Praxair (PX)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

January 25, 2012 11:00 am ET


Kelcey E. Hoyt - Director of Investor Relations

James S. Sawyer - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President


Robert Walker - Jefferies & Company, Inc., Research Division

P.J. Juvekar - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

David L. Begleiter - Deutsche Bank AG, Research Division

Robert Koort - Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division

John E. Roberts - Buckingham Research Group, Inc.

Michael J. Sison - KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., Research Division

Donald Carson - Susquehanna Financial Group, LLLP, Research Division

Jeffrey J. Zekauskas - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

David J. Manthey - Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division

Edward H. Yang - Oppenheimer & Co. Inc., Research Division

Kevin W. McCarthy - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division

Michael J. Harrison - First Analysis Securities Corporation, Research Division



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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Fourth Quarter 2011 Praxair Earnings Conference Call. My name is Kathy and I'll be your operator for today's call. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host for today's call, to Ms. Kelcey Hoyt, Director of Investor Relations. Please proceed, ma'am.

Kelcey E. Hoyt

Thanks, Kathy. Good morning, and thank you for attending our Fourth Quarter Earnings Call and Webcast. I'm joined this morning by Jim Sawyer, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Liz Hirsch, our Vice President and Controller.

Today's presentation materials are available on our website at in the Investors section. Please read the forward-looking statement disclosure on Page 2 and note that it applies to all statements made during this teleconference.

Please also note that our discussion of earnings for the full year and fourth quarter, including year-over-year comparisons, excludes $0.02 of net earnings per share benefit related to a non-cash gain in the fourth quarter of 2012 as a result of revaluing our previous ownership percentage in the Yara Praxair joint venture in Scandinavia at fair value in accordance with U.S. accounting standards after we acquired majority interest this quarter.

Earnings also exclude charges taken during the quarter primarily relating to severance and business restructurings in Europe of industrial gas and Surface Technologies. A reconciliation of these numbers to our GAAP reported numbers for 2011 and 2010 appears in the appendix to this presentation and the press release.

Jim will start the call with a brief overview of our results and outlook, then I'll review the slides for the full year and quarter results and then turn it back over to Jim for the guidance and business outlook. We will then be available to answer questions.

James S. Sawyer

Thank you, Kelcey, and good morning, everyone. Praxair finished 2011 delivering record results with full year sales growth of 11%, operating profit growth of 14% and EPS growth of 15%, turning right along the midpoint of our long-term growth objectives. We continue to deliver solid execution and productivity, which fueled operating profit growth in excess of top line growth, and industry-leading return on capital and return on equity would allow us to grow EPS even faster.

For the fourth quarter, sales grew 7%; operating profit, 10%; and EPS, 9%. If you would adjust out the change in foreign currency rates, which largely occurred in September, the fourth quarter would've been right on trend with the full year. We're continuing to see strong organic growth in most of our markets, with the exception of Europe and the global electronics end market. We did see slowing growth in Brazil in both the third and fourth quarters but are optimistic that growth will pick up in Brazil in the second half of 2012. More importantly, the U.S. economy, and particularly the manufacturing sector, finished the year on a strong note and we expect this to continue well into 2012.

We assume [ph] an earnings guidance of $5.70 to $5.90 for 2012, representing 5% to 9% year-over-year growth. While this is slightly below some of the analysts' estimates, we don't believe the impact of currencies has been fully factored in. At current exchange rates, our year-over-year comps face a 5% headwind or about $0.25 in EPS. The biggest exchange rate impacts are in Mexico, India, Brazil and Europe.

I'm not always a good forecaster of currencies, but hopefully, we could have some upside in Mexico and India. However, this could be easily offset by further downside in Europe and Canada. Who knows? We do try to be nimble in adjusting our business operations to changes in macroeconomic conditions. Consequently, we've undertaken modest restructuring of our European industrial gas business, consolidating plants and reducing headcount by about 5%.

Similarly, we're restructuring our European Surface Technology operations, closing a facility in Switzerland which is no longer competitive at current exchange rates and consolidating other operations. We're also making modest headcount reductions in South America and in our electronics business.

At the end of 2011, we largely completed the $1.5 billion share repurchase program which was announced in July of 2010. Yesterday, our Board of Directors approved a new share repurchase program of $1.5 billion, which depending on market conditions, we anticipate completing in 2013.

As we expect to be able to continue our strong cash flow generation and growth in our operating profit, our plan is to repurchase enough shares to reduce the share count by about 2% annually without diminishing our credit ratios, our solid long-term debt rating of A and our low-cost funding capability.

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