Sappi Limited (SPP)

Q4 2011 Earnings Call

November 10, 2011 8:00 am ET


Roeloff Jacobus Boëttgerr - Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director

Mark Richard Thompson - Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director

Berend John Wiersum - Chief Executive Officer of Sappi Fine Paper Europe


Tassin Meyer - Citigroup Inc, Research Division

Stephen Atkinson - BMO Capital Markets Canada

Lars Kjellberg - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Caroline Learmonth

Unknown Analyst -



Good afternoon and welcome to the Sappi Limited Fourth Quarter 2011 Results Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Please note that this conference is being recorded. At this time, I'd like to hand the conference over to Ralph Boëttgerr. Please go ahead, sir.

Roeloff Jacobus Boëttgerr

Thank you very much. A very good morning and good afternoon to you all and thank you very much for taking your time to dial into our results call. I'd like to draw your attention as usual to the second slide, forward-looking statements and Regulation G disclosure requirements.

Moving on, on Slide #4, summary of our results. Operating profit excluding special items $80 million for the quarter, up 33% on the previous quarter but down on the equivalent quarter 1 year ago. Next-generation, particularly strong in our fourth quarter, $279 million. But we had strategic initiatives which we implemented during this quarter, in terms of the further impairment and restructuring activities in our business, which resulted in a charge of $165 million, $98 million of which was non-cash. North American business, as well as our Southern African chemical cellulose business, continued to perform strongly during the quarter. High input costs continued to squeeze margins, but input cost did start to decline towards end of the fourth quarter in just about all our businesses. The net results for the quarter, a loss per share of $0.24, mainly as a result of the interventions that we took in our business.

Moving on to Slide #5. The group financial summary. I think the summary of this slide is that, quarter-on-quarter -- equivalent quarter the previous year, the results were weaker, but on a year-on-year basis, a significant improvement in the underlying performance of the business, with an 11% increase in turnover and a 19% increase in operating profit, excluding special items. As I've mentioned, the strategic interventions of more than $300 million did have a negative impact on our net results and, in fact, resulted in a net loss for the period. But the majority of those charges, non-cash. Let me draw your attention to the net debt to total capitalization, going in the wrong direction at 58.7%, however we did reduce our debt, and I'll talk later about that.

Slide #6, the operating profit excluding special items and the trends there. You can see that we had a very strong start to the financial year and then with the growing uncertainty in economic conditions, it declined. Our third quarter was negatively impacted by a number of maintenance shuts. The fourth quarter, although better, was also impacted by strike action in the South African business. The first quarter normally being a seasonally stronger quarter than the third.

Slide #7. EBITDA trend in line with the operating profit trend. What is important is that input cost did start going down in fourth quarter.

The usual slide on the earnings versus the prior-quarter are Slide #8. I think the important issue here is that both quarters, heavily impacted by the charges as a result of the interventions which we endeavored and implemented in our businesses for improved results going forward.

Moving then on to the divisional reviews, starting on Slide #10, dealing with the margins. Our Southern African businesses margins improved during the quarter on the back of the good performance from our chemical cellulose business, which is further boosted by a weakening of the rand towards the quarter. The paper businesses in South Africa, however, did not contribute at all to margin as they made a loss. North American margins were flat, but down on the last year and the main reason for this is an increase in cost and also decline in pulp prices and as you know, we are long in pulp in North America and we sell pulp, and the margin of that reduced during the year. Our European businesses margins is still low, although improving slightly, we expect those margins to improve as the effect of the cost reduction plan has been implemented and starting to come through in our results.

On Slide #11. Quarter 4 on quarter 4, volumes in our European business declined. Prices were up. Cost was significantly up, although we have seen at our previous convention that the costs stabilizing and, in fact, coming down. Export sales were unfavorably impacted by capacity expansions and the global market, particularly from China, and also by the strong euro for most of the year. The benefits of our variable cost reduction plans has started to impact cost towards the end of the year and are now on going, and we are on target to achieve the cost reductions of $100 million year-on-year, as previously mentioned. Fixed costs, also declining, and we are seeing benefits of the Biberist closure, also in terms of the product that are selling, which we've implemented.

Moving on to Sappi Fine Paper in North America, slide #12. Volumes up, and prices generally up with the exception of pulp prices which are down. Mostly, our businesses continued to perform well despite input costs increasing, that is the pulp business, the paper business as well as our specialty businesses.

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