Fortress Paper's (FTPLF) Yvon Pelletier on Q3 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Fortress Paper (FTPLF)

Fortress Paper Limited (OTC:FTPLF) Q3 2016 Earnings Conference Call November 15, 2016 12:00 PM ET

Executives

Kurt Loewen - CFO

Yvon Pelletier - CEO

Axel Wappler - CEO of Landqart

Chad Wasilenkoff - Executive Chairman

Analysts

Bryan Fast - Raymond James

David Shapiro - Venture Capital

Trevor Phillips - RBC Capital Markets

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Fortress Paper Limited’s Q3 2016 Earnings Conference Call. I would like to introduce Kurt Loewen. Please go ahead.

Kurt Loewen

Thank you, Operator. And welcome to Fortress’ third quarter 2016 conference call. With me today are Yvon Pelletier, our Chief Executive Officer; Axel Wappler, our CEO of Landqart; and Chad Wasilenkoff, our Executive Chairman.

Yvon will provide an overview of our operating highlights and discuss both the Dissolving segments followed by an update on the Security product segment by Axel. I will then present a brief summary of our financial results and balance sheet. Yvon will finish followed by questions from the floor.

Throughout the call, reference may be made to slides of our presentation, which has been made available for reference through our Web site at www.fortresspaper.com in the Investor Relations tab. During the call, management may make certain forward-looking statements that reflect the current views and/or expectations of Fortress with respect to its performance, business, and future events. The forward-looking cautionary note contained in the MD&A is applicable for today’s call.

During this conference call, management will make reference to operating EBITDA and adjusted net income or loss. For a definition of operating EBITDA, reconciliation of net income to operating EBITDA and calculation of adjusted net income or loss, please see the management’s discussion and analysis available on SEDAR at www.sedar.com.

Yvon, over to you.

Yvon Pelletier

Thanks, Kurt, and good morning, everyone. Just in case anybody missed the separate press release issued yesterday, we announced $19.7 million investments to produce Birtch dissolving pulp at our Thurso operations.

The investment includes a new digester required to cook the Birtch, because it takes longer to cook it, and extra evaporator capacity. $9 million of the project cost is from through the federal government IFIT program, which is the Forest Industry Transformation Program, Investments in Forest Industry Transformation Program, and $8 million will come through the Quebec government over the next four years. And that's a program that was announced in March to all-in the industry just the consumers were eligible for that program providing investment were made. So I'll answer additional questions during the Q&A if you had any.

The FSC Mill experienced its best quarterly results since the mill conversion was completed in 2011. This was a result of improved productivity and production cost, continued stable electricity generation, and improved pricing. In the third quarter of 2016, the FSC Mill production cost, including amortization of some of the shutdown costs and the positive impact of cogeneration facility, averaged 787 per air dried metric tons of dissolving pulp produced, representing a significant improvement of approximately 11% from the previous quarter cash cost excluding the shut.

Production costs are expected to be higher and production volume lower in the fourth quarter of 2016 due to the annual maintenance shutdown, which is scheduled for five day and some ramp-up following the shut. We look for continued improvement at the mill from our lean Six Sigma project team, which are already improving cost and reliability at the mill. In October 2016, the mill was placed at point a new president of the Dissolving Pulp segment, a gentlemen that has previous experience with lean Six Sigma and we expect that he will contribute to further improvement at the mill.

Looking more closely at our consolidated results on slide three, you will see that Fortress Paper reported 2016 third quarter operating EBITDA of $7.6 million, a $1.3 million improvement over the prior quarter. The Dissolving Pulp segment generated operating EBITDA of $11.9 million and the Security Paper Product segment generated operating EBITDA loss of $1.8 million. Corporate costs included in operating EBITDA were $2.5 million.

Moving to Dissolving Pulp segment result on slide four. The results of the third quarter of 2016 were favorably impacted by improved productivity and production costs continued stable electricity generation and improved pricing as stated earlier.

On slide five, you will see the Company sold 40,992 air dried metric tons of dissolving pulp in the third quarter of 2016 compared to 39,931 in the second quarter of 2016. The FSC Mill held finished goods inventory consisting of 988 air dried metric ton of dissolving pulp at the end of the third quarter, slightly below the 1,487 at the end of quarter two. Dissolving pulp price has been improving since May 2016. The increased pricing and improved cost structure are reflected in the good results at the FSC Mill.

On slide six, the broader industry trends remain mainly positive. The viscose staple fibre and rayon filament markets, which are key drivers in dissolving pulp demand, have experienced improved supply-demand balance and improved pricing since bottoming in 2015. Rayon filament has maintained consistent pricing in 2016, which is 7% above its 2015 low. While viscose staple fibre price in November 2016 are higher by approximately 7% over year-over-year, and approximately 28% from the 2016 low in January.

We expect good viscose staple fibre and dissolving pulp pricing through the fourth quarter of 2016. Dissolving pulp and viscose staple fire price have increased by $145 per ton and $1,504 per ton respectively from the low in early 2016. The improved cost in pricing continues to put upward pressure on all fiber pricing.

On slide 14, there is further detail on the transaction for the sales of Fortress Global Cellulose Mill asset for the aggregated purchase price of $15.4 million that completed on July 27th.

I will now pass it on to Axel for his comments on the Security Paper product segment. Axel?

Axel Wappler

Thank you, Yvon and good morning, to everyone. On slide seven, and on the Security Produce segment, had operating EBITDA loss of $1.8 million compared to $4.7 million in the previous quarter. The third quarter results of Landqart Mill are not representative of the huge profitability of the order book.

The Landqart Mill incurred certain unanticipated costs in the third quarter, as well as expenditures for investments in future sales growth that are not expect to reoccur. I also included in the EBITDA for the first time in the third quarter of Landqart was $0.9 million expense related to the rent as a result of the sale of leasebacks. Management has taken strong corrective action initiatives to improve results of the Landqart mill with a further expansion of the Company's current lean Six Sigma program.

Sales tons adjust 2,431 tons for the quarter of lower over the previous quarter in part due to challenges explained earlier. And unfavorable product mix increased the negative impact on results for the quarter. Security Paper production include bank notes, which result in varying degrees of cost and margins depending on the complexity of the security features included.

On slide 11 and slide 13, they are further details in the sale and leasebacks of land and buildings that completed on July 12th at the Landqart Mill for the aggregate purchase price of $59.5 million.

Kurt will now provide financial view. Kurt?

Kurt Loewen

Thanks Axel. On slide nine, you can see that sales are lower than both the second quarter of 2016 and the prior year compared to this quarter. This is mainly due to lower sales at our Landqart Mill due to the challenges that Axel described. Sales orders and the order backlog in both segments continue to show strength.

Also on slide nine and 11, our available cash balanced increased significantly by $51.8 million from the prior quarter. The main contributors to cash were of course the completion of the sale and leaseback of land and building at Landqart. As well as cash flow from operation somewhat offset by debt repayments, share buyback, and CapEx addition.

The debt repayment relates to the completion of the purchase and cancellation of both the 2016 and 2019 bonds under our normal course issuer bid for the convertible bonds in the amount of nearly $7 million in the quarter. Purchase also repurchasing cancelled 655,300 common shares for 3 million under a normal course issuer bid for the common share. CapEx used approximately $4 million.

Restricted cash is increased from the second quarter by $2.3 million. This is a result of deposit requirements from the sale leaseback of $4.7 million, somewhat offset by the return of restricted cash of $2.4 million related to performance bond. Since the quarter end, another $4 million of cash collateral related to the performance bonds has been released. Working capital increased by $17.4 million from the second quarter. This was primarily due to the gain on the sale leaseback as in the prior quarter the Landqart land and building was included in working capital as asset held for sale.

Slide 10, presents an overview of SG&A expenses, which were $12.2 million in the third quarter of 2016. Corporate SG&A was elevated relative to prior periods due to increased corporate activity during the quarter and higher accrual for transition related expenses; 2017 run-rate for corporate should be under $2 million per quarter.

On slide 12, we have a schedule of our upcoming principle repayments as at September 30th. Based on our anticipated EBIT growth, current cash, free cash flow conversion, working capital requirements, and other cash generating initiatives we believe are well positioned to service our debt, reduce our leverage, and enhance our balance sheet metrics over the course the remainder of the year end and beyond.

Yvon, now back to you.

Yvon Pelletier

Thanks, Kurt. Looking ahead, we continue to anticipate positive development. We will focus on three key areas; continue to improve productivity; operational efficiency; and cost at both operation by continued improvement using lean Six Sigma management and focused on our strategic of goal; managing a much improved balance sheet in a strategic manner and then shareholder value while preserving our financial flexibility to pursue value enhancing opportunities; complete the two major investment project in-time and un-budget; the finishing capacity increased in Landqart due to start-up in Q3 2017; and the Birtch project in Thurso due to start-up Q1 2018. Both are important projects to improve long-term profitability of each business.

In summary, we continue to focus on what is important to the business, and are committed to deliver better results year-over-year. Thanks for your time. I will now ask the operator to open the call to your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you [Operator Instructions]. We already have a following one question from Bryan Fast from Raymond James. Please go ahead, Brain.

Bryan Fast

Just on the transaction, following the addition of the digester. Can you provide any indication where you see the cost per ton trending?

Yvon Pelletier

So basically as I mentioned earlier, the investment cost of $19.7 million we are flat -- we will get about $9 million and $8 million, $9 million from the federal government and $8 million from the Quebec government, so about less than $3 million from our cash. The expected benefit basically there will be a ramp-up in 2018 of digester so we expect to get about 16,000 to 17,000 tons per -- annually of the improved productions output to the mill on its ramp-up.

The impact on a cost per ton will be approximately $40 per ton. So if you do the math on the increased -- on the total production that is. But the capacity of the mill the new digester increased the capacity a lot more than the 17,000 tons. It increased by close to 36,000 tons. So it will give us opportunity to continue to -- in 2019-2020 to continue to work toward improving overall throughput from the mill.

Bryan Fast

And second, I guess, can you speak a little to the investment in central programs that if you could help with the funding of the remaining of the strategic investment? I guess, specifically that hydro Quebec retail tariff. Maybe just some details on how that structured.

Yvon Pelletier

That program was announced by the Quebec government in March 2016. It is referenced to its 4D tariff electricity consumer in Quebec, which are the large electricity consumer. And to basically if industry in any sector invests, make a major investment in their business, they get over a four year period of 20% of their electricity bill repaid by the Quebec government by the finance department. So, for us, over four year period, it's global and $8 million.

Operator

Thank you, Bryan [Operator Instructions]. The next question is from David Shapiro from Venture Capital. Please go ahead, David.

David Shapiro

First of all congratulations on closing those transactions, and writing the Company’s balance sheet, and tremendous cost progress that you’ve guys have made on the dissolving pulp mill. I just want to ask regarding the costs on the dissolving mill, they came in quite low. And I’m wondering what you expect before you put in the new digester. What do you expect as an ongoing proper quarterly run-rate for cost per ton? And then when you have a maintenance shutdown period, such as the one coming in the fourth quarter, generally where would you expect that the cost per ton to trend?

Yvon Pelletier

The expectation as we move forward, I’ll give you a 12 month basis. I mean the mill, including the shutdown, should be running in the 775, 800 region on the run-rate basis. And that’s what’s the extra digester will give us, that extra $40 a ton. So closer to the objective we set, if you recall, and we said we’re targeting for 2018 to be mid-700 region, or thereabout. So that’s where we’re driving the business.

David Shapiro

And in regards to your capital position now, I mean, clearly with the improvement in prices and the sale leaseback, you’ve now functionally prefunded the ’16 and ’17 maturity. So you’re in a much better position. I’m wondering as far as projects, other projects on the horizon. Is there any thought to putting in some -- layering in some currency hedges? Is there any thought to retiring more of the 19 debt, considering it still seems out of line with the market and is yielding close to 13%. Still doesn’t seem to be in line given the improvement in the Company’s financial position.

Yvon Pelletier

Kurt?

Kurt Loewen

Yes, I’ll take that. On the 2019 topic, we’ve maxed-out NCIB for this year. However, it will be consideration into 2017 for sure to see what we can do there. And look at the opportunities to best deploy our capital. So certainly there are in -- and with context to hedging, we will look to building some floors and still participate. Currently, we’re about 15% hedged, about four to six months out, on our U.S. sales at the Thurso mill. So, we’re doing it, not aggressively. The currency has been working well for us, obviously. So, having said that, it's still something that we explore, we look at our budgets and as we progress, we’ll see, as we put into more layers or not we’ll look at as we go.

David Shapiro

And then lastly, briefly, I was hoping you can give us a very, very brief overlay of the supply situation. As it’s globally on the dissolving pulp side and if supplies are starting to tighten up and swing capacity is perhaps being exhausted at this point in time?

Kurt Loewen

I think the dynamic we’ve seen differently over the last few months, if you want, is a good demand for viscose staple fibre. Yes, we’re, I think, improving significantly as I mentioned earlier throughout the year. We saw the DP pricing following a few months later, but following that pricing increase. And obviously there was a fairly tight market coming in into the end of Q3, and Q4. And the indication we have is that most of the paper pulp converter resulting that was in the paper pulp has entered the market in the last six months or so, and he is in the market.

So we do believe right now we have a fairly balanced market. And we have, I guess, positive dynamic on the pricing side. And we are, I mean, there will be new capacity coming-in in 2017 but there is also new demand coming in. And we’re basically forecasting a similar dynamic as what we've seen in 2016; a balanced market with not much room; some event that takes out some capacity for whatever reason, which we've seen in the past. So, it's -- continue to be, will continue to be a balanced market and decent pricing dynamic in 2017.

Operator

Thank you, David. There no further questions at this time. Actually, one person did just show up. This one is from Tom Bernard, a Private Investor. Please go ahead, Tom.

Unidentified Analyst

My first question is around Landqart, and could you give us a little more of a specific explanation as to what exactly happened and how it was corrected, and prevention going forward, and so forth?

Axel Wappler

As I said, we had a breakdown of one of our efforts to the chemical treatment manufacture line. And this was one of the major, I would say, incident what happened then at Landqart. And of course it was influencing our total productivity and efficiency, as well as one item in early, I would say, there was major swing and of course it also was related with different, I would say, ways to coming after that. We’re still working on that.

The second one was that we did also some investment into -- in some markets in terms getting additional business, in terms of market investment. So these additional two costs combined with the product mix structure what we had, what’s invested was unfavorable, brought us this situation to where we are. But as I said, we have a strong order book. We are a good [indiscernible] for that part and we have also worked on preventing maintenance program right now to overcome this hurdle.

Unidentified Analyst

So you said you're still working on the fix?

Axel Wappler

No, the issue is, I mean, the problem from the incident what we have from the chemical treatment manufacturing data is fixed. And that we’ve already said. But we’re working of course, that’s not recurring, I mean that's the point.

Unidentified Analyst

And can you give us little more specifics on what exactly the 2017 project is going to do for Landqart?

Axel Wappler

What do you mean by 2017 project?

Yvon Pelletier

The investment in the finishing line is…

Axel Wappler

So the investment in the finishing line. So new equipments for finishing line would bring increased operational flexibility, improved quality efficiency and reliability, as well as up to 15% increase in finish product capacity depending on the mix. Contributions to future EBITDA will follow product mix and EBITDA run-rate are difficult to quantify that Landqart seems to be dependent on successful tender on bank note contract and margins very significantly from one contract to another.

Unidentified Analyst

And stepping back of course India is in the news. And I'm wondering specifically what's the Company's involvement is with India, and how that will affect us in India, but more broadly, the push to reduce currency and its circulation, and at the same time using the more technologically sophisticated product like a Durasafe. How do you see India's move in terms of its impact directly, and big picture on Landqart?

Axel Wappler

At the moment as you know the demand in India specifically for bank notes is very higher at that stage, that’s what we can say. And of course we follow-up that very closely because basically at the moment in bank notes on the production point of view for paper the subset is very tight. And I think our pipeline with Durasafe is well advanced. So we really can say that we have a good market response on Durasafe, and it's quite remarkable also with the launch from the Swiss National Bank and of course also with the reward what we had with Kazakhstan for 20,000 Tenge, that's an official bank note. And in that respect there is lot more than half of dozens of central banks are now in criteria with Durasafe very closely. But of course you have to understand I cannot disclose who exactly is it.

Unidentified Analyst

And it seems -- so it's been almost a year since the Kazakhstan announcement. Have our competitors announced transactions in the more, in a Durasafe type products since our announcement last year? In other words, if the consumer, the central banks are shifting to the hi-tech currency, are we missing any of that or losing that potential business Durasafe type of business to competitors?

Axel Wappler

No, I mean, the positioning from is very strong than the highest security level and the highest durability level we have. And I think it’s clearly seen that the direction from central banks also going more in that direction of having the highest security and durability level in terms of having this demand also for the future development for the bank note. I would say today it's certainly not the case that we’re missing possibilities and opportunities. It’s a long process with a product and starting in this industry. I give example, if you look at the first examples we had with the polymer products, now the polymer first launch was over 10 years, I mean 10-15 years along ago when they really started with that. So, it really takes a long way, some are until central banks are converting there up straight to really a different level.

Unidentified Analyst

So you’re saying that since we announced Kazakhstan, none of our competitors have announced similar deals with Durasafe type of hi-tech product?

Axel Wappler

No, not specifically. I mean, they are always very -- I mean there were a lot of products were in the pipe and already when we look at -- I mean give an example, the five pound bank note which is coming out on polymer, but this was already launched by the long-time ago. So, in that respect, of course, we see good competitive environment with substrate about so longer durability, but it’s not that we are falling behind in that respect.

Unidentified Analyst

If I can ask a couple of questions on Thurso side; first, congratulations on the 787, that’s a spectacular. Just want to understand the digester project. In the past, we had digester problem and there is discussion of replacing a digester and using Quebec financing to do so, because it wasn’t performing up to expectations. And didn’t since a lot of confidence that it wouldn’t break again. Is this project that was announced yesterday, is that -- does that replace the digester that was problematic with a new digester, which is not problematic and digest Birtch as well, is this effectively two-third?

Axel Wappler

Basically we have two issues with the digesters, one was the pluggage issue, and which we resolved basically following our shut earlier this year. And I’m please I heard today we’re doing our maintenance shutdown. We inspected the accumulator and it looked very nice compared to what we’ve seen in the past. So that’s approved that this probably now is behind us. The other thing is we have some piping issue breakage, so we made some replacement in May. And we’re doing some -- also modification during this shutdown. So the two mechanical problem we’ve had we believe are behind us right now.

The extra digester is really to allow us to use a difference species, which is underutilized in our area where we supply. And also to give extra capacity for the future, because we also are looking at, down the road, at other product developments and we need the extra capacity. So that new development, new product, and that's why we’re able to get these systems from the government system grant from the government because of the difference innovating products that we were proposing.

Unidentified Analyst

So we’re satisfied that the problematic digester is back on track and the Birtch digester is an entirely new piece of equipment?

Axel Wappler

Yes, correct.

Unidentified Analyst

And then in terms of the financing, the $ 9 million non-repayable contribution, so effectively a grant. The $8 million that we’re expecting to get from Quebec, does that have to ever to be paid back or is that effectively a grant as well?

Kurt Loewen

It's basically equivalent to grant. We get $2 million per year, 2017, '18, '19 and ‘20. It's a 20% reduction of our -- equivalent to 20% reduction of our electricity goal.

Unidentified Analyst

And then what, just a question on the current quarter, what price are we realizing on dissolve pulp, we’re halfway through the quarter. What have we realized on the sales quarter-to-date?

Kurt Loewen

We should get an average around mid 900 for this quarter, that's where we have plus or minus $10 or so, $10-$15 we’re seeing right now.

Unidentified Analyst

And my last question, the $3.9 million of CapEx is a little high. How did that breakdown between Thurso and Landqart? How much of it is at for the problem in Landqart?

Kurt Loewen

That is where kind of we are tracking on our CapEx. I am not sure why are staying at that high. We will be talking on our CapEx Q4, we’re expecting at $4 million in maintenance CapEx coming. And there will be some discretionary spend in Q4 as well. The specific breakdown on the $3.9 million, I don’t have available at the moment. I can certainly provide that.

Axel Wappler

So, I expect CapEx to be higher when there is the shut-downs and so forth. But the third quarter, $4 million is not a little high, we added $16 million annual run rate on CapEx absent specific projects.

Kurt Loewen

No, we’re not at the $16 million, the CapEx in the fourth quarter was mostly related to the -- I mean we do have, as you know, the below merits that we’re doing in Landqart, so it was part of it. So that's an incremental project that has got a high return that, if you recall, we finance with the -- on the seven year term at variable interest rate in Switzerland. And there was couple of projects in maintenance of business projects in Thurso as we did it last quarter. But the CapEx for this quarter would be mostly -- it won't be a part of our expense, probably maintenance the annual shutdown for Q4.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay. So what...

Axel Wappler

I'll add a bit of color to some of the Landqart expenditure, that project that we’re talking about for next year as part of that as well. Yvon, has already touched on that one.

Unidentified Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Operator

Thank you, Tom. Next question is from Trevor Phillips from RBC. Please go ahead, Trevor.

Trevor Phillips

Just a question about the IQ warrants. Is there any discussion going on with IQ on buying those back? If not, are you looking at forcing them to exercise them? And any color you could add about what kind of cash generation we should expect over the coming 12 months, and how you can use that to have a bit more stock appreciation?

Kurt Loewen

Sure, I'll touch the warrant. We have been in discussions with IQ and we have given notice on the acceleration. So we expect resolution on that by the end of the year.

Trevor Phillips

So does that mean you are forcing them to execute them?

Kurt Loewen

No, it's not forced. We are looking at them as our largest lender and we’re working with them and looking at certain ancillary factors to take into consideration when we’re accelerating the expiry date. So we’re working with them to find a solution for a resolution.

Trevor Phillips

Okay.

Kurt Loewen

On cash generation over the next 12 month, typically we don’t provide that sort of guidance for quarter four. We did provide a little bit of color on improving at Landqart, and achieving maybe not as -- because of the shut in Q4, we're not going to obviously do as well as Q3. Going forward, we just continue to work on making improvements on our cost structure, and obviously be able to capitalize on the margin with the strong price and FX rates.

Trevor Phillips

What kind of price differential is that mid-900 versus the quarter you just reported in terms of the DP price?

Kurt Loewen

As I mentioned on last call, in 2014, we were about $40 delta as we sit here. In 2015, we were about $25. This year we’re slightly less than $10 year-to-date. That's what I track. So we’re around slightly less than $10 that as we sit here, that’s based on year-to-date.

Trevor Phillips

Okay, that’s another question I had. But what I meant was the excellent quarter you just reported at Thurso, what kind of dissolving pulp price was reflected in that?

Kurt Loewen

$845, $850.

Trevor Phillips

845, 850, okay, thank you.

Kurt Loewen

That’s the price, I missed, I understood.

Operator

Thank you, Trevor. There are no further questions at this time.

Kurt Loewen

Very good. Thank you, everyone for your question and continued support. We definitely look forward to updating you on our result in near future. So thanks again, and have a great day. Thanks.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes the Fortress Paper Limited’s Q3 2016 earnings conference call. Thank you for your participation. Have a nice day.

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