COMPASS GROUP PLC ORD NEW's (CMPGF) CEO Richard Cousins on Q4 2016 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: COMPASS GROUP (CMPGF)

COMPASS GROUP PLC ORD NEW (OTCPK:CMPGF) Q4 2016 Earnings Conference Call November 22, 2016 4:30 AM ET

Executives

Richard Cousins - Group Chief Executive

Johnny Thomson - Group Finance Director

Analysts

Vicki Stern - Barclays

Jamie Rollo - Morgan Stanley

Richard Clarke - Bernstein

Tim Ramskill - Credit Suisse

David Phillips - Redburn

James Ainley - Citi

Jarrod Castle - UBS

Jeffrey Harwood - Stifel

Richard Cousins

Okay. We’re ready. Good morning and thank you for joining us. Today, we have the usual agenda and there'll be plenty of time for question and answers at the end. Before Johnny takes you through the financial detail, I'd like to begin by making a few comments on the business highlights. I'm pleased to report that Compass has delivered another strong set of results. Organic revenue grew by 5%. We've worked hard to drive growth in the business and the consistency of delivery is encouraging.

Operating profit on a constant-currency basis grew by 5.6% and our operating margin, including restructuring cost, was flat as expected. Free cash flow was up by an impressive 26%, due to currency and better cash conversion. EPS on a reported basis was up by 14%. But, more honestly, constant currency earnings per share were up by almost 8% and we're proposing to increase the dividend by the same amount.

And on that positive note, I'd like to hand over to Johnny.

Johnny Thomson

Thank you, Richard. Good morning, everyone. Good to see you all. So on the first slide, let's start by looking at revenue. I'm working from left to right. Sterling's weakness against all of our major trading currencies benefited revenues by GBP882 million, which gives us a rebased 2015. North America grew organic revenue by 8.1% in the year. Encouragingly, growth continues to be broad based across almost all sectors. New business wins were excellent, particularly in B&I, canteen and healthcare. Retention remained high at 96.3% and like for like volumes were very good in sports and leisure.

We're pleased with our progress on growth in Europe from minus 2.4% in 2013 to plus 2.2% last year and 2.8% this year. New business wins were strong and we are working to improve retention. Our fourth quarter growth rate however was slower, impacted by the closures of some contracts and challenging sports and leisure comps in the UK. Rest of the world, excluding offshore and remote, grew by 3.6%.

Good performances in New Zealand, Asia and Spanish speaking Latin America were offset by continued volume weakness in Brazil. Our offshore and remote business contracted by 10%. The decline in Australia accelerated in the second half as large construction projects come to an end. This trend will continue into 2017. Taking all of these movements together, group organic revenue grew by 5%.

A moment now to talk about phasing. Our growth rate of 4% in the second half of 2016 reflects the expected decline in Australia, an annualized 60 basis points impact on the group's growth and the slowdown in Europe. We expect full year 2017 to be at the bottom of our 4% to 6% range with growth weighted to the second half as the comps unwind.

Let's now look at operating profit. Starting on the left of the chart, FX was a GBP72 million benefit to operating profit. The strong performances in North America and continued improvement in Europe increased operating profit by GBP85 million and GBP10 million respectively. In rest of world, a decline of GBP26 million in Australia dominated the operating profit performance, despite GBP5 million of improvement elsewhere. Taking all these movements together, constant currency profit growth for the group was 5.6%.

Moving on now to operating margins. In North America, margins were flat. Positively, we continued to drive efficiencies and benefit from overhead leverage. This allowed us to offset the high mobilization costs, which accompany strong top line growth, above average labor inflation and the dilutive impact of the CulinArt acquisition. In Europe, again efficiencies more than offset mobilization costs. With this underlying margin improvement, we funded the cost of creating nine business units, which will in time optimize our scale in procurement and the back office. As a result, European margins remained flat at 7.2%. In rest of world, margins, excluding Australia, were flat.

We're pleased that the savings from the restructuring along with pricing and ongoing efficiencies offset weak volumes in Brazil and in our offshore and remote sector. The impact of the construction cycle in our Australian business reduced margins in rest of world as a whole by 50 basis points. Restructuring costs for the group were GBP25 million in the year for a total GBP51 million over the two year program. And with the benefit of corporate overhead leverage, margins for the group were flat pre and post restructuring.

Let’s now look at FX, which as you know has a translation impact only. Currency movements due to the weakening of sterling against most of our major currencies benefited operating profit in the year by GBP72 million. If current spot rates were to continue into 2017, FX would benefit full year 2016 operating profit by GBP194 million. To give you a sensitivity, a 1% move in sterling against all of our trading currencies would change 2016 operating profit by around GBP13 million and all details regarding FX sensitivities can be found in the appendices to the presentation.

Moving on to the bottom half of the income statement, net finance costs were GBP101 million, in line with last year. We expect 2017 net finance cost to be around GBP110 million, reflecting the impact of the weakness of Sterling on our foreign currency borrowings. The underlying tax rate was 24.5%, also in line with last year. In May, I mentioned that changes to international tax rules from the OECD BEPS project could impact our tax rate going forward. Parts of this have become effective in the recent UK Finance Act. As a result, our 2017 tax rate will increase by around 100 basis points. We expect the tax environment to remain uncertain. Constant currency EPS grew by 7.8% to 61.1 pence and we proposed to increase the dividend by the same amount in line with our policy.

Let's now look at operating cash flow. Depreciation and amortization increased by GBP55 million due to our investments in CapEx and GBP20 million of currency movements. Gross capital expenditure was 2.9% of revenues and we expect 2017 CapEx to be similar to this year. Working capital in 2016 was better than expected. Some underlying improvements and some timing differences offset the expected GBP70 million payroll related outflow in the UK and US. We continue to focus on improving working capital and expect a small outflow next year. Operating cash grew by 8% and operating cash conversion increased to 89% as a result of the good working capital performance.

Looking at the non-operating components of free cash flow. Post-employment benefits were GBP39 million. This was lower than in 2015 because of one-off payments made into the US plan last year. We've just completed our tri-annual valuation of the UK defined benefit plan, which is now in a funding surplus. We have therefore agreed with the trustees to stop the cash contributions. We expect total group contributions to pension plans to be around GBP20 million going forward.

The cash tax rate of 18% benefited from changes in legislation in North America. In 2017, we expect the rate to be between 20% and 23%. We made good progress in free cash flow generation. At 63%, our conversion was slightly above our target range due to the better than expected working capital and cash tax performances. We continue to focus on cash and we expect free cash flow conversion to be within our target 55% to 60% range next year.

Our priorities for uses of cash are unchanged. We continue to be excited by the structural growth opportunity in our sector and invest in the business via CapEx and M&A to support our long-term growth ambitions. We're also committed to returning significant cash to shareholders through our policy of growing dividends in line with constant currency earnings. We will maintain a strong investment grade credit rating and we will continue to target a full year net debt to EBITDA ratio of around 1.5 times. We will do this by returning surplus cash to shareholders through share buybacks or other means.

So looking now at the balance sheet and again starting on the left of the chart. Opening net debt was GBP2.6 billion and the business generated cash of GBP1.5 billion before CapEx. We reinvested 729 million to support our long term growth, 549 million in CapEx and 180 million on M&A, principally the acquisition of CulinArt. We also returned 596 million to shareholders, 496 million in dividends and 100 million in share buybacks. And finally, FX was 395 million. Net debt to EBITDA was 1.6 times due to the significant shift in FX rates in the fourth quarter of the year.

I’ve pulled together all of our 2017 full year assumptions on one page as reference for your modeling. And so in conclusion, we’ve delivered another strong year and I’ll now hand back to Richard.

Richard Cousins

Thanks, Johnny. We continue to be rewarded for our focus on organic growth. New business wins were 8.8%, driven by strong performances in most countries. Lost business was 5.9% and like for like revenue grew by 2.1%, reflecting sensible price increases. Modest volumes improvements in North America were largely offset by negative volumes in rest of the world. As a result, organic revenue growth for the year was 5%.

We remain focused on margins. This year, we faced cost inflation, especially labor in Europe and North America, volume declines in offshore and remote and Brazil and mobilization costs. We also reinvested in the business to support our organic growth and created nine regional business units in Europe. And we kept margins flat by continuing to focus on efficiencies, overhead leverage and appropriate price increases.

North America, the group's core growth engine continues to perform exceptionally well. Organic revenue growth was 8.1%, driven by strong new business, high retention and good like for like revenues in most sectors. The North American business continues to be very exciting, given the large structural growth opportunity in this vast and dynamic market.

Our strategy of sub-sectorization where we divide the business into smaller segments is working. We have sharpened our offer and are driving broad based growth across all sectors, except DOR. This approach combined with the cost advantage of our scale is making our growth in North America more diversified and sustainable over the long run.

Performance in rest of the world continues to be a bit mixed. Our businesses in B&I, healthcare, education and sports and leisure which accounts for over 60% of the region performed reasonably well. Good growth in New Zealand, India and Spanish speaking Latin America was partly offset by continued weakness in Brazil. And as a result, revenue increased by 3.6%.

Our offshore and remote business continues to be challenging due to the overall weakness in commodities. The restructuring program we announced in 2015 is now complete. We have adjusted our cost base and are now well placed to compete in these new market conditions. In the early years of this decade, high commodity prices contributed to both high levels of output and site construction activity. With big double digit growth in our offshore and remote business, maybe we were spoilt.

As you can see, the trend has turned. In Australia, iron ore and LNG construction projects are ending and are not being replaced with new ones. Chile has been impacted by lower copper prices and our oil and gas businesses have been challenging around the region. At some point, this will stabilize, but 2017 will continue to be another tough year.

We're pleased with our progress in Europe. Even though H2 was slightly slower, revenues for the year were up by 2.8%, the highest growth rate we have seen since 2008. New business wins were strong and we are improving retention. However trading in the North Sea and France remains challenging. Efficiencies generated throughout the business more than offset mobilization costs and the impact of weak volumes in oil and gas. This allowed us to fully offset the cost of creating business units to strengthen our position in the region.

At our investor seminar back in June, we talked about our plans to replicate the key elements of our North American business model in Europe. The senior teams are in place and Europe is now managed in nine sub regional business units. This new structure will allow us to leverage our scale and procurement, lower our back office costs and speed up the sharing and implementation of best practice. And over time, it will result in more consistent top line growth and margin improvement.

What about the future? Well, our strategy is clear and unchanged. Food remains our core competence and we take a cautious and incremental approach to support services. Our priority is organic growth and we will only do bolt-on M&A if there are attractive targets. Finally, we focus on best in class execution where we combine the cost advantage of our scale with a focus on quality and innovation. The contract food service market is estimated to be more than GBP200 billion. There is a large structural opportunity for growth given that over 80% is still operated by either in-house providers or regional players.

I've talked about how we're increasing our focus on innovation. Let me take you through a few more interesting examples from around the world. This year, Fortune magazine listed Compass as one of the fifty companies that changed the world in recognition of the work we're doing to encourage our consumers to eat in the ways that are healthy for them and more sustainable for the environment. In vending, we’re continuing to evolve our offer and are providing more premium products and artisan coffees. We now have a nano-market solution for smaller spaces and we are rolling out a smartphone app to expedient mobile payments. In the UK, we're piloting a system that increases the speed of service by allowing consumers to preorder, prepay and self checkout. And in Canada, we're using our digital hospitality platform which pulls together various data streams that include data analytics, consumer feedback and social media to improve our understanding of buying behaviors.

Even though we are more focused on innovation, our core business model remains clear and unchanged. Top of our agenda is organic growth, we continue to put more focus and resources behind both MAPs 1 and 2, driving new business and retention and consumer sales. Our obsession with cost that’s MAPs 3, 4 and 5, food, labor and overheads is never ending. And there is still considerable opportunity to improve margins. We invest as required to support growth and create value for our shareholders by delivering a balanced package of EPS growth, a strong and progressive dividend and return of surplus capital where that's appropriate either via share buybacks or other means. It's a proven and sustainable model. And so to summarize, it's been another strong year, our business in North America is in great shape. The restructuring in the rest of the world is complete and we are making good strategic progress in Europe. We continue to return cash to shareholders and remain focused on strong growth with discipline. Our expectations for 2017 are positive with a weighting to the second half. And we remain excited about the structural growth opportunities in the business.

Thank you for your time and attention. We're happy now to take questions and in a normal way, I’d be grateful if you'd wait for the microphone and give your name and company that you represent. Who's going to go first? Vicki I think you just want.

Question-and-Answer Session

Q - Vicki Stern

It’s Vicki Stern from Barclays. Question just on the rest of world, so you talk about another tough year probably ahead in that division. How to think about margins there, are you fairly confident you can help things sort of better than in 2016. And what would it take you to acquire another restructuring program in that region.

Richard Cousins

I think as I said earlier our margins in the rest of the world went back by 50 basis points in ‘16. I think we've done a lot of hard work in the last two years on the restructuring as you can imagine. And so I think we feel as if we're a good position going into ‘17. Most of the businesses are now at least flat margin going into ’17. Australia is still challenging for the obvious reasons around the construction cycle. However, I think we feel we’re in a good position now to get close to flat margins year-on-year perhaps not quite there but close to it, maybe minus 10 basis points would be a reasonable assumption. At this stage, Vicki, I don't think we're soon doing more restructuring. It's now about ongoing efficiencies within the normal course of business.

Jamie Rollo

Jamie Rollo from Morgan Stanley. First question on Europe, with the Q4 sales around sort of zero, quite a shock the slowdown from the 3.7 at the nine-month stage. Could you just try and call out some of the items that were behind that you mentioned France, comps in the UK, contract exits. And what gives you the confidence that growth rate will actually accelerate in fiscal ’17?

Richard Cousins

No, it’s a good question. We would expect Q1 to be similar, maybe even a fraction worse not sure but we've analyzed the pipeline to death and we feel increasingly positive about H2 in Europe. The biggest business in Europe clearly is the UK. Sometimes win rates can be a bit lumpy, our win rates in the UK have been very strong but they mainly come on stream in our second half. So we would be quite bullish that the UK will see a sharp acceleration through 2017 but Q1, H1 will be down. Contract exits there's a few closures, where some in the North Sea, some in Denmark, some in the UK where clients have closed sites and we take that as a retention hit, clearly not our fault.

Richard Clarke

Hi, good morning Richard Clarke from Bernstein. Two questions from me please. And just with all the political changes we’ve seen around the world, those that have happened and perhaps those to come, are you seeing any kind of caution from any of your clients in getting new business coming through and is that reflected in your 4% organic growth for next year. And then secondly just on dividend policy, your policy is to grow in line with constant currency growth. If my calculations are correct that will put your payout below 50% next year because you grow faster. Any plans to change that dividend policy with the exchange rates.

Richard Cousins

In terms of the dividend, you win some, you lose some. When sterling was strong, our dividend cover drifted down to about 1.8 I think one year and who knows maybe it'll be a fraction above two next year. So I think for the moment we're comfortable with our policy. In terms of the political situation, who knows, in terms of the US I have to say our pipeline for the US looks really excellent, we would be really quite bullish about 2017. The UK may be we saw a little bit of a slowdown in decision-making over the long summer before and after the referendum. And, in a sense that has perhaps contributed to our H1 H2 raising in 2017 because decision making I think was a bit slow. I think in the end, we don't get too excited about short-term political noise. This is a very low risk business spread across 50 countries, 40,000 sites with great balance across each of our sectors. So I think people are going to eat, people continue to outsource, I think we’ll do as well as most.

Tim Ramskill

Thank you. It’s Tim Ramskill from Credit Suisse. Can we just come back to Europe please. I guess, Richard, in terms of the restructuring you’ve put in place that you talked both about growth and margin but which of those opportunities do you think is the greater and which excites you, excites you more. And then just related to that, just a point of clarification, in terms of the exits in Europe, you mentioned quite a lot of it has been due to closures rather than sort of lost business. On the lost business side is there any change in the dynamic or has not been consistent?

Richard Cousins

No, in terms of retention rates in Europe, they continue to inch up as you know they are structurally lower than North America and always will be. But I think we're quite pleased with progress in terms of our European retention. In terms of the growth margin, John do you want to comment on that?

Johnny Thomson

I think we feel positive about both actually, Tim. Not meaning to hedge the bets here, but I think the creation of the business units helps us to fast forward on the implementation of the best practices principally from North America. So that process has started but we feel it can accelerate. And I think over the next two or three years as the structures solidify and as we get better systems in place, we can then start to drive better efficiencies through overhead leverage and better procurement. So, I think it’s a story of both to be honest.

Richard Cousins

At the very front there, yeah.

David Phillips

Hi, good morning, David Phillips from Redburn. Can I ask a couple, start on Slide 29 and your innovation [indiscernible]. Can you put absolute number on how much you spend in sort of run rate in a year on these new initiatives at the moment.

Richard Cousins

No.

David Phillips

Ballpark?

Richard Cousins

We debated that long and hard about 18 months ago when we started putting more focus behind innovation. How do we measure the cost, how do we measure the benefits, and concluded that it would become a bureaucratic industry. So, no I don't think we can give you an intelligent number. It's not huge but no.

David Phillips

And the second one, I’ve heard you say in the past that the element of choice that Obamacare brought to catering and hospitals was a positive for you. And are you guys in the ground feeling that innovation is here to stay or is there a risk that it could be put into changes?

Richard Cousins

I think whatever the new president does with health care, it seems to be creating instability and however you look at it that means hospitals are going to drive out cost. So I think we've done well from Obamacare, our pipeline in health care is very strong and we would be bullish that that momentum will continue as far as we can sensibly see.

James Ainley

Thanks. It's strengthening from James Ainley from Citi. Can I just ask about the M&A environment, couple of your competitors have been doing a few more deals. Could you talk about what you're seeing in terms of seller's expectations in terms of multiples and whether you might be more ambitious this year in M&A?

Richard Cousins

As you know we've been relatively cautious, we haven't spent a great deal on M&A over the last five or ten years, our average is somewhere between 100 million to 200 million. We obviously did a very exciting deal, CulinArt in the US this year which was great. And as we look forward, I think we’d would expect to do similar levels, 100 million to 200 million small bolt-ons North America, maybe a fraction more in Europe. So nothing has really changed from that perspective and I don't think we see the pipeline has being materially different either.

Johnny Thomson

It's very difficult for us to answer your question on multiples and so on because we tend to buy private companies, our model is to build relationships with people who don't necessarily get businesses at the lowest price but you get good businesses, you get buy in from the management continuity I think is important. So I think we would struggle to give you a any yardstick for multiples.

Jarrod Castle

Thank You. It’s Jarrod Castle from UBS, good morning. Just looking a little bit ahead to 2019 when the new lease accounting kicks in. Will that have any impact on the way you look at the balance sheet in terms of capitalizing minimum least payments?

Johnny Thomson

There will be around about GBP500 million or GBP600 million roundabout that, they'll come onto our balance sheet from leases, which I think brings us into the way that the rating agencies would measure our balance sheet anyway. So other than that I don't think there's any particular changes.

Richard Cousins

Any more questions please. On the telephone lines, we've got thousands of people, none of them want to ask a question. Oh we’ve got another one from Jim.

Tim Ramskill

Thanks. It’s Jim again from Credit Suisse. Just coming back in terms of the US sort of growth opportunities. I guess it’s probably maybe correct me two or three years ago since you landed a couple of really very significant contracts and talked at the time about both the health care and education sectors in terms of more opportunities like that. Just maybe an update on whether any of those have been landed and how you think about that?

Richard Cousins

Our pipeline for those sort of mega contracts is underwhelming, our pipeline for mid-sized contracts is the best it's ever been. So actually we’re really content with the way it's going, you rightly said the two mega contracts one was in higher ed and one was in health care. Health care in particular is strong, education is about average in North American terms which is still very good. We're very comfortable with winning lots and lots of midsized contracts.

David Phillips

Thanks, it’s David Phillips at Redburn, I have a follow-up on Foodbuy and Foodbuy Europe, can you give us a run rate for what you think gross purchasing will be in 2017 and how much of that will be third-party please?

Richard Cousins

At Foodbuy Europe, it's probably only about 200 million, it's quite small. I mean if you compare it to the US, where in total we're buying or tracking about $20 billion which clearly is a very significant operation. Europe is small but within the direction of travel is clear; we've made one acquisition in the UK a couple of years ago and a small one in Holland recently. We like the business model and we think we will quietly grow it.

Jarrod Castle

It’s Jarrod Castle again. I guess coming back to Vicki’s question just in terms of restructuring, if you look at what further ahead three to five years out, is there any big initiatives that would actually result in some form of restructuring or is it just kind of that MAP program from now on?

Johnny Thomson

I understand today I think [indiscernible]. Nothing that sits right in front of us that would cause us to think of restructuring but of course you'd expect us to say that things change very quickly in this world.

Richard Cousins

I think what's ongoing is our obsession with cost, I think the moment we say to you we're bored of cost and we're just going to sit back and congratulate ourselves then we're toast. The mood in the business is very healthy I think, very humble and we remain really cautious and therefore keep driving away costs. So, we only do restructuring when big events happen.

Johnny Thomson

God there's loads more questions.

Jamie Rollo

Jamie Rollo again, can I ask about tax is that 100 basis point increase, you’ve mentioned FX rates in the releases is that just a mix of US going up or is there something else there. and what could that 25.5% go to worse case let's say in a few years time.

Richard Cousins

The increase of 100 basis points is fractionally to do with FX but mostly to do with the Finance Act and passing MAPs and how that affects the group. So I wouldn't read too much into the FX point. Going beyond 2017, I'm not going to give any guidance because as I said things remain very uncertain. The proposed legislation out there which if passed could make further changes to our tax rate, so at this stage I can't give you any guidance Jamie.

Jamie Rollo

It could stay flat beyond 2017 or will it definitely go up do you think?

Richard Cousins

Who knows, who knows. Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Harwood

Yes, Jeffrey Harwood from Stifel. As we look at the prospects for margin improvement this year, would I be right in saying that most of the improvements going to reflect the elimination of the restructuring costs of 25 million that figure dropping out of the equation.

Johnny Thomson

I think that's right, we will see that of course. But I think on top of that you should expect a small amount, a modest amount of margin improvement across the group on underlying basis too, say a handful of bps, maybe mid to single digits.

Richard Cousins

If you compare 2017 with 2016, in 2016, we’ve obviously see 5% revenue growth from flat margins. In 2017, revenue growth will be a bit slower still north of 4% we think but we're quite bullish that margins will move nicely forward. Any questions on the telephone any more questions. Thank you everybody for your time, have a good Christmas.

Johnny Thomson

Thank you.

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