Hecla Mining Company's CEO Discusses Q3 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Hecla Mining (HL)
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Hecla Mining Company (NYSE:HL) Q3 2012 Earnings Call November 6, 2012 1:00 PM ET


Jim Sabala - SVP & CFO

Phil Baker - President & CEO

Larry Radford - VP, Operations

Dean McDonald - VP, Exploration


Chris Lichtenheldt - UBS

Jeff Wright - Global Hunter Securities

Trevor Turnbull - Scotia Bank

John Tumazos - Very Independent Research


Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Third Quarter 2012 Hecla Mining Company Earnings Conference Call. My name is Diana and I will be the operator for today. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host for today, Mr. Jim Sabala, Hecla’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Please proceed.

Jim Sabala

Thank you, operator. This is Jim Sabala as she indicated. I am Hecla’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us for Hecla’s third quarter 2012 financial and operational results conference call.

Our news release that was issued this morning before market open and today’s presentation are available on Hecla’s website. On today’s call, we have Phil Baker, Hecla’s President and Chief Executive Officer; myself; Larry Radford, Hecla’s Vice President of Operations and Dean McDonald, our Vice President of Exploration.

I would like to refer you to slide two. Any forward-looking statements made today by the management team come under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, as shown on slide two. Such statements include projections and goals, which are likely to involve risks detailed in our Form 10K and our third quarter 10Q and in the forward-looking disclaimer included in the earnings release and at the beginning of the presentation. These risks could cause results to differ from those projected in the forward-looking statements.

In addition, in our filings with the SEC, we are only allowed to disclose mineral deposits that we can economically and legally extract or produce. Investors are cautioned about our use of terms such as measured, indicated and inferred resources and we urge you to consider the disclosures that we make in our SEC filings.

And with that, I would like to pass the call to Phil Baker.

Phil Baker

Thank you and hello, everyone. I am glad you could join us. I am going to provide a brief overview, Jim will speak about the financial results, Larry will cover operations and Dean will provide an update on predevelopment and exploration programs. Then we’ll have an opportunity for you to ask questions.

First of all, we've made excellent progress at the Lucky Friday Silver Shaft. So as expected, the mine should be in production in the first quarter with the ramp up complete about mid year and full production for 2013 of about 2 million ounces, of over 2 million ounces and 2014 should be at normal production levels of about 3 million ounces.

Rehabilitation work on the Silver Shaft started in the first quarter of this year and is now complete to approximately 5,700 feet. We've been doing more than required, replacing crude steel and in fact 10 times as much as we are allowed for in our plants, so we will not have to do it later in our normal shaft maintenance program. Crews have also installed metal brattices or a steel curtain down the middle of the shaft, so if we chose to, we can install another hoist which increases work force efficiency and throughput.

Early next year, we expect to replace the controls of the hoist to further improve the shaft. We know how difficult the shutdown has been for employees and shareholders. So we’ve worked hard to transform the shutdown to something that will be positive for both long into the future.

Today, crews are at work on the 5,900 level developing a bypass around the rock burst that happened in our main haulage line, not quite a year ago. The project has 676 feet of development, which will take about 55 days to complete. So by year-end, we expect the bypass as well as Silver Shaft to be functional. It is the completion of these two projects that Silver Shaft cleaned down in the bypass that will allow the mine to go into production.

Their completion will also allow work to resume on the number four shaft, which starts at 4,900 level of the mine and will go to 8,800 level; 3,900 feet in length. Deeper access is expected to give the mine decades of future production, production that has higher grades and is in wider scopes and expected to help growth production to 5 million ounces by 2017.

We have now recalled all employees necessary to reach full production. I think over 90% have come back to work, which has been very positive development for not only the mine, but also the Silver Valley in Idaho, where the Lucky Friday has the county’s largest payroll.

And I can’t express my appreciation for the work that’s been accomplished at the Lucky Friday this year. Silver Shaft has essentially been rebuilt and is in excellent condition and Larry will talk more in detail about the specifics of the work that’s been completed to-date, but suffice it to say that this rehabilitated Silver Shaft is going to be the lifeline to carry this great mine into the future.

Now if you go to slide four, the advancement at the Lucky Friday is not all of the highlights for us this quarter. At Greens Creek we had a 19% improvement in silver production from Q2; silver cash costs were 352, slightly higher than Q2, but due to the relatively lower base metals production and by product credit grounds. But we still have costs among the lowest of all the silver producers.

And this low cash cost has provided for strong operating cash flow of $35 million for the quarter and that’s after having spent $17 million on exploration and predevelopment. And I think that exploration has been well spent; results have been excellent in all of our projects which Dean will detail more in a moment. But what I want to focus on is Greens Creek with the underground drilling results have been exceptional.

The 200 South and Southwest Bench areas both had intercepts; had two intercepts in excess of 70 feet. If you combine the two areas, they have had 12 intercepts greater than 15 feet that are at least the tenth of an ounce of gold and with one of the intercepts had a high of almost a half ounce per ton gold. The silver grades in these intercepts are between 15 and 65 ounces per ton with combined lead and zinc in excess of 15% and in one case as much as 37%.

While Greens Creek has always had stunning drill results, so these are truly exceptional and these results are in the table on the next to last page of release. However, let me caution you, because the geometry is so complex and requires substantially more drilling and we don’t know what this drilling will mean to the ultimate tons and grade, and we don’t expect this drilling to be reflected in this year’s reserves and resources, its going to be something it will take a number of years to work through, but nonetheless its still very exciting and encouraging to see these types of intersections.

In addition to the exploration the work on our predevelopment projects has gone extremely well. We only started to evaluate these projects five quarters ago and we have already completed the significant rehabilitation at the start 2011 and on the equity ramp. Decline development at the Bulldog has already begun and completion is expected in about a year and this decline is expected to be about a $20 million project.

Of the Huge Zone economic study at San Sebastian, we delayed that because of the success that we’ve had at the middle vein; we need to make sure of how and where we locate the Huge Zone access. So we now expect an economic analysis in Q1 of next year.

So given the strength of our balance sheet, and the strength of our balance sheet is despite the fact that Lucky Friday has been down, our cash position only declined by $1 million. So given the strength of this balance sheet, our cash flow and our realized silver prices averaging $35, our Board has declared dividend. The annualized yield on this dividend is 1.4% which is at the higher end of precious metals companies and it’s a distinct advantage our equity has over the silver ETF.

And so that, I will turn the call over to Jim.

Jim Sabala

Thank you, Phil. During the first and second quarters of this year, we expected silver production to increase over the course of this year. I am pleased to report this 19% higher silver production in the third quarter compared to the second quarter as shown on slide six. And 23% higher silver production than reported for the first quarter. This was the result of increases in our throughput at Greens Creek and an average silver grade mine.

During the course of this year, silver production has been steadily increasing at Greens Creek and we expect the fourth quarter to continue that trend to reach by more than 6 million ounce for your production guidance.

Margins and cash costs also remain very (inaudible) as shown on slide 7. Average third quarter silver cash costs net of byproduct credits of $3.52 per ounce compared to $0.67 per ounce during the third quarter a year ago. The higher cash cost per ounce in this year’s third quarter was due largely to the increase in silver production and constant base metal production which means simply less byproduct revenues per ounce of silver. With a cash margin of $31.48 per ounce Hecla remains a leader in cost and margin among all silver producers.

Operating cash flow for the third quarter was $35 million shown on slide 8, which is in spite of the temporary shutdown of the Lucky Friday and our ongoing capital programs there and was adequate to cover our company wide capital expenditure program. As we look forward to the restart of the Lucky Friday and its contribution to cash flow in 2013; we've continued strong silver markets. This strong cash flow has allowed us to invest a record amount of Greens Creek in CapEx and on an accelerated exploration and development programs.

Despite this increased investment, our cash and equivalents at the end of the third quarter remains a strong $232 million, only $1 million less in Q2 as shown in the chart on slide 9. We fully expect to be able to fund our planned future expenditures through our cash flow or strong balance sheet and an untapped $150 million revolving credit agreement. In addition, the company has no other significant long term debt.

Slide 10 sets forth our average realized metals prices for the quarter. Average realized silver prices were $35 per ounce compared with average realized prices in the third quarter of last year of $37.02 per ounces. This allowed the company to pay cash dividend of $2.25 per share during current dividend policy.

Gold, zinc and lead prices were also slightly lower compared to a year ago, with gold averaging $1655 during the third quarter compared to $1700 during the same period a year ago. For the quarter, we reported $0.01 per share in adjusted earnings per share. Set forth on slide 11 are a number of factors impacting the EPS number including $6.1 million in suspension related costs of the Lucky Friday, above average silver and base metals prices versus 3Q of 2011, exploration and predevelopment expense which is up 47% to $17.1 million compared to a year ago, a $9.1 million non-cash loss for mark-to-market adjustments on our long term hedging portfolio, a $14,000 tax provision compared to $27.3 million in the same period in 2011 due to higher pretax income in that period and gains of $5.9 million on provisional price adjustments versus losses of $3.6 million in 3Q of last year.

And with that I would like to turn the call over to Larry for a review of operations during the third quarter. Larry?

Larry Radford

Thanks Jim. Beginning with slide 13, as Phil mentioned Shaft rehabilitation work at the Lucky Friday mine has been going very well. As of today, all cleaning, replacement and removable of cementitious material has been completed down to approximately the 5700 foot level. Development crudes are now working on a bypass drift at the 5900 foot level to the north of the silver shaft which will be used when production resumes.

Production is expected to ramp up in the first half for the year to normal operating levels, reaching estimated full-year 2013 production of over 2 million ounces of silver. By the end of the year, we expect to return our full [consummate] of 54 salaried and 200 hourly workers, which is the number of workers needed for full operation.

Additional safety training has been given to all employees. Planning for restart activities have begun on the four shaft project. We expect to resume work on four shaft in the first quarter, following completion of the silver shaft work. Today, we have invested approximately $90 million in four shaft with about 45% of the work completed of the estimated $200 million expenditure. The four shaft project is planned to provide access to reserves, resources and provide additional exploration targets. This major project is expected to be completed in early 2016.

Side upgrade projects have also been ongoing in the third quarter, including Tailings Dam Construction, a reagent application upgrade project in the mill and a design of a new technical services building. Ground breaking for the new building is expected to be in the spring of 2013.

Slide 14 shows photos of the quality and progress of the work that’s been accomplished at Lucky Friday. We believe that the shaft has been returned to the same state that the shaft was in one commission in 1983. Further more, additional features are being added, which will only enhance the safety and potentially the productivity of the shaft.

For instance, the metal brattice barriers being added to separate the west and east halves of the shaft. This addition makes it possible for us to add an additional hoist and to add additional electrical capacity through the shaft. This additional capacity has a potential to increase hoisting capacity.

Slide 15 lays out the timeline for benchmarks on the silver shaft and the schedule we’ve met on a our way to restarting production in the first quarter of 2013. The slide 16 at Greens Creek silver production was up 19% from the second quarter of both 2012 and 2011. Mining cost per ton increased 23% and milling cost per ton decreased by 19% in the third quarter of 2012 as compared to the same period in 2011.

Higher mining costs were primarily due to the increase use of contract miners which is more expensive than internal labor. Milling costs per ton are down due to higher throughput and a greater availability of hydroelectric power which is cheaper than diesel generated power.

Our record capital expenditure program at Greens Creek continues to advance, including the 200 South access development, tailing dam expansion and definition drilling. The camp expansion is functional and complete. These investments will help prepare the mine for future resource development and continued low cost production with sustained strong metal markets.

I will now pass the call to Dean for an overview of our exploration and predevelopment during the recent quarter.

Dean McDonald

Thanks Larry. Exploration and predevelopment in the third quarter continued to advance targets at our 100% owned highly perspective North American properties. Exploration expenditures for the third quarter were 11.7 million, with a full year expenditures expected to be approximately 30 million. Predevelopment expenditures for the third quarter were 5.4 million, with full year predevelopment expenditures expected to total approximately $23 million.

The ramp up of predevelopment expenditures in the second half of this year included $7.3 million development of the decline into the Bulldog and investing a further $3 million to improve ventilation and establish new drill platforms at the equity both in creek Colorado.

Some of the most exciting exploration results in the quarter occurred at the San Sebastian property in Mexico. As shown on slide 18, our plan view in the upper left corner shows the close proximity and parallel trend of the middle vein to the Francine Hugh Zone vein trend. Drilling on the middle vein in the quarters has defined high grade gold, silver, mineralization for up to 3000 feet along strike and some surface to over 1000 feet depth.

Recent intersections including 0.3 ounces per ton gold and 39.2 ounces per ton silver over 7.7 feet and 0.52 ounces per ton gold and the 121.7 ounces per ton silver over 1.7 feet. Two drills continue to expand the middle vein mineralization to the North West, South East and at depth. Due to its proximity, we are evaluating the affect of the middle vein on the ramp access to the Hugh Zone.

At Greens Creek in Alaska shown on slides 19 and 20, we had exceptional drill results on the 200 south and the southwest bench, where we continue to refined and expand the resources in areas where there is current mine infrastructure. Definition and exploration drilling continue to define overlapping lenses of the 200 South as shown in slide 19 that separate into a flat lying zone that has folded to the right or south and a separate steep ore body that extends to the south and depth as shown in the cross section in the right hand diagram on the slide.

The definition drilling has been concentrated on the two zones just below and south of the current reserve where there is good continuity and broad widths of high grade mineralization. The exploration drilling is defining extensions to the south in the area of the folded mineralization, the wide high grade intersections are best developed in the hinge areas of this fault. Both zones have precious metal rich, their (inaudible) ores are open to the south and at depth and will continue to be evaluated in 2013 and beyond. An extensive list of assays is provided in tables at the end of the quarterly press release.

In slide 20, the planned view in the left diagram shows the location of the northwest, west, southwest and southwest bench ore bodies where we have defined numerous high grade intersections in the past year and a half. All of these ore bodies are west of the Maki fault and the open trend of these ore bodies is further to the west.

The longitudinal view of these ore bodies in the right diagram shows the Maki fault in blue and the mineralization trends to depth that is similar to the plunges of the 200 South and 5250 ore trends. We expect this will be an important area for underground exploration at Greens Creek in the coming years.

Surface drilling to the northwest and west of the mine at Killer Creek and West Gallagher respectively have intercepted interesting mineralization. Copper bearing veins is the dominant mineralization at Killer Creek and massive sulfitic zones are present at West Gallagher.

On slide 21 at the Star project in the Silver Valley of Idaho near the Lucky Friday, the planned map in the lower left corner shows the locations of the expanding Moffitt and Noonday mineralized zones. In the upper longitudinal you can see that recent drilling has extended the Moffitt vein approximately 500 feet down deep along the straight length of approximately 800 feet and showed the mineralized trends to the southeast and at depth.

Drilling at the southeastern end of the Noonday resource as shown in the lower right hand diagram appear to upgrade the model grades in the previous inferred resource and extend the Noonday resources over 400 feet to the southeast. A recent drill hole of 29.1 ounces per ton of silver and 8.9% combined lead zinc over 10 feet is the highest grade silver intersection in two years of drilling in the area.

This silver rich mineralization is open to depth into the south east. The southeast extension of the Star 2000 exploration drift and drill station is complete and drilling is expected to begin to evaluate silver rich extensions to the Noonday, You Like and Morning Veins.

Finally on slides 22 to 24 show some of the activities at San Juan Silver which includes the advanced stage equity and Bulldog projects in Creek Colorado. The Bulldog is an historic mine which produced approximately 25 million ounces of silver before it was closed by its previous owners in 1984 due to lower silver prices. There are currently 37 million ounces of silver resources in the mine and underground exploration platforms are in place for potential future expansion of those resources. At the equity, we expect to report an initial resource soon after year end.

The new decline in the Bulldog project as shown in slide 22 was begun on September 12, and the decline is now advanced over 100 feet. The steel sets, rock bolting and flash coding showed in slide 23 demonstrate the procedure to ensure long-term stability in the portal area.

As shown in slide 24, major infrastructure projects at the Bulldog site, such as the maintenance and shotcrete shops are completed and operational. The Bulldog environmental assessment work continues with the Forest Service decision expected early in the second quarter of 2013.

And with that, I will pass you back for Phil for closing comments.

Phil Baker

Thanks Dean. We believe third quarter was another improving quarter that sets Hecla for 2013 growth in production and investment in the mines and projects, all which generate shareholder value. We think Hecla share price doesn’t reflect this but as we continue to execute our plans, we believe that will change.

And with that, Diana, you can open the lines for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session


(Operator Instructions) And our first question will come from the line of Chris Lichtenheldt, UBS.

Chris Lichtenheldt - UBS

Just a question on Lucky Friday with respect to some of these potential capacity increases. I think before the closure was operating around 900 tonnes a day, do you have some idea of what it might look like? What capacity could be when you get back up in earning?

Phil Baker

Well, ultimately and we would think this should be around midyear, we will get back to that 900 ton per day, 950 ton per day sort of range, but it will take us the better part of two quarters to build up do that 200 tonnes a day would is probably not unlikely early on and then it will build up from there 700 tonnes a day may be in that second quarter. So it’s a process we will build up and there are things that we don’t know, so we are being a bit cautious and we want to make sure that we start backup and we hit all of our numbers in and also make sure we have the operation, operating as safely as it can operated as we start backup.

Chris Lichtenheldt - UBS

Okay, that makes sense and so you not really at this point focused on trying to stretch beyond 900, 950 you get to that point and then assess the potentially with the work you have done?

Phil Baker

Yeah well there is an optimization study that’s going on Larry, may be you can talk about that process that we are going through with the optimization.

Larry Radford

Sure one of the things I mentioned, Phil mentioned is that we have separated the two halves of the silver shaft which can in the future allows us to add an additional service hoist and add hoisting capacity. What exactly that means we are working through that right now, we are developing mine plans around scenario where we put another service hoist in. And we are formulating what the bottom next might be whether they would be ventilation cooling services, those sorts of things. So we are in that process, right now.

Chris Lichtenheldt - UBS

Okay, so I can just remind us is the optimization study part of a larger study with respect to everything in the Silver Valley or is that still just the Lucky Friday assessment?

Phil Baker

Well, it’s primarily a Lucky Friday, but it’s not lost on us that there might be an opportunity to do some things with Star and so there is some interaction that has not taken place but conceivably could take place as we continue to work for study. There is a lot of moving parts in the study; it is not a straight forward thing, there is lots of variables.


And your next question comes from the line of Jeff Wright of Global Hunter Securities.

Jeff Wright - Global Hunter Securities

Understand you are looking at the slides and you are going through this, it’s the number four shaft you are looking to recommence endeavor in early 2013, do you have any idea what the CapEx budget for ‘13 would be, or you can wait a little bit longer on that one?

Phil Baker

Yeah, we are not prepared to give the guidance on how much capital we’ll spend, it just depends on exactly when we get started there and some assessment of the situation, but it is not going to be dissimilar to what we have spent in the past which, what has been Jim about 50 million?

Jim Sabala


Phil Baker

Yeah, so call it 50 million for a rough estimate at this point.

Jeff Wright - Global Hunter Securities

And then secondly, at Greens, it looks like you increased the sustaining capital for the year at Greens Creek; should we go with that higher run rate going forward for sustaining capital there?

Phil Baker

Look, the word sustaining capital is kind of all in the eye of the beholder. We are no doubt have made it a conscious decision to increase the level of capital expenditures at Greens Creek to generate returns, reduce risks, extend mine life. And we will continue to do that until we sort of work through the list of things that we are able to come up with.

When you think about it going forward, can we spend at a similar level that we are spending now in this price environment? Yeah, we can and to the extent it makes sense we probably will, but we have the human capacity, we have the logistical capacity to do that and so we will as long as it makes sense. And we are just confident that this mine, we will have exploration success and we are very pleased with the results that we saw from the exploration this past quarter.

Underground, we are very pleased with the surface exploration that we have. We don't have anything to announce in terms of more reserves or resources and we won’t for some time, but we are confident that its all moving in the right direction. So it makes sense to make these investments in the mine. Anything Larry you want to add or?

Larry Radford

There's obviously maintenance capital that will be expended again next year, development capital and as Phil said pretty much targeting that in reserves to Greens Creek.


(Operator Instructions) our next question comes from the line of Trevor Turnbull with Scotia Bank.

Trevor Turnbull - Scotia Bank

Just a quick question on the suspension related costs at Lucky Friday. You had provided us a year for Q3, do you have a sense of what that might look like for this present quarter.

Jim Sabala

I would expect it to be very similar Trevor. It’s been running about $4.5 million a quarter cash, its been running about $1.5 million of depreciation, and as we indicated we are going to ramp this effort up we believe in the fourth quarter and I would expect a similar amount.

Phil Baker

Yeah, the only reason it will be slightly higher because I think I don't have the number right in front of me, but Jim we do have more employees in this fourth quarter so there is some additional costs associated with that, but its not going to be materially different.

Trevor Turnbull - Scotia Bank

Yeah. And then I guess following on a little bit on Chris’s question, he was asking about how many tons a day you were looking for next year, you said my question is more related to the 2 million ounces or so that you are looking for out of Lucky Friday and yet you said that you are looking for production to start in Q1, that seems a bit of a slower pace than what the mine had done in the past. Does that mean, given this is a restart that we should think about some of what happens in Q1 is like non commercial production or is anything coming out, essentially going to get it run through the income statement like it is, commercial production?

Phil Baker

I will let Jim answer the accounting question as to whether it's commercial or non-commercial? I think we are sort of stuck in putting in as commercial.

Jim Sabala

The rules are as soon as you start turning the mills, it's commercial production. You have to report it as such, and of course as we begun the ramp up, some slopes will come on quicker than others. So you won't be up to your design capacity initially. So you can expect to have some higher unit cost in the early stage of the.

Trevor Turnbull - Scotia Bank

Okay, and that might help to explain why the slightly lower annualize production rate is that there will be a ramp up, we need to think about, you obviously can’t just jump right back at the full production rate?

Jim Sabala

That’s right. You know, there are some slopes that are in pretty good shape. There is others that there is going to be quite a bit of rehab that's need to be done in the ramps and everything after being idle for a year.

Trevor Turnbull - Scotia Bank

But would it be safe to say that with respect to getting the mills turning, that’s something you would expect to happen shortly after new year or is that little later in Q1?

Phil Baker

I think it's later in Q1. We probably will batch material. So we will just batch material through and that will be the way to have it, the milling cost to be as low as they can be.


The next question comes from the line of John Tumazos, Very Independent Research.

John Tumazos - Very Independent Research

Can you just refresh, Lucky Friday work that you did in 2012; how much was capital, how much was expense? Should we think of the 2 million ounces next year being like normal production, was it normal contribution margin of at current prices $20 an ounce times two or is there a bigger benefit because of disruption and expenses consultants and maintenance and all those things in terms of having treatment of the remediation?

Phil Baker

With respect to your first question John, the capital versus operating do you have that?

Jim Sabala

The capital on our original plan that we put forward and we are tracking against that John was $28 million roughly. In addition, we talked about the P&L impact and the P&L impact of the holding costs was $4.5 million a quarter of cash and about $1.5 million depreciation.

Phil Baker

And with respect to production next year, we are going to have that 2 million ounces represents the ramping up of production for 2013. We would expect to produce around 3 million ounces 2014 and beyond until we get deeper in the mine that’s historically what the mine is operated at is roughly 3 million ounces a little more than that, but just call it 3 million and we would expect it to do that. On the cost side of things, the biggest issue is going to be the cost associated with ramping things up once we get into full production and you will see us have a cost structure similar to what we have in the past plus whatever increases for inflation and additional personnel and any other changes that we have made. So it’s going to go back to much of what you saw in the past, but we think with a number of improvements to the silver shaft.


And there are no more questions at this time. I will now like to turn the call back to Phil Baker, President and Chief Executive Officer for closing remarks.

Phil Baker

Okay, well, thanks very much. I appreciate everyone being on this call on Election Day in the US and we are certainly available for any questions you might have, feel free to call Jim or me and we will happy to answering you. So thanks very much. Have a good day.


Thank you very much. This concludes today's conference. You may now disconnect and have a great day.

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