Willbros Group, Inc. (WG) CEO Michael Fournier on Q2 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Willbros Group, (WG)

Willbros Group, Inc. (NYSE:WG)

Q2 2016 Earnings Conference Call

August 1, 2016 10:00 AM ET

Executives

Stephen Breitigam – Vice President, Investor Relations

Michael Fournier – President, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer & Director

Van Welch – Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Daniel Mannes – Avondale Partners

Matt Tucker – KeyBanc Capital Markets, Inc.

John Rogers – Managing Director, Head of Institutional Equity Research, D.A. Davidson & Co.

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the Willbros Group Second Quarter Earnings Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Steve Breitigam, Vice President of Investor Relations. Thank you. Please go ahead.

Stephen Breitigam

Good morning and thank you for joining us today. Speaking today will be Mike Fournier, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Van Welch, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. This conference call is being broadcast live over the Internet and is also being recorded. An archive of the webcast will be available shortly after the call on our website, willbros.com. A replay will also be available through the phone number provided in the company press release announcing this call.

Information reported on this call speaks only as of today, August 1, 2016, and time-sensitive information may no longer be accurate at the time of any replay. Comments today contain forward-looking statements. All statements other than statements of historical facts which address activities, events or developments the company expects or anticipates, will or may occur in the future, are forward-looking statements. A number of risks and uncertainties could cause actual results to differ materially from these statements.

These risk factors are described in the company's documents and reports filed with the SEC. The company assumes no obligation to publicly update such forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. This presentation contains non-GAAP numbers. Reconciliations and related information are in our press release dated July 29, 2015 in our website. Now, I'll turn the call over to Mike Fournier, President and CEO.

Michael Fournier

Good morning, thanks for joining our call this morning. We reported a second quarter 2016 operating loss before special items of $1.5 million and slightly lower sequential revenues. This operating loss is an improvement from Q1 and is in line with our guidance.

The resizing efforts we started in late Q1 and into Q2 offset the operating challenges we encountered during the quarter, including the business disruption associated with the Fort McMurray forest fire and flooding on certain U.S. pipeline projects.

Our total liquidity at June 30 of $85 million remained strong and is slightly higher than our March 31 balance. The amendment to our credit facility that we completed last week complements our liquidity position and eliminates any covenant concerns for the remainder of this year and provides for less stringent covenants for all of 2017.

This covenant relief should provide greater comfort to our clients who are awarding work throughout the coming year. Van will provide commentary on this term loan amendment shortly. On the operations side, the Utility T&D segment continues to grow and now accounts for over half of our revenue this year. We've established a new regional business unit in the southeast U.S. to better serve our existing UTD customer base and to provide a platform for further geographic expansion.

During the second quarter, we received our first fiber optic award, consisted of installing approximately 300 miles of underground cable in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. This work has already begun and will continue through most of 2017. This award also brings with it the opportunity to expand into other markets that are being targeted by our client. We are currently in discussions to add a second fiber optic-related award for make ready work, which entails relocating existing overhead and utility on poles to provide room for fiber.

On the renewables front, wind farm bidding remains very active, with eight projects totaling over $200 million in bids outstanding. Process timing from bid submission to contract award date tends to drag on longer than we are accustomed to in our traditional market, often taking three months to four months to complete. UTD has been awarded part of a project in North Texas to install an underground collection system. We remain very optimistic, and are still forecasting increased wind renewable revenue in Q4 2016.

On the solar front, UTD has also been awarded its first solar tie-in project in Virginia. This project will start in mid-August. We see an increase in Utility T&D revenues during the last half of the year. Our biggest constraint remains the availability of qualified workers.

Moving to our Oil & Gas segments. An already difficult Canadian market environment was compounded with a devastating fire in the Fort McMurray area. While no damage was sustained to Willbros facilities, the majority of work sites were shut down and we had to temporarily relocate the Fort McMurray operations to our Edmonton offices.

A number of our employees and their families lost their homes as a result of the fires. I want to take a moment to recognize the actions of our Canadian management team for ensuring all of our employees in the Wood Buffalo region were accounted for and also for providing support, as well as supporting clients in minimizing the disruption to our business.

We've estimated the Q2 revenue loss attributable to the fire was approximately $78 million. However, we anticipate recovery of most of this work during the remainder of 2016. Despite the low revenue volume, this segment was able to generate an operating profit for the quarter. We're seeing a few optimistic signs with respect to the overall market conditions in Canada. Recent bidding opportunities remain under margin pressure, but we believe we understand the Canadian market and remain competitive.

The challenges facing our Oil & Gas segment continue in Q2 2016. While revenues were slightly below Q1, cost reductions contributed to improved Q2 operating loss before special items. We do not have any large-diameter mainline pipeline work in backlog, but are engaging in budgeting and bidding opportunities with potential adds to backlog for 2017 execution prior to the end of the year. Our pipeline integrity and facilities work, our core service offerings, in both of these businesses continue to generate operating profit.

The tank group saw a reduction in revenue in Q2 resulting in an operating loss. We've seen a general softening in bid activity for new tank construction with the small number of large tank and balance of plant projects on the horizon. Opportunities continue to be strong for tank maintenance and repair services. We've strengthened our business development efforts in conjunction with this new service offering and are taking additional steps to ensure we are competitive.

Now, a few comments on backlog. While we did not land any sizeable awards during Q2, we did add approximately $93 million to our total backlog with slightly over half of these additions coming from MSAs in our Utility T&D segment.

During July, we've been awarded three discrete projects totaling approximately $15 million to $20 million with immediate start dates including our re-entry into Canadian mainline pipeline market and our first venture into Canadian water treatment infrastructure sector.

Overall, bidding remains active in all three segments as we currently have approximately $445 million in tendered bids outstanding excluding renewables. Approximately $150 million of these bids are work to be started during the remainder of this year with the balance rolling over into 2017.

Identifying quality revenue growth opportunities in all areas of our business is being focused for our entire organization. To further our ability to build backlog, we've taken the following actions: enhanced analysis of market opportunities where we can competitively apply our core skill sets, our entry into water treatment in Canada, emphasis on tank repair and maintenance in the U.S., and focus on delineating pipeline integrity work in the U.S., and the push into renewables and fiber optics are a result of this initiative.

Increased focus on business development, which includes adjustments to staff and engagement of senior operation personnel with clients. Lastly, corporate level engagement with our clients' senior management – client senior management communicate changes made in the company over the last year with respect to improving the financial strength of the company and our commitment to our core business lines.

Van, I'll now turn it over to you for financial commentary.

Van Welch

Thanks, Mike, and good morning. I would like to begin with our second quarter 2016 operating results in comparison to our first quarter 2016 operating results. Please note, consistent with our previous conference calls, we have prepared an additional reconciliation to our press release that exclude special items that affect the comparability of our operating results between periods.

In the second quarter of 2016, these special items include other charges of approximately $900,000 related to $1.1 million employee severance cost and $400,000 in equipment lease abandonment charges, partially offset with $600,000 in income from changes in sub-lease estimates to previously recorded facility lease abandonment charges.

These special items also include $500,000 in idle equipment cost in Canada related to a wild fire evacuation in Fort McMurray, as well as $200,000 in income associated with business and services we have exited. Adjusted for special items, we recorded a second quarter 2016 operating loss of $1.5 million on contract revenue of $193.1 million, compared to an operating loss of $5.1 million on contract revenue of $198.4 million in the first quarter of 2016.

The improved adjusted operating performance in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the first quarter of 2016 is primarily the result of lower overhead and higher equipment utilization in our Oil & Gas and Canada segments due mainly to the rationalization of our equipment fleet.

Our Utility T&D segment reported decreased operating results on a sequential basis, primarily due to a lower employee benefit cost in Q1 and an increase in allocated corporate overhead in Q2 as a result of the segment's increased percentage of total company revenue.

In our Oil & Gas segment, our Q2 results include two loss projects that were significantly hampered by heavy rainfall in Texas in April and May. Together, these projects lost approximately $3.2 million during the second quarter. Including these loss projects, we are expected to generate approximately $10 million in revenue without any gross margin in the third quarter. Partially offsetting these losses in the segment was the favorable impact of a resolution of a contract dispute with a customer, which yielded approximately $900,000 in operating income during the second quarter. Excluding the above, our gross margins, as a whole, exceeded our expectations.

Despite the loss of revenue and margin related to the forest fires, our Canada segment reported $1.2 million in operating income before special items during the second quarter. Included in these results was a gain on the sale of equipment of $1 million.

In the second quarter of 2016, we incurred $14.5 million in general and administrative overhead costs, which is a $2.6 million reduction from the first quarter of 2016. The reduction of general and administrative overhead, as well as indirect cost in the Oil & Gas and Canada segments, continues to provide cost savings as anticipated.

We are substantially complete with previously announced cost reduction initiatives. However, as market conditions require, we will continue to evaluate the need for further reduction of our project-related indirect operating cost through additional equipment fleet rationalization and other cost-cutting measures. Any further substantial reductions to business unit fixed indirect cost, such as personnel and facilities, would impact our service capability.

At June 30, 2016, we reported 12-month backlog of $373.2 million, which is a decrease of $84.1 million from 12-month backlog of $457.3 million at March 31, 2016. Our total backlog at June 30, 2016 was $672 million, which is a decrease of $111.3 million from total backlog of $783.3 million at March 31, 2016.

A substantial portion of the total backlog reduction is a result of rundown on multi-year MSA contracts in Canada, as well as our Utility T&D segment. Specifically in Canada, we have two significant multi-year contracts that we will rebid in the third quarter and fourth quarter.

As we mentioned on our previous conference call, we were successful in renewing a similar one-year maintenance contract in the first quarter of 2016 and believe we are well-positioned for upcoming bids.

Our total liquidity at June 30, 2016 was approximately $84.5 million, which is composed of $48.7 million in cash and $35.8 million of revolver availability. There were no revolver borrowings at June 30, 2016. We expect liquidity levels to be slightly down over the last half of the year as we continue to support our working capital needs.

On July 26, 2016, we amended our term loan credit agreement to extend our covenant holiday through December 31, 2016 and add flexibility in our covenants throughout 2017. In consideration for the changes to the term credit agreement, we paid an amendment fee of $2.3 million in the third quarter of 2016, which is expected to be amortized as interest expense over the remaining life of the term loan.

At June 30, 2016, our term loan principal balance, exclusive of any discounts or debt issuance cost, remained approximately $92.2 million. Our DSO at June 30, 2016 was 67 days and was consistent between periods.

Now finally, guidance. Q3 2016 revenue is expected to decrease slightly from Q2 2016 levels with Oil & Gas down, UTD flat, and Canada up. Adjusted operating income is expected to slightly decline in Q3 2016, mainly due to the lower revenue in Oil & Gas. Adjusted operating income is expected to increase in Utility T&D, while Canada is expected to be flat.

With the ongoing market challenges in our energy segment and lack of visibility in the latter half of the year, we are reducing our total year revenue guidance to be in the range of $750 million to $800 million. We do not expect to make any payments against our term loan debt for the remainder of the year. Total interest expense in 2016 is expected to be approximately $14 million, with $10.5 million being cash interest.

I will now turn back to Mike for additional comments prior to taking questions. Mike?

Michael Fournier

Thanks, Van. I think it's important in this call to clearly communicate the balance of what the numbers are telling us with our sense of where our markets are going. Our 12-month backlog is down. At the same time, we are starting to feel better in most of our business units about the quality of the opportunities we are responding to and our ability to win the work, as evidenced by recent small but strategic awards.

We're still encountering some resistance in the large project arena, but feel senior management conversations with clients will positively impact this roadblock going forward. As a result, our guidance for 2016 is heavily weighted towards work already in backlog, with minimal dependence on new awards. Our belief, based upon the opportunities and actions we are taking to date, will result in building backlog during the remainder of 2016 for 2017 execution.

Now, operator, we'll move to Q&A.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin our question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Dan Mannes with Avondale Partners. Please go ahead with your questions.

Daniel Mannes

Thanks. Good morning, everyone.

Michael Fournier

Good morning.

Van Welch

Hey, Dan.

Daniel Mannes

First question, I guess, let's talk about fiber. You mentioned a 300-mile underground fiber award. Did that come in during the second quarter, or was that subsequent?

Michael Fournier

No. We signed that just to the end of second quarter.

Daniel Mannes

So, that's included in the backlog number?

Michael Fournier

Yes.

Van Welch

Yes.

Daniel Mannes

Okay. Got it. And then, you mentioned...

Michael Fournier

The only reason I'm hesitating, Dan, is we're in the midst of another one that we haven't quite made the standard of declaring in backlog.

Daniel Mannes

Got it. And then on the wind side, you mentioned a pretty big number in terms of what you're currently pursuing. Can you maybe remind us the scope of work you're looking at here? This is primarily collector systems and things like that, you're not actually doing tower erection or anything on those lines?

Michael Fournier

Yeah. Correct. We're not setting towers or the generators, we're doing the associated electrical work, which includes the gathering, more often than not, there's a substation associated, and in some cases, the transmission line, to take from the wind farm back to utility substation.

Daniel Mannes

Got it. One more quick one and I'll drop back in queue. On SG&A, you're all the way down to $14.6 million. You've done a really good job lowering the costs there. It sounded like, from Van's comments, that you're maybe pretty close to the right run rate or any more cuts might be a challenge. Did I hear him correctly, or is there more opportunity to bring that down?

Michael Fournier

No. I think – this is a balancing act. We feel that any further cuts cut into we call our capability. We're always adjusting capacity down at the business unit level with respect to the number of projects relative to the opportunities we see in front of us. But we think we've kind of cut as much as is reasonable to still be credible, responding to the opportunities we do see in front of us, and quite frankly, that's the balancing act.

In the short term, this would be to cut capability, but we don't think that makes sense in the long term, and it's a balancing act as we get back into some of the – in particular, some of the oil and gas spaces that we have operated well in the past. And as you can see, you're also trying to balance this with investing resources into growth areas in UTD where the return is immediate.

Van Welch

Yeah. Thanks, Dan. This is Van. If you look at the comments, we're – I think, we're about done in G&A, general administrative, so that was the message there. The second part of my prepared comments was around any indirect cost – project-related indirect cost where we would be looking at maybe equipment, rationalization, that's a possibility. But as Mike said, the rest of what we consider to be fixed indirects, which includes the capability portion of those indirects, we think those are about that.

Daniel Mannes

Perfect. That makes a lot of sense. I'm going to hop back in queue.

Van Welch

Dan.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Matt Tucker with KeyBanc. Please go ahead with your questions.

Matt Tucker

Hi. Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking my questions. I guess first, could you just discuss kind of your level of confidence as you rebid for some of these MSAs that expired or will be expiring soon and maybe just describe kind of the competitive environment for those contracts.

Michael Fournier

Sure. So, as we mentioned, they're in Canada. This is in the oil sands maintenance – pipeline maintenance, specifically. This is upwards of about 20% of our annual business in Canada that's at stake here. We mentioned in our script that we've gone through this process early in the year with one of the contracts and received a one-year renewal.

The landscape is very competitive. One of the reasons our revenues are down year-to-date in 2016 is some very aggressive bidding by some competitors in that space with respect to some small lump sum work. Often these are folks that are coming in and kind of testing the market, and time will tell whether they took those projects at the right number.

In terms of the MSAs themselves, we've got a lot of historical information on competitive execution of that type of work. We've been doing it up there for 15 years and we're one of the dominant players in that market. We've worked very well with the class union that provides our workforce to get to a competitive labor rate. And it is a very productive workforce that we have today with a lot of knowledge and experience around executing that work.

So, from the standpoint of competitiveness, we think we're as competitive or actually more competitive in that space based on our experience and are highly confident that we can win these renewals.

Matt Tucker

Appreciate that color. And then maybe you could provide a little bit more color on the pipeline side in terms of the competitive environment there, what type of projects you're seeing, what you're going after. Have there been any instances where you've been kind of left off a bid list that you wanted to be on? Maybe just kind of more color in general on the pipeline side.

Michael Fournier

Sure. So, starting with Canada, it's taken us a year and a half to re-enter that market, a large part, convincing clients that we have the people, the equipment, resources to carry on work there. So, we're – we will be mobilizing in Q3 here on a relatively small piece of mainline work. And that, I think, visibility in the market there, I think will help us going forward.

We're now starting to talk to some of the clients there around some of these larger opportunities albeit tied up with the permitting and approval issues in Canada. So, I think that's a bit of a – more of a long-term bet with respect to the large-diameter work there. However, we still see a viable business in some of the mid-diameter and certainly integrity work in Canada. And we've carried on doing integrity work in Canada even during the time that we'd exited the cross-country and again, see that continue to be a strong market growing into 2017 and 2018.

Van Welch

Hey, Matt, let me take the opportunity to kind of add to – on the MSA just for clarification and a reminder. For backlog, we only put in backlog things that represent signed contracts. So, if you look at these longer term MSAs, especially if you look at UTD, the total backlog that we're reporting is going to decline as we work off every quarter of that MSA.

We do not make an assumption that those are going to be renewed, even though we're certainly hopeful and expect the MSAs are going to be renewed with these long existing clients. So, I wanted to point that out, because I know we had – we did have a rather large reduction in our total backlog. A lot of that is the natural work-off of the end of the period of when those MSAs expire.

Matt Tucker

Okay. Thanks, guys. And then I wanted to ask about the fiber optic award as well. Can you give us any sense of the size of that contract? I believe you said 300 miles, and I guess I'm just surprised we kind of don't see more of an impact to the backlog.

And then, I guess secondly, can you give us any sense of – well, would you be able to tell us the customer, give us a sense of the type of customer, whether it's one of the major carriers or one of the more kind of non-traditional players in that space?

Michael Fournier

So, I'll get to fiber in a moment. Just to finish your first question, in terms of the pipeline space, we talked to Canada. In the U.S., I will say there has been a couple opportunities where we got passed over. And hence, the initiative to engage at kind of the executive level with our clients.

I think we didn't make enough effort in December and January, as we took our debt down, to go and talk with the clients with respect to our liquidity strength. And what we're learning is, every client is looking for something slightly different when they look at our financials. And with all the businesses we've shut down, it isn't as easy to interpret if you're just looking at the numbers. So, in June here, we started doing these visits. Van, myself, typically are the ones having the conversations and well received, and certainly I think a higher comfort level from our clients going forward.

In terms of the opportunities, there are a few shorter run, larger – large diameter pieces of work in Texas and up through Oklahoma that we're looking at. And spending a lot of time now delineating, as I mentioned in the script, the integrity market in the southeast and through to Texas.

With respect to the fiber work, we're a subcontractor to a general contractor that's managing a multi-year program. As such, the opportunity is to kind of piggyback further work releases off of the initial contract. And in terms of the value of the work, I think this first work order is in the neighborhood of $5 million, and we see an additional opportunity for another $5 million, in that area, and a similar size project with a different client in the Houston area.

The make ready work, in some ways, is a more complex scope. The skill sets are more – higher skill sets required to do the relocates, and we see that opportunity, probably on an annualized basis, in the – paired with our capacity to grow and move qualified individuals into the region to do that type of work is probably in the neighborhood of $15 million to $20 million a year.

Matt Tucker

Great. Thanks a lot, guys. I'll jump back in the queue.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instruction] Our next question comes from the line of John Rogers with D.A. Davidson. Please proceed with your questions.

John Rogers

Hi. Good morning.

Van Welch

Morning.

Michael Fournier

Morning, John.

John Rogers

Just a couple of follow-ups. I guess, first of all, Mike, you say that the 300 miles of fiber optic, how does that relate to the $5 million value?

Michael Fournier

I think that – what I'm talking about is annual.

John Rogers

Okay.

Michael Fournier

In terms of $5 million, this will be – it will take us multi-year to get through that 300 miles. So, we think of it more in terms of how many crews. So that probably represents in the neighborhood of six crews. And that's all boring, drilling type of crews that are doing that work. And the equipment, you've got to have the equipment to do it, but relatively easy work compared to the overhead electrical that's associated with the relocates.

John Rogers

Yes. Okay. Great. Thank you.

Michael Fournier

[Indiscernible] just to follow why the constraint is. In all of these cases, you got to get out ahead and get the permitting and the access to do the installs. So that, in some ways, becomes the governor on the rate of install in any given area.

John Rogers

Okay. So, this will – and the next projects would be similar, these will be spread out over a number of years?

Michael Fournier

Yeah. The idea is that you build up multiple crews working multiple areas and that's where you start getting the volume. And the key for us is that breakover point of getting to competitive unit rates for that type of work. In this case, the equipment and the resourcing isn't as difficult as the overhead work.

John Rogers

Okay. And then, Van, you went through the – and I'm sorry I'm slow, but in terms of the guidance that you talked about by segment, were those all references to the second half when you said – and I just want to make sure I've got this right – you've got Oil & Gas revenue down, Canadian revenue down, and T&D up but then flat operating income in Canada, Oil & Gas down, and T&D up, is that right?

Van Welch

Yeah, John. Thanks for that clarifying question. We're looking at sequential. We're looking from Q2 to Q3.

John Rogers

Okay. Okay. Q3 versus Q2 - all right. And then in terms of the refinancing, the $2.3 million of the remaining life of the loan, what is the remaining life of the loan and what are the significant covenant relief here that you've got?

Van Welch

Yeah. The remaining life of the loan is December 31, 2019. And the covenant's amendments, we have a covenant holiday – we've extended our covenant holiday through the end of the year in 2016. So, the...

John Rogers

And that's including EBITDA?

Van Welch

That's on both, we have two major – we have an interest coverage ratio and a leverage ratio. Those holidays apply to both through the rest of 2017. And then, we're showing – we've amended and gained flexibility in 2017. We're, in Q1 – on the leverage ratio, we're 6:1 in Q1. Q2, we're 5:1. And in Q3, we're 3.5:1. And Q4, we're 3:1. And it's a like kind of adjustment on the interest coverage ratio. We've actually detailed all of that in our Q as well, John.

John Rogers

Okay. Sorry. I'll go look at it in there. All right. And then just in terms of your expectations for CapEx now for the remainder of 2016.

Van Welch

Yeah. Just to give you an update, we spent about $2 million through the first part of the year in CapEx. Our budget for the year was about $11.5 million in 2016. So, we had a spend of about $1.9 million through June. And we had total AFEs approved of about $2.4 million. My expectation, John, is we'll be well under our approved capital budget.

John Rogers

Okay. Okay. And then one last thing, I guess, for Mike. There's been some reports lately coming out of Canada about maybe some increased capital budgets up there. I don't know how much of it is related, post-fire, and how much is related to higher spot prices for commodity. And I guess I'm just wondering if you've seen – have you seen that in terms of your bidding prospects, specifically as it relates to oil sands, or is that something more into 2017?

Michael Fournier

Yeah. I would say very little in the way of project opportunities for 2017 in the oil sands. There are some sustainable project work that we're starting to get some visibility to and responding to, but nothing in the form of major new projects, I think with maybe one exception, the Fort Hills project continues to move along. Our scoping is in the type of work that we do. We've kind of done what is in our wheelhouse to do with respect to that project.

Where we are starting to see some spend is on the infrastructure side, and that's basically driven by government policy up there and the skill set that's transferable for us is on the water treatment side of things. And we've gotten two small awards there that, for us, is build resume on small projects. And then we see some opportunities – fairly large number of opportunities for projects that are in the $5 million to $15 million range that we now believe that we can get to a competitive price point based on the small awards, and look to add that revenue stream and has been an offset to the downturn in the Oil & Gas side of the business.

John Rogers

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And it seems that we have no further questions at this time. I would like to turn the floor back over to management for closing comments.

Michael Fournier

Okay. Well, folks, thanks for participating in the call today and your continued interest in our company. We look forward to our next quarter conference call. Thank you.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation. This does conclude today's teleconference. You may disconnect and have a wonderful day.

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