Swift Transportation Companies' Management Present at 2012 Citi Global Industrials Conference (Transcript)

| About: Swift Transportation (SWFT)

Swift Transportation Companies (NYSE:SWFT)

2012 Citi Global Industrials Conference

September 19, 2012, 9:30 am ET


Richard Stocking – President

Ginnie Henkels – CFO

Unidentified Corporate Participant

Presenting next from the company we have Richard Stocking, the President and Chief Operating Officer, also Ginnie Henkels up on the stage here, Chief Financial Officer. In the audience we also have Jerry Moyes, so a good lineup from Swift today.

I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to Richard to start the presentation. Thanks very much for coming.

Richard Stocking

All right, thank you. We – Jerry, Ginni and I are excited to be here with you today and present Swift. I'll give an overview of the organization and then turn it over to Ginnie for some financial numbers and then we will open it up for Q&A.

But what I'd like to start off with is kind of our history to kind of show you the different areas of our organization so you can kind of tell where we've come from, where we're at today and where we think we are going in the future.

So we started off this first period and we call it our evolutionary period and this is where Jerry and his father and family started Swift with one truck, flatbed truck, hauling steel from LA to Phoenix and cotton back to LA.

And that had actually grown from one to two to three to four trucks and so on and so forth. And early on obviously got involved in the temperature controlled arena and early on, as well, Jerry financed his first owner/operator, which model we continue to have in place today.

And during those years, obviously tough struggling to build a business, then comes deregulation and we get into the 1990s. I started in 1991, so I was part of this next period, which we labeled as our growth period from 1991 to 2006.

And Swift had gone public for the first time in 1990. And that really fueled the opportunity we had to grow and progress. And Jerry and team told the street that they would grow 15% in revenue and EBITDA and actually were able to achieve more than that into the 20% range.

And into this period we grew dramatically and half of that was internal growth and half of it was through acquisitions. So we were able to buy quite a few different companies. And with these companies came great people and a customer base and actually helped us fill out the network throughout the country.

We also started dedicated operations. We learned how to bring dedicated into the business, how to operate that and what the efficiencies and revenues come through the dedicated operations.

And we've learned and grown over the years in dedicated, both from the back office support to the true execution out in the field.

In addition to that, we brought on Mexico with a company in Mexico called Trans-Mex. We own 100% of that and that came to us in this growth period which we'll talk a little bit more about Mexico in just a few minutes.

We also started on a very small basis in intermodal program and have grown that, which we'll talk more about as well. So then that takes us to the next period, our transformation period from 2007 to 2011.

And this started, this period started out with a privatization situation where we took on a lot of debt and we had plans and strategies set forth and then here comes the recession which we told you in the past we think was the best thing that happened to our organization because it really helped us define who we are and helped us make the changes that we needed to make and become more disciplined and more streamlined in our focus with our customers and our company.

We sat down and set out a strategy and an annual operating plan that we felt like we could achieve to help us be the best company that we could possibly be. We looked at our processes and how they aligned to these goals and these strategies that we set and we found out that we were pretty misaligned, so we had to really work hard on changing those processes and procedures to help us become in alignment with our wildly important goals.

We also implemented a lot of discipline and this was hard in a culture that we had but we really had to step back and look at the disciplines that we needed and how we purchased out equipment and how we dealt with our customers and employees, our shop networks, those types of things.

And then at the end of this period, the end of 2010, we went back public and had an IPO which obviously helped our balance sheet, which then takes us to the next period, which we call our return period.

We've been so focused on our process, our procedures, our profitable revenue growth. We've made great strides, which Ginnie will show you in her presentation. We've really looked hard at our asset utilization and making sure that each truck, trailer, driver, building, whatever we have, we're utilizing to their fullest extent.

We're not all the way there yet. We're still transforming and we still have opportunity there, which excites us. Our continuous improvement will be ongoing obviously and we believe that this will help us stay fresh in our strategies and keep us aligned with our vision and our goals.

We will talk about our earnings per share growth, our return on our net asset improvements that we're focused on and our debt reduction in this next slide.

So our profitable revenue growth: we want to strengthen and grow with our core customer relationships by selling our whole suite of services. We actually can sell – and I'll show you that suite of services on the next slide – but we can go into a customer and touch them in almost every part of their supply chain.

And as we sell this suite of services and bring that value to the customer, it helps us to grow and to achieve those goals that we talked about on the previous slide.

We also leverage some of our capabilities, whether it's our cross border, our irregular route to truck load to grow in the dedicated and intermodal asset light businesses.

We're very focused on Swift logistics. We just bought a new transportation management system that really – it can do soup to nuts. We can broker out a single load or take over a whole transportation department from an organization and send out bids and pay the carriers and those types of things. So we're excited about that division and the growth opportunities there.

And then as far as acquisitions go, it's part of our DNA. It's what we've always done. And if we can find an acquisition, whether it's in the logistics space or Mexico or intermodal or whatever that is and it helps us to achieve our goals quicker and is accretive very quickly, we would pay attention and possibly have interest there.

The next is to the improvement of our asset utilization. This is very important for us. You can see the progress we've made over the past two or three years. We are improving those miles per truck per week. We're working hard on our Plus 1 program, that extra load per truck per week and we do that through a potpourri of different initiatives and ways to help that driver had predictability in his home time, in his paycheck and gain those miles that he needs or he or she needs while they're out on the truck.

Obviously our owner/operator program is something we're very proud of. We're about 4100 owner/operators today. It's a career path for our drivers. We have academies and schools that we bring drivers into the industry. We train them the Swift way and give them an opportunity through a career path to become their own owner and these drivers are typically safer, drive more miles and they give great customer service to our customers. As well as we have different revenue streams that benefit Swift as well.

The new driver is a different driver. They put home time as much or higher than they do their paycheck and so we have what we call a family plan. We're trying to shift from this one truck, one driver model where I leave the truck and I have to come back to the same truck.

We're trying to help them understand that they can take that time off if they need but when they do come back it may not be the same power unit because we want that power unit on the road making miles for the company.

And then the last couple things there on asset utilization have to do with our trailers. We have 50,000 trailers out there and we want to make sure that they're utilized and, if not, that we're leasing those to customers that have that need, possibly advertising on the side of those to gain additional revenue and really looking at utilizing all of those assets.

And then finally, the continuous improvement, we've employed network engineers into our network to make sure that we're loading our drivers where they land. We're looking very diligently at the head haul, backhaul opportunities. We grade our freight in about 12 different segments, from velocity to price to length, load, to seasonality and so on and so forth. And it's really helped improve our empty miles or our deadhead opportunities.

We are a lean six-sigma company. We focus highly on our processes, procedures from the shops to the offices. We actually hook those lean management systems to the four disciplines of execution, so we can execute off the strategies and those goals and objectives that we have.

Safety is huge for us. We run millions of millions of miles every day and so we have a very strong culture of safety from the time you walk into one of our buildings, offices or shops to the drivers getting in and out of their trucks and driving up and down the road. We're very focused on that aspect of it.

And then obviously to increase satisfaction of our stakeholders, we're going to really work hard on those earnings per share and profitability. We have the strategic focus teams that help us with our initiatives. They keep us on the trailer, they won't let us off as we go throughout the year.

This next slide here, just going to show you growth by service offering: in 1990 you see that we were trucking 100%. In 2006, we added – or up to that point – dedicated and intermodal and then in 2011 you see the pie starting to change, growing in that dedicated, growing in intermodal and then bringing logistics.

We sold our stake in Transplace a couple years ago, which has given us the opportunity now to grow that. And then out to 2017, this is the plan, to continue to grow those less asset-intensive businesses, increase the logistics, the dedicated and intermodal. And so this is the plan and we have a strategy to help us get there.

So really here the point here is we have part of the grading that we do with our customers is too ensure that they're using multiple service offerings. In the top 20 customers, 100% of them use multiple offerings. And in our top 50%, most of them do.

So you can see those service offerings on the left. And on the right you can see the equipment selection that we have to help our customer in their supply chain needs.

This is our terminal network. I think this sets us apart as well. We're very close to where our drivers live. Our retention is better than it's ever been. It's actually better than last year. We have created a driver-friendly environment in the hopes to hang on to our drivers, to help them have that predictability that we talked about.

This terminal network helps us to do that. It also is close to our customers. We can respond very quickly to their needs both in the US and in Mexico.

So a couple slides and I'll turn it over to Ginnie; so one of our wildly important goals for 2012 is to increase returns on our net assets and we do this by these bottom bullet points here: to increase our revenue per truck; to increase the revenue per trailer; increase the revenue per container; and to improve our operating ratio.

Everyone in the organization is aligned to these goals and objectives, all the way down to the driver. And we can see and have visibility to their wildly important goals and lead measures in how they align to this.

So the entire organization understands what it means to increase our return on our net assets and how they affect their goal in the jobs they do every day. That's so important for us so that we can move the needle. It's not just this pie in the sky wishful thinking. It is something that we can tangibly see in scorecards throughout the organization.

All right, so created shareholder value, we brought this out in our analyst meeting in Phoenix and wanted to reiterate that. This is the focus of the organization is targeting EPS growth of 20% in 2012 and then also 15% growth from 2013 to 2017.

So our organization understands this and, again, that's hooked back to our (wigs), leads scoreboards and we have a cadence of accountability in assuring that that is in everybody's mind.

And then to increase our return on our net assets by 1% fro each of those five years as well; and then finally to reduce our leverage ratio too roughly 1.5 times by 2017. So the important piece is that we've transformed ourselves, we're continuing to do so and we have goals that are tied to the organization.

Our goal and objective this year is to really get the driver to understand this and how they can help us achieve these goals. And with that, we'll turn it over to Ginnie.

Ginnie Henkels

Thanks, Richard. So I'm going to take a few minutes to walk through some of our financials. The first two slides show our historical financials during 2008 through 2011. The next two will show the same or similar metrics but for year-to-date June for the last three years and then we'll go into some other numbers.

So as we look at our revenue for the last four years, this slices it in four different ways. First is our total revenue. On the top right is our net revenue, which excludes the fuel surcharges and the variability with that. And then on the bottom, we break that net revenue down into two categories, which is trucking and other revenue.

So you can see the basic takeaway from this slide is that we are back to or exceeding pre-recessionary levels with regard to our revenue. In certain cases such as the other revenue, we had great growth there, tremendous growth in 2010 as a result of our growing intermodal business and, as you will see in 2012, we're up over 30% in that category also.

On the trucking revenue side in 2010 and 2011, we were up 6.8% and 7.5% respectively both as a combination of volume and price.

One of the key things I wanted to point out as well, actually skipping back to the revenue slide, you can see we did drop off in 2009. That was clearly the trough. But from – if you were to look at our EBITDA for 2009, we actually maintained that relatively flat at the $400 million level and then it grew tremendously in 2010 when our volumes returned.

So we were up at about $500 million in 2010 and so the key takeaway there is despite the downturn we were able to manage and mobilize the organization to maintain those profit levels and increase our actual margins.

As you – if we skip to the bottom of this particular slide, you can see our adjusted operating ratio has come down from 94.25 in 2008 to 87.9% in 2011. And our operating income increased from $170 million to $323 million during that timeframe as well.

Improving our operational statistics, as Richard talked to, is one of the key contributors as well as cost control throughout the organization. But you can see on the top our weekly trucking revenue per tractor, which is a measure of our overall productivity, improved 8.2% in 2010 and 4.1% in 2011 and our empty miles has continued to show continuous improvement.

Looking at our revenue on a year-to-date June basis for each of the last three years, we are continuing to see revenue growth this year on a net revenue basis. So excluding fuel we're at 5.2% where our trucking revenue is at 2% and our other revenue is up, as I mentioned, over 33% primarily due to our growing intermodal business.

On the trucking side, 2%, we actually have reduced the size of our fleet this year. We've talked about this a little bit but in the first quarter we reduced the size of our fleet for seasonality purposes. Typically the first quarter is our slowest season.

We had anticipated adding trucks back throughout the year. In the second quarter, as we were looking at doing that, we did run into some issues with regard to driver availability and filling the trucks' retention, which we talked about in our second quarter earnings call.

We have since solved those problems. As Richard mentioned, our retention today is better than it has been in a very long time. And we're essentially very well manned with our fleet.

But as we moved into the third quarter, as many of our competitors and peers have talked about, the volume pickup was not there as we had anticipated. So we've continued to maintain the fleet relatively flat, which is down roughly 3.5% year-over-year.

So despite that we have seen utilization and pricing improvements to increase our trucking revenue 2% on a year-to-date basis.

So I'm going to pause here for a moment as well and just briefly talk about the third quarter. So in our second quarter earnings call, we did give some qualitative guidance with regard to our expected adjusted earnings per share in the third quarter.

Since that time, I will say that fuel prices have increased more than we were anticipating. Diesel prices are up about $0.50 in the quarter. And then as I mentioned, freight is a bit softer than we had anticipated as well.

So with that said, we do expect our adjusted EPS to be within the range of $0.20 to $0.23 for the third quarter.

So moving on to operating leverage, we've been meeting with investors over the last couple of days and this has been a question that has been coming up as well.

When we look at our operating leverage – I'll talk about the downside scenario first. So if we're in a negative GDP type of environment, we do have the flexibility, as I've discussed, to manage our fleet.

We do have a largely variable cost structure. So after that we come into our semi-variable with regard to our fleet and our support. And as I mentioned, we managed through that with the flexibility we have with the size of our fleet during the downturn in 2008 and 2009 and we were able to maintain our profitability levels. So we do have flexibility there and the discipline and the ability to mobilize the organization to make that happen.

On the upside, though, we do have tremendous operating leverage and, given our size, some small differences can add up to some big impacts. So for example, if we're able to add 100 miles per truck per week on our fleet that we have today that will generate an additional $44 million of operating income.

On the rate side, $0.05 per mile for us is $72 million of additional operating income holding everything else equal. And on deadhead, if we can take another point of empty miles out we save $24 million in cost associated with those empty miles. So again, with our scale, small improvements add up to some pretty large impacts.

The next slide shows our net debt and leverage ratio over the last five years. In 2008, 2009, as we've talked about, we were over six times debt to EBITDA, over $2.6 billion in 2008 and $2.5 billion of debt in 2009.

We managed through having that amount of debt during that timeframe and since the IPO we have made tremendous progress as well. So we're currently sitting at just over $1.6 billion of debt and 2.9 times debt to EBITDA.

Our stated goal here is that we are anticipating paying $50 million to $100 million on a net debt basis on an annual basis. As Richard mentioned, our ultimate goal is to get to the 1.5 times range in 2017 and we will continue to make progress on that.

So far this year, we've paid $72 million on a net debt basis. Last year we ended up paying more than $100 million. We said that this year we expect to be at the high end of the $50 million to $100 million range if not beyond that. So as I mentioned, we will continue to make progress on the leverage.

So before we open the floor for questions, I'm actually going to leave you with a question. And as you can see on the slide or on the screens, we have our P/E ratios of Swift as well as our peers.

And as you can see, there is a significant discount in Swift P/E ratios, probably not a surprise to many in the room. So what I will say is based on what Swift has been able to accomplish over the 2008 to 2011 time period, based on the opportunities that Richard has outlined with regard to the future of Swift and the continued opportunities that we believe we have, my question for you is do you believe that this discount is warranted?

And I will say that we don't. So with that, back to you, (Chris).

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Corporate Participant

Great, thanks very much. That was a very helpful presentation. I guess if I could jump into just a question about the current environment because clearly that's on a lot of folks' minds. And the updated target range for EPS for third quarter was very helpful.

So when you think about the volumes that you're seeing so far, July, August and September, how does it compare to seasonality? Can you just give us an update there? It seems like maybe you're fairing a little bit better than some peers but I just want to get a sense of kind of how that is playing out for you guys.

Richard Stocking

It definitely is softer than we had anticipated, not terrible but not great. We thought that seasonality would have already kicked in and with some customers it has. We do anticipate though talking to our customers the last few days of this month and into the fourth quarter they're still pretty positive that there will be a peak, however compressed, some saying four weeks, some saying six or eight weeks.

But the three months that you're talking about were definitely softer than once thought or hoped for. GDP is not where we thought it would be as well, which obviously has affected those volumes.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And when you think about what your customers are telling you – I've asked this question a couple of times this morning – is there something specific that they're pointing to? When we've seen kind of retail sales numbers, they've actually looked relatively good.

I'm speaking to somebody in the industry recently who just said that while sales were up on a per store basis, inventory has been uniformly pulled down on a per store basis. What are they telling you when they're having kind of the peak season meetings that you probably have had with some of these folks over the course of the last four or five weeks?

Richard Stocking

Kind of the same, that it's been okay. It's been good. It hasn't been great, that it's amazing how many people are talking about what's going to happen in November and with the elections and holding off on doing things until they figure out which direction we're going to be headed in.

Jerry and I call on a ton of customers and we hear that over and over again. So I think it's kind of a wait and see type of a mentality right now.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And then from a pricing perspective, any update you can give us on kind of how pricing has been progressing? We know obviously bid season was what it was and we've seen that. It feels like the spot market has softened up with a lack of seasonal kind of improvement in overall volumes but how do you feel about that for the second half of the year?

Richard Stocking

Yes, there's definitely not that project business out there. And what's interesting is we feel like the surge capacity is gone. It's been reduced, so we're right at that equilibrium, so customers still understand that. They have felt two or three strong months this year and they see how quickly that capacity goes away and they also understand the driver situation.

A lot of folks are struggling with the drivers. They're harder to bring in and they understand that the company that's able to retain these drivers will be the company that has the capacity for them.

So their understanding of that and so on your contractual business, we're still getting those rate increases but the spot market or the repositioning market has definitely softened in the third quarter.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And just to remind us all in the audience, the percentage of your business, which is typically running under contract, is 85%-ish, more than that, maybe 90%?

Richard Stocking

Yes, it's more than that. We do very little on the spot market. We do more in the repositioning of power to places and we charge more for that, so it's kind of the same thing as kind of the spot market, but very small amounts in comparison with the revenue.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And touching on the driver issue, because that's clearly come up more and more in the last 1.5 quarters or so in carriers' comments and you guys obviously instituted a program. I guess you rolled it or announced it in June or so and it's been rolled out through the third quarter.

It sounds like that's been successful based on your comments this morning. What is retention kind of running at right now?

Richard Stocking

It's definitely helped and it's really incented our drivers to do the right things. As they do the right things, the company actually does much better, so a portion of that obviously we want to give back to them.

This month, we're very low. We're in the 50, in the mid 50s on turnover. And year-to-date we're just a little bit over 70, about 71. So we're actually doing better and we think we can continue to improve that.

But it's not just that piece. We've worked very hard on every touch point that the driver has with us, so the corridor of entry all the way through in creating a driver friendly environment and it's not something you can just flip the switch on. It's something that we've been working on for years and the culmination of all of that is coming together and helping us retain our drivers.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And then for longer term – and I'll see if there's other questions in the audience – from a longer term driver retention perspective, how do you see the progression of getting these guys paid a little bit better? If you look at all of the stats that are out there, they certainly have underperformed from a growth of wages perspective over the last decade or so.

How much more kind of needs to happen to be able to stay seated, maybe get the fleet back up to where it was and maybe what is your target for getting the fleet back up in the short term? So maybe that's the short term side of the question and then longer term how do you think about just kind of, not solving the driver question, but maybe helping it out?

Richard Stocking

Well, two ways, right: you can do the incentive pay. You do this, we'll pay you this and everybody wins. The other thing is to improve the miles per truck per week like we're talking about because the driver's W2 increases as he's driving more miles.

And so with the miles and the incentive we think we're on the right track. Obviously the industry has to go a long ways to attract more people into the industry and make it worth being away from home type of a thing.

Back to your other question of growing the fleet, we definitely feel like we have a couple hundred more miles to add per truck. And for every 100 miles that we are able to add to the fleet, it's like adding 700 full truck equivalents to the industry. So we grow first by utilizing our assets and then we grow beyond that. We definitely want to grow but we've got to utilize the assets we have first.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And just to be clear, that's to get back to break even relative to last year or is that to better utilize the existing fleet that you have right now that's down 3.5%?

Richard Stocking

Yes, better to utilize the fleet that's down.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

When you think about tractor purchases, we've also heard that obviously you've had the increase in the price of tractors and maintenance expense is a little bit higher there. Can you just kind of update us on what your thoughts are as far as kind of through the fleet refresh program this year and next year and kind of how you think about maybe the returns, the appropriate level of returns for these assets?

Ginnie Henkels

So we, as we've talked about, we replace our trucks based on miles. So we manage that miles throughout the life of the truck. If they're in a high mile team environment, then we can get them into a lower mile dedicated type of environment to fully utilize that equipment during its life.

So we do pretty extensive analysis based on maintenance by truck, by type of truck, by type of engine. We understand what that maintenance level is over the life of the truck that we're keeping it. And so we take that as well as the cost of replacement parts, the miles per gallon that we're getting on that particular equipment.

All of that goes into an analysis to understand where that break even is on buying a new truck versus keeping an old one. So that's why we're managing the fleet the way we are and why we're trading based on mileage.

So we get a lot of questions about our average age of our fleet and whether there's catch up maintenance that needs to be done and the answer is no. There's no catch up maintenance that needs to be done. We're perfectly on track with where we are with the philosophy we have with regard to our trade cycle.

So our average age we said at the end of the second quarter of our sleeper fleet was 2.8 years. That is basically going to fall out the way it falls out depending how we're managing the mileage on the truck.

And so one other question, with regard to this year versus next y ear, we've also talked about our net cash CapEx. In the second quarter we said it will be in the range of $190 million to $220 million.

For this year, it's primarily replacements that we talked about. We've had growth CapEx with regard to our intermodal business and bringing in additional containers there. Next year we haven't formalized our plans but I would expect that our cash will be probably in that same range. It might be a little bit more but not significantly more than that range.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And then switching gears into the intermodal side, can you update us where you think you're going to be from a containers owned perspective at the end of the year and maybe an update on how that business has been trending relative to the truck load in the short term, so in the third quarter kind of how intermodal looks?

And then I guess maybe the last part of that would be the Mexico opportunity and how that kind of continues to play out.

Richard Stocking

Yes, we will end the year about 8700 containers, so that will put us adding 2500 this year. Our sales team is doing very well in selling the intermodal product, both the T and the C, so we're gaining ground there.

So we view that to continue to grow and progress there next year as well. Mexico is a wonderful opportunity with the KCS and the capabilities and the strengths that we have in Mexico.

So they're excited about it. We're excited about it. Our customers are as well and we're working on opening that gateway up to the west from Mexico. So it's a good opportunity and I think with manufacturing and assembly becoming more strong and the GDP in Mexico as well as the port pushing a lot of freight northbound into the US, we're very excited.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

I guess maybe one final question I have would be – before we run out of time here – would be on the pace of activity coming off of the west coast. So there's a lot of – I get a lot of questions about how your business is correlated to particularly Southern California container imports.

And so I just wanted to get a sense of – we've seen the weakness in those numbers over the course of the last couple of months. It's relatively consistent it seems with the weakness in the overall economy or freight economy that we've seen.

How do you guys think about that and is there just more balance in the import market? How important is the west coast to you guys as it stands right now?

Richard Stocking

It's important. The freight is definitely down there. We're tied to the port a certain percentage. But a lot of what we do out of California isn't. But we would tell you that our Los Angeles operations have been softer this year, particularly this quarter, than other parts of the country. That's how I'd answer that.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

And from a geographic perspective, what would be the pockets of strength that you're seeing within the US?

Richard Stocking

We have strength in lots of places. I'll just tell you kind of where the weaker points are. LA is one of them. The PNW, the northwest has been up and down. Jerry and I were just talking about Texas this morning. Texas has also been very, very strong and then has weakened and then will come back strong. So it's been up and down.

And then in the upper Midwest, the extreme upper Midwest has been soft for us. The other parts of the country have been stable to strong.

Unidentified Corporate Participant

Great, well, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

Richard Stocking

Thank you.

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