Ballantyne Strong, Inc. (BTN) CEO Mark Roberson on Q3 2021 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

Nov. 10, 2021 10:40 PM ETBallantyne Strong, Inc (BTN)1 Comment
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Ballantyne Strong, Inc. (NYSE:BTN) Q3 2021 Earnings Conference Call November 10, 2021 5:00 PM ET

Company Participants

John Nesbett - Investor Relations

Mark Roberson - Chief Executive Officer

Todd Major - Chief Financial Officer

Conference Call Participants

Brett Reiss - Janney Montgomery Scott

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Ballantyne Strong, Inc. Third Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call. During the presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode. Afterwards, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, today's conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the call over to John Nesbett of IMS Investor Relations. Thank you. You may begin.

John Nesbett

Good afternoon and welcome to Ballantyne Strong earnings conference call for the third quarter ended September 30, 2021. On the call today from Ballantyne Strong are Mark Roberson, Chief Executive Officer; and Todd Major, Chief Financial Officer.

Before we begin, I'd like to remind everyone that some statements made on this call will be forward-looking in nature. These statements are based on management's current view and expectations as of today, and the company is under no obligation and expressly disclaims any obligation to update forward-looking statements, except as required by law. These statements are also subject to risks and uncertainties and may cause actual results to differ materially from those described on today's call. The risks and uncertainties are also described in the company's SEC filings. Today's presentation and discussions also contain references to non-GAAP financial measures. The definition of non-GAAP terms and reconciliations to GAAP measures are available in the earnings release posted on the Investor Relations section of the company's website. Our non-GAAP measures may not be comparable to those used by other companies and we encourage you to review and understand all our financial reporting before making any investment decisions.

At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Mark. Okay, go ahead, Mark.

Mark Roberson

Thanks, John. Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. I'm pleased to report that the entertainment industry and our entertainment operating business continue to make meaningful progress, and our equity holdings continue to drive value. Box Office results so far this fall have been encouraging, and in some cases, record breaking. The slate of studio releases coming out over the next 24 months is impressive, and we believe those trends pertail [ph] robust entertainment environment for 2022 and beyond.

Our capital allocation strategies, namely our minority stakes in GreenFirst, FG Financial and Firefly are well positioned, and we're excited about the potential capital appreciation opportunity in each of those holdings. This quarter, we began marking our GreenFirst investment to market, reporting a pretax unrealized gain of $8.4 million based on the current market price as of September 30. A combination of positive momentum in the entertainment operating business, controlled operating expenses, and the unrealized depreciation in our equity holdings resulted in significantly improved operating results, with operating income near breakeven, positive net income and positive adjusted EBITDA and EPS coming in at $0.38 per share for the quarter.

On Slides 5 through 11 of the presentation, Strong Entertainment is an established leader in the entertainment business. We have an industry reputation that's been built over the past 80 years. We have exclusive arrangements with IMAX, Cinemark, and we provide equipment and services to the majority of the cinema operators in North America. This business has historically produced solid and stable cash flows for many years. Obviously, COVID had a major impact on the industry and also on our business. We're now starting to see things strengthen and believe we're in the early innings of a robust recovery. As vaccination rates have continued to climb and government restrictions have continued to subside, consumer demand for all forms of entertainment and excitement about returning to the cinema has continued to strengthen. And the flow of high-quality content into the actual exhibition is expected to accelerate.

IMAX reported their September Box Office had recovered and actually surpassed their pre-COVID September 2019 September results with Shang-Chi and Free guy leading the way. IMAX then broke their own all-time record in October on the global releases of Dune and Bond. Cinemark also recently announced that Venom was it's best October opening ever. So clearly, folks are coming back to the cinema and industry revenues are starting to reflect the increase in quality content from the studios. In addition, cinema operators are becoming more creative with new ways to leverage their investment with private showings, local language content, sporting events and esports among others starting to find their way into the cinemas.

Consumer demand for movie going remains strong and the release schedule for the remainder of 2021 and especially 2022 is impressive; The Eternals, Ghostbusters, the latest Spider-Man and Matrix are all on tap to close out the year. For 2022, the slate is even stronger with Dr. Strange, Thor and Black Panther for Marvel, Batman, Flash and Aquaman from D.C., and new sequels for Jurassic World, Mission Impossible, Transformers, Top Gun and Avatar among others on-deck for theatrical release. And 2023 is starting to take shape as well. We believe the backdrop is favorable for the industry rebound to accelerate as we look ahead for the next several years.

In addition to our strong legacy in the cinema vertical, we also have been increasing the level of diversification in our screen business. Because we manufacture our own coatings and have in-house R&D capabilities, we've been able to expand our product line with the eclipse immersive screens for theme parks and simulators. And our eclipse business has been growing throughout COVID and is on target to double in 2021. And we've also been able to start selling paints and coatings and other screen products into more non-cinema attractions such as the Van Goh Exhibits and the Iluminarium [ph]; these are growth areas that diversify our revenue and provide additional expansion opportunities.

Because of our reputation for innovation, service and quality, we built strong relationships with industry leaders like Synionic, IMAX, Cinemark, Marcus, AMC and many others. As part of the focus on innovation, we've been working to optimize our screens for laser projection. Laser projection provides meaningful operational efficiencies for the operator, while also enhancing the premium experience for the viewer. We see the transition from two laser from Xenon, driving a leapy upgrade cycle in the industry; that's just one example. Cinemark has publicly stated that they plan to upgrade all their screens to laser projection over the next 10 years, and they're currently less than 10% into that cycle.

On the services side, we're a leading provider of technical support, installation and managed services. We see demand for services and distribution products increasing as studio releases and box office revenues accelerate. Service revenues increased 43% in this quarter as compared to the third quarter of last year. We're working to increase our market share post COVID and see a favorable landscape for expansion. We expect to see outsourcing of technical services increase for exhibitors, especially as demand from the heavy slate of upcoming releases begins to put more pressure -- more operational pressure on the cinemas.

Moving on to our equity holdings, which is Slide 12 through 15 of the presentation; Firefly, GreenFirst and FG Financial continue to execute their strategic plans, and we're excited about the potential future appreciation in the portfolio. Starting with GreenFirst, which completed it's acquisition of the lumber assets of Rayonier Advanced Materials in August, making it one of the 10 largest lumber producers in Canada. We participated in the rights offering to backstop the acquisition, allocating additional capital to increase our position from 7 million shares to 15.3 million shares. We're bullish on the outlook for GreenFirst, and we look forward to participating in their long-term success.

We also hold 1 million shares of FG Financial. FGF recently launched a SPAC platform and has closed it's first fact transaction with Optfi [ph] and also announced a merger agreement with Hagerty in it's second SPAC. After the end of the quarter, FG Financial completed a $2.6 million capital raise and is commencing a follow-on rights offering under the same terms as the public offering. We intend to fully participate and plan to commit additional capital to the FGF rights offering to increase our stake.

Firefly is also gaining momentum coming out of COVID. Their revenues have been increasing, and they've been successful in raising additional growth capital. Firefly recently announced the acquisition of Curb Taxi Media, making it the dominant mobility media company in the New York market. As Firefly continues to scale and eventually looks towards a liquidity event, we believe this holding could deliver significant upside potential. Overall, a solid quarter, and we believe trends are strengthening as we look ahead.

With that, I'll turn the call over to Todd.

Todd Major

Thanks, Mark. Consistent with recent quarters, today's financial review will cover the operating results of our continuing operations and do not include Convergent and Strong Outdoor, now that they have been classified as discontinued operations.

Slide 17 contains a summary comparison of Q3 2021 to the prior year. Revenue and operating results continue to compare favorably to the prior year as the Strong Entertainment business recovered from the impact of COVID on the prior year. Operating results for the third quarter of 2021 also reflect $600,000 benefit from the recognition of employee retention credits. As a reminder, the favorable impact of these credits are excluded from adjusted EBITDA. Below the operating income line, we realized a $1.7 million gain related to the proceeds received from the sale of a portion of the BrainFirst [ph] rights. We also recorded a pretax $8.4 million unrealized gain on investments.

Starting with the third quarter of 2021, we are now marking the value of our GreenFirst investment to market, which resulted in the large unrealized gain. Similar to the employee retention credits, the benefit from both, the realized and unrealized gain on investments are excluded from our calculation of adjusted EBITDA. Even after excluding the benefits from the ERC and the gains on investments, adjusted EBITDA saw an 81% increase over the prior year.

Turning to Slide 18 now; the year-over-year increase in Strong Entertainment revenue was primarily due to higher revenues from screen systems, field maintenance and monitoring services in our Eclipse-Curvilinear Screen projects. Those increases were partially offset by the timing of a large projection equipment sale in the third quarter of 2020, which skews the quarterly comparison. Gross margin of 37% during the third quarter included a $400,000 benefit from the employee retention credits. Excluding this benefit, gross margin during the third quarter would have been approximately 30%, an improvement over 17% in the prior year. An additional $100,000 benefit from ERCs was recorded within Strong Entertainment SG&A during the third quarter of 2021.

Slide 19 shows a quick historical trend of Strong Entertainment showing the operating results of the last few years, including pre-COVID. Prior to COVID, the group was generating revenue in the $35 million to $45 million range annually with EBITDA margins in excess of 20%. During the significant negative impacts of COVID during 2020, we were able to implement a series of cost management measures and Strong Entertainment finished the year at a near breakeven level. While Strong Entertainment has not returned to the pre-COVID levels, we are pleased how the industry recovery and our cost control efforts have positively impacted the business over the trailing 12 months.

Slide 20 is a snapshot of the balance sheet as of the end of September compared to the end of 2020. The most significant change relates to our investment in GreenFirst. As previously mentioned, during the third quarter we allocated capital to exercise the GreenFirst rights to acquire 8.3 million additional shares. Approximately US$8.3 million of cash came from our balance sheet and an additional US$1.7 million came from the sale of a portion of the rights. Following GreenFirst acquisition, an issuance of additional common shares, our percentage ownership of GreenFirst is approximately 9%. As a result, we discontinued accounting for the GreenFirst using the equity method of accounting, and on a go-forward basis, we'll use the fair value approach and will account for our GreenFirst investment on a mark-to-market basis.

Even after the additional investment in GreenFirst, cash balances remain strong. Our debt and lease obligations have been reduced and shareholders' equity has nearly doubled since the end of 2020.

That concludes the financial review. Let me turn the call back to Mark.

Mark Roberson

Thanks, Todd. To wrap up before we conclude, Strong Entertainment has rebounded nicely since last spring mirroring the recovery in the cinema and entertainment industry, as well as benefiting from diversification of the business. We believe the cinema recovery is in it's early stages, and the outlook for studio releases incentive business is favorable. Our equity holdings are executing on their plans, and we believe they continue to have meaningful long-term upside opportunity. Our balance sheet is in solid shape which allowed us to increase our equity stake in GreenFirst, and we plan to use our balance sheet to increase our holdings in FGF as well this quarter.

Also, before we move on to Q&A, I wanted to touch on the planned name change from Ballantyne Strong to FG Group Holdings. We have our shareholders meeting in early December and assuming the proposal is passed by our shareholders, we plan to proceed with the name change and also change our ticker symbol to FGH. With the IPO and the planned separate listing for the entertainment group, we believe this is a good time to affect the change of the name at the Ballantyne level. Ballantyne Strong name has historically been closely associated with the cinema business, and we believe the name changed to FG Group Holdings better reflects the future business plans as a holding company.

We'll now open up the call if there's any questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from the line of Dan Bellinger with Mayflower Capital [ph]. Please go ahead.

Unidentified Analyst

Hey guys, thanks for taking my question. So, really exciting about the Illumina product, it's seen pretty good growth over the past few years. Could you maybe give a little more insight into the non-cinema applications you have -- you're seeing for this product?

Mark Roberson

Sure. Sure thing, Dan. I appreciate the question. So the Illuminarium is not a product; the Illuminarium is actually a customer where we sold product into from our screen division. So just to back up, non-cinema, as we mentioned in the call, has become -- it's small but it's become a much more important part of the business. And it's probably about less than 10% of the business today, but it's grown to that from virtually zero two to three years ago. So, our diversification of the business model and expansion and ability to leverage the capabilities in the R&D and the product line that we've developed in the cinema business to applications outside of cinema; it's something we're pretty excited about and the Illuminarium is really one example of that. It was a pretty big example in Q3 or Q2, there are other examples which include the Eclipse product itself, where we're selling Curvilinear screens into theme parks and for simulators and military applications. The Illuminarium project was a situation where we weren't selling Eclipse streams but we were selling paints and coatings and products that we would use in the cinema application into non-cinema ventures. The same with the Van Goh Exhibits that you've seen going around this summer. So, the non-cinema vertical is a small and growing part of the business, and we're pretty excited about it.

Unidentified Analyst

Great, that's helpful. Yes, that's it for me, thanks. Good luck going forward, guys.

Mark Roberson

Thanks, Dan. I appreciate it.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question is from the line of Brett Reiss with Janney Montgomery Scott. Please go ahead.

Brett Reiss

Good afternoon.

Mark Roberson

Hey Brett, how you're doing?

Brett Reiss

I'm pretty good.

Mark Roberson

Good.

Brett Reiss

The timeline on the IPO, can you give us any guidance on that?

Mark Roberson

Yes, that's a really good question, Brett. Unfortunately, I can give zero guidance on that according to our attorneys. We're at a period of time where I'm really not allowed to talk about the Strong Entertainment IPO at all. So really, I would tell you to stay tuned and we will communicate something as soon as we're able to in that regard.

Brett Reiss

Let me ask you just generically; what do you have to do to -- let's pretend it wasn't Ballantyne Strong -- what do you have to do to move forward on an IPO?

Mark Roberson

Yes. So the basic steps, and this would apply to any company performing or going through an IPO process. Step one is preparing the carve-out financials and a separate carve-out audit of the entertainment group which has been audited as part of Ballantyne in our case, but there are separate procedures required for the carve-out financials and the carve-out audit that leads to the filing of an S-1 with the SEC; so any company going public, really, the first step beyond preparation is the filing of the initial S-1. And the S-1 goes in and then there's a minimum of 30-day review period by the SEC. After that, there's a back-and-forth comment period, at which time, once that's concluded, and that can take 30 days or several months; usually, it can be in any range of that. After the comment period is concluded, then an IPO could proceed.

Brett Reiss

Okay. Can I assume that the SG&A is going to be higher this quarter because you're laying out money for financial professionals to put together the S-1?

Mark Roberson

We definitely have additional professional firms engaged in the process and performing work related to the legal and the accounting and audit work in preparation for the separation of the IPO. Those costs under GAAP get deferred into the cost of the offering, so you may not see those necessarily hit our SG&A but we will be incurring additional costs that will be reflected as part of the transaction when the IPO occurs.

Brett Reiss

Okay. In the second quarter conference call, you mentioned or somebody asked about an IPO of a comparable company and the transcript just -- I couldn't make out what it is, it was MIT. Do you know the name of that company and what the stock symbol is? So I can just start to do my own kicking of the tires of what Ballantyne Strong might be valued at?

Mark Roberson

Sure. Absolutely, Brett. That company, the name is Moving Image Technologies, and their ticker symbol is MITQ [ph].

Brett Reiss

Okay.

Mark Roberson

They went public back in the summer. So, I'm assuming that's who you're referring to.

Brett Reiss

Okay. So I see that's trading at about a $30 million market cap. How do we compare it to them?

Mark Roberson

Yes. I mean, again, I think within the boundaries of what I'm allowed to talk about, I can't really talk about valuation of the entertainment business at this time. I'll look forward to talking to you about it soon.

Brett Reiss

Okay, that's cool. Now before COVID hit, Ballantyne Strong was doing $35 million to $45 million in revenues, we're back up to $6 million a quarter, which is an annualized run rate of $24 million. Do you think within the next year or two we can get back up to that $35 million, $45 million or maybe even exceed it? Have some of our lesser capitalized competitors falling out, so we pick up market share?

Mark Roberson

Yes. I mean, certainly without giving specific guidance, I certainly -- we certainly are bullish on our ability to gain share post-COVID because it has -- some folks haven't survived. We believe that the exhibitors will rely more heavily on outsourcing, particularly in service area outsourcing of services to folks like our STS Group on service side; so we think the backdrop is favorable. As our customers continue to recover, that we will participate in that, and we'll see growth from the current -- as you said, $24 million, $25 million annualized run rate. You'll back up closer to the -- certainly closer to those pre-COVID levels and hopefully [Technical Difficulty].

Brett Reiss

Right, right. Now you have about $10 million of cash after the outlays for the exercise of the GreenFirst rights. You talk about you're going to be participating in the FGF rights offering; is there a ballpark number of how much of your cash you're going to use for that? And then what's left and then is what's left sufficient working capital for what you guys have on the drawing board the next six months to a year?

Mark Roberson

Yes, we feel good about the capital position. We intend, as we said in the earnings release and in the call, we intend to fully participate in the FGF rights offering. We don't know precisely how many shares we'll be able to secure in the rights offering, it depends on the level of participation by other folks. But if -- based on the formula in the rights offering itself, we're entitled to -- I think it's 0.15 [ph] shares per share. So if you do the math on that on our one million shares that we hold, that's how many shares we'd be able to buy if everyone else fully participates. We assume that it's never 100% participation and we plan to oversubscribe.

Brett Reiss

Right, right. Do you speak to and get any kind of daily or monthly input on how the operations at Firefly are actually going?

Mark Roberson

Firefly is a private company, so they're not required to share confidential private information with us. We certainly do get indications from them about how the business is going and what we understand their business has grown and is continuing to grow quite nicely post-COVID.

Brett Reiss

Right, right. That's all for me. Thank you very much for answering my questions.

Mark Roberson

No problem, Brett. Thank you very much. We appreciate the questions.

Operator

And at this time, we have no further questions on the phone line. And that does conclude the conference call for today. We thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your lines.

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