Sappi Limited (SPP) Q1 2012 Earnings Call February 08, 2012 10:00 am ET Executives Roeloff Jacobus Boëttgerr - Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director and Member of Group Executive Committee Mark Gardner - Chief Executive Officer, President and Director Barry John Wiersum - Chief Executive Officer of Sappi Fine Paper Europe Alexander van Coller Thiel - Member of Group Executive Committee and Chief Executive Officer of Sappi Southern Africa Mark Richard Thompson - Chief Financial Officer, Executive Director and Member of Group Executive Committee Analysts Caroline Learmonth Lars Kjellberg - Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division Campbell Parry - Investec Securities Ltd., Research Division Sean Ungerer - Avior Research (Pty) Ltd. Bill Hoffman - RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division Bill Hoffman Tarek Hamid - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division Ross Gilardi - BofA Merrill Lynch, Research Division Unknown Analyst Roger Williams - Centaur Asset Management (Pty) Ltd Presentation Operator
Net debt of $2.175 billion are up $75 million on seasonal working capital increase as it remains within our targeted range and is not where we want it ultimately to be but very much in line with where we thought it will be at this point in time. And I'll talk more about that later.The European businesses' performance benefited from the restructuring and cost reduction actions that we've implemented. We've targeted $100 million per annum, and we are at that run rate in the first quarter. In other words, we did see a saving of $25 million in the first quarter. Our South African chemical cellulose business performed particularly well and achieved the highest operating margins in 3 years. Our North American business was negatively affected by higher pulp prices and, very important piece, our technical and reliability issues, which we've experienced at our Somerset pulp mill of a once-awful nature, which will not repeat itself going forward. And looking at the operating profit, excluding special items, [indiscernible] graph on Slide #6. You'll see that we've now had a third quarter in a row improving operating profits, not at the levels where we want it to be, and we are expecting this trend to continue into the second quarter as we gain momentum with the actions that we implemented in our business. The EBITDA trend on Slide #7, very similar, going up from 3 quarters ago of $164 million to $194 million. But we've got to get back to the EBITDA numbers of $200 million-plus, $220 million-plus soon. Moving on to Slide #8, dealing with the earnings versus the prior quarter. We -- here, we're talking about adjusted earnings per share. We've had a very tough quarter in our fourth quarter last year, with all the restructuring charges and asset impairments leading to a $0.02 a share versus the $0.07 a share for the first quarter.
Moving then on to the divisional overviews, and I'm referring you to Slide #10 with the divisional operating margins. Our South African business returning to margins that is more in line with our thinking. But I need to point out here that most of that margin was produced, or more than the margin that you see there being produced by the chemical cellulose business as the paper businesses are still not performing at reasonable margins in South Africa. They're improving but still very, very low, and the chemical cellulose margins in the high 20s. Therefore, a lot of upside to the South African margins once we fix our paper businesses, and that's in a process of happening.[Indiscernible] our European margins improving but still not at the levels where we want them to be. We said to you that we believe margins 5%-plus would be acceptable to us, but we are expecting further improvement in the margins from Europe going forward despite market conditions that will remain, in our opinion, tough in that region. North American margins coming down to levels lower than what we've seen them in quite some time, most of that, or a good proportion of that reduction in margin as a result of once-over reliability issues in our Somerset Mill. As I said, that's been resolved. Pulp prices certainly also negatively affected those margins. We expect margins to grow quite significantly in the coming quarter but not to the 10% area yet as long as pulp prices remain as low as they currently are. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com