AquaVenture Holdings (NYSE:WAAS) Q4 2018 Results Earnings Conference Call February 27, 2019 8:00 AM ET
Courtney Denihan - IR Officer
Tony Ibarguen - President & Chief Executive Officer
Doug Brown - Chairman
Lee Muller - Senior Vice President & Chief Financial Officer
Conference Call Participants
Vlad Bystricky - Citi
David Lu - RBC Capital Markets
Chip Moore - Canaccord Genuity
Rob Brown - Lake Street Capital Markets
Jeff Van Sinderen - B. Riley FBR
Pavel Molchanov - Raymond James
Good morning, and welcome to the AquaVenture Holdings Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018 Earnings Conference Call. Today’s call is being recorded and we have allocated time for prepared remark and Q&A.
At this time, I’d like to turn the conference over to Courtney Denihan, Investor Relations at AquaVenture. Thank you. Please go ahead.
Thank you, operator. Good morning, everyone. We released our earnings press release this morning and posted a slide presentation to the Investor Relations section of our website at investors.aquaventure.com. We will be referencing the slides during this call. Today's speakers are Tony Ibarguen, Chief Executive Officer; Doug Brown, Chairman of the Board, and Lee Muller, our Chief Financial Officer.
Before we begin, let me remind everyone that this call may contain certain statements that constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These include remarks about future expectations, beliefs, intentions, goals, strategies, plans or prospects, including without limitation, statements relating to AquaVenture's strategic focus, our forecast of full year 2019 financial results; expectations regarding financing plans or capital raising and ability to access capital markets, expectations regarding future business development and acquisition activities; expectations regarding performance, growth, cash flows and margins from recently completed and pending acquisitions; the impact on operating results of the timing, size, integration and accounting treatment of acquisitions; and other business development activities, our ability to capitalize on vertical integration capabilities, statements relating to AquaVenture's ability to complete the proposed acquisitions on the terms or in the time frames currently expected, the ability of the conditions to closing to be satisfied or waived; AquaVenture's ability to successfully integrate and operate the acquired businesses or assets and to achieve the expected financials, including EBITDA contributions from them. Such statements are subject to a variety of risks, uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated or implied by such statements. Such risks and other factors are set forth in our annual report on Form 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 12, 2018, and in our subsequent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We do not undertake any duty to update such forward-looking statements.
In addition, during today's call, we will discuss non-GAAP measures and other key metrics, which we believe can be useful in evaluating our performance. The presentation of this additional information should not be considered in isolation or as a substitute for results prepared in accordance with GAAP. A reconciliation of the non-GAAP measures to the most comparable GAAP measure can be found in our earnings release.
I would now like to turn the call over to our Chief Executive Officer, Tony Ibarguen.
Thanks, Courtney. Good morning, and thank you for joining us on today's call. I'd like to start today's call by commenting on some highlights from AquaVenture's fourth quarter and full year 2018, as well as the operational highlights of our Quench segment. Doug will then provide an overview of the operational highlights of our Seven Seas Water segment, Lee will then walk you through our financial results in more detail and finally I’ll return to provide color on our outlook for 2019 and closing remarks before opening up the lines for your questions.
Turning on slide 3. AquaVenture had another terrific quarter with $41.8 million in revenue in Q4 2018, which represented almost 30% growth over Q4 of 2017. This is our fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit year-over-year revenue growth and was driven by solid organic growth of over 6%, coupled with the successful execution of our M&A strategy.
We're also pleased to report $15.6 million of adjusted EBITDA including the principal collected on the Peru construction contract, which was also 30% higher in the fourth quarter of 2017 and was our ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth going back to our IPO in October of 2016. In addition, our adjusted EBITDA margin of 34.2% reflected a 50 basis point expansion over Q4 of 2017.
Moving to slide 4. Our full year 2018 revenues of $145.6 million represented a 20.6% year-over-year growth rate comprised of a solid 8.7% of organic growth and 11.9% from acquisitions.
During the fourth quarter we completed our two largest acquisitions since becoming a publicly traded company, AUC and PHSI, which we will tell you more about in a few minutes.
In total we completed 11 deals during 2018, 10 acquisitions and one new long term water supply agreement, which enabled us to significantly grow our capabilities and offering water as a service solution to more customers in more locations and with a broader array of product offerings.\
In addition, we raised incremental capital during the fourth quarter by further expanding our corporate credit agreement to fund some of these acquisitions, as well as to support future growth opportunities. And we also reduced our average interest rate under the foreign agreement.
This demonstrates once again our ability to access capital and optimize our capital structure and positions us to continue to invest in the growth of AquaVenture, as strategic organic and inorganic opportunities arise.
Moving to slide 5. The consistent theme for Quench during 2018 was the successful execution of its acquisition and integration strategy, completing nine transactions. Combined with the strong organic growth and a declining customer attrition rate, Quench grew to over 50,000 customers with more than 140,000 company owned units on rental agreements, which represented a 46% increase over the prior year.
The nine acquisitions enabled expansion into several new markets, while also increasing customer density within the existing foot footprint which spans over 250 of the top metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. and Canada.
It's important to note that Quench’s continued investment in people, process and technology make it possible to get maximum leverage out of its acquisitions by fully integrating them shortly after closing.
Quench had several sizable acquisitions during the year including WA2 in Q1 which significantly increased its presence in Canada and Alpine in Q3 which brought several Fortune 500 customers and a large national installed base. The largest and most strategic acquisition of the year for Quench was Pure Health Solutions or PHSI in December.
As we discussed on our call in December this acquisition impacted the core direct rental business by adding customers and team mates in seven major markets and PHSIs extensive Pure Water Technology dealer network brought more scale to Quench’s growing indirect dealer business, including expanded product development and manufacturing capabilities and increased sourcing volumes.
It is also worth noting that while the bulk of the revenue from the indirect dealer business is reported as product sales, this revenue is highly recurrent due to the contractual relationships between Quench and its dealers across both the PHSI and Wellsys networks..
This is much like coffee revenue, which is also reported as product sales, but is typically associated with a contractual obligation by the customer to purchase coffee and related consumables from Quench. Additionally, similar to the 2017 acquisition of Wellsys, PHSI brings strong dealer relationships that could potentially lead to future acquisition opportunities.
Lastly, we're pleased to report that the integration of PHSI is on plan and can confirm that it has significantly expanded Quench’s position and standing in the highly fragmented and rapidly growing point-of-use purification industry.
I'll now turn it over to Doug to walk you through the operational highlights of the Seven Seas Water segment.
Thanks, Tony. Moving to Slide 6. 2018 was a very strong year for Seven Seas Water. It completed its largest acquisition since our IPO. It expanded its core footprint in the Caribbean and it had very strong performance from its core operating locations.
AUC was a transformational acquisition for us as it meaningfully expanded our capabilities and presence in the wastewater treatment and water reuse markets, while also enhancing AquaVenture’s footprint in United States.
Currently AUC has approximately 90 plants with long-term lease arrangements with customers contributing to AquaVenture’s recurring revenue model. While we look to expand AUCs footprint outside of its Texas base, AUC also provides Seven Seas Water with a unique cross-selling proposition of being able to provide customers both desalination and wastewater treatment options.
AUC will also benefit from transitioning to Seven Seas Water’s ERP system which is ideally suited for AUCs project oriented requirements. Due to the synergies and opportunities across AUC and Seven Seas Water, we will be reporting AUCs financial results as part of the Seven Seas Water segment and I'm pleased to report that the integration of AUC is on plan.
We also continue to increase our customer density and expand our relationships in the Caribbean. In the fourth quarter, we closed a deal with the Water Corporation of Anguilla to provide potable water under a 10-year contract.
Similar to other agreements, we will initially provide the Water Corporation of Anguilla up to 500,000 gallons of water per day, but we have the potential to add another 500,000 gallons per day of additional capacity as the demand for water increases. Opportunities like Anguilla are deal tuck-in transactions that further diversify our geographic and customer exposure.
Overall Seven Seas Water had a very successful year and that success has been shown in the achievement of consistently strong financial results during 2018. In addition to Seven Seas Water’s recurring contractual revenue, the growth was bolstered by organic growth in excess of 5% on a year-over-year basis. This organic growth was driven by increased water volumes produced for our customers and contractual increases in our water rates.
Finally, I will touch briefly on the status of the pending acquisition in Ghana. At the end of 2018, we extended the contracts long stop date to March 31 2019. Unfortunately, it is clear that the project is not going to be completed by that dead time – deadline. At this time, we didn't - do not intend to extend the long stop date beyond March 31.
We have devoted substantial time and resources to this acquisition because we believed it to be an attractive investment opportunity and that the parties were making good progress toward completion.
More recently uncertainties regarding whether and when this deal will close and whether the existing terms make sense in light of those uncertainties have made us less optimistic about the deal's completion. We do continue to be interested in the project and will entertain reengaging after certain major milestones and issues have been satisfied.
I will now turn it over to Lee to talk about our financial highlights in more detail.
Thanks, Doug. As Tony mentioned, we are pleased with our strong fourth quarter and full year performance in 2018, which included double-digit year-over-year year revenue and adjusted EBITDA growth in both segments.
On slide 7, Seven Seas Water reported revenues of $20.7 million during the fourth quarter of 2018, a 38.2% increase over the prior year period. This increase was comprised of 35.5% in organic growth driven by the inclusion of the AUC operations and 2.7% organic growth primarily due to increased volumes in certain operations and higher water rates in others.
Gross margin of 54.5% decreased 50 basis points over the prior year period, primarily due to the inclusion of AUCs operations which have an overall lower gross margin than the existing Seven Seas Water business.
Adjusted EBITDA of $9.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2018 increased 33.7% over Q4 2017 and adjusted EBITDA margin of 45.7% reflected a 150 basis point decline primarily due to higher expenses for repairs and maintenance during the quarter at several of our plants.
I would like to remind you that repairs and maintenance expenses in Seven Seas Water can vary from quarter-to-quarter, which makes looking at margins in any one specific quarter challenging.
Note that the adjusted EBITDA margin for Seven Seas Water for the full year actually increased by 200 basis points. Finally, adjusted EBITDA, plus principal collected on the Peru construction contract increased 30.1% to $10.7 million in the fourth quarter.
Turning to Quench results on slide 8. The highlights for the quarter were Quench’s adjusted EBITDA which increased 23.2% to $6 million and its adjusted EBITDA margin of 28.2% which reflected a year-over-year increase of 20 basis points.
Revenues increased 22.6% over the prior year period to $21.1 million and both rental revenues and product sales had strong year-over-year growth benefiting from both organic and inorganic growth.
Quench’s gross margin of 53.6% for the fourth quarter increased 40 basis points compared to Q4 2017, which was primarily due to margin expansion in the rental business, partially offset by growth in lower margin dealer equipment sales.
On slide 9, I'd like to provide a brief update on select balance sheet and cash flow items. As of December 31, 2018, cash and cash equivalents were $56.6 million and our total debt was $319.7 million, resulting in net debt of $263.1 million.
As a reminder, we amended our corporate credit agreement twice during the fourth quarter, increasing our borrowings by $150 million to fund acquisitions, while reducing the interest rate of our loans.
From a cash flow perspective, we generated $4.8 million of cash flow from operations during the quarter and had $6.7 million of capital expenditures. As a reminder, we see variations in our capital expenditure amounts on a quarterly basis, depending on the timing and type of projects we are working on. As a result, we look at our cash flow trends on an annual basis to account for these fluctuations.
For the full year of 2018, we generated $26.9 million of operating cash flow, an increase of $7.9 million over 2017 and had $19.6 million of capital expenditures. Our free cash flow which we define as operating cash flow, less capital expenditures was $7.3 million, an increase from $4.5 million in the prior year.
Also remember that our capital expenditures are largely composed of growth related activities that will result in the generation of additional revenues and adjusted EBITDA in future years.
We continue to evaluate both debt and equity financing opportunities that will support our goal of maintaining adequate levels of liquidity, while optimizing and expanding our capital structure as we grow the business. Therefore as a matter of good corporate housekeeping, we plan to file a universal shelf registration statement for up to $250 million of debt and equity securities to allow us to raise capital opportunistically over the next couple of years to fund our growth plans. The filing is currently scheduled to be done around the time of filing our 10-K.
I will now turn it over to Tony to discuss our outlook and provide closing remarks.
Thanks, Lee. On slide 10, you can see that for the full year 2019 we're targeting annual revenues of between $190 million and $197 million, adjusted EBITDA of between $67 million and $72 million and adjusted EBITDA plus the principal collected on the Peru contract of between $72 million and $77 million, a midpoint of which represents a very healthy 39% growth over 2018. While this outlook includes the full year effect of all acquisitions completed during 2018, it excludes the impact of any pending or future acquisitions.
A few final notes. First, I'd like to mention a recent change in our Board of Directors, Brian O'Neill, who has been on our board for the past five years recently accepted the position of Chief Operating Officer of the Inter-American Development Bank, which required him to step down from our board.
We are very excited for Brian as he takes on this huge role and we want to thank him for the time, commitment and contributions he made to AquaVenture over the years. To take Brian’s place, we're excited to have announced the appointment of Debra Coy, who brings many years of executive experience and deep knowledge of the global water industry. We're thrilled to have her join our board.
Second, I'd like to thank the entire AquaVenture team who work their tails off and had a phenomenal year in 2018, along with our leadership team, Board of Directors and shareholders who have been very supportive and helpful as we transition the company's leadership.
Well my most special thanks go to Doug Brown, our Founder, whose vision of creating a broad based water as a service company with the foundation of high quality, contractually recurring revenue and world class people and operations is the reason we're all here today.
When AquaVenture went public in late 2016, our goal was to double our adjusted EBITDA by thoughtfully investing IPO proceeds, internally generated cash and borrowings. We're very excited to be on target to more than accomplish that goal in less than three years, as the midpoint of our guidance range for 2019 is more than two point two times our 2016 adjusted EBITDA, plus principal collected on the Peru construction contract, which was $33.8 million.
In summary, we're very happy with what our team was able to accomplish in 2018 and we - as we expanded our water as a service solutions to more customers in more locations and with a broader array of product offerings.
Going forward, our primary focus will continue to be on growing internally generated cash flow and investing in organic expansion and strategic acquisitions in the water as a service applications of desalination, wastewater treatment, point-of-use purification.
Across all of AquaVenture, our team brings great passion to our purpose of performing for our shareholders and creating clean water solutions for customers around the world.
With that operator, please open the line for questions.
Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from line of Andrew Kaplowitz with Citi. Please proceed with your question.
Good morning, guys. It's Vlad Bystricky on for Andy.
Good morning, Vlad.
So nice finish to the year and thanks for all the color around Ghana and then everything else going on. I guess, just stepping back, 2018 was a year obviously of accelerated M&A and one – and you broaden the scope of the business was acquisitions like PHI (sic) PHSI and AUC. So if you look at the M&A pipeline today what areas would you say hold the most promise in terms of potential significant M&A opportunities that you hope to close over the course of 2019?
Thanks, Vlad. Well, we have M&A opportunities. We think at all the areas that we had last year and a little bit more opportunity than a year ago and that we now have a wastewater treatment as a key opportunity area for growth in the US.
But we continue to have a robust pipeline across our desalination business. We are active in a number of potential engagements across the world. Quench continues to participate in the highly fragmented point-of-use business across the U.S. and Canada. And we see continuing the trend that we saw last year of many of the hundreds or perhaps thousand dealers out there looking to exit the business at some point in time and through our acquisition of PHSI and Bluline, along with what we had acquired in Wellsys, the opportunity to develop great relationships through the indirect business with those dealers. And that's all progressing very nicely.
And then with wastewater, obviously we're focusing primarily on integrating AUC and making sure that we can help them grow that business. But that opens up our opportunity pipeline to other wastewater related businesses in the US.
Great. That's helpful. And then just digging into Quench for a minute, I think the 9.4% organic growth there in 4Q entered the highest organic growth since 2008 [ph]. Can you talk about how you feel about the underlying organic growth potential of the business here in 2019 in the mid to upper single digit organic growth sustainable in the near term at Quench?
Yes, I do. I think in fact our organic growth prospects remain very healthy in both segments of the business. We continue to see Seven Seas Water as a low single digits grower naturally year-over-year through a combination of volume, as well as rate improvement.
Now with AUC we have the potential to add to that, but for 2019 we still see that as a mid - low to mid single digit grower and Quench continues to see great opportunities for organic growth as the market continues to convert away from 5 gallon jug plastic bottled water to better technology in point of use. And we have a healthy organic pipeline there that should support a mid to high single digit growth once again this year.
It's helpful. Thanks a lot. I'll hop back in the queue.
Thank you, Vlad.
Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Deane Dray with RBC Capital Markets. Please proceed with your question.
Hi, everyone. This is David Lu on for Deane.
Hi, there. It's great to see that you've decided to keep AUC within the Seven Seas segment rather than you know, break it out on separate segments. So can you remind us about the synergy opportunities, you mentioned the ERP transition, but anything around shared services, cross-selling, getting scale and engineering and procurement and maybe any color on what progress you’ve made so far?
Sure. Let me let me take that one. There's definitely - the opportunity on the engineering side to share resources, as you may recall on the Seven Seas side, we already are in the wastewater treatment business. We have wastewater treatment plants in the Bahamas and in Turks and Caicos. In fact, we have two examples there where we have customers that wanted both desal and wastewater treatment.
So there is cross-selling opportunities where somebody is looking for both the water supply and wastewater treatment. There is engineering resources that can be shared. We think there could be - there can be some procurement benefits by consolidating that. So we do see a number of synergies across engineering, sales and procurement.
Great. And then on the Angola contract, it looks like it's a 10 year contract. Typically your initial contract terms are around 15 years. So is there anything special about the contract to make it deviate a little bit from the average?
Well, the contract term is usually proportional related to the contract size. So the bigger contracts are the longer contracts, the smaller contracts tend to be shorter, because there is just less of a benefit for going into a long-term contract.
When you have a $100 million investment that usually ends up as a 25 year contract because you're trying to amortize the $100 million over a longer period. Remember this is a relatively small contract by our standards of a 0.5 million to a 1 million gallons a day. So 10 years would be typical of this size of contract.
Great. That's good to hear. And then lastly I just want to confirm all the accretion numbers around AUC and PHSI, is it still about $13 million to $15 million of adjusted and $8 million to $9 million in adjusted EBITDA for 2019?
Yes and there's - those are all incorporated in our guidance.
Perfect. Thank you very much.
Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Chip Moore with Canaccord Genuity. Please proceed with your question.
Morning. Hey, folks.
Wondering on AUC, now that you've had a few months, maybe you can update us on how things are going there and then some of the initiatives you can do to expand that leasing model?
So there's been - the integration is going as planned. The results are actually coming in a little bit on the higher side of plan, but basically on plan and the level of integration and cooperation between our Seven Seas team and the AUCs team is been terrific. So we're really happy. They continue to place new contracts at a rate that is at or slightly above what we expected. So we're overall we're really happy with the performance of AUCs at this point. And no surprises.
Great. And Doug, may be on the pipeline, whether it's a portable or wastewater, maybe if you can update us on some certain regions, whether it's Texas, South America, just a little more color on some of the opportunities you're seeing?
Okay. Well, Tony mentioned that you know, we do have an active pipeline on the desal side and now we get to improve or add to that pipeline on the wastewater side in a more meaningful way.
Texas is still plugging along. They - there has been a fair amount of activity down in Corpus Christi with the government trying to figure out what to do. They have pretty much acknowledged, they have to do something and that desal does seem to be the most viable option and we believe we've got the most advanced proposal in front of them. But you know that's still a government decision and government decisions are very difficult to predict. So I don't want to go in there.
And Africa, there are multiple opportunities in Africa, besides Ghana, Africa suffers from pretty significant drought conditions in much of Africa and desal seems to be the only - the only opportunity there.
But there's also been a lot of noise lately about South America. Mining industry has come back, it's coming back and the number of opportunities in the mining industry is growing. A lot of mining projects got put on hold you know, three or four years ago when copper crashed and now it seems that the activity level is picking up again. So we're optimistic that something interesting for us is going to happen there as well.
Got it. Appreciate that. And maybe just one housekeeping one, I think you've referenced some repair and maintenance expenses this quarter, maybe you can just size that and what was that? Thanks a lot guys.
Yeah. On the Seven Seas side there were just some elevated repairs and maintenance. They were largely planned for the quarter. We actually know it's hard to predict when repair and maintenance would happen generally. But you know, that's why we prefer to look at repairs and maintenance across the years, rather than in any one particular quarter.
But in this particular case they were planned and they just happened to be elevated, but again, looking at over the course over the year is the right way to assess it.
Understood. Thanks a lot.
Thank you. Our next question comes from line of Rob Brown with Lake Street Capital Markets. Please proceed with your question.
I just wanted to get an update on kind of the market trends on the Quench side of the business, have you seen an acceleration in the organic growth in that market with some of the shift away from plastic bottles or is it – what are the market trend there currently?
Generally speaking it's been happening for a while, so I'd say it's pretty consistent. Unfortunately we don't have great industry market data. That's something you know because it's so fragmented and I think it's not something that has been invested in much, so I don't have any great data on that.
But just generally you know, I'd say eight years ago or so when I started 80% of our inbound leads were for the replacement of five gallon jugs. That's probably down to 50% now. So we're getting to the point where people are looking to upgrade other forms of filtration almost as often as to replace five gallon jugs.
But our overall market survey that we do have would suggest that we're still at maybe 25% total penetration. And when we look to other relatively mature markets, like parts of Europe, the target should be about 50/50 between point-of-use technology and bottles.
Parts of Asia are north of 75% or 80% point-of-use. So there's aspiration for that potentially down the road. But for right now we do see still lots of upside in the five gallon jug replacement business. But don't have great market data to support it, it's something we're looking into to see what we can do to, maybe get a little bit more of a statistical view on that.
Okay. Great. And then you talked a little bit about the product having kind of a recurring run rate and now with PHSI I believe – could you just give us some more color on what that is and maybe the run rate that that business this should have on a revenue basis?
Great question. I think in the script what we're trying to introduce is this concept that we have recurring revenue which we define as contractually obligated payments associated with long-term agreements for say desalinated water on Seven Seas, for leases, for wastewater treatment at AUC and for point-of-use equipment and related services at Quench. And those are you know, anywhere from 3 to 30 year contracts that require the customer to pay no matter what.
Then we have reoccurring revenue, which is - where there is also a contract, but they're not required to spend a fixed amount every month or every quarter. Where I cited two examples, one being the indirect dealer networks at PHSI and Wellsys are under contract with PHSI and Wellsys to purchase their equipment when they do purchase equipment.
So to the extent that they don't purchase equipment it's not going to happen. There's no obligation to buy a certain volume each year, but there is a contractual relationship that dictates how that would happen, when it happens.
And that leads to a very predictable circumstance where those dealers are buying repeatedly year-after-year and then within that they must use the filters that go with that equipment, which also creates a long-term reoccurring revenue stream.
And I cited the second example as coffee, where customers of Quench who have a Quench coffee equipment are required to buy the coffee supplies from us when they have our equipment. Again they could stop buying that at some point in time, but they are under contract.
So that makes for a sort of two versions of sticky, we have the stickiest revenue at the top. We have the next level which is reoccurring and then we have just straight up one time purchases that happen from time to time. At AUC there are certain circumstances where the appropriate delivery of the services through a fixed plant that they will buy and own. In the case of Quench, there are circumstances where they'll buy equipment and use it without ever buying again, and so that that's the third level.
As far as expectations for growth and the reoccurring, we'd say it's similar. It's growing with the market. This is if I focus primarily on the Quench side of the reoccurring dealer business, we would expect that to grow in the mid to high single digits overall with the market as we see it on the rental side.
Okay, great. That's very helpful. Thank you.
Thank you. Our next question comes from line of Jeff Van Sinderen with B. Riley FBR. Please proceed with your question.
Jeff Van Sinderen
Good morning. I think you mentioned Corpus Christi and South Africa, but didn't hear anything on Saudi Arabia for Seven Seas, just wondering what your latest picture is on desal in Saudi Arabia and maybe how we should think about your approach to that region?
Well, we do have an office in Dubai. We are active at evaluating opportunities there. We haven't been successful at completing a deal there. Our view is that - so the Middle East is the largest desal market in the world. And there are a lot of installed desal plants in the Middle East, in Saudi and we're actively working on opportunities there.
My guess would be that if we were to do something in the Middle East it would more likely be an acquisition versus a greenfield just because the population of existing desal plants is so big. But again, you know, trying to evaluate them and find an opportunity and negotiate a successful purchase takes time in the Middle East.
And we have some good local partners. We have a very good partner - a local partner in Saudi that we work with. We think we'll get there eventually. But at this point you know, we're still in the evaluation stage in terms of evaluating opportunities. But it is a market that we're actively looking at.
Jeff Van Sinderen
Okay. Fair enough. And then just turning to Quench, and then I wanted to follow up there on - I guess obviously a lot of acquisitions, but what are you seeing in terms of overall customer retention metrics. I think you mentioned a positive trend there and then also conversion trends, anything else to add there?
On customer retention, yes, we did cite a reduction in our customer attrition rate or inversely the increase in customer retention. That's now at about 7.5% of unit turnover year-over-year, which we track on a trailing 12 month basis.
I think it's important to note, I didn't mention it in the script, but we find that typically half of that or so is related to existing customers that are reducing in part their portfolio of the use of point-of-use coolers and by the way correspondingly we have a good chunk of our organic growth comes from existing customers who add coolers to offset that.
So it's not even at 7.5% we're not losing customers necessarily at that pace we're simply reducing units and that's how we track. So the retention actually has improved we think significantly, we track customer satisfaction very carefully and that has been improving as well. So we're quite pleased with the service levels that Quench has been able to deliver to its customers.
With respect to conversion, can you tell me what you mean by that?
Jeff Van Sinderen
Yeah, I was just thinking in terms of conversion of new customers. In other words converting them to being an active customer versus not being a customer…
Yeah, yeah. Great, great. So pretty consistent. So we get 2500 or so inbound leads every month pretty consistently and qualify them down to about half that number, so half of them are discarded as non-leads. And then there's a pretty consistent conversion rate of you know 20%, 20 - generally speaking 15%, 20% of those convert fairly quickly to become customers.
And that's we think above the industry average and is the result of a highly trained and experienced inside sales team that works in collaboration with our field sales team across the country and our national account managers.
Jeff Van Sinderen
Okay. Thanks for taking my questions and continued success in 2019.
Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from the line of Pavel Molchanov with Raymond James. Please proceed with your question.
Thanks for taking the questions. Your relationship with the Overseas Private Investment Corp., as a result of the deal in Ghana, I'm curious whether there are ways to expand or maybe the better word is extend that link, you know, in terms of them referring you to other similar kinds of opportunities, whether in Africa or in other geographies or as you know or should we look at this as more of a one-off?
Pavel, I think you just hit the nail on the head there. We look at the relationship with OPIC as a strategic relationship. OPEC's mandate is to primarily invest in projects that are backed by American companies and developed by American companies. And we're one of the few American companies that invests in water infrastructure overseas where we're building infrastructure, water infrastructure platforms.
And so they – OPIC looks at our relationship with us more as a strategic relationship and we look at our relationship with OPIC as a strategic relationship and as something that can significantly improve our competitiveness. The lending terms that we can get from OPIC are far more attractive than what we can get from commercial banks. And so it makes our offering more competitive too, you know we're in a competitive environment.
So we absolutely look at the relationship with OPIC on a strategic level. We have already identified other opportunities to work on together. And we plan on using, nurturing that relationship to develop more opportunities in the future.
Okay. Good to hear. And then turning to the balance sheet. So you have about $250 million of net debt at year end and given your adjusted EBITDA guidance for ’19, so we're looking at just over three times kind of leverage on a forward basis. Is that about as high as you'd want to get or you know or am I wrong about that?
I think that the range that we're comfortable given our recurring revenue is probably closer to four times on a net debt basis, but that'll just be a function of you know, the timing of acquisitions and other spend, relative to the contribution of incremental EBITDA. But we would look to keep it in that you know, four to maybe four and a quarter times net leverage ratio range.
Okay. All right, very helpful. Thank you, guys.
Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the floor back to Mr. Ibarguen for any final comments.
Thank you, operator. Thanks for those great questions. Well, thanks to the AquaVenture team for an outstanding performance during 208. Thanks also to our shareholders for your great support, as we continue to grow this enterprise and we are certainly looking forward to continued growth and a great 2019. So thanks for your attention. We'll talk to you next quarter.
Thank you. This concludes today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation.