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Edited Transcript of MULTI.OL earnings conference call or presentation 29-Aug-19 8:30am GMT

Q2 2019 Multiconsult ASA Earnings Call

OSLO Sep 11, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Multiconsult ASA earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, August 29, 2019 at 8:30:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Grethe Bergly

Multiconsult ASA - CEO

* Hans-Jørgen Wibstad

Multiconsult ASA - CFO

* Mirza Koristovic

Multiconsult ASA - Head of IR & Finance

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Presentation

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Mirza Koristovic, Multiconsult ASA - Head of IR & Finance [1]

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Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Second Quarter and First Half 2019 Conference Call for Multiconsult. My name is Mirza Koristovic, and I'm Head of Investor Relations. Today's conference call will be held by the CEO, Grethe Bergly; and the CFO, Hans-Jørgen Wibstad. Today's session can be accessed on our web page under the IR section. The presentation will last for approximately 25 minutes, and we will open up for questions after the presentation.

So with that, I leave the word to Mrs. Bergly.

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Grethe Bergly, Multiconsult ASA - CEO [2]

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Thank you, Mirza. I am pleased to give you some of the highlights from the second quarter and first half, and then our CFO will take you through more of the details.

Looking at the second quarter, we came in at a negative result of NOK 15.9 million and the year-to-date EBIT is NOK 76.5 million. There are some significant effects that impact the quarter's result, and it's therefore important for us to explain that the underlying profitability has improved both in the second quarter and the year-to-date. The significant impacts is a result of a calendar effect of Easter holiday in the second quarter of estimately NOK 65 million. And we also had settled a legal dispute with the Norwegian Parliament that has affected the results for this quarter with roughly NOK 20 million.

Our backlog remains strong, and our order intake is good with what we consider normal fluctuations in the order intake. We also see a market that we regard as good and stable. Having said that, we are still on a journey to improve our profitability level. We are not satisfied with the result that we delivered, and the ongoing work with our strategy is on track.

We will also invite you to a Capital Market Day on the 7th of November, where we would give you some of the details on how we have worked with our strategy and what we see as a way forward.

Last quarter, I explained a bit on how I have approached my new position as CEO in the company. In this quarter, we have worked and given priority to getting control of our project portfolio and project execution. And as Hans-Jørgen will show you later, we see a significant improvement in this area.

We have also managed to stabilize our cost level, and this is a work that we will intensify in the coming quarters. After this, our continuous work on realizing our strategy is given priority, and the areas that we're working on at the moment is mapping our OpEx and the potential within this. And we're also looking at the potential in -- within the organization. We continue our work on improving and giving high priority to project management and project execution. And as I said initially, on the Capital Market Day, we will go into further detail on this.

Looking at sales. The order intake for the quarter is NOK 902 million. For us, this is a balanced sale across all the business areas and with a normal variation between periods. There is also a very solid tender pipeline across most business areas.

Looking at the sales, the significant larger areas of Building & Properties and Transportation, I explained last time that you need to look at the balance between these 2 business areas as we are experiencing that the larger Transportation projects require a considerable amount of people who normally work in the Building & Properties areas to now being transferred to Transportation.

Within the other business areas, we see a very small variation. The 5 largest intakes were 1 big nursing home and 4 larger projects within Transportation.

Going to the backlog. Our order backlog remains strong at NOK 7.2 billion. There's a slight decrease from last quarter, but we came from a record-high backlog. So this is still a very good backlog for the future quarters.

I would like to remind you also that the way we record our backlog, we do not include potentials call-offs from frame agreements. And there are at -- to date, we have 3 larger frame agreements that we know will give volume into 2019 and also 2020.

Our organization. We are growing, and we are now 2,964 employees. And the whole of this growth is organic growth, in line with our strategy.

We also win prizes, and Bjørlien School was awarded the educational building of the year. And this is a school where Multiconsult and LINK were the design team together.

We are also popular within the -- with the students. We have more than 1,800 applications, and we have had 96 students spread around our offices in Norway during the summer.

We also continue putting our effort and supporting our people in their development, and we've had 3 -- 2 PhDs awarded this quarter: Reignard Tan, who got his PhD on calculation and design of large-scale concrete structures; and Åse Ervik, who was awarded her PhD on research on the ice phenomenon of ridges.

And with this, I give the word to Hans-Jørgen to take you through the figures.

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Hans-Jørgen Wibstad, Multiconsult ASA - CFO [3]

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Thank you, Grethe. I will go through the second quarter results as well as the first half results for Multiconsult for this year 2019.

First, the second quarter had a revenue reduction of 2.4% compared with the equivalent quarter in 2018 to NOK 866.7 million. The revenue was heavily impacted by the calendar effect that was mentioned by Grethe. And if we're adjusting the underlying -- looking at the underlying revenue growth organic, it is at 7.2% compared with the second quarter 2018, which is at a pretty satisfactory level.

The EBIT was negative with NOK 15.9 million, equivalent to a margin of 1.8 million (sic) [1.8%] minus. Again, the calendar effect is significant for us in this quarter of NOK 64.8 million, and then we have the Parliament's legal settlement of NOK 20.2 million. And then in comparison with the second quarter 2018, we also have to adjust for the IFRS effect of NOK 5.4 million the other way around. And putting those figures together, on the figure to the right, we do see that the underlying profitability for Multiconsult is better in the second quarter 2019 than in the same quarter 2018. So that is a good -- that's going in the right direction.

The operating expenses is in line with the growth in manning level, up 5.9%. And also, we're quite pleased with the project execution by way of a reduction in that to 0.6% if we take out the legal settlement situation with the Parliament. Including that, it's 2.9%. So that's the gross figure. We're also pleased to see that the -- our net interest-bearing debt has been reduced a little bit from the first quarter of this year.

Then going over to the first half, which is, in many ways, more interesting because it levels out the calendar effect between the first and the second quarter. And then we can see that the operating revenues is up 3.7% to NOK 1.8 billion. And adjusting for a small calendar effect and one other adjustment relating to the parliament, we're seeing that the underlying growth -- organic growth is 5.7%, which is, again, at a good level.

The EBIT is NOK 76.5 million for the first half year, equivalent to a 4.2% margin. But again, we would like to mention the particular situation with the legal settlement of NOK 20.2 million, a small calendar effect of NOK 14.6 million, IFRS effect and also a severance agreement mentioned in the first quarter of NOK 10 million. Putting all those figures together, we are -- we can see that the underlying profitability is improving from the first half 2018. So we're quite happy with that.

And the very simple way to look at that is to take the NOK 76 million at the legal settlement of NOK 20.2 million and then adding the severance agreement of NOK 10 million, and then we actually end up with about NOK 107 million of underlying EBIT, which is equivalent to a run rate approximately of 5.5% in terms of margin in the first half.

The OpEx, about the same picture as the second quarter, 5.1% up, in line with the increase in activity level. And also, for the first half year, adjusting for the parliament one-off, the write-down is 0.7%, which is lower than it has been historically.

So looking at this kind of a more over an historic context, we see that the growth since third quarter 2017 has been good, for the group has been -- there has been a steady growth also in this quarter.

And also looking at the EBIT, we're seeing that there is a significant improvement in the first and second quarter of 2019 combined, which is the relevant thing to compare with, compared with also the third and fourth quarter 2018, which were very, very challenging for Multiconsult in terms of EBIT.

The billing ratio is up from the first quarter to 71.3% but down compared with the same quarter last year. But it is at a historically acceptable level, but it is something we will continue to focus on.

We're also seeing that the number of employees has increased by 3.8% from the same quarter last year, but it's also interesting to note and important to note that the number of employees from -- in the first quarter through the end of second quarter is stable, which then takes me over to the next level, which is the bridge between the EBIT. And I will not spend a lot of time on that, but it's interesting to see how the various elements of, including the calendar effect, the underlying growth, the write-downs of P26, which is the parliament, is impacting it, and also certain adjustments, both to the billing rate and billing ratio. Then we end up with an EBIT of NOK 76.5 million.

I will then go through the areas in a little bit more detail, and starting with the largest contributor and the largest area we have, which is the Greater Oslo area. We're seeing a flattish growth in revenues at -- to NOK 803.7 million and an EBIT of NOK 30.2 million, which is down from the first half 2018. However, this is the area where the parliament settlement has a big impact in the second quarter.

So looking at the box, what's in within the box, one can see that the EBIT margin, adjusting for those factors, is NOK 56.7 million, equivalent to a margin of 6.8%, which is a marked improvement from the level last year. And we're quite happy with that. We're seeing that this area is improving.

The main reason for the flattish development in operating revenues is that within the renewable energy part of this area, we have seen a reduction in activity level in this first half year.

Then moving over to the Oslo region. Oslo -- no, sorry, Norway, we're seeing a good development there, 5% revenue increase. Also a good improvement in margin to NOK 55.4 million (sic) [NOK 45.4 million] and adjusted margin of 7.7%. So it's a good improvement. We're seeing a somewhat lower billing ratio, which has to do with certain areas within this region, where we've seen some lower billing ratios, but overall at an acceptable level, but something which we hope to see higher as we move forward.

Moving over to the smallest area for us, which is international, which is largely Sweden, Poland and U.K. We're seeing that the operating revenues is increasing nicely at 11.4% to NOK 118.3 million, and we're seeing that the EBIT is also at a satisfactory level at 9.6% underlying EBIT margin, somewhat down from the first half 2018, but still at a good level. And with all of the units performing well, Iterio in Sweden and Poland doing well as well as U.K. has picked up in this second half of -- or in the second quarter. So a quite reasonable development for international.

LINK is continuing its good performance with a growth in revenues of 7% to NOK 293.6 million, and looking at the adjusted EBIT, NOK 25 million, which is equivalent to 8.5%, which is a solid increase from the first half 2018.

And then a quick look at the business areas, the revenues from the business areas. We're seeing that the Buildings & Properties as well as Transportation are the main contributors to that -- to our total revenue. And as Grethe mentioned, there is a close link between the 2 business areas. And in total, we're growing nicely in that. Despite a somewhat reduction in the Building & Properties, we're seeing a very solid growth in the Transportation segment.

Water & Environment, same, also a very nice growth. Renewable Energy has a somewhat reduction in -- from last year. And Industry, Cities & Society and Oil & Gas are all doing better in terms of revenues compared with the same period 2019 -- sorry, '18.

Cash flow in the period is quite robust. We're -- we have improved -- we had a, in the first quarter, quite a strong negative working capital buildup. And during the second quarter, that has improved. But still we're -- we have had a working capital buildup compared with the beginning of -- sorry, the end of 2018. But we're seeing that is improving, and level of working capital at the moment is at a normal level compared with historic levels, whereas at the end of last year, it was at a historic very low level. It has -- working capital management has very high focus, but the development for -- during the second quarter has been positive, which has resulted in our net interest-bearing debt being reduced from NOK 186.6 million to NOK 167.9 million from the first to the second quarter 2019. And we're coming out of the quarter and also the first half year with -- in a very solid financial position with a solid balance sheet and also a strong access to capital to support our growth and our business through financing facilities or bank facilities.

And with that, I leave the word again back to Grethe.

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Grethe Bergly, Multiconsult ASA - CEO [4]

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Thank you.

Looking forward, we still see an overall market outlook that shows growth across most of our business areas. However, the spring of -- the report from the Consulting Engineers' Association shows a moderate optimism, but with some uncertainty. I would like to remind you that we're coming out of a record-high market that has been very strong in Norway over years. But there are some geopolitical signs, and there are also some changes happening within transportation in Norway that has resulted in us being a bit less optimistic, but still seeing a good market that is growing.

There is a continued strong competition on large projects, but as a company, we are well prepared to also enter into the new markets. And with the combination of professional capability and a very strong order backlog, we have a good foundation to be able to choose which projects we want to go for in the coming quarters.

We are continuing our work on prioritizing to make sure we increase the underlying profitability, and there are 2 areas that are still given very high priority, looking at cost level and project execution.

And with this, I would just like to invite you all to our Capital Market Day on the 7th of November, which will be followed after our presentation of the third quarter of -- on the same date. Thank you.

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Mirza Koristovic, Multiconsult ASA - Head of IR & Finance [5]

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Thank you, Grethe and Hans-Jørgen. We will now go into the Q&A session. It will be possible to submit questions through the web and also on the call. So, operator, please take us through the instructions for the Q&A session.

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Operator [6]

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(Operator Instructions)

(technical difficulty)

this time.

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Mirza Koristovic, Multiconsult ASA - Head of IR & Finance [7]

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There were no questions at this time on the web either. This concludes our session for today. Thank you very much for your attention, and have a nice day.