 per diluted share, in Q4 2011, which compares to a loss of $3.5 million, or $0.04 per diluted share, in Q4 2010.

For the full year, we had net income, excluding special items, of $318.2 million, or $3.03 per diluted share, which compares to a loss of $10.1 million, or $0.11 per diluted share, in 2010. A reconciliation of our net earnings to earnings, excluding special items, is included in our press release.

Gross margin at El Paso was $20.71 per barrel for the quarter, which compares to $8.83 per barrel in Q4 2010. Gallup’s gross margin for the quarter was $19.47 per barrel, which compares to $14.13 per barrel in Q4 2010. Overall, Southwest’s refining gross margin, excluding unrealized gains on hedging, was $19.30 per barrel during the quarter and $22.21 per barrel for full year 2011. This compares to $9.41 per barrel in Q4 2010 and $10.42 for the full year 2010.

Direct operating expenses at our Southwest refineries were $5.78 per barrel for the quarter and $5.50 per barrel for the full year. This compares to $4.54 per barrel in Q4 2010 and $4.39 per barrel for the full year 2010.

El Paso’s costs were $4.84 per barrel for the quarter, compared to $3.57 per barrel for Q4 2010. Fourth quarter costs at El Paso were up primarily due to higher property tax accruals, an increase in catalyst costs, and increased repair and maintenance costs coupled with reduced refining throughput associated with unplanned downtime in December.

Gallup’s operating costs were $8.27 per barrel for the quarter, which compares to $6.91 per barrel for Q4 2010. Costs at Gallup were up primarily due to increased repair and maintenance costs and higher catalyst costs.

Total company SG&A was $29.8 million for the quarter compared to $22.6 million in Q4 2010. For the full year 2011, SG&A costs were $105.8 million, which compares to $84.2 million in 2010. SG&A expenses were up primarily due to incentive compensation, which is tied to profitability.

Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter was $442.9 million and $965.9 million for the full year. This compares to adjusted EBITDA of $63.5 million for Q4 2010 and $288.1 million for the full year 2010. Included in adjusted EBITDA are non-cash unrealized mark-to-market hedging gains of $298.2 million for Q4 2011 and $182.1 million for full year 2011.

Depreciation and amortization expense for the quarter was $30.6 million and $135.9 million for the full year. We expect a reduction in depreciation and amortization of approximately $40 million annually as a result of the disposition of the Yorktown assets.

Interest expense was $33.4 million, a $2 million decrease compared to Q4 2010, primarily a result of lower average debt levels and lower interest rates. Our debt reduction and refinancing efforts during 2011 will result in approximately $35 million in annual pre-tax interest savings.

Our effective tax rate for the fourth quarter was 38.4%. During the quarter, cash and cash equivalents, including restricted cash, decreased by $11.4 million. A bridge from Q3 to Q4 ending cash position can be found on page seven of our slides. Strong operational cash flow and proceeds from asset sales were offset by the pay down of the floating rate notes in December.

Total capital expenditures for the quarter were $39.2 million, and for the full year were $83.8 million. As of December 31st, total debt stood at $804 million, a $265.5 million reduction versus year-end 2010, and as Jeff mentioned, we ended the year with $413 million in net debt, a reduction of approximately $597 million compared to year-end 2010. A summary of our capital structure is available on page eight of our slides.

Total liquidity, which we define as cash and availability under our revolver, was approximately $792 million at the end of the year. Liquidity has averaged approximately $775 million thus far in 2012.

Wrapping up, you can find our first quarter guidance on page nine of our slides. We have mentioned a few things today which are reflected in our first quarter guidance such as the planned maintenance work at El Paso, lower interest expense due to refinancings, and reduced debt levels, and lower depreciation and amortization due to asset dispositions.

I will now turn the call back over to Jeff Stevens.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Gary. It was a very good quarter and a successful year for Western. I would like to thank our employees for their hard work and continued focus on safety, reliability and cost.

Beverly, we’re ready to take questions now.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Chi Chow with Macquarie Capital.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Great, thank you. Congratulations, great 2011. I want to ask about the discretionary capital program. Jeff, the $30 million for the El Paso expansion, is that the all-in CapEx associated with that 25,000 barrel a day expansion?

Jeff Stevens

I’ll let Mark go through those details with you.

Mark Smith

Chi, what we’ve estimated for 2012 expense is strictly the engineering and long lead items, and we’ve got a budget there of about $10 million to $12 million.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

$10 million to $12 million, so what’s the balance of the $30 million you’ve got for the El Paso project next year?

Mark Smith

The balance is logistics projects, Chi, and some other smaller discretionary projects.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

The El Paso DHT, is that Distillate Hydro -

Mark Smith

We’ve included that under the regulatory capital.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Okay. What does DHT stand for?

Mark Smith

Diesel Hydro-Treater expansion.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Diesel Hydro-Treater, okay. I was just going to ask, I guess on the last conference you were at, you seemed pretty confident that with the new El Paso expansion you can place the product fairly easily.

Can you talk more about that and what markets you’d be targeting, and any concerns on competitors coming in with their expansions and oversupplying the market?

Jeff Stevens

You know, Chi, as we’ve said before, I think our location really gives us an advantage on being able to move these products. Being at the hub of that pipeline, being able to go south to Mexico, we think that area is going to continue to grow. Our ability to continue to ramp up in both Tucson and Phoenix, this gives us a lot of flexibility.

And, as you remember, we have the ability as we idled the Bloomfield refinery, we’re able to place more barrels into that market, plus, with this expansion, this is going to be more weighted towards distillate products and we feel like that the market can certainly absorb those over time.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Okay, great. Thanks. One final question on the hedging, it doesn’t look like you’ve changed your hedge positions recently. Are you looking to add to your positions at all given the widening spreads this year?

Jeff Stevens

Yes, we’ll continue to update that, Chi, as it becomes material. We’ve done a little bit of distillate in 2014. We’ve just been opportunistic as days when the TI-Brent was widening. We saw, obviously, in the first quarter here, we saw it widen back out, so we took that opportunity.

So we do have Board authority to add, particularly to 2014, but we’ll take the same approach we took before where we’ll just look for opportunistic times that make sense to add to those positions, and as I said, we’ll continue to update you as those change in a material way.

Chi Chow – Macquarie Research

Okay, great. Thanks, Jeff. Appreciate it.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Chi.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Ed Westlake with Credit Suisse.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Just to add on the debt reduction, well done, and that places you in an interesting position. Obviously, you talk about domestic -- or, sorry, organic growth, but you, I’m sure, have seen what’s happening over at CVI with Icahn. I may be fishing for a comment you may not be able to make, and it would be a big transaction, but could you give us any sort of positives and negatives if there was to be a merge between the two companies?

Jeff Stevens

Ed, we just can’t comment on that type of M&A activity. I think we’d just -- we’d be better off to stay away from that.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

I had to try. Let me come back to the capital expenditure question and just to round that off, so $10 million to $12 million for the El Paso expansion in 2012. What about, just the finish-off of Chi’s question, how much would you still be spending in 2013 on the El Paso expansion?

Jeff Stevens

We haven’t really completed the estimate on it, so we’re in the very early stages of engineering, so we don’t have a total cost that is firm at this point.

Gary Dalke

Ed, I think we’ll be able to, as we get further down the road and understand the engineering cost, and obviously, permitting will be an issue, but as we get into further 2012, I think we’ll be able to give you a lot better color on that.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Right, and that would also tie in with the next, I guess, larger turnaround at El Paso and the timing of the project. Are we thinking sometime in 2014 for that capacity?

Gary Dalke

Yes. A portion of the capacity comes on in ’13 after the turnaround. There will be some work after the turnaround, so half the capacity will come on during calendar year ’13 and then the balance will come after the south side turnaround in ’14.

Edward Westlake – Credit Suisse

Right. Thanks very much.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Joe Citarrella with Goldman Sachs.

Joe Citarrella – Goldman Sachs

Thanks. A couple of unrelated questions. I guess, following up on the M&A point without getting into any specific deals, any general thoughts on the potentials for acquisitions, refining or otherwise going forward?

Jeff Stevens

Obviously, our goal was to improve our balance sheet, Joe, and certainly, we’ve gotten there probably faster than we anticipated in the market, so we’re continuing to evaluate both projects within our current asset base or other assets that may complement what we’re doing in the southwest.

So it’s still at a point where we’re in a much better, stronger position than we’ve been in a long time and so we’re going to continue just to -- we’ve got a lot of projects to evaluate and look at, and we’ll continue to bring those on as it makes sense.

Joe Citarrella – Goldman Sachs

Great. And on the project work at El Paso, I know you’re in the early stages there, and I apologize if I missed it, but anything you can speak to at this point in terms of the total capital costs you’re expecting for any expansion there?

Jeff Stevens

As I said, we’re in the very early stages of engineering, so, as you know, as projects get developed, costs tend to go up, so I think we’re reluctant at this point to say what the total project cost is.

Joe Citarrella – Goldman Sachs

Sure. That makes sense. And the final one, are you able to offer any color on Permian pricing you’re realizing here in the first quarter given some of the discounts for WTI at Midland versus at Cushing that seem to be emerging?

Jeff Stevens

Yes, there’s -- obviously, as we’ve tried to articulate, the Permian Basin is really a changing market, Joe, and I think we’re going to continue to see differentials widen and be more distorted than they have in the past.

Obviously, we’ve benefitted in the first quarter. We saw this spread Midland to Cushing widen out as much as [$4.50, $4.75] a barrel. Historically, that’s been more in the $0.50 to $0.60 barrel per range, so it’s a process of a lot of change in the marketplace, but we’re just -- I think the way to characterize it is we’re excited about our position and our opportunities.

Joe Citarrella – Goldman Sachs

That’s very helpful. Thank you very much.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Joe.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Evan Calio with Morgan Stanley.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking my call.

Jeff Stevens

Good morning, Evan.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

A follow-up on El Paso expansion here, let me take a different angle at the risk of beating a dead horse, but I know you’ve had high hurdles or high expected IRRs in the other two growth projects. As we consider more strategic spending, or this expansion project, should we expect similar type of IRRs for you to green light this expansion?

Jeff Stevens

I think that based on what we’re seeing right now, I think it’s going to be a project that we’re going to want to move forward on, Evan, but there are other issues out there that we don’t control, such as permitting and some of those types of things.

The key to this whole project is the ability to expand our DHT at a very cost-effective way, and so as you get crude in and having the ability to process product further down the road, and already having that capacity down there, helps a project like this make sense.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

What is the primary permitting hurdle? Is it an emissions hurdle? We heard it’s getting more difficult in Texas.

Jeff Stevens

I think that’s a characterization of the rest of the country. I don’t think it’s necessarily Texas, but as we work through our Texas permits and the EPA, we just anticipate that it probably won’t go as fast as it historically has.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Okay, great. Let me ask you a second question here. I know you guys have done a great job of deleveraging, and at this stage, given the terms of existing debt and associated costs in tendering the non-callable higher-interest debt and refinancing it, which I’m sure you’ve costed that option, my question is is there any refinancing potential here, or do you, in fact, save more money by not calling debt and building your net debt and just kind of paying towards maturity, if you would comment for me.

Jeff Stevens

Obviously, we have the ability to prepay our existing term debt, and we announced today that our target is about $100 million to $125 million for the year 2012. As far as the non-callable debt, as you mentioned, that’s a moving target and it’s something that we’ll just continue to evaluate.

And if there’s an opportunistic time to take it out and it makes sense, we’ll do that, but frankly, looking at it right now, it doesn’t make sense, and that’s why we’ve gone ahead and made the announcement that it makes sense to start paying the term down as we build cash.

We continue to look at our dividend policy and we’ll continue to look at all the things that we can do with our cash that makes the most sense for our shareholders.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Does your hedging program or policy change as you de-lever and reduce your overall fixed cost basis? Does that reduce your view on hedging in the future, or is that unrelated?

Jeff Stevens

I think that the hedging program was implemented to ensure that we got to where we wanted to be from a debt level. I think that we’ll just continue to be opportunistic and when we see markets dislocate and we see wider-than-historical spreads, I think that we’ll continue some type of program, but historically, we haven’t seen this before, so I can’t really comment on how long it’ll last, just because it’s something that the marketplace has never afforded to us before.

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley

Great. I appreciate it.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Evan.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Jeff Dietert with Simmons.

Jeff Dietert – Simmons & Co.

Good morning. Congratulations on your strategic accomplishments, a good year last year. Following up on Evan’s questions on hedging, how do you think about what’s the appropriate level of hedges? Is there some minimum or maximum level that you’d be willing to hedge given the opportunity in the marketplace?

Jeff Stevens

I think, Jeff, what you saw us do in 2012 when you get up around that 30% to 35% range, I feel like that’s kind of at the upper end, and I think that what we really want to look at going forward is if there’s an opportunistic -- if we see, essentially, the Brent-TI widen out back to where we saw in 2012, we’re going to look at it from a standpoint of wanting to hedge some gaps in the first and fourth quarter, because historically, those have been low margin quarters for us, and we’re going to opportunistically look at our distillate in the second and third quarter, which are historically lower margin.

So I think that in terms of a size wise, I would say that if we saw the kind of widening we saw in 2012, we would probably be back into that 30% to 35% range, but probably not over that.

Jeff Dietert – Simmons & Co.

Thanks. That’s helpful. On your Permian Basin logistics, the Bone Springs enamel; how big do you see that gathering system being? I think in a previous presentation, you had potentially 40,000 barrels a day. Is all of that going to El Paso, or could it go to other markets? And what do you think the EBITDA is associated with that Permian Basin logistics project?

Jeff Stevens

The total amount that we feel like, when all the logistics are in, that we could be doing as much as 40,000 barrels a day of what you would call new Permian Basin crude into our market, and the cost savings moves around based on other factors, the Midland Cushing factor, and the different yield patterns, but from a yield pattern, I think we’re at least at $1 to $1.50 just on taking out a common Midland Stream barrel WTI versus this barrel and being able to bring it into the refinery without it comingling with other barrels.

Jeff Dietert – Simmons & Co.

Would you anticipate that full 40,000 of capacity all going to the El Paso refinery?

Jeff Stevens

Yes, at this point, that project is pretty well headed for El Paso.

Jeff Dietert – Simmons & Co.

Great. I appreciate the comments.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Jeff.

Operator

Thank you. I would now like to return the call to Mr. Jeff Stevens.

Jeff Stevens

Thanks, Beverly, and thank you all for your participation in today’s call and your continued interest in Western Refining. I look forward to getting back to you after our first quarter results. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. That concludes today’s fourth quarter 2011 Western Refining earnings conference call. You may now disconnect your lines at this time and have a wonderful day.

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