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Edited Transcript of AQUA.OL earnings conference call or presentation 28-May-20 12:00pm GMT

Q1 2020 Aqualisbraemar ASA Earnings Call

ASKER Jun 22, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Aqualisbraemar ASA earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 28, 2020 at 12:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript


Corporate Participants


* David Wells

AqualisBraemar ASA - CEO & Director of UK

* Kim Boman

AqualisBraemar ASA - CFO




David Wells, AqualisBraemar ASA - CEO & Director of UK [1]


Good afternoon, everybody. Many thanks for tuning in and taking time to listen to our Q1 2020 performance update.

Turning to Slide 2. My name is David Wells. As a CEO, I'll be focusing on our performance during the quarter, adopting our usual presentation format. I'll be joined again by Kim Boman, our CFO, who will focus on our financial performance. Unfortunately, due to COVID, I'm unable to travel from London to Oslo. So on this occasion, this is not a live transmission. It therefore means, and I apologize, that we will not be able to take Q&A afterwards as we usually do. However, both Kim and myself are happy to answer any specific questions you may have if you contact us afterwards by e-mail or voice.

Moving to Slide 3, just to remind that this presentation does contain forward-looking statements and opinions, so our usual disclaimer applies.

Moving to Slide 4, I am pleased to report that we had a very good quarter. Our revenues are up, our margins are up, our profits are up, our staff utilizations are up. So it's particularly pleasing for us, given that Q1 tends to be a weak quarter. All the hard work that we've been doing internally after our merger now appears to be paying off, and results have been improving Q-on-Q. The implemented operational changes and the anticipated cost synergies that we advise and expected are now starting to come through. Our Q1 revenues at $19.8 million are 14% up pro forma on Q1 2019 and have been especially driven by our renewables arm, which grew 57% compared to the first quarter last year. However, our remaining business also grew at 9% over the same period. So this is a cross sector improved performance. Middle East and European operations were strong as was the offshore arena in general.

Whilst our workload is mainly driven by call out contracts, our backlog significantly increased to $19.2 million. Our cash remains strong. And it's a pleasure, I can advise that in spite of the current market situation, we still intend paying a dividend of NOK 0.2 per share and expect to have this ratified at our AGM next month. During the quarter, and into Q2, we continue to invest in ourselves. We continue to invest in organic growth and have increased our global footprint with new offices. I'll give some more detail later within this presentation. So all in all, there's much like in our results, though I'm the first to admit, we still have more work to do to improve our performance further.

Turning to Slide 5, I feel I should mention a little bit about the COVID-19 situation. We are clearly in a period of great uncertainty with this pandemic and the weak oil price is driven. I guess I should start by giving thanks to the medical profession for the unselfish acts in trying to limit the effects of this almost unprecedented virus that we are currently experiencing. The expectations ahead of us, particularly in the offshore sector, are therefore difficult to predict. So far, I can say that we have not suffered any significant setback except in the new experience of working from home, which we're doing in just about all our offices around the world. Nevertheless, in spite of this, there are some positives and negatives for us in this pandemic, and we try to maximize on the one hand and minimize on the other. We are getting new work, we are getting new clients, largely because of our footprint, and we are getting work directly rated to COVID. But we're also having to deal the negative side of travel restrictions and various sector weaknesses. What I can confirm though is at AqualisBraemar, we have implemented strict guidelines to ensure personnel safety to maintain business efficiencies, and we are also having the flexibility to adapt to the situation going forward.

Turning to Slide 6. For those of you who are listening who are not very familiar with our company, I'll give a little bit more detail into what we do. Simplistically, we focus on 3 main areas: Firstly, on project consulting, particularly in the offshore sector, shipping and marine operations; secondly, in the prevention of accidents through the monitoring operations, mainly in the capacity of marine warranty surveyors and client reps; and thirdly, through acting as damage surveyors and loss adjusters in managing and reporting on instances likely to result in insurance claims.

Moving to Slide 7. So our work is broken down into 4 main business streams: renewables, where we're focused mainly on acting as independent engineers and consultants to the wind industry, but increasingly to other renewable energy sources; in the offshore sector, on a wide range of marine engineering consultancy services across the life cycle spectrum; within the shipping sector, on instant report and surveys to the insurance industry, shipowners and financial institutions; and finally, in loss adjusting and dispute resolution to the energy and insurance markets.

Moving to Slide 8. A large part of our business is driven by the fact we have an extremely good global footprint. As I speak now, we currently have 49 official locations in 32 countries. But what's particularly pleasing is when this COVID pandemic started, we looked in more detail to see where we could service clients properly. And I was pleased to see that we had over 160 locations worldwide, where we have surveyors who are located at each of the spots.

Moving to Slide 9. If we look at how our business is broken down, we can see on the left-hand side, the pie chart there, that shows that about 50% of our business is related to the offshore industry, 1/4 of our business is related to the shipping industry, and the remainder is broken down to a rapidly growing renewable sector and also our loss adjusting and dispute resolutions. On the right-hand side, we can see how that's broken down into regions. Approximately 55% of our revenues come from Asia Pacific and Middle East regions, which are equally strong. The remainder comes from Europe, Americas and our renewables sector, which we report separately through our trading company, Offshore Wind Consultants.

If I move to Slide 10, I think it's important here to give a bit of understanding of exactly what our group strategy and ambitions are. I think foremost, we are a growth company. We differentiate our strategy between a renewables business and our mature businesses in offshore, marine and adjusting. Renewables is clearly our growth platform. It has grown 57% over the last year, and we will continue to steer growth going forward. We're currently focused on organic growth by opening new offices and increasing our global footprint and using our existing competence to service new markets, not just offshore wind, but also other renewable sectors, such as floating solar. M&A is a focus, and we'll actively seek to expand our service offering through appropriate opportunities should they arise.

In our mature businesses, in offshore, marine and adjusting, we also grew at 9% over the last year, and we will continue to grow these but we'll focus on improving profitability through leveraging our global scale, better use of technology and further industry consolidation. We have a great ambition, and that is to have 50% of our revenues coming from renewables and other green services by 2025. That is a target, it's ambitious, but we think it's doable, and we want to be at the forefront of the energy transition. The energy markets are changing, and we want to play our part in that change. On a group level, we also want to highlight that a key priority is to improve our capital efficiency through better cash collection and cash management, enabling us to invest in future growth and also return more cash to shareholders going forward. Over the last year or so, we've been very focused on the front office after our merger and ensuring that our services are continued, ensuring our offices operate efficiently and ensuring that our clients are looked after. We've had less focus on the cash collection side. And now that we have everything in place in the main, we will be focusing much more on that sector in the next few quarters and improving our cash returns.

Moving on to Slide 11. I'm now going to give a bit of color into the business lines that we follow and the work that we've been doing and some of the contracts that we won. In renewables, the sector is on fire. It's growing. The pipeline is huge. The short-term pipeline is huge, and it's really, really an interesting sector. What's also interesting is if we look at the right-hand side, the market share from the top 3 developers or if we take the top 5 within the top 10 is decreasing. That means there's many more new players coming to market, many more new utility companies, which are starting to go into wind, many more countries, which are moving into the sector. And that means many more clients available to consultancy like ourselves.

If we move to Slide 12. An example of the success is our new contract that we have won during the quarter. Working for SBE and Total on the Erebus floating wind farm. This is a 96-megawatt floating wind project, going to be installed offshore in Wales in the U.K. in 70 meters water depth. We are acting as owners engineer during that project, and a CDM role of principal designer. It's a big contract for us. It's exciting contract, but it also confirms our position as one of the leading wind consultants as we're currently working on 4 wind projects across 2 continents.

To Slide 13. We are investing in ourselves and renewables. We have just opened office this month in Tokyo in Japan, where we see a market with great potential for us. Japan has nearly 15 gigawatts of wind projects in the pipeline, and we have already started to win some work in that country. But it was made very clear to us that unless we have a local presence, we are unlikely to get the larger projects, so it's pleasing that we've opened up the office. We have recruited a very experienced manager to run that operation in that country. He is very technically capable and he has been involved in quite a few of the recent wind farms in offshore Japan. And in spite of just starting the office, we've already won work there, and things are looking quite bright. So we have great expectations for Japan.

If we move to Slide #14, going to the offshore sector, this is the area where we're not quite sure what is going to happen going forward, given the sudden plunge in the oil price. One of the metrics we follow very closely is the number of rigs under contract, particularly jackups, because that's one of our dominant business lines. And we can see over the recent months, there's been quite a fall in rigs under contract and also quite a drop in expected CapEx growth from the oil growth. So far, we've been unaffected, but we'll be monitoring that situation going forward.

So moving to Slide 15, to give a little bit of color on some of the projects that we are doing. We're currently involved in the installation of the FLNG 2 unit offshore in Malaysia on behalf of Petronas. We have been on board this unit since the vessel left South Korea and headed down to offshore Malaysia, where we have additional people who joined and have been providing the station-keeping services. The mooring hookup has now been completed and tensioned, and we are now on the point of starting the umbilical and riser hookup. The operation has gone very successfully so far, and it's a nice operation that we've been involved with.

Moving to Slide 16. We have here a project which is slightly different from what we've previously reported. We're involved here in giving specialist consultancy services to a floating solar power plant in Thailand. This is a 45-megawatt solar plant for the largest hydro floating solar hybrid power plant in the world. It's the first of 15 in that country. We're providing specialist technical services for that project, and it's quite exciting to be involved in this new upcoming renewable sector.

Moving to Slide 17. Our adjusters have been involved in the Pertamina Hulu Energi YY-A platform offshore Indonesia. This is a newly installed platform, which suffered destabilization as a result of drilling operations. We were initially called in to perform a review of the relief well design. Thereafter, we did a review for the removal procedures of the platform when it was taken off location and taken to shoreside for inspection and repairs.

We have opened up a new office in Russia. This is quite exciting for us. We have been working there for many years and the -- using a subcontractor. We have promoted that gentlemen now, Yan Nikitin, to be our country manager. Having a permanent presence in Russia has opened up new opportunities for us. It's a good expansion into a very large market. We're very quite excited by the potential that's going to come forward from that one.

Moving to Slide 19 and to finally finish on the shipping side, we've just completed a technical due diligence project on behalf of Lehman & Company in the acquisition of Global Marine Group. This is quite an interesting project for us and a continuation of previous technical due diligence services that we've done on other fleets. The company itself, Global Marine, focuses on specialties of subsea cable maintenance and installation services. So not only did we have to inspect vessels all over the world, but we also had to use various specialists who are familiar with that equipment. So it combined not only the geographic footprint of the company, but also using staff from various service backgrounds.

Okay. So going back to our Q1 performance, back to Slide 20. Pleasing to see that our backlog increased. As a company, we tend to rely upon call out contracts for our clients, but we've had a significant increase in our backlog over the quarter. And that follows a continuing trend going back some 2 years, $19.2 million now, which is good and mainly driven by the Erebus contract that I talked about earlier. Talk about our staff, I think there are 2 points which are worth talking about here. The first one is in spite of these uncertain times, we are continuing to recruit. And we are also very focused on ensuring that we have flexibility moving forward, given that there is some uncertainty in the markets at the moment. So in our offshore sector, which is the market which is likely to be affected, we have been very focused on making sure we have flexibility. 30% of our staff in that market are contractors and those contracted numbers have been increasing, which means we have a very flexible cost base and we can adapt to the market as it changes. Our billing ratio -- our staff utilizations have increased during the quarter up to 75% from 69% the previous quarter, which is good. And we're getting ourselves back to the levels we were premerger. These numbers are focused on our marine -- focused on our renewables and offshore sectors only. Our marine and adjusting will be incorporated into these numbers as we introduce our new ERP system, which is currently being phased in, and hopefully it will be up and running during Q3.

So with that, I move on to Slide 23. I would like to pass across to Kim Boman to give you some color on our financial numbers.


Kim Boman, AqualisBraemar ASA - CFO [2]


Thanks, David. Moving on to Slide 24. To make the comparison of our financial performance easier, we have included pro forma combined figures for revenues and adjusted EBIT as Braemar Technical Services was fully consolidated from Q3 '19. We are very pleased to report growth and improved profitability in the first quarter, especially considering the challenging business environment. Revenues for AqualisBraemar in Q1 '20 is $19.8 million, up 14% from Q1 '19 and up 5% from Q4 '19. Adjusted EBIT of $1.4 million represents an adjusted EBIT margin of 7%, which is up 2% from Q4 '19 and up from minus 1% in Q1 '19. The margin improvement is driven by improved operating efficiencies and the cost synergies that have successfully realized to date. The billing ratio has increased from 69% in Q4 '19 to 75% in Q1 '20, which has been important in driving the profitability. The combination of Aqualis and Braemar technical services has improved and broadened our geographical coverage and broadened our service offering to the clients worldwide. Consistent with our strategy, we are focused on having a lean operational structure with a focus on increasing flexibility through the use of subcontractors. A flexible cost and skill base allows for quicker measures to align the company with the changes in market conditions. We expect that some of our clients will face more cash flow challenges, and we are taking measures to improve and adapt our cash collection processes to changes in the market conditions.

Moving to Slide 25. The regional revenues for Q1 '19 excludes BTS figures, while the Q1 '20 figures reflects the enlarged group AqualisBraemar. Our renewable business continues to expand. Revenues for that business increased with 57% versus Q1 '19 and 16% versus Q4 '19. Our renewables business is expanding strongly on the back of our talented staff, a strong market position and a growing renewable market. We are very excited with the growth opportunities ahead of us. We opened our Japan office recently, and we plan to open several new offices over the next months to capitalize on opportunities in the renewable market. These investments in recruitment of new staff and offices will affect our results in the short-term, but give us a strong platform to continue to grow our renewable business in line with our group ambition. Revenues for all regions ex Americas increased in the quarter. We are pleased that both Middle East and Europe achieved above 10% EBIT margin, and especially for Europe, which had a strong improvement from last quarter. Our offshore business has performed strongly both in the Middle East and Far East.

Moving on to Slide 26. Revenues for Q1 '20 is up 142% from Q1 '19. This is largely due to the acquisition of BTS. The adjusted EBIT is $1.4 million. Adjustment items totaling slightly above $100,000 relate primarily to the customization of NetSuite and to share-based compensation. In most of the countries we operate, we do not qualify for any financial aid initiatives due to COVID-19. In Q1 '20, we have not relied on financial lead initiatives. In Q2, we expect to benefit from support schemes in a few selected countries, amongst others, Singapore and China. We have only to a limited degree had the requirement to use furlough schemes so far. We have reversed a provision we made in Q4 2019 related to the tide carrier case that Økokrim has subsequently dismissed. The reversal of $157,000 impacted both our reported and adjusted EBIT positively. They have not considered the legal provision nor the reversal to constitute an adjustment factor itself. The finance income is impacted by $1.2 million related to the revaluation of total performance-based warrants issued to Braemar Shipping Services in connection with our acquisition of BTS. We issued 2 similar-sized tranches of performance-based warrants in total close to 6 million warrants. The first section is linked to certain thresholds for gross margin for our adjusting and marine business, and the second part is linked to thresholds, the adjusted EBIT for the combined group. The measurement period for the gross margin and EBITDA is from 1st of April 2019 and 2 years onwards. The revaluation of the warrants assumes that roughly 8% of the performance-based warrants are exercised, that means in total, close to 500,000 warrants. The net foreign exchange gain of $0.6 million is driven by the strengthening of the U.S. dollar. The income tax expense is related to withholding taxes mainly in the Middle East and the U.K.

Moving on to Slide 27. We have realized run rate cost synergies of $2.1 million of a total of $2.5 million. These synergies have largely been achieved through streamlining office infrastructure and reducing admin costs. The remaining synergies of $0.4 million are largely dependent on the integration of 1 common ERP platform across the group. This will give us the added benefit of improving our working capital management and thereby reducing the titled capital. It is challenging to exactly identify the size of the remaining synergies. We expect that there will be additional opportunities for improving efficiencies, which we have not yet been able to quantify. We are customizing NetSuite, our ERP system, primarily to meet the requirements for our marine and adjusting business, which today use Microsoft Dynamic Navision. NetSuite customization will also allow us to improve our internal processes for our offshore and renewables business. The implementation of a customized system across the group within some have a significant positive impact for all our business streams. To give an example, the time sheet system used for our registering in marine business is not today an integrated part of our ERP system. It's outdated and it's not supported. It has a poor user interface. And does, for instance, not have any mobile app functionality. We see there's a large potential to improve. Getting the group on 1 tailor-made integrated ERP system will allow us to standardize and streamline our internal processes and speed up and improve the quality of internal processes. Importantly, it will also give us better management information systems. We aim to complete the rollout of NetSuite by the end of Q3 '20.

Moving to Slide 28. We maintain a solid financial position with $10.1 million in cash. We had an operational cash outflow of $0.2 million in the quarter, mainly impacted by working capital build up and foreign exchange movements as the dollar strengthened. The working capital increase in the quarter is due to an increase in revenues in Q1 '20, and especially as the revenues in the last part of the quarter were also higher. The process we initiated in Q3 '19 to release working capital across the AqualisBraemar Group has not yet materially impacted our figures. We are only at the starting point of realizing these improvements. Our target is to achieve significantly higher working capital improvements going forward. We have made several changes. We have refined workflows and responsibilities. We have completed training of staff. And during the last quarter, we have run an external review of our order to cash process. The external review identified improvement opportunities that we have and are currently implementing. Getting the whole group on 1 ERP system, will allow us to run more efficient internal processes and improve the information flows, both which will enable us to improve the working capital management and reduce the tied up capital.

Moving on to Slide 29. We are very pleased in midst of COVID-19 to propose a dividend of NOK 0.2 per share for our AGM on the 10th of June. And we expect this to be approved so that we can move ahead and distribute the funds on or about the 24th of June. We have maintained an additional liquidity buffer to mitigate any fallouts of the integration process between Aqualis and BTS. As the integration process now is progressing well, the Board of Directors have proposed to repay some of the cash to shareholders to increase the capital efficiency. And our shareholders supported us in connection with the BTS transaction, and we are very pleased to now start to pay back that trust. The dividend will, for tax purposes, be considered as a repayment of paid-in capital. The Board of Directors have also proposed to implement a semiannual dividend schedule to increase capital efficiency.

Moving on to Slide 30. We have revised our group targets and added a few new items, which I will comment on. We have -- we will increase our renewable and ESG-driven business to constitute minimum 50% of our revenues by 2025. We have also made more specific targets for improvements in working capital. The total accounts receivables and unbilled revenue days shall be less than 100 by the end of 2023. Also, the working capital ratio shall be less than 100% by the end of 2023. As David mentioned, we are taking steps to improve the cash management in the group. Currently, we are using more than 30 banks across the group. Our aim is to streamline the cash management system and be able to tie up less cash across the group.

With that, I'll leave the word over to David, moving on to Slide 31.


David Wells, AqualisBraemar ASA - CEO & Director of UK [3]


Thank you, Kim. So moving on to Slide 32. I just want to conclude with a summary and outlook of how we see the markets. We've had a strong operational performance during Q1. And we have been achieving revenue and cost synergies associated with the AqualisBraemar combination. We have strong ambitions, 50% renewables, as we've discussed, not just for offshore wind, but also other renewable sectors, such as floating solar. In our mature business lines, we've seen good progress on profitability, and we'll continue to focus on that going forward. We're lucky in that the COVID and the oil price has not yet had too much impact on our operations, but we are expecting some activity drop in oil and gas in 2020 and possibly 2021. We'll see how that develops, but we are well prepared. More than 30% of our staff are subcontractors in the oil and gas sector, and it gives us a high resilience and high flexibility to any downturn that may ensue. Focusing on capital efficiency, we've had limited progress so far, given that our focus has really been on integration of the 2 companies and client-facing front office. But we are expecting working capital to accelerate, particularly when our new ERP system is in place group-wide. We're happy to be able to uphold the dividend that we offer to our shareholders previously in this market environment. It gives us confidence that we are now in a good position moving forward.

To conclude, we do believe there is still overcapacity in our markets, and there is further consolidation needed, and we'll continue to look out for good opportunities to increase shareholder value. As I indicated right at the very beginning, if you have any Q&A -- questions that you like to put to Kim and myself, please do so in your own time either by voice or by e-mail.

So with that, I would like to conclude, and I thank you all for listening.