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Edited Transcript of WG.L earnings conference call or presentation 20-Aug-19 8:00am GMT

Half Year 2019 John Wood Group PLC Earnings Presentation

London Sep 7, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of John Wood Group PLC earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at 8:00:00am GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* David Miller Kemp

John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director

* Robin Watson

John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director

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Conference Call Participants

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* Amy Wong

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Head of European Oil Services, Executive Director & Analyst

* David Richard Edward Farrell

Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst

* James Matthew Evans

Exane BNP Paribas, Research Division - Analyst of Oil and Gas

* James Thompson

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst

* Lillian Starke

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate

* Sahar Islam

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Analyst

* Victoria McCulloch

RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst

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Presentation

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [1]

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Good day. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our half year results presentation. I'm joined today by David Kemp, as normal, and our investor relations team.

So I'm really pleased with our first half performance. We've delivered strong growth in earnings and margin improvement. That was led by activities in the energy markets in the Eastern Hemisphere and also by our environment and infrastructure business in North America. EBITDA is up 7%, and EBITDA margins rose by 60 basis points. Operating profit is up 28%. And on a like-for-like basis, excluding the disposals, EBITDA is actually up 12%, and margins are up 90 basis points.

We also took a significant step towards achieving our target leverage because today, we announced the sale of our nuclear business for a consideration of just over $300 million, and that's a multiple of 12.4x 2018 EBITDA. Closing is expected first quarter in 2020, and that will bring us very close to our target leverage.

We also have strong visibility, which supports our unchanged full year growth outlook. We've got high-quality, largely reimbursable order book, and it sits at $9.2 billion, and that's up from December 2018. And around 87% of 2019 revenues are now delivered or secured.

So having repositioned the business and refined our risk appetite, we enter the next stage of the strategic cycle as a broader, differentiated engineering and technical services company. And we remain very well positioned for growth across our end markets.

So with that, I will now hand you over to David, and he'll take you through our financial performance and some more detail.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [2]

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Thank you, Robin, and good morning, everyone. As Robin noted, we're really pleased with our first half performance. We've delivered strong earnings growth and margin improvement.

The comparable trends in our business are best understood by looking at figures, which exclude the impact of IFRS 16. On that basis, EBITDA of $314 million is up over 7%, with margin up 60 basis points. Operating profit of $160 million is up 28%. Both of these are in line with our guidance.

There is strong underlying earning growth in our business. On a like-for-like business, excluding disposals, EBITDA is up 12%. Revenues of $4.8 billion reflect relatively robust activity levels and includes good growth in E&IS, offset by Asset Solutions EAAA and STS. This slight decline in H1 revenue is in part driven by our selective bidding approach and improved sales mix. Growth in EBITDA was led by Asset Solutions EAAA and E&IS, where improved delivery helped drive strong margin improvement.

We also retained our focus on cost and efficiency, delivering cost synergies of $30 million in the first half. Depreciation and amortization charges relating to bolt-on acquisitions reduced, resulting in an increase in our operating profit of 28%.

Looking at the performance across the business units. In the Americas, increased activity in chemicals and downstream and pipeline work in shale is offsetting a reduction in renewables and other energy. EBITDA is down slightly. Strong performance in oil and gas and chemicals was offset by cost overruns in heavy civils and pipelines.

Asset Solutions EAAA was the biggest contributor to our EBITDA growth and margin improvement. And there, the EBITDA margin is up significantly from 6% to 8.9%. We're seeing growth in operation services in Asia Pacific and robust activity elsewhere, more than offset by lower procurement activity revenues and capital projects. Margins benefited from good execution, stronger performance in turbine JVs and the delivery of the cost synergies.

In STS, growth in technology and consulting and subsea is offsetting a reduction in automation. Project management and procurement activity on the TCO automation scope is reducing as we expected. The EBITDA margin improved sightly by 0.2%.

Good revenue growth in E&IS is being driven by increased government and industrial spending in the U.S., and the EBITDA benefited from improved execution of capital projects and our decision not to pursue higher-risk, fixed-price contracts.

And central costs, these are up on H1 2018 primarily due to the changes in discount rate on asbestos liabilities, which is driven by the movements in the bond rates. Central costs benefited from a $10 million asbestos credit in the first half of 2018, and that compares to $7 million costs in the first half of 2019. So overall, some headwinds, but we've delivered good growth in both margin and in profit.

The like-for-like analysis excludes the revenue and EBITDA impact of the TNT and other businesses we've disposed. On that basis, EBITDA was up 12%, and EBITDA margin was up 90 basis points. This demonstrates the strength of the EBITDA growth and margin improvement in our business on a like-for-like basis.

Looking at the impact of IFRS 16 on EBITDA reporting. The most significant change for Wood is property leases, where rental charges are now replaced with depreciation and an interest charge. EBITDA increased by $70 million from $314 million to $384 million due to these accounting changes. We currently expect the full year impact to be $143 million, which is a reduction of $27 million from our previous estimate of around $170 million. All our financial covenants are set on a frozen GAAP basis and, consequently, none of them are affected by the adoption of this standard.

Turning to the cash flow. Cash generated pre-working capital of $198 million is stated after an outflow of $28 million on Aegis and a cash outflow on asbestos of $22 million. The working capital movement was affected by 2 cash receipts totaling $130 million, which we had expected at the end of June but we received them in early July. Adjusting for these, the working capital would have been in line with expectations, with a small first half outflow typical for our business.

The working capital movement in the first half of 2018 reflects a step-up in performance associated with the implementation of a number of working capital improvement initiatives: exceptional items of $30 million relate to the non-exceptional costs in respect of integration, investigation support and onerous leases, and these have decreased significantly from 2018. Adjusting for the delayed cash receipts impacting working capital, net debt, excluding lease liabilities, would have been broadly in line with guidance that we provided in June of around $1.6 billion. There's no change to our full year guidance on cash generation.

Strong performance in the first half supports our expectation of good growth in the full year, and our outlook is unchanged. We have very strong top line visibility, with 87% of forecast 2019 revenues either delivered or secured at the 30th of June 2019. Growth in full year 2019 revenue will be in the region of 5% and will be driven by ASA, where we expect growth in downstream and chemicals and onshore midstream activity. We also expect growth in Asset Solutions EAAA driven by work in the Middle East and Asia Pacific. E&IS revenues will be up in 2018, benefiting from the continued strength in built environment activity in the Americas.

Revenue growth of around 5%, together with cost synergies of $60 million, improved sales mix and the execution and our typical second half earnings weighting will deliver growth in full year EBITDA in line with market expectations. We expect full year EBITDA, excluding the impact of IFRS 16, to be up around 8% on 2018. The full year impact of IFRS 16 is now expected to be $143 million. As you know, this is an accounting adjustment and the adoption of the standard has no cash impact.

There's no change on our expectations for cash generation for the full year. Overall, we expect to deliver pre-IFRS 16 EBITDA in line with market expectations. Operational cash conversion will be weighted to the second half, in line with our earnings. And we expect a full year working capital inflow. We expect a material reduction in cash exceptional costs, including integration and onerous leases compared to the prior year. This is well supported by the significant reduction in cash exceptional costs in the first half.

Including cash outflows on Aegis and cash exceptionals, we expect to deliver strong cash flows with cash conversion in the range of 80% to 85%. We'll retain our discipline on CapEx and intangibles, and we'll benefit from executed disposals. Overall, we continue to expect a modest reduction in net debt by the year-end 2019, with the agreed sale of nuclear for $305 million resulting in a significant reduction in Q1 2020.

We have continued to make good progress on disposals and have agreed a consideration for the nuclear business of approximately $305 million. This represents a multiple of around 12.4x 2018 EBITDA and marks a significant step towards achieving our target leverage. Completion is expected in Q1 2020. On a pro forma basis, including the impact of the nuclear disposal, leverage will reduce to a level very close to our target policy. Robin will talk more about the steps we've taken to consolidate our operational platform later in the presentation.

We've a very clear capital allocation policy, which is unchanged and is focused on maintaining a strong balance sheet. We've made good progress in refinancing our term loan facility in the first half, securing over $500 million in the U.S. private placement market, which extends the maturity of our debt profile. Debt reduction and our progressive dividend remain our preferred uses of cash. The disposal of the nuclear business will take us very close to our target leverage of 1.5x adjusted EBITDA. And equally, we're confident in the ability of our business to generate cash, which is underpinned by strong working capital management and a focus on cost control.

Reducing cash exceptionals remains a key focus for us. In 2019, we expect a reduction in spend on exceptionals to around $90 million to $100 million and expect outflows on Aegis of approximately $80 million. Looking further ahead, we expect known exceptionals and outflows on Aegis' spend to reduce further in 2020 to around $60 million in total, and that's from that level of $170 million to $180 million in 2019. We are well positioned for further growth and strong cash generation, which will facilitate a return to acquisition-led growth in the medium term.

So in summary. We're very happy with our performance in the first half. Good margin performance has delivered strong earnings growth, in line with our guidance. Margins are up strongly, 90 basis points on a like-for-like basis. And we've agreed the sale of nuclear, which will reduce our net debt close to our target leverage.

Our full year outlook is unchanged. We have great visibility with 87% of revenue either delivered or secured in the order book. And revenue growth, together with cost synergies, will deliver EBITDA growth in line with expectations. And finally, we continue to anticipate strong cash generation for the full year, which will result in a modest reduction in net debt.

With that, I'll now hand back to Robin.

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [3]

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Good. Thank you, David. I'd like to pick up some of the macro trends in our core markets and how we're positioning ourselves to grow the business before we move on to Q&A. So we've identified 4 growth trends shaping the markets in which we operate, and they are driving our strategy and have been for the last 3 years.

Firstly, the energy transition. So whilst oil and gas will remain a significant marketplace for the next generation and a half, at least certainly for the foreseeable future, it's clear that major change is underway. And Wood has been very deliberate in ensuring our business is positioned to respond to these substantial changes and opportunities across both the energy supply and demand sides.

Second, urbanization and sustainable infrastructure. By 2050, almost 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas. That's about 2.5 billion extra people in cities across the world. That requires major infrastructure investment in new cities and hubs in the emerging economies, as we can all imagine, and a need to create more sustainable infrastructure solutions actually in the developed economies, given that most of our common infrastructure is well over a century old.

Third, digitization, where we're actively engaged in partnerships, developing both discrete digital solutions as well as investing in tools, techniques and technologies to enhance our own delivery capabilities. And the final major consideration is around future skills. We continue to invest and develop in Agile, and teams are connected in an innovative manner and unlock and accelerate value delivery for both ourselves and our customers. So we've transformed the business into a broader differentiated provider of project, engineering and technical services across our end markets.

The competitive landscape is also changing rapidly, and we believe this differentiated capability that we have positions us well for the megatrends that drive global growth across a broader set of peers. I'll walk you through some of the market-specific trends we see and how they're mapped on our operating structure and actually, in that manner, also our sales pipeline. And that will hopefully bring some of these stuff to life.

We actually see positive indicators across all of our end markets. In upstream oil and gas, we're seeing a volume of early-stage, front-end engineering projects, and we view that as a positive indication of increased capital activity in the medium term. We do, however, expect the focus on supply chain efficiencies to remain. In midstream, there are good opportunities in shale pipeline and facilities work, particularly as takeaway capacity does remain robust.

In chemicals and downstream, relatively strong global demand and low-cost feedstocks are driving and supporting investment in new capacity, and we expect good activity levels in the U.S. Gulf Coast to continue. And a key growth driver will be increased investment in chemicals and petrochemicals. And that capacity in the Middle East, particularly the U.A.E, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and also in Asia Pacific, where we expect that particular region to lead the demand on both capital projects as well as operation solutions.

The cost competitiveness of renewable energy continues to improve, and we see good longer-term demand for renewable energy facilities. And in U.S., solar markets are great example of a market that remains particularly robust for us.

There are further opportunities for our automation solutions and a range of energy and other discrete market sectors, including oil and gas, chemicals and manufacturing. And continued government investment and urban infrastructure projects is expected to generate growth across the built environment, and we're obviously well positioned to unlock that in the U.S. and Canada. Longer term, the allocation of funding for the infrastructure projects at the U.S. federal level has a potential to generate significant growth opportunities for us, and we do feel very well positioned for that. We also expect demand for our environmental services to remain robust.

It's worth, perhaps, mapping these positive macro drivers onto our business operating model. To simplify as much as we possibly can, our activities in the business can be summarized in 2 broad groups: 70% of what we do is related to design, construction, operations, maintenance and project management activities, and that's delivered across Asset Solutions; and 30% of what we can do can be categorized as technical consultancy, the higher-margin offerings delivered in STS and E&IS.

We've already reduced our relative exposure to upstream oil and gas markets, and we anticipate that mix will continue to change over the medium term to longer term as the megatrends of the energy transition and sustainable infrastructure impact the needs of society and, obviously, our customer base. Within these markets, we have a balance of OpEx and CapEx exposure across the businesses and a relatively low-risk, predominantly reimbursable order book, both of which remain key to our investment thesis.

So in summary, we've created an excellent operational platform across our end markets, and it's delivering our current earnings growth and will also position us well for future growth. With the integration complete, we enter the next stage of the strategic cycle and have reviewed our portfolio to ensure our capabilities are aligned with our strategic objectives and the growth opportunities that are out there.

This review identified assets to divest, which were either noncore or nonstrategic. These assets either didn't fit or had better strategic onus with the additional benefit of also accelerating our deleveraging program. The largest of these is the disposal of nuclear business, which we've announced today. This is a good quality business, as is reflected in the 12.4x EBITDA multiple paid, but which, however, is geographically constrained to the U.K. market and has very limited strategic growth platform from our perspective. We continue to review our portfolio, and we'll update you as any processes progress.

We focused a lot on external positioning and customer-orientated business development. And I'm really, really pleased with the health of our sales pipeline with an identified funnel in the tens of billions of dollars. Adjusted for disposals at $9.2 billion, the order book is slightly up in December 2018. The profile reflects our measured risk appetite, favoring short-cycle, high-quality reimbursable projects and contracts.

As always, we are booking and executing work on a short turnaround and with a very prudent recognition policy. The order book is a helpful indicator of our visibility, but there's a significant level of luck that you simply don't see hitting the order book because it's executed before the next update. We also don't pursue the very large revenue, higher-risk, fixed-price work that's caused challenges with a number of our E&C competitor set and which has also be an occasional headache in the legacy AFW business.

To be very clear, 2 years since closing, the majority of the current order book was awarded under Wood's risk appetite and Wood's contract governance structure. We're a discerning contractor, and we are selective on what we bid. In the last 12 months, the proportion of reimbursable work has actually increased to around 75%, and we firmly believe that this approach that we take is an important differentiator. With around $4.3 billion of backlog to be delivered this year, we've got about 87% of 2019 forecast revenues delivered or secured, and that gives us great confidence on our unchanged positive full year growth outlook.

So in summary, I am very pleased with our first half performance. We've delivered strong growth in earnings and margin improvement. We took a significant step towards achieving our target leverage and with strong visibility, which underpins our confidence in our full year outlook. As a broader differentiated provider of project, engineering and technical services, Wood is tightly aligned with the megatrends that are driving growth today and will continue to drive global growth in the coming years. I'm very excited about the opportunities this will create for us, which have been very -- we have very deliberately positioned the business across that energy transition and the built environment. We've come through the first half trading with real trading momentum, and we're very confident of delivering our strong growth in the second half of 2019.

I will now take any questions. Thank you.

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Questions and Answers

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Victoria McCulloch, RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division - Analyst [1]

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Victoria McCulloch from RBC. If we could just start on the disposal this morning. How does that fit into your diversification strategy? You touched on growth maybe being an issue. But how does -- I guess, how does -- how should we think of that and looking at other businesses that could be disposed of?

And then maybe switching to that Asset Solutions side of the business. You talked about the continued competitive environment and the challenges in terms of competition faced there. Where should we see margins going in for those 2 businesses?

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [2]

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Okay. In terms of the disposal, Victoria, I think -- we think it's quite -- matched quite sensibly in terms of our strategy across energy transition and the focus on sustainable infrastructure. The nuclear business, whilst a good business in itself, is tied to the U.K. market. Customer concentration is really quite high. So Sellafield is a big predominant customer in the business, and it is the only part of a nuclear jigsaw that we have. We don't have any other nuclear business anywhere else in the world. So we felt the strategic value to us was really quite limited, and we think the role of nuclear in energy transition will be quite limited. Obviously, Jacobs have a different view of it, and it was a transaction. They've got a much broader global nuclear business, which maybe fits in their jigsaw differently than ours.

The only bit I would add to that is when we committed at year-end to do $200 million to $300 million worth of disposals to get to a targeted leverage position, this does that. As far as we are concerned, this gets us to the target leverage position. It's a very good value for our shareholders at 12.4x net debt-to-EBITDA -- 12.4x trailing EBITDA, which we're really pleased about.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [3]

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Let me pick up the margin question. So I guess, as we look forward in terms of margins, we continue to see growth in our margins. And that largely will be underpinned by continuing synergy deliveries. So we expect a further $30 million in the second half, and then we expect further synergies to be delivered in 2020. And there's also just our usual focus on actually making our business as efficient as we can.

I think the second theme I would highlight, and you see it most strongly in Asset Solutions EAAA in this set of results, is that theme around being a discerning contractor. Very early on, we embedded new risk governance processes that reflected our risk appetite right away through our business. And so we think we're starting to see the fruits of that through better execution. So we're entering into better contracts, and we're actually delivering them well. And you can see the impact that, that has on margins in E&IS and in Asset Solutions EAAA. The one we've talked about most in this sort of forum is in E&IS in terms of the capital projects business that we stopped bidding on things like Aegis and Guam. That capital projects business, the E&IS, is now making a decent return. But equally, that was right away through our business, and it's that theme of being a discerning contractor. Okay?

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James Matthew Evans, Exane BNP Paribas, Research Division - Analyst of Oil and Gas [4]

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It's James Evans at Exane BNP Paribas. A couple of questions from me. Robin, you talked about the competitive landscape changing, and we're seeing exits from some companies in oil and gas. We're seeing, like you said, the lump-sum companies suffering and refocusing on reimbursable. You've got other E&Cs doing what you're doing and moving to the built environment. Just taking a broader perspective, what does all of these mean in terms of the competition and who your competitors are? And I think this could become easier in oil and gas but more difficult in the future areas of growth because you've got so much going, so many companies going towards it. Just any broader thoughts on how you see that evolving.

And then you also mentioned about how you're going to continue to shift away, I guess, over time, naturally from the hydrocarbon businesses as they become -- as the energy transition continues. Is that something that just happens organically? Or can we see a broader, continued reshaping of the business as you kind of get through the digestion of Amec? For example, a little bit more investment into acquisitions in built environment and to infrastructure sort of place and sell-downs of oil and gas businesses?

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [5]

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So maybe I'll take the second one first and finishing with the competitive landscape. Oil and gas will remain a real key component part of energy transition, so we're broadening from it rather than exiting out all that, James. But one part of our analysis is always what margin do we make for the services that we provide? So there will be nuances, actually, and you've known us for many years. We are an organization that buys and sells businesses as part of that. And I think that agility to remain relevant, if anything, in the period, we're going to know we'll be every bit as prominent, if not slightly more prominent, than it has been in the kind of decade that's just gone by.

So -- and I do think, as part of the energy transition, there's the supply side, the sources of energy supply: oil and gas, renewables, alternatives. There's also carbon capture and various other technological solutions within there that helps the energy supply side be more efficient, effective and climate-friendly. There's then the distribution side, actually, how do you get power to consumers? And then, obviously, on the demand side, that is about sustainable infrastructure.

So again, I think having that broad portfolio across it is something that we're very focused on, but making sure the services we provide across these end markets are at the right margin level. We've always had, and we will continue to have, a good focus in the quality of margin that we make for the services we provide.

In terms of the competitive landscape, I think you're absolutely right. I think, if we go back 3, 4 years, we would have probably been criticized for having a smaller order book than some others. But we've remained very tied to our core investment case, which has always been short cycle, higher quality. We've never been seduced by high -- big revenue numbers that have low-margin outcome. And I think that EPC community, those competitor sets that we have seen that have taken on big EPC risks, I think would be -- I don't think there's one nonetheless that haven't suffered as a result of it in one way or another. So it's not something that we've ever really had as a core proposition for us. We think there's a differentiator. That's the type of business that we get after. And I think from an oil and gas competitor set, that has changed. There is an ebb and flow in terms of that -- what that competitor set looks like.

Having said that, I think we're well positioned with the quality of service that we provide. If there are projects that are happening out there, we are very well positioned to be winning the project work. And we take risk so that even in the downturn, we're paid up much more than our fair share of the offshore projects from having tracked those -- any of our competitor set. So a change, I think we're a company now that has got 3 or 4 different overlapping circles just given the range of end markets that we have.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [6]

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Let me add just on the investment theme. We're pleased with the announcement of the nuclear disposal today. We think that will take us pretty close to our target leverage. The fundamentals of our business being asset-light and the balance we have across sectors and across CapEx and OpEx should mean that we are strongly cash-generative. What we've also flagged in the 2019, we've got a fairly significant draw on our cash from exceptionals and from Aegis. We see that significantly reducing as we move into 2020 and beyond, which creates a bigger cash envelope for us.

As we move to that, we do expect to be going back to investing in our business. We think we've got great growth opportunities from energy transition and from the built environment. We've previously talked about our E&IS business. We've got great business in the Americas. It's 90% in Americas, but actually, fairly small in Europe and the rest of the world. That gives us a wonderful opportunity. So we do see ourselves going back to acquisition growth, but it will be after we've hit our leverage targets.

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James Matthew Evans, Exane BNP Paribas, Research Division - Analyst of Oil and Gas [7]

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I'm just going to ask a very quick one. Just want to double-check one number. You said debt coming down ex -- sorry, debt coming down this year. Is that ex disposals like it was at the full year?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [8]

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Yes. So our guidance has a modest reduction in net debt. It's actually, because nuclear is in the -- is in Q1 2020, we expect it to complete. Actually, our disposals in the year are relatively modest, so it doesn't make much difference either way, to tell you the truth, James.

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James Thompson, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [9]

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James Thompson from JPMorgan, then we'll pass it over to Amy. So just 2 quick questions. So just in terms of -- I just want to talk about targets a little bit. Obviously, you announced the disposal today. Clearly, that's taking you through your $200 million to $300 million target. You mentioned also that you think this basically gets you to your 1.5x debt-to-EBITDA target as well. So how should we think about it going forward? Should we expect another disposal target? Where are you going to set these going forward?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [10]

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No. I think -- for us, we are clear that we saw $200 million to $300 million of disposal proceeds in our business. This is delivering that disposal proceeds target, and that was part of a bigger deleveraging plan that was around getting us to our 1.5x net debt. We've no intention of putting out another disposal target there. We will constantly look at our portfolio. And things that fit better with -- in other people's portfolio and we can get a good deal, we'll constantly look at that as a way of actually changing the mix in our business and investing in things that we see better growth potential, but no other target.

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James Thompson, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Analyst [11]

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Okay. And just the second one is in terms of the sort of market conditions. One of the takeaways, I think, from reporting season this summer has just been some of the pressures on the upstream in North America. Clearly, you've had pretty good period there, particularly on the midstream, but lots have been delivered there. So just wanted to understand your outlook for North America, particularly kind of upstream, midstream, downstream.

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [12]

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James, I mean, it's -- we do -- we come in up behind a lot of the well entry companies that have been putting their results over the summer months. I think the capacity constraints are so well documented and remain very much case in point in terms of facilities, infrastructure, pipeline, network. We've seen good quality bidding activities. We've got a good blend, actually, of field activities, both capital projects and O&M and a good mix of some of the engineering work, impairment work, accessway work that we do traditionally from our Houston engineering office. So it's a pretty good blend there, to be quite candid, James, from an upstream perspective.

We're seeing a lot of fieldwork coming through, early-stage designs. We're well positioned for a couple of the larger projects that are out there that have been well-trailed publicly. And I think from our perspective, the downstream market has been really good for us. There's a lot of activity level we have there, both on methanol, and we wisely own this M&A in terms of the downstream opportunities that we're well -- that we're delivering against. So actually, the North American picture that we have, not that it's without some challenges and discrete movements one basin to another, one project to another, it really is an encouraging one. And if I look at the sales pipeline, if I look at some of the drivers for the first half and then we add to it some of the solar projects that we're putting up as well, we see good quality activity levels in the second half of the year going into 2020.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [13]

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Yes. I think the only thing I would add to that, if you look at our first half revenue, generally, we saw good growth everywhere outside of the other renewables. So we had -- we came to the end of coal combustion projects in the first half. We've picked up a number of solar projects that are largely going to be delivered in the second half. So that was -- our revenue was up slightly in the Americas, but actually, there was -- across most of our businesses, we saw a pretty robust growth.

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [14]

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Amy, at last.

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Amy Wong, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Head of European Oil Services, Executive Director & Analyst [15]

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Finally. I was actually -- that's a good lead into my question, which was related to the Americas business. And can you talk a bit more about how we should expect that margin profile to develop over the next 12 to 18 months? Paying particular attention to that kind of slug of solar work you've been winning and executing in H2, how does that play out as -- that could be quite volatile depending on the government activity and what the -- some of the incentives there? So does that help into 2020 as well? And is that helpful to your margin? Or is that dilutive to your margin in terms of when you execute on that book of work?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [16]

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Broadly, there's lots of similarities to how I answered it before. As we look through, again, there's slugs of synergies that will benefit the Americas, and we're constantly looking at how we can be efficient. Again, that theme of being a discerning contractor is absolutely in the Americas as well. And we were talking about the other day, we've turned down significant revenue opportunities that didn't just meet our risk appetite. If you look at the Americas in particular, even the first half, we did have some cost overruns in civils and pipelines. That has impacted our margin in the first half. That was largely a Q1 issue for us. We've not seen those issues in the second quarter, and we'd expect, as a result, our margin to be better in the second half.

In terms of the solar work in the pipeline, we see a pretty good bidding pipeline for solar work. Just how long that stretches out, our visibility is probably 18 months just now. In terms of the margin we get on that, it's -- I wouldn't signal anything specific about the margin in terms of it being low or high margin. What's intended to be for us is quite predictable margin in that it's relatively straightforward work that we've got quite a lot of experience of, and so it meets our risk appetite.

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Amy Wong, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Head of European Oil Services, Executive Director & Analyst [17]

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If I can just follow up with a housekeeping question on your provisions. There are quite a few moving parts in the asbestos in the project-related provisions. So can you just help us think about how those unwind in the second half and how we should think about that cash flow bridge into the second -- the end of the year?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [18]

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Yes. In terms of asbestos, I think we had cash outflow of $22 million in the first half. Overall, we expect it to be $36 million to $40 million, that sort of order of magnitude. In terms of the other items we talked about, I'll just run through them. In terms of Aegis, we had just under $30 million in the first half. We expect that to be $80 million for the full year in terms of a cash impact. That is, by far, the most significant project provision. The rest is more in the sort of normal business space. In terms of the other exceptionals, we have $30 million-ish in the first half, and we expect that to be $90 million to $100 million for the full year.

There has been a bit of a switch between exceptionals and CapEx, so our CapEx guidance is slightly up. Previously, we talked about $90 million. We're now at $100 million, and that is due to capitalization of integration spend. So projects that we're working on can be capitalized, so they come through CapEx rather than through the integration line.

I think the state back around all of that is we are very focused on reducing our exceptional. So if you look at our P&L exceptional in the first half, that's come down significantly. And we are very -- it included a small loss in TNT within there as well. So it's largely around integration, which was much smaller, and around the investigation. And so as we move forward, what we flagged is we see the cash exceptionals plus Aegis reducing from the $180 million level to $60 million. And so what we'll be left with is things like onerous leases, where these run off. But having taken the onerous lease, there is a period of runoff for that.

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Sahar Islam, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Analyst [19]

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Sahar from GS. Two questions. So first one was on the digital enhancements. Over time, shall we expect a significant step down in your headcount, particularly on the engineering side? From -- because, I guess, to give a bit of background, we keep hearing that there's so many more additional enhancements in terms of reducing man-hours. You can have fewer people on site. So if we follow that through for the next couple of years, is that the next big leg of cost savings?

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [20]

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I think maybe to -- and maybe to categorize that -- but definitely, but the genesis of your question -- hopefully, I'll answer the genesis of your question. I do think the inextricable link that we have between revenue earnings and headcount that we've seen for the last 100 years as an engineering company, I do think over the next decade, that will disconnect and probably short of limelight. When you see margin quality, there's different ways of making margin and using technology does not necessarily tie to revenue. Never mind -- is this -- do you triangulate in the same way?

So yes will be the short answer and certainly in the medium term, and we're very thoughtful. Probably in 2 strands from a digital perspective, some of the work we're doing in digital is to find digital ways, take digital solutions into the field environment in particular and get our engineers physically solving problems from a remote location and connecting the workplace, the equipment and the individuals in the right manner. Now that actually in itself has some impact in reimbursable profit, if you like, in one way, but we sell the service differently. So actually, from a margin perspective, it's quite an enhanced view of the world that we have.

The other end, there's just definite ways that we do the work that we do. And cloud engineering is the most obvious example of it, where we do high-value -- use our high-value engineering centers and distribute workload around the world. We're probably at the end of the beginning of that revolution, if you like, if that puts it in some sort of context for you. But I think that will increasingly evolve. We are very thoughtful of our next transformation program, has digital and technology front and center. And the priority, funnily enough, we see is more about the latter. It's more about optimizing the way that we do things internally than it is about necessarily coming out with a new kind of gadget or technical product that you then go sell to customers.

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Sahar Islam, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Research Division - Analyst [21]

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And then as a second question, on cost inflation, are you seeing any pressures in the business now, particularly as each of the players starts to recover?

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [22]

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There are pockets of it. Largely, we're 75% reimbursable business, so it doesn't give us too much of a headache in that regard. We certainly see pockets of the hot markets that we talk about. We are seeing some cost inflation there. It's largely cost inflation that we then charge through.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [23]

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Thinking in that sort of broader context, when the markets were hot and you are having to do sort of interim [P rounds] and things like this, we've not done that. It's really been in the pocket space. So we did our annual salary around -- that was pretty much tied to inflation. There's been hotspots, but nothing we've flagged significant in terms of the business.

David?

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David Richard Edward Farrell, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [24]

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David Farrell, Crédit Suisse. I do want to get back to targets. Clearly, you don't want to put out a disposal target. But I guess, now that you're back to kind of a steady-state business, do you think it's time to think about medium-term financial targets such as target return on capital employed?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [25]

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We've never had a return on capital employed target within our business. I guess our focus around our business will continue to be around driving margin and driving cash conversion and improvement. And so we are going to do a Capital Markets Day in October, and so these are things we'll cover in more depth there. We -- in the short term, I think last year, we talked around ranges around our businesses, around margin. One of the really encouraging things in these set of results for us is we can see the benefit of good bidding and good execution coming through in EAAA and STS. So actually, EAAA, the margin does include turbine joint venture, so you get an extra uplift. But that shows the potential in Americas, for example, of where we can get to with better execution.

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David Richard Edward Farrell, Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division - Research Analyst [26]

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Okay. And then just thinking about 2020. If I look in the appendix, it looks like the backlog is down $300 million on a like-for-like basis. I think it's also fair to say that the amount being executed next year is down as a percentage. Do you have worse visibility into 2020 than you did this time last year looking into '19?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [27]

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Yes. I think there's peaking figures. So I think, where are we with our backlog? Our backlog has grown since December, so it was down from end of June. We're really comfortable with the revenue coverage we have in 2019, and we think that's a really strong underpinning of our second half guidance. We're at 80% revenue coverage. When we look forward to next year in terms of revenue coverage, at the same point last year, we're pretty comfortable with the revenue coverage we have for 2020. It's because we are short cycle, it's a relatively small percentage, this is -- so it's not near 80%. We are a short-cycle business. Our order book is relatively short cycle. One of the characteristics of our order book is we book and burn a lot of work in the actual periods. As Robin highlighted, 30% of our business is consultancy, and so it's much more short term in nature. So actually, to take it back, are we comfortable with the revenue coverage for 2020 just now at the end of June? We're quite comfortable with it.

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Lillian Starke, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate [28]

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Lillian Starke from Morgan Stanley. I just had 2 questions. The first one is a bit more nitty-gritty on the details of the disposal. Do you anticipate any exceptionals or costs that you may incur as you dispose of this asset? Or there's nothing we should take into account?

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [29]

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I think if you look in our accounts, we've categorized that as an asset held for sale, unsurprisingly, since we've signed the deal. And so that we'd indicate just now there would be a gain on sale -- a fairly significant gain on sale that we would take through exceptionals just now. And so its order of magnitude is, I think, $40 million to $50 million just now.

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Lillian Starke, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate [30]

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And the second question I had was more on sort of your positioning on that energy transition. Are you seeing also a change in your client base? Or is it you're seeing clients transitioning, that you expect to go along with them? Or are you knocking on your doors, let's say, in terms of finding a new client?

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [31]

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I think it's about a mix of all it, if I'd be perfectly honest. Our current customer set, our European oil companies have got a broader energy transition footprint. We're doing wind work with BP in the U.S. There's quite a portfolio there. Again, carbon capture is part of the whole energy transition agenda, which will -- I can't imagine that the major IOCs wouldn't be part of the carbon capture debate on technical appraisal solution.

So our current -- if we look at our current top 20 customers, that's about 40% of our revenue. It's probably just over half of them are in the kind of energy spaces, oil and gas companies, NOCs. But a lot of that is a mix between upstream, midstream and downstream, across that kind of portfolio. But we've also got -- in our top 20, we've got big U.S. government exposure and commitment. They are -- we're very active in built environment space. Some of that work is directly for the U.S. government or through U.S. government agencies, federal and state and municipality level as well as there's just a broader range of industrial customers that we've got that we've never had before.

So the top 20, to my mind, it really looks and feels like the forward-end markets, as we've described in the results presentation. Moving forward, we'll just leverage up different customer bases as we go in different sectors. And from an acquisitive perspective, we'll obviously acquire new customers as we grow the business in the medium and longer term.

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David Miller Kemp, John Wood Group PLC - CFO & Executive Director [32]

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Any other questions? Okay. No final questions? Well, with that, we'll bring it to a close and maybe just finish by highlighting what we think are the key messages. We do think we've had strong growth and profitability. Our like-for-like EBITDA is up 12%. We've had good margin improvement. And as we look forward, we'd expect that to continue into the future. Nuclear is a milestone for us. We feel that, that closes a chapter around our deleveraging story. And actually, as we look forward, particularly for 2019, we're encouraged by the revenue coverage that we have, which should allow us to deliver the outlook that we said. So thank you all for your time, and enjoy the rest of your day.

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Robin Watson, John Wood Group PLC - CEO & Executive Director [33]

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Thank you.