Ashland's Management Discusses F1Q12- Earnings Call Transcript

Call start: 9:01

Call end: 10:02

Ashland Inc. ( ASH)

2012 First Quarter Earnings Call

January 24, 2012, 9:01 a.m. ET

Executives

David Neuberger - Investor Relations

James O'Brien - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Lamar Chambers - Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

John Panichella - Senior Vice President and President, Ashland Specialty Ingredients

Paul Raymond - Senior Vice President, Ashland Inc., and President, Ashland Water Technologies

Analyst

John McNulty - Credit Suisse

Michael Sison - Keybanc Capital Markets

Robert Walker - Jefferies

Michael Harrison - First Analysis Corp

Ram Sivalingam - Deutsche Bank

Dmitry Silversteyn - Longbow Research

Christopher Shaw - Monness, Crespi, Hardt

Presentation

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Ashland’s first quarter earnings call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will be given at that time. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, today’s call is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host David Neuberger, sir you may begin.

David Neuberger

Thank you, Shannon. Good morning and welcome to Ashland’s first quarter fiscal 2012 conference call and webcast. We released results for the quarter ended December 31, 2011 at approximately 6AM Eastern Time today and this presentation should be viewed in conjunction with the earnings release. These results are preliminary until we file our 10-Q in February.

On the call today are Ashland’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jim O’Brien; Lamar Chambers, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; John Panichelle, President of Ashland’s Specialty Ingredients; and Paul Raymond, President of Ashland Water Technologies.

Before we get started, let me note that as shown on Slide 2, our remarks today will include forward-looking statements as that term is defined in securities laws. We believe any such statements are based on reasonable assumptions but cannot assure that such expectations will be achieved. Please also note that during this presentation we will be discussing adjusted and pro forma results. We believe these adjusted and pro forma results enhance understanding of our performance by more accurately reflecting our ongoing business. In addition, we are providing financial results for historical ISP, representing Ashland’s best estimate of the appropriate cost allocation and shared resource cost. Reporting ISP’s results in this manner has inherent limitations and we do not represent that these financials results were calculated using the same methodology used by ISP.

Please turn to slide three for our first quarter highlights. I’ll mention at the outset that the current quarter represents the first time we have owned ISP for an entire quarter. Reported earnings per share from continuing operations were $0.76 in the December quarter. When adjusted for key items, which I will cover shortly, EPS was $1.20 as compared with $0.92 in the year ago quarter. Let me note that the $0.92 in the prior year does not include the results of ISP or the related financing costs. This is the only time this morning that we will present data in this manner. For the rest of the presentation and to aid in your analysis we will present results on a pro forma basis, which includes the results of ISP in prior periods. Thus, we achieved sales of $1.9 billion, a 6% increase over the prior on a pro forma basis.

We expanded our gross profit as a percent of sales to 28%, as a result of significant pricing efforts across all of our commercial units. This represents a 40 basis point increase over the prior year and 300 basis point increase sequentially.

Our adjusted EBITDA was $301 million, 13% above the $266 million of pro forma adjusted EBITDA in the prior year quarter. The greatest year-over-year improvement was within Specialty Ingredients with strong results from both the heritage Ashland and ISP businesses. In total and on the same basis ISP recorded historically, ISP generated approximately $120 million of EBITDA during the December 2011 quarter.

Slide 4 details our key items. In total, two key items had a net unfavorable EPS impact on continuing operations of $0.44 in the December 2011 quarter. The first key item is a $19 million after tax charge or a negative $0.24 per share related to severance. This expense is related to the corporate cost reduction efforts we have previously described. The second key item was a $16 million after tax charge or a negative $0.20 per share through stepped-up inventory values related to the acquisition of ISP, as we noted last quarter. We have now worked through the stepped-up inventories and this will not be a key item going forward. In the year ago quarter four key items combined for a net unfavorable impact on earnings of a penny per share. I will also note that in the December 2011 quarter, Ashland’s results included $30 million of intangible amortization expense, primarily relating to the Hercules and ISP acquisitions. Without this amortization earnings per share would be roughly $0.27 higher, or $1.47 per share.

Please turn to Slide 5 for Ashland’s adjusted pro forma results. As a reminder, results are presented on a pro forma basis which includes the full quarter of ISP in all periods shown. Prior periods also include stepped-up depreciation and amortization related to purchase accounting. As such, Ashland’s December quarter sales increased 6% over the prior year quarter to $1.9 billion. Sales decreased 9% sequentially, primarily due to normal seasonal trends. As I mentioned in the highlights, gross profit as a percent of sales expanded to 28.3%, a 40 basis point improvement over the prior year and a 300 basis point improvement sequentially. This margin expansion reflects the cumulative effects of pricing implemented over the course of the past year, as well as more stable and in some cases declining raw material cost during the December quarter. Selling, general and administrative, and research and development expenses collectively referred to as SG&A were consistent with prior year at $364 million. EBITDA of $301 million grew 13% over the prior year and EBITDA as a percent of sales was 15.6%.

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