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Edited Transcript of BGCP earnings conference call or presentation 14-Feb-19 3:00pm GMT

Q4 2018 BGC Partners Inc Earnings Call

NEW YORK Feb 19, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of BGC Partners Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 3:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Howard W. Lutnick

BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO

* Sean A. Windeatt

BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO

* Shaun D. Lynn

BGC Partners, Inc. - President

* Ujjal Basu Roy

BGC Partners, Inc. - VP of IR

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Conference Call Participants

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* Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy

Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

* Richard Henry Repetto

Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Welcome to the BGC Partners, Inc. Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. My name is Dylam, and I'll be your operator for today's call. (Operator Instructions) Please note that this conference is being recorded.

I'd now like to turn the call over to Mr. Ujjal Basu Roy, Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

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Ujjal Basu Roy, BGC Partners, Inc. - VP of IR [2]

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Good morning. We issued BGC's fourth quarter 2018 financial results press release and the presentation summarizing these this morning. You can find these at ir.bgcpartners.com.

BGC spun off all of the shares of its former subsidiary Newmark held by BGC to the stockholders of BGC on November 30, 2018. BGC did not own any shares of Newmark as of the year-end 2018. Newmark's results are presented as discontinued operations within BGC's consolidated results for all periods through the November 30, 2018, update. Newmark's results are not included in BGC's consolidated results presented after November 30, 2018.

Unless otherwise stated, all the tables and financial results in this document through the Outlook section provided on today's call reflect only continuing operations of BGC and will not match the results and tables in the company's press release for the fourth quarter and full year of 2017 dated February 9, 2018. The financial results from continuing operations of BGC do not present a distinct corporate segment and are generally comparable to the stand-alone results of BGC Partners excluding Newmark Group referred to as post-spin BGC in previous documents. Post-spin BGC represented what BGC financial results would have been had the spin-off of Newmark occurred prior to the distribution date of November 30, 2018. Post-spin BGC can also be defined as the results of BGC's Financial Services segment plus its pro-rata portion of corporate items.

Newmark released its fourth quarter and full year 2018 financial results on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, and its related conference call took place at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time on the same day. You can find further details regarding Newmark's fourth quarter results at ir.ngkf.com.

Unless otherwise stated, the results provided on today's call compare only the fourth quarter of 2018 with the year earlier period. We will be referring to our results on this call only on an adjusted earnings basis, unless otherwise stated. We may also refer to adjusted EBITDA. We may refer to our liquidity, which we define as cash and cash equivalents plus marketable securities that have not been financed, reverse repurchase agreements and securities owned, less securities loaned and repurchase agreements. We define total capital as redeemable partnership interest, total stockholders' equity and noncontrolling interest in subsidiaries.

Please see today's press release for results under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or GAAP. Please also see sections in the back of today's press release including simplifying non-GAAP reportings beginning in 2019 for the complete and updated definitions of any non-GAAP items, reconciliation of these items to the corresponding GAAP results, our plan changes to non-GAAP reporting beginning in the first quarter 2019 and how, when, why and management uses such terms.

All of the company's fully electronic businesses are referred to as Fenics. These offerings include our fully electronic brokerage products as well as the sale of market data, software solutions and post-trade services.

I also remind you that the information regarding our business on today's call that are not historical are forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 as amended and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of the 1934 as amended. Such statements involve risks and uncertainties. Except as required by law, BGC undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements.

For a discussion of the additional risks and uncertainties, which could cause actual results to differ from those contained in the forward-looking statements, see BGC's SEC filings including, but not limited to, the risk factors set forth in our most recent 10-K contained in subsequent Form 10-Q or Form 8-k filings.

I'm now happy to turn the call over to Howard Lutnick, Chairman and CEO of BGC Partners.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [3]

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Thank you, Ujjal. Good morning. Happy Valentine's Day, and thank you for joining us for our fourth quarter 2018 conference call. With me today are BGC's President, Shaun Lynn, our Chief Operating Officer and Interim Chief Financial Officer, Sean Windeatt.

BGC had an excellent quarter, generating 8% revenue growth, 17% improvement in post-tax earnings per share and 27% growth in adjusted EBITDA. The company's Board of Directors has declared a qualified dividend of $0.14 per share. This translates to a 9.1% dividend yield based on yesterday's closing stock price.

We are proud of the value we created in building our real estate business and completing the spinoff of Newmark to our shareholders. We expect to continue to deliver strong returns to our shareholders as we grow our fully electronic Fenics business, build our insurance vertical and continue to hire and acquire accretively.

With that, I will now turn the call over to Shaun Lynn.

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [4]

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Thank you, Howard, and good morning, everyone. Our full year revenue growth was virtually entirely organic across all of our asset classes. This was led by 12% improvement in our rates business, 16% growth in our foreign exchange business and a 12% increase in energy and commodities.

Our fully electronic Fenics business generated strong double-digit growth for the fourth quarter of 2018 across all of its major businesses. Fenics fully electronic brokerage revenues increased by 21%, while revenues from high margin data, software and post-trade businesses were up by 26%. We expect to further grow as we continue to invest in technology, convert our voice and hybrid business to more profitable fully electronic trading and continue to roll out new initiatives across data, software and post-trade. Total Fenics revenues were up by 21%, and once again, increased as a percentage of our overall revenues.

BGC's growth was led by the 12% increase in revenue per producer for 2018 and 5% improvement for the quarter. This was the eighth consecutive quarter in which we generated a year-on-year increase in front-office productivity. Our improvement is due to ongoing investment in technology and the successful integration of recent acquisitions and additional front-office hires on to our platform.

As we roll out new products and services across Fenics and our brokers and salespeople increase their productivity, we expect to continue to have strong performance and organically increase our market share and profits.

We recently sold CSC Commodities, which we acquired as part of GFI because CSC's business was not consistent with our low-risk strategy. We expect to generate further growth from our energy and commodities business, both organically and through acquisitions. For example, in November, we acquired Poten & Partners, a ship brokerage, consulting and business intelligence firm specializing in liquefied natural gas, tanker and liquefied petroleum gas markets. On January 31 of this year, we completed the acquisition of Ed, an independent Lloyd's of London insurance broker. Ed is now part of BGC's growing insurance brokerage business, which we entered in 2017 with the acquisition of Besso Insurance. As we integrate Ed and continue to invest in our insurance brokerage vertical, we anticipate the acquisition to be accretive to earnings per share by the first quarter 2020.

We are proud of the value we created with Newmark, and we are excited about the opportunity to build another world-class brokerage business.

I'm now happy to turn the call over to Sean Windeatt.

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Sean A. Windeatt, BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO [5]

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Thank you, Shaun, and hello, everyone. BGC generated quarterly revenues of $466.4 million, up 8%. Our revenues from Americas were up by 3%. Revenues from Europe, Middle East and Africa were up by 10%, while Asia Pacific revenues increased by 12%.

Fourth quarter 2018 revenues would have been at least $8 million higher, but for the strengthening of the U.S. dollar. We expect the stronger dollar to have a similar impact on our first quarter results.

With respect to expenses, compensation increased by 4.3%, which was primarily driven by higher revenues. Our quarterly compensation ratio improved by approximately 180 basis points to 50.7%. BGC's noncompensation expenses decreased by 4.4% to $143.1 million. As a percentage of revenue, our noncompensation expenses improved by approximately 400 basis points to 30.7% of revenues. Our overall expenses were up by 0.8% to $379.7 million in the quarter.

Moving on to our earnings. Our pretax earnings before noncontrolling interest in subsidiaries and taxes were up by 47.7% to $85.5 million. Our tax rate for 2018 for adjusted earnings was approximately 11.7%, which was above the midpoint of the previous outlook of approximately 11% to 11.8%. We expect our adjusted earnings tax rate to stay between 11% and 12% for 2019. Due to the change in corporate structure with respect to the spin-off of Newmark, BGC's noncontrolling interest declined with an offsetting increase in its fully diluted share count as of year-end. This has no impact on earnings or on earnings per share.

Our posttax earnings were up by 25.8% to $70.4 million. Our post-tax earnings per share were up by 16.7% to $0.14. Our fully diluted weighted average share count was 498.5 million for adjusted earnings and 331.4 million for GAAP. The GAAP weighted average share count excludes certain share equivalents in order to avoid antidilution. Going forward, we expect to take a number of steps to reduce future share issuance. This may include using a greater percentage of cash with respect to acquisitions, employee compensation and new hires. We anticipate these steps to have no impact on our ability to attract and retain industry-leading talent or to make accretive acquisitions. We expect our year-end fully diluted share count to grow by between 5% and 6% year-over-year in 2019. This outlook includes no material acquisitions, buybacks or meaningful changes to company stock price.

With respect to our balance sheet, as of quarter-end: our liquidity was $410.9 million; notes payable and other borrowings were $763.5 million at year-end 2018 compared to $575 million; book value per common share was $2.28 as compared to $2.17; and total capital was $887.9 million as compared to $1,186,200,000, all versus a year earlier. Total capital, cash and liquidity decreased primarily due to the spin-off of Newmark. I would like to point out that first quarter of 2018 included a mark-to-market gain of approximately $11 million, primarily related to Nasdaq shares. Since Nasdaq payments now go to Newmark, BGC doesn't expect similar gains going forward. We believe we have a strong and liquid balance sheet as our debt, net of liquidity, is approximately 0.7x adjusted EBITDA. Between our $410.9 million of liquidity, our strong cash generation and our $350 million revolving facility, we have ample resources to invest for growth.

With that, I'm happy to turn the call back over to Shaun Lynn.

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [6]

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Thank you, Sean. Turning to our outlook for the first quarter. We expect to generate revenues of between $515 million and $555 million as compared with $524.8 million in the first quarter of last year. We anticipate pretax adjusted earnings to be in the range of $98 million to $112 million compared with $121 million in the prior year period. We anticipate our adjusted earnings tax rate to be in the range of approximately 11% to 12% for the full year 2019 as compared to 11.7% for the full year 2018. We expect to update our guidance toward the end of March.

With that, operator, we'd like to now open the call for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Rich Repetto from Sandler O'Neill.

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Richard Henry Repetto, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [2]

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I guess, the first question is on the tax rate and share count. So both for on an adjusted basis, I think we calculated 14% on the adjusted tax rate. Just trying to see whether that's the correct number? And then why is that higher than the usually 11% to 12%?

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Sean A. Windeatt, BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO [3]

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Rich, it's Sean. So what we've said in our guidance previously as I said in my prepared notes, the tax rate for the year would be between 11.2% and 11.8%. So our tax rate for the year came in 11.7%, which was in line with our previous guidance.

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Richard Henry Repetto, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [4]

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Okay. And then the share count jump, is that due to the acquisitions? Quarter-over-quarter, it jumped by a couple -- over a couple percent.

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Sean A. Windeatt, BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO [5]

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I think our share count was up by 7%, which, again, was in line with our previous guidance. And I think also to give some extra color, we stated that we expect our share issuance to increase to normal circumstances by between 5% and 6% as we look to increase the share count going forward.

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Richard Henry Repetto, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [6]

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Okay. And I guess, the last thing for me is just on Fenics. Howard, just an update on strong revenue growth? Just trying to see when we might expect to get operating margin, whether we're getting closer to that? I guess, the outlook on -- I guess, you gave the outlook for Fenics, but just the operating margin and (inaudible)?

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [7]

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Shaun, why don't you talk about the business for a minute, then I'll answer his question about the margin and (inaudible).

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [8]

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Richard, we said in 2018, we've been really focusing on the growth of the revenue, the growth on our post-trade, pre-trade market data, best execution. The overall package of what we deliver, the data within our overall growth is vast, and we wanted the capture that, build it and show that in 2019. So it's been an exciting time. You've seen the revenue performance, but we -- I think I'll leave it to Howard to talk about how we're going to look going forward.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [9]

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So we feel that Fenics is the most extraordinary opportunity in our space, maybe, that we've seen in our careers. Our position, our scale of connectivity, our technology, we feel really good about the opportunity. We have -- we've lots to do, and we have -- we feel we have the tools to do it and the market position to take advantage of it. So I think, we want to nail down those numbers, make sure we can, when we're ready to talk about Fenics, its margins and details we want to be able to clarify the investment amounts. How that's going to impact our margins, how that's going to impact our growth rates and how this will all come together. So I think we are examining those things. And as we get a better handle on that, we will come out with them. We will keep you -- we will keep putting out revenues in the matter consistent with how we've done them in the past. So I think we're going to plan to and are working on a much more complete and full explanation of our business opportunity. But it is -- it is what is really exciting everyone inside this company. It is -- it's a great opportunity to add electronics to our business across our whole platform. And I think it's going to be fundamental to the future of the company.

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Richard Henry Repetto, Sandler O'Neill + Partners, L.P., Research Division - Principal of Equity Research [10]

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So Howard, would you say this is more of a -- then sort of a strategic issue of trying to determine how much you're going to invest in it versus just an accounting issue? And I guess, maybe, just to change the subject a little, but just a quick little update on the Fenics U.S. treasuries? And that's all I have.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [11]

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Okay. So I would say, yes, that it is more -- what happens is each time you -- we take another step up the mountain, the view gets better, the view gets bigger and the view gets broader. Just the connectivity that we have to our clients that we can now provide clients the ability to connect to each other, just do business in a wildly less expensive and impressive way that they can do it technologically quickly, technologically efficiently. I don't think most of the clients of the world have thought about using our technological rail to transact business in the way they want to do it. But as those expenses and as the expense of operating these giant banks continues to become more clear, our connectivity, our way of doing business will become something that becomes ever more attractive to them. And so I think it is a matter of scaling. We have the infrastructure. So it's scaling up of that infrastructure, scaling out of that infrastructure, deciding how much we're going to invest, when we're going to invest it, how much do we invest in sales, what kind of things like that. I think we need to really button those things down so that we can show you how much that investment will mean for what kind of revenue growth, right? When you start bringing in sales people, we need to put those things together. So I think it is more strategic than just an accounting issue for sure. Okay. And with respect to U.S. treasuries, we continue to grow. And it is meaningful to that business, our growth rate. We are growing. Every quarter is significantly better than the prior quarter. We are continuing to add clients apace. And I think we feel very good about where we are and how we are doing. It is -- it still remains third, right? We are the third largest club. And so that is third. But we are growing, and we are growing in a way that is consistent to or above our expectations. And we have very high expectations.

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Operator [12]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from Patrick O'Shaughnessy from Raymond James.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [13]

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So with Ed, I think you spoke to it starting to become accretive in the first quarter of 2020. What gets it from where it is now to being accretive at that point? Are there cost synergies that you're going to be able to take out over the next year? Is it revenue growth, combination of the two?

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [14]

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Well, first of all, let's take the cost synergies, costs by acquiring Besso. Maybe 2 years ago now, we started to look very quickly at how we can grow organically which we've been doing with investor and then when we came across that we saw the opportunity to make synergies across back office and operationally. And then becoming that superattractive broker within the U.K. market alone and then into the U.S., we've been able to organically attract significant producers very much along the lines as how Howard and Barry did with regards to Newmark and the growth that we enjoyed very quickly to build a $2 billion separate public company now. So with regards to the growth in Ed and how Ed comes out into 2020 -- -- being the company that we will expect -- I think you're going to see us continue to grow, build, acquire throughout '19 to add significantly to our insurance business. And that's just behind Ed and Besso and continues to build within it.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [15]

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So no exogenous Ed's model with our synergies produces accretive numbers to '20. Our additions of growth will just enlarge those numbers.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [16]

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Got it. And then can you remind me the margin profile of that insurance brokerage business as compared to the legacy interdealer brokerage business?

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [17]

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Sorry, we don't normally give that. But, it's -- yes...

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [18]

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Yes, I mean, the business is slightly higher than traditional financial brokerage. So I think actually into the low 20s, but that's obviously an aim of ours.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [19]

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Got it. I appreciate that. Switching to the traditional financial services brokerage business. I know there've been some headlines of late about, I think as Goldman Sachs talking about wanting to shrink the capital that allocates to fixed income and commodities market making. And certainly, I think a lot of dealers were disappointed with the fourth quarter results. Do you get the sense that the dealer community is going to be pulling back from fixed trading? And if so, do you think that presents a headwind at all to your business?

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [20]

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I think we've always seen these ebbs and flows in the marketplace. And we've built a company that's robust to withstand these sorts of market shifts. With regards to how we're going to continue to grow and build within that and against -- into that headwind is to as we've always done, which is to grow and build and upgrade our offering to our clients and take more market share. We've diversified over the years, you've seen us do with commercial real estate and now into insurance. We're growing in commodities. You've seen us just buy Poten. So we always say we guide what we see, and we've basically projected out as we could see currently, but we will continue to be relentless of the growth of our company in building it across the whole landscape.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [21]

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So the raw material of financial service transactions is issuance. Issuance is at an all-time high and continues to grow. Wealth of the world, assets of the world, securities of the world are getting bigger. So the raw material that we're discussing is getting bigger. A headwind would be a reduced global economy and a reduced issuance, a reduced scale of raw material. That's a fundamental headwind, the current world is not. The particular model between a full-service investment bank providing sales, research, capital and enormous value proposition to its clients will always have as, I think, Shaun exactly said it, we'll have the ebb and flow of the timing of the particular market. But you have seen the growth of the new type of the market mix. The technologically advanced and savvy trading firm that is adding enormous liquidity to these markets and changing the dynamic of those markets. How that changing dynamic works amongst and between all players, right? And how that evolves amongst hedge funds and all those players? And how these things move will change the fortunes, right, plus or minus, some maybe small, maybe medium and maybe large of all sorts of institutions. But our place of being a central hub for those professionals who wish to trade irrespective of what type of professional they are is something that we pride ourselves on and is not something that we see as being long-term strategically changing. So I think, sure, any particular quarter, a little plus, a little minus, of course. Long-term, no way.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [22]

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Got it. And then to follow up on that point, Howard. So as you start to interact more with these less traditional market makers, new sources of liquidity. Does that help both the voice, hybrid and the Fenics part of your business? Or is that primarily a Fenics benefit?

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [23]

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It is -- well, not entirely excluding the voice people because they -- it does participate with them. It is a majority or a significant majority towards electronic. So it is a modifying fundamental client base heading towards Fenics in a really good way. And it is really part of what excites us the most.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [24]

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Got it. A question on your commentary on using more cash as part of your compensation, incentive, bonuses and such. Should we expect that to have any impact on your margin profile going forward?

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [25]

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No. It's the simple answer.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [26]

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Okay. And then, I guess, the flip side of the coin. So you spoke to 5% to 6% share count dilution in 2019. As you do kind of reallocate your expenditures from stock to cash, is there potential, I guess, downside? So maybe a less dilution in the 5% to 6% number in 2019? Or are we thinking kind of the out years that the share dilution growth slows down a little bit?

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Sean A. Windeatt, BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO [27]

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I mean, I think, as we said Patrick, we gave the range of 5% to 6%, we gave it with the highlight of the intention. So I think we're comfortable with that range.

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Howard W. Lutnick, BGC Partners, Inc. - Chairman & CEO [28]

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Right. If we -- so we said for example, if we choose to buy back stock that would reduce that amount, if we do a material acquisition and use some sort of stock that would raise it, so we're saying all other things equal 5% to 6%, but as you all know rarely can everything always be equal. So there is lots on the rise, but our objective is to reduce it. We've said so as a team, and we are going to be focused on that. We have substantial cash generation, and we're going to use it to make sure we're focused on reducing our issuance going forward.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [29]

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Sure. But all other things equal, would we expect that 5% to 6% to be more like 3% to 4% in 2020 and beyond? Or does that 5% to 6% already reflect your efforts to reduce your stock issuance?

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [30]

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No, the 5% to 6% is just where we are today. And then as we do better, we hope to get lower. So I think, we need to really examine it based on the scale of the company and what we do and grow. But we're saying our ordinary business would produce 5% to 6%, and then we're going to start to take action to reduce that. But I can't -- as we sit here today, since we just announced, we're going to take that action, say how that's going to mathematically impact us next quarter. I mean, it's just -- it's too early for me -- us to say that, but we are long-term owners and investors in this company, and we are going to reduce our issuance because of our strong cash generation.

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Patrick Joseph O'Shaughnessy, Raymond James & Associates, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [31]

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Got it. No, I appreciate the directional guidance at least. And then last one from me. Obviously, FX has been a headwind of late. Your first quarter revenue guide, I presume that also embeds a dollar headwind.

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Sean A. Windeatt, BGC Partners, Inc. - Executive VP, Interim CFO & COO [32]

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It does. And I think in the prepared notes we said, we expect it to be around the same sort of impact as Q4. So around -- it was at $8 million. So around that number. Obviously, today we're on Feb 14, but around that number and that's included in our guidance.

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Operator [33]

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We have no further questions at this time. This concludes our Q&A session. I would like to turn the call over to Shaun Lynn for closing remarks. Please go ahead.

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Shaun D. Lynn, BGC Partners, Inc. - President [34]

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Thank you, all, for joining us today, and we look forward to speaking to you, again, next quarter. Thank you.

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Operator [35]

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Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for attending today's conference. This concludes the program. You may all disconnect. Good day.