Universal Corporation F4Q10 (Qtr End 03/31/10) Earnings Call Transcript

Universal Corporation F4Q10 (Qtr End 03/31/10) Earnings Call Transcript
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Universal Corporation (UVV)

F4Q10 (Qtr End 03/31/10) Earnings Call Transcript

May 27, 2010 5:00 pm ET


Karen Whelan – VP and Treasurer


Dax Vlassis – Gates Capital Management



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Good afternoon. My name is Lisa and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Universal Corporation fiscal year 2010 results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Thank you.

Ms. Karen Whelan, you may begin your conference.

Karen Whelan

Thank you for joining us. George Freeman, our Chairman, President and CEO; and David Moore, our Chief Financial Officer, are here with me today and they will join me in answering questions after these brief remarks.

This call is being webcast live and will be available on our website and on telephone taped replay. It will remain on our website until August 4th, 2010. So if you are listening to this call after that date or if you are reading a transcription, we have not authorized such recording or transcription and it has been made available to you without our permission, review, or approval. We take no responsibility for such presentation. Any transcription inaccuracies or omissions or failure to present available updates are the responsibility of the party who is providing it to you.

Before I begin to discuss our results, I caution you that we will be making forward-looking statements that are based on our current knowledge and some assumptions about the future. So I urge you to read our 10-K for the year-ended March 31st, 2010, which we filed today, for information on some of the factors that can affect our estimates.

Those factors can include such things as customer-mandated timing of shipments, weather conditions, political and economic environment, changes in currency, and changes in market structure or sources.

Finally, some of the information I have for you today is based on unaudited allocations and is subject to reclassification.

We have a number of things to talk about today. First, we have continued the good earnings pattern that you've seen all year. Diluted earnings per share for the year were up 31% to $5.68, and net income was also a record at $168 million.

There are only a few keys to understanding the year and the quarter. We've really had two excellent years. Last year was also very strong, but our performance was overshadowed by the recognition of $50 million in currency-related costs that were related to the rapid strengthening of the U.S. dollar. For the current year, that cost netted only $5 million.

Delays in shipments from Africa and North America this year had a significant effect on earnings and revenues through the first three quarters this year. As we expected, we have experienced a significant catch-up in shipments in the fourth quarter. That caused better performance in the flue-cured and burley operations segment compared to last year. And some shipments still remain to be completed in fiscal year 2011. Our Asian trading business also posted gains on volume increases this year.

Now, our dark tobacco business, which is in the Other Tobacco Operations segment, had tough comparisons. As we told you last year, we saw increased shipments in the United States in fiscal year 2009 in anticipation of the S-CHIP [ph] excise tax. In addition, our factory in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was not in operation for a large portion of the year because we were expanding and upgrading it. That facility is now back in service and running well, but the dark tobacco results lagged last year.

We had a significant benefit from the reduction in interest rates, about $11 million and $2.5 million in the quarter. And finally, each of our regions produced strong results this year.

Now, although crop quality is good, flue-cured crops in Brazil to be sold in fiscal year 2011 have decreased because of excess rains there and dry conditions have reduced the African burley crops to some extent. You can see more information on that on our website. Although crops in Africa remain large, burley production in other regions also declined and overall burley production will be down by nearly 8% for fiscal year 2011.

Flue-cured production in export markets outside China should increase by about 2%. There have been no significant increases in leaf production available to the trade and worldwide uncommitted dealer inventories remain near seasonal lows, at about 50 million kilos. But lower consumption patterns outside Asia are likely to reduce demand for leaf and that could produce softer market conditions.

We've been working closely with our customers this year to respond to their changing requirements. In recent months, we've seen increasing customer focus on costs. In the intermediate term, because of those cost reduction efforts, we expect that U.S. contracts for processing tobacco will be renewed at lower volume levels under different terms and conditions or both. Those contracts will not expire until May 2011 and that is our fiscal year 2012. The change will reduce margins and volumes handled in our fiscal year 2012.

If the business is not replaced at similar margins, the change could represent as much as half of the operating income of our North America segment. It could also result in a decision to reduce capacity in the United States.

However, the North Carolina factory is state-of-the-art and we will use this opportunity to continue to expand our business with existing and new customers there. In addition, U.S. leaf is becoming more competitive in the world market. We believe we've given you a conservative view of the situation as we know it today and obviously, we will be looking to mitigate. It's important to remember that any changes would be effected in our fiscal year 2012 that ends in March 2012.

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