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CDI Corp. (NYSE:CDI)

Q1 2008 Earnings Call

April 30, 2008 11:00 am ET

Executives

Vince Webb - VP of IR

Roger Ballou - President and CEO

Mark Kerschner - EVP and CFO

Analysts

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Operator

Good day, my name is Jackie and I will be your conference operator today. At this time I would like to welcome everyone to the CDI Corporation first quarter results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks there will be a question-and-answer period. (Operator Instructions)

Thank you. It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Vince Webb, Vice President of Investor Relations. Sir, you may begin your conference.

Vince Webb

Thank you, Jackie. Good morning and thank you for joining us today. At this point, you should have a copy of the first quarter 2008 press release. If not, please call our office at 215-636-1185, and we'll be happy to send one to you immediately after the call. A replay of today's call will begin one hour after we're finished and will run for one week. It can be accessed by dialing 706-645-9291 and entering pass code 40896598. In addition, a live broadcast will also be made available on the Internet and our website, www.cdicorp.com, for the next 14 days.

On the line with us today are CDI President and Chief Executive Officer, Roger Ballou and our Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Mark Kerschner. We'll begin with some remarks by Roger and then the line will be open for questions.

Before we begin, however, we'd like to point to the cautionary language regarding forward-looking statements contained in the news release and remind everyone that that same language applies to any comments made during this morning's conference call.

Now, at this time, I'd like to turn things over to Roger Ballou. Please go ahead Roger.

Roger Ballou

Thanks Vince, and thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. Following my opening remarks, Mark and I'll be happy to answer your questions.

I'm pleased to report a solid first quarter. While topline revenue growth was constrained by the continuing IT solutions slowdown, permanent placement weakness in Anders and MRI, and by project delays in aerospace and life sciences. We were able to deliver gross margin improvement of a 110 basis points to 24.3% and an operating profit increase of approximately 18% when adjusted for the one-time events noted in our press release.

Additionally, I'm pleased with our progress in moving CDI's business up to value continuum, as we shifted more revenue to higher margin outsourcing and professional services business. Our focus on creating shareholder value through maximizing our pre-tax return on net assets is ongoing. We returned 21.4% in the quarter versus 17.1% in the prior year quarter. In addition, our after tax return on shareholders' equity increased to 9.8% versus 8.3% in 2007.

In spite of the quarter's flat topline performance, we remain optimistic that we could still achieve 3% to 6% overall revenue growth for 2008, and I'll provide commentary on this later in my remarks.

I also want to address the one-time items that we called out in the press release. In the first quarter 2007, our financials were favorably impacted by a $1.6 million pre-tax reversal of a legal accrual that we'd recorded in 2004 as the result of an adverse judgment in a lawsuit. We appealed the judgment, resulting in reversal of the trial court's decision in the first quarter of 2007, and we therefore recorded and called out a $1.6 million pre-tax gain in last year's press release. Without that one-time gain, our 2007 Q1 earnings per share would have been approximately $0.05 lower.

We also noted in this quarter's press release that we recorded a pre-tax charge of $0.6 million for reserves related to an international master franchise licensee at MRI. I'll provide a bit more detail when I discuss MRI's performance later in the call. Adjusting for these two items, year-over-year net earnings would have increased about 18%. The current uncertainty in the economic climate has had some affect on our first quarter performance.

We've made, and will continue to make, prudent adjustments to our cost structure, but we remain fully committed to our long-term strategic principles. First, we'll continue to focus our business development efforts on high client value, high margin business, particularly in engineering outsourcing in the alternative energy, aerospace, life sciences, process industry, and defense sectors. Additionally, we'll continue to target permanent placement growth and higher margin IT outsourcing opportunities.

Second, we will continue to focus on increasing our global mix of business to ensure that we continue to meet our current client needs as they expand their offshore operations. We'll also work to generate new client relationships in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.

And thirdly, CDI will strive to build both its skill sets and business scale in those industries that we've identified as having attractive, long-term economic drivers, and which could remain relatively unaffected by short-term conditions in financial markets. We believe that sustained high oil prices, concern with global warming, and rapid growth in the brick economies will continue to drive capital investments in infrastructure build out, alternative energy development, specialty chemical production, oil refinery capacity expansion, new aircraft development and in the life sciences sector.

We were pleased that during the first quarter, approximately 34% of CDI's revenue was generated outside of the U.S. We anticipate that our mix of non-U.S. business could continue to expand.

Now let me turn to first quarter performance in our business units. We're pleased with the earnings and momentum in Engineering Solutions generated by our strategy to ship more of our revenue base to higher value, higher margin engineering product outsourcing.

During the quarter revenue grew by 3.6% over the prior year quarter, while direct margin increased 16%. Operating profits for the same period increased by approximately 35% when adjusted for the $1.6 million pre-tax legal accrual reversal that I noted earlier.

As we continue to shift to more higher margin projects, particularly in our alternative energy sector, we anticipate some moderation in quarter-over-quarter gross margin growth in the second quarter due to the lumpiness of the shorter-term, but higher margin alternative energy projects.

We anticipate less volatility as a larger pipeline of alternative energy projects ramps up in later quarters. In fact, we're able to announce a new polysilicon project in Italy, where our process in the industrial vertical will provide technology integration, basic engineering and detailed engineering services, for a solar grade polysilicon manufacturing project.

We saw a solid year-over-year revenue growth in the process and industrial segment, with growth of 4.6% and in government services, which grew a robust 19.9% compared with the first quarter of 2007. Continued growth in alternative energy and defense sector spending were the primary drivers. Revenue in aerospace declined by 12.4%, as we continue to experience delays in bidding activity from a large client. Life sciences revenue declined by 16.9% on a year-over-year basis, due to delays in ramp-up of new projects.

As I noted in our fourth quarter conference call, we expect to see some deceleration of topline growth in Engineering Solutions as we cycle into new higher margin engineering design projects and out of higher revenue based, but lower margin, engineering staffing business. This should produce continued improvement in direct margin and operating profit margin.

Management Recruiters International reported solid revenue growth of 21.4%, driven by continued strength in contract staffing services revenue. Operating profits declined by 32.3%, driven by a decline in royalties and the $0.6 million reserve related to our U.K. based international master licensee.

We experienced a first quarter decline in high margin royalty revenue in the mid single-digit range. We've seen strength in the healthcare, business services and technology industry segments, and weakness in the industrial and manufacturing, and consumer products and services sectors. We remain cautiously optimistic that, absent further economic deterioration, domestic U.S. royalties could stabilize in later quarters this year.

We incurred the $0.6 million pre-tax charge on certain receivables as a result of operating and managerial issues at our U.K. based international master licensee. The opportunity to expand international franchise sales and franchise royalties remains good. We expect to resolve those operational and management problems to resume normal franchise sales and support activities.

U.K. based AndersElite saw revenues essentially flat versus the year ago quarter. The earlier Easter holiday, and associated bank holiday, caused the loss of a full business day, or roughly 1.6% of revenue. That notwithstanding, we saw some market softening in both permanent placement and contract staffing services demand, primarily in private housing construction and new property development projects.

Operating profit increased by 3% over the first quarter of 2007, driven by effective expense controls and improved productivity, as well as by growth in the Australian market. U.K. economic conditions present a bit more challenging environment in 2008, but we see generally consistent demand factors in the U.K., and significant opportunities for growth in Australia.

There is no change in status since our last update on the ongoing U.K. Office of Fair Trading investigation into alleged anti-competitive behavior by a number of U.K. companies, including Anders. We're still unable to estimate any potential liability, but will of course disclose any liability or estimate of liability when we have sufficient information from the OFT.

IT Solutions revenue declined 14.1% versus the prior year quarter, reflecting softness in our automotive accounts and from previously identified staffing reductions by a large IT client. We were pleased to see a flattening in IT Solutions' sequential revenue, indicating that the revenue decline may have bottomed out.

We expect to see relatively stable revenue in the second quarter as we anniversary the cut back by our large IT client that occurred in the second quarter of 2007. The revenue decrease caused operating profit margins to decline to 0.4% versus the prior year margin of 2.4%.

Now let's look at some other results for the quarter. Our balance sheet remains strong; we finished the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $110 million; the primary drivers of sequential cash usage were normal seasonal up ticks in accounts receivable, higher bonuses and variable compensation payouts that occurred in the first quarter; cash required for our stock repurchase program; and capital expenditures exceeding deprecation.

Now our capital expenditures were front loaded in the quarter, and we anticipate full year CapEx to be in the range of our 2007 total. Of course, cash will be affected by any stock repurchase made during the year, and by any acquisitions. For the full year, we expect to source substantial cash from operations.

I also want to note that our Board of Directors announced a quarterly dividend of $0.13 per share to be paid on May 28, 2008 to all shareholders of record as of May 14, 2008. During the quarter our effective tax rate was 35.1%. We anticipate a tax rate for the full year between 33% and 35%.

With that, Mark and I would be happy to take your questions. Jackie, can you please begin the questions?

Questions-and Answers-Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions)

Your first question is from Andrew Steinerman with Bear Stearns. Please go ahead.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Hi, there. When you talk about the reductions of the lower margin engineering staffing work, Roger, was that by your design, meaning your company's design, or is that just the way kind of the project went and you just see it as an opportunity not to regrow that business?

Roger Ballou

It's a combination of the two, in a sense. We had some contracts that came up for renewal that didn't renew, and we decided not to bid at lower rates on them. So it was a combination of cyclical factors, but it's clearly our strategy to rotate into the higher margin stuff and to not be as aggressive on the lower margin staffing.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Right. So if you could just assess for us the lower margin engineering staffing world in the U.S. now, would you still call it good growth, or would you call it flat, or just engineering staffing, the macro environment right now?

Roger Ballou

Well, again, the engineering staffing side isn't our primary focus.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Right.

Roger Ballou

But demand there remains solid.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Okay.

Roger Ballou

We're not seeing any diminution in there. It's different by sector. So, for example, if staffing in bulk chemicals is softer, staffing in specialty chemicals is okay. It's typically true in the project world as well. I mean the places where project demand is good, staffing demand is generally good as well. So alternative energy is good, petrochemicals is good, specialty chemicals is good, aerospace is good, those kinds of areas; bulk chemicals are soft.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Okay. That's absolutely healthy. And then on the IT staffing side, I know the overall entity is looking to kind of recharge its momentum. Right now, it's growing below market. My question is, what's the philosophy in IT staffing in terms of balancing gross margins and operating margins? Is one a priority over the other?

Roger Ballou

In every one of our businesses our priority is to grow our operating margins and to manage our gross margins to allow us to do that. So, we would give up some growth on the topline to improve our margins and to improve our operating margins. So we'd be a little less focused, particularly in IT staffing, on just topline growth, more focused on generating better gross margins and on generating better operating margins.

Andrew Steinerman - Bear Stearns

Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question is from Bill Sutherland with Boenning and Scattergood. Please go ahead.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Hi, Roger.

Roger Ballou

Hi Bill.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

The variable contribution margin target that you've got for Q2, I'm kind of looking at the make up of the segments and trying to kind of see how I could get there in the model. Maybe you could just talk directionally as far as the margins at a segment level to help you get there.

Roger Ballou

Well, I mean, it really is a combination of maintaining good gross margins by business unit and growing our expenses slower than we're growing our gross margin. So, as we look at it segment by segment, we don't give gross margin guidance in each of those segments on a quarterly basis.

But what we'd expect to see is, as we've talked to in here, we expect to see stronger topline growth at 2% to 4% in the second quarter. We would expect to see gross margin growth above that, significantly above that, because we are rotating into higher margin work.

And as I said, the net effect would be that, as we grow, the gross margin in the high single digits maybe towards 10% in the second quarter, that you would expect to see expenses grow at a slower clip than that. And that's going to result in a 20% variable contribution up to.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Yes, I understand it conceptually. I guess the challenging trend line to me looks like MRI.

Roger Ballou

Well, MRI, again, when we look at the overall business, it is one of the factors. It's just, we don't, obviously, expect to see a recurrence of the $0.6 million write-down in the second quarter. We do expect to see continuing growth in the contract staffing business. We do see some slowdown, as we said, in specific sectors, of royalties.

But, overall, we're comfortable that when you put the pieces together, the Engineering Solutions, MRI, Anders and the IT business, that you will see contribution margins rise and that you'll see variable contributions of up to 20%.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

In your prepared remarks, the royalty decline in the quarter was mid single-digit?

Roger Ballou

Yes.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Okay. And then, you followed that by saying it could stabilize. Why would that happen, potentially?

Roger Ballou

A combination of things; I mean, number one, we continue to see new franchises. Number two, we do have folks who had under performance. I mean, so there were factors that, industry factors, for example, for us in the construction and building products industry were clearly softer in the first quarter, and the retail and wholesale segments.

You know, there's beginning to be evidence that we are seeing the slowdown in those industries gradually tapering off. The amount of delinquencies in mortgages, the rate of acceleration of that is decelerating. The fall off in new home building is decelerating, so we expect to see those being less of a negative drag as the year goes forward. And there are other industries that are doing very, very well, as we commented earlier; engineering staffing is doing well. We do a fair amount of engineering staffing and placements at MRI.

So, we'd expect to see the industries that are good continue to perform well. For the ones that have slowed up, we don't expect to see a continuing deceleration, from this point, at the same clip. So, that should lead to stability later in the year.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

What kind of revenue -- I don't know if you called this out, but in MRI, how much growth did you see in that contract staffing piece of the revenue?

Mark Kerschner

We'll break that out when we do the Q. We did not break it out at this point, but we will break it out. I mean, the revenue there did grow very substantially in Q1 over Q1 last year. And that will be in our Q.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Okay. The aero segment continues to be a frustration in its trend line now for two years. Any tactical or strategic things you want to tackle there?

Roger Ballou

Yes. Strategically and tactically both, the solution is the same. We need to broaden our customer base and get deeper penetration into our existing customers, so that we are not as dependent upon a slowdown in one specific customer affecting us. So the strategy there is to broaden the client base and deepen the relationships with a number of existing customers so that we can grow through a slowdown in a single client. And at the same time, we've reduce expenses judiciously to account for the slowdown.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Okay. I feel like you've been trying to tackle it with that approach now for a few quarters. Is it just a selling cycle issue or--?

Roger Ballou

Yes. I mean, you know, it takes time. We have had some new wins there, with new clients and they are starting to ramp-up. And we expect to continue to win more. We're pleased that we've taken the right steps and the income in that unit has actually improved. So, we don't break out results at that level but the aerospace unit profitability has improved because the guys have done the right things in terms of cutting costs and we're starting to see some momentum in other accounts.

Bill Sutherland - Boenning and Scattergood

Okay. I'll hop off. Thanks.

Roger Ballou

Okay, Bill.

Operator

Thank you. Your next question is from Jim Janesky with Stifel Nicolaus. Please go ahead.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Yes. Good morning, Roger. I apologize if some of the - one or two, of the questions is repetitive. I had to jump off to deal with the pass code thing, which I didn't have.

Roger Ballou

Okay.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Here's the first question; your outlook for 2% to 4% topline growth in the second quarter; that excludes today's staffing from last year, right?

Roger Ballou

Yes.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay.

Roger Ballou

That's on a continuing Ops basis.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Continuing Ops, okay. So I come up with about $302 million to $308 million in revenue for the second quarter and about $1.223 billion and $1.259 billion for the year. Focusing in on the second quarter, the message I got, and so, as I go down the segments, if you could just correct me if I'm receiving an incorrect message; Engineering Solutions, you said the topline growth might moderate but the margins, sequentially, should be at, or above, what they were in the first quarter. Is that accurate?

Roger Ballou

Well, we didn't give exact sequential guidance. But we expect to see continuing good margins in the Engineering Solutions business, yes. And that the topline, what we said is it did moderate in Q1. We anticipated that it would. So, we'd expect to still see moderate growth in Q2 on the topline but continuing strong gross margin growth in the Engineering Solutions segment.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. And would you expect IT Solutions, you know, it was down 13.5% because, as you anniversary the large client, will that still be down year-over-year in the second quarter, but just better than the first quarter?

Roger Ballou

We'd expect it to be flat or slightly up.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay, okay. Great. And AndersElite about the same, flat to slightly up?

Roger Ballou

We'd expect it to be slightly up.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. Great. And then, now shifting to MRI, on your comments you said the stabilization would be later in the year. So, that could be, actually, down sequentially in the first quarter?

Roger Ballou

From a revenue perspective?

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Yes, from a revenue perspective.

Roger Ballou

No, we'd expect it to be up strongly in the second quarter, because we're going to have continuing strong contract staffing growth there. So, we would expect very strong growth in Q2 at MRI on the topline.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Okay. But the margins, because of the mix and the softness in perm, will kind of remain in the range where they are right now?

Roger Ballou

They'd probably remain in the lower range, adjusting for the $600,000 write-down.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

Right, okay. All right. Thank you. And how many shares did you say you bought back in the quarter and what timeframe during the quarter? Was it early or late?

Roger Ballou

We didn't release the timing but we bought 72,400 shares and it would have, by necessity, been relatively later in the quarter because we didn't announce it until...

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

That's right.

Roger Ballou

...the month of March, effectively.

Jim Janesky - Stifel Nicolaus

That's correct. Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions)

Your next question is from David Feinberg with Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Good morning, gentlemen.

Roger Ballou

Good morning.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

A few questions. Most of my questions were asked, so just, I want to follow-up on a few things. First, in terms of the aerospace delays, what is the revised timing in terms of how you think to see things following through in the upcoming quarters?

Roger Ballou

The answer there is that it's dependent upon the client. We'd expect to see aerospace, the comparisons, year-over-year, improving because we saw the fall off in second quarter, et cetera, last year, second quarter and on. So, you should see aerospace improving on a year-over-year basis, relatively, each quarter going forward.

The work from the client, we're hopeful we'll see work from that client and from other wins such that we would see some acceleration in aerospace in the third and fourth quarters.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Great. Then, as it relates to the U.K. litigation, I know you said you had no comment but, just so we're on the same page and facts, what is it that we're waiting for at this point? Is it just the regulator or is there anything else?

Roger Ballou

Yes, just the regulator. I mean, we're being fully cooperative; we're doing everything we can that they asked us to do as we described repeatedly. And they are somewhere in their process, internally. And then we just -- until they come out and give us the -- I believe it's called the statement of objections, until then, we won't really have the data to be able to estimate what the liability is.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Okay. One question on IT. In past calls, you've alluded to the fact that you're pursuing, I think it was, five different verticals or five different types of projects where you would make that business a little bit more like the success you've had in your ENC. Any update, in terms of how those are proceeding or what types of businesses we can or what projects we should look for CDI to explore?

Roger Ballou

Well, we have been seeing some victories in some of our outsourcing areas, particularly, a couple consulting wins and a couple of other small outsourcing wins. We are seeing activity, as I say, in the consulting area and we are seeing some wins in the Help Desk area. But those are things that are moving and you should start to see some results in Q2.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

I'm sorry; when you say moving, you mean that you're within the same client and moving into new projects? Or is that...?

Roger Ballou

No, no, I'm sorry. We're seeing some -- in certain cases, within the client and in certain cases, new client wins. But what we're saying is, we're seeing progress and you should see progress being visible in Q2.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Okay. And then, last question on perm, I'm not necessarily surprised to see perm weak in the U.S. and worldwide, but I was a little surprised, I think you'd highlighted perm weak in Anders. From where we sit, there seems to be a lot of strength in ENC markets worldwide, whether it be mining, construction and the like. So, I'm surprised to see -- and also, particularly in the markets that you serve. So any comments in terms of specific to Anders' slowdown in perm and --?

Roger Ballou

Yes. I mean, it really is, as I said, in the property development area in the U.K. is the biggest factor for us. And if you look at the data there, the property development announced projects in the U.K. There was something like 50% or 60% of the retail property development projects have been put on hold.

So, there's a huge slowdown in property development that affected us. And then the second is in the housing sector in the U.K. So we have those two specific sectors, which drove the slowdown.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Is it safe to assume, then, that mining and some of the other markets that you serve, both in Australia, the U.K. and, perhaps, the Middle East are doing just fine?

Roger Ballou

Yeah. They're doing fine. I mean, it really is, the waiting in those couple of areas that we saw just a real slowdown. The mining sector is still growing. Australia is going very, very well. The non-property development, non-housing related market still is holding up relatively well in the U.K.

David Feinberg - Goldman Sachs

Great. I'll turn it over. Thanks.

Roger Ballou

Okay.

Mark Kerschner

Bye, David.

Operator

Thank you. There are no further questions. I would like to turn the floor over to Mr. Roger Ballou for any closing remarks.

Roger Ballou

Great. Just a quick starting comment, which is that we will be putting out an 8K today to correct a minor misstatement between the ES and IT segments in our Q4 '07 numbers that were in the tables today. It doesn't change the overall numbers for the Company, for the quarter. It was just a slight mix between the two businesses.

You'll see a little higher reported Q4 income in ES and slightly lower in the IT segment. So, that will be coming out later as I said. It doesn't affect this quarter; it doesn't affect the prior year quarter. It's for Q4, '07 and it's a relatively minor adjustment.

The second thing, we're pleased that our focus on high value, high margin work, our increased exposure to global markets and our concentration on capital investment intensive industries, has helped to insulate the company from domestic market uncertainty.

Based on CDI's portfolio of business, on our increasingly global distribution, we feel that we can deliver revenue growth of 2% to 4% in the second quarter, versus the prior year quarter. Additionally, with an anticipated greater mix of higher margin business, we could expect to generate up to 20% in variable contribution margin on that second quarter revenue lift.

For the full year, we still anticipate that revenue growth could be in the range of 3% to 6%, versus 2007. And we could expect a variable contribution range of 12% to 14% on that incremental full year revenue.

Thank you for joining our call today and for your continuing interest in CDI.

Operator

Thank you. This does conclude today's CDI Corporation first quarter results conference call. You may now disconnect your lines and have a wonderful day.

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