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MDU Resources Group Inc (MDU) Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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MDU Resources Group Inc  (NYSE: MDU)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 06, 2019, 2:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Hello, my name is Regina, and I will be your conference facilitator. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the MDU Resources Group 2018 Year-End Earnings Results and 2019 Guidance Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer period.

(Operator Instructions)

This call will be available for replay, beginning at 5:00 PM Eastern Time today, through 11:59 PM Eastern Time on February 20. The conference ID number for the replay is 7586823. Again, the conference ID number for the replay is 7586823. The number to dial for the replay is 1 855-859-2056 or 404-537-3406. I would now like to turn the conference over to Jason Vollmer, Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer of MDU Resources Group. Thank you, Mr. Vollmer. You may begin your conference.

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Thank you, Regina, and welcome to our conference call covering our 2018 year-end earnings and 2019 guidance. This conference call is being broadcast live to the public over the Internet and slides will accompany our remarks. If you'd like to view the slides, please go to our website at www.mdu.com and go to the Events and Presentations page under the Investors tab. Our earnings release is also available on our website.

During the course of this presentation, we will make certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Although the Company believes its expectations and beliefs are based on reasonable assumptions, actual results may differ materially. For a discussion of factors that may cause actual results to differ, refer to Item 1A-Risk Factors in our most recent Form 10-K.

On our call today, I will discuss key financial highlights and then turn the presentation over to Dave Goodin, President and CEO of MDU Resources for his formal remarks. After Dave's remarks we will open the line for questions.

In addition to Dave and myself, members of our management team who will be available to answer questions today are Dave Barney, President and CEO of Knife River Corporation; Jeff Thiede, President and CEO of MDU Construction Services Group; Nicole Kivisto, President and CEO of Cascade Natural Gas, Great Plains Natural Gas, Intermountain Gas and Montana Dakota Utilities; Trevor Hastings, President and CEO of WBU Energy; and Stephanie Barth, Vice President, Chief Accounting Officer and Controller of MDU Resources.

Yesterday, we announced 2018 earnings from continuing operations of $269.4 million or $1.38 per share compared to 2017 earnings from continuing operations of $284.2 million or $1.45 per share. In the fourth quarter, earnings from continuing operations were $76 million or $0.39 per share compared to $115 million or $0.59 per share in 2017. Results in 2017 included a one-time federal tax reform benefit in the fourth quarter of $39.5 million or $0.20 per share.

For 2018, our combined utility business reported earnings of $84.7 million compared to $81.6 million in 2017. The 2017 results included a $6.4 million decrease related to a net deferred tax asset adjustment, resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Our electric utility segment earned $47 million in 2018 compared to the prior year earnings of $49.4 million, which included a $2.1 million additional income tax expense recorded in the fourth quarter of 2017. Main drivers of the decrease in earnings were higher depreciation, depletion and amortization expense from increased plant asset additions, and lower investment returns. Partially offsetting the decrease in earnings were 1.4% higher electric retail sales volumes.

Our natural gas utility segment had earnings of $37.7 million in 2018 compared to prior year earnings of $32.2 million which included a $4.3 million additional income tax expense in the fourth quarter of 2017 resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Increase in year-over-year earnings was largely due to higher retail sales margins as a result of weather normalization and conservation adjustments. These margin increases were partially offset by lower volumes in certain regions throughout the year. The earnings increase was partially offset by increased operation and maintenance expense, lower investment returns and higher depreciation, depletion and amortization expense.

At our pipeline and midstream business, earnings in 2018 were $28.5 million compared to prior year earnings of $20.5 million. The earnings increase was largely result of higher transportation revenues and volumes for multiple organic growth projects that came online in 2017 and 2018. Also contributing to the earnings increase was a $4.2 million tax benefit recorded in the third quarter related to a final accounting order issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC. Partially offsetting these increases were higher operation and maintenance expense, decreased storage revenues, and higher depreciation, depletion and amortization expense from increased plant asset additions.

Our construction services business reported record revenues of $1.37 billion and record earnings of $64.3 million in 2018, up from 2017 earnings of $53.3 million which included a one-time $4.3 million tax benefit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This business's earnings increased due to higher outside specialty contracting workloads and margins, largely from higher equipment sales and rentals, as well as an increase in power line recovery work related to natural disasters, and of course lower income tax expense.

Partially offsetting the increase were higher selling, general administrative expense primarily related to payroll costs, lower inside specialty contracting workloads, and changes to estimates on certain construction projects. Construction services' backlog at the end of the year was a record $939 million, up 33% from 2017.

Our construction materials business also reported record revenues at $1.93 billion and earnings of $92.6 million compared to 2017 earnings of $123.4 million which included a one-time $41.9 million tax benefit as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Absent the one-time impacts from tax reform in 2017, earnings increased due to lower income tax rates in 2018, as well as higher aggregate and asphalt product workloads and margins. This increase in earnings was partially offset by higher selling and general administrative expense, higher interest expense and lower ready-mix margins and volumes, which is largely related to weather conditions in certain regions. Construction material's backlog at the end of the year was also a record at $706 million, up 45% from the previous year.

And now I'll turn the call over to Dave for his formal remarks. Dave?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Well, thank you, Jason, and good afternoon everyone. Thank you for your interest in MDU Resources and for taking the time to join us today to discuss our results for 2018, and for our outlook for 2019. I am pleased with our 2018 business performance. I commend the employees of our MDU Resource companies for their strong operating performance. Their expertise, innovation, and overall commitment to operating with integrity, while building a strong America allowed us to provide solid operating results.

Our 2017 earnings of $1.45 per share included a one-time tax reform adjustment of $39.5 million or $0.20 per share. In comparison, our strong performance in 2018 allowed us to report earnings of $1.38. We're very proud of our record of consistently rewarding our shareholders with a growing dividend, while also investing in our businesses to fund growth opportunities across all business lines.

Our utility companies, which represent a strong foundation of earnings and operating cash flows, had a solid year, driven by customer growth of 1.8% and higher electric sales volumes. Our utility segment announced at the beginning of the fourth quarter that the purchase of the Thunder Spirit Wind farm expansion in southwest North Dakota was completed. This expansion increased production capacity at the wind farm to approximately 155 megawatts, bringing our electric generation portfolio to now 27% renewables.

On February 5, our Big Stone South to Ellendale joint venture transmission line was put into service. The utility invested approximately $130 million in constructing this MISO-approved 345 kV transmission facility. The utility also announced just yesterday that they're also extending natural gas service to customers in Gwinner and Milnor, North Dakota. Construction to extend service to both residential and commercial customers is expected to begin this spring with completion in late 2019. Over the next five years, our utility expects its 1.1 million customer base to grow annually by 1% to 2%, and expects rate base growth of 5% compounded annually over the next five years. Our utility remains focused on regulatory recovery for costs associated with upgrading and expanding our facilities so we can safely meet our growing customer demand.

The pipeline business performed very well throughout 2018, and completed two key expansion projects in the year that increased capacity by approximately 240 million cubic feet per day. These two projects, in addition to the projects that were placed into service in 2017, allowed us to transport record volumes of natural gas through our pipeline system for the eighth consecutive quarter.

The Company's natural gas transportation capacity now exceeds 1.8 billion cubic feet per day. The Company also filed a rate case with the FERC in October. This pending case is in accordance with the Company's settlement agreement, which was reached in 2014 and its customers with the FERC. Looking forward, we plan construction of the Demicks Lake and Line Section 22 expansion projects, which will be getting this spring. The Demicks Lake pipeline will be constructed in McKenzie County, North Dakota and will add 175 million cubic feet per day of capacity. Line Section 22, near Billings, Montana, will add 22.5 million cubic feet per day of capacity.

Both projects have long-term customer commitments and are expected to be completed in late 2019. This business recently announced that we have plans to construct the North Bakken Expansion Project. Here, a 67-mile, 20-inch natural gas pipeline that will transport natural gas from core Bakken production areas in Western North Dakota. As designed, this project would provide 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas transportation capacity to the Company's system. Dependent on agreements with customers, contracts and required permitting, this $220 million project is expected to begin construction in early 2021 and to be completed later that same year.

Now, I'd like to turn our attention to our construction businesses. The construction services group produced exceptional earnings growth, and as you heard from Jason, ended the year with both record revenues, earnings and backlog. The Company continues to see strong demand for its outside specialty contracting work and saw increased workloads for electrical transmission, distribution and substation work, really, throughout the year.

Backlog also includes a significant amount of inside specialty work, including projects for the high-tech, manufacturing and hospitality industries. We certainly look forward to successfully executing this year on projects included in our record $939 million of backlog, while continuing to focus on both costs and efficiencies.

At our construction materials business, we also had a strong finish to 2018 with record revenues and year-end backlog. While we had some areas that faced short-term challenges, certain regions are performing well, and we are confident in our ability to achieve long-term growth. This business completed four acquisitions in 2018, adding to our 1 billion tons of aggregate reserves, along with expanding our market coverage in central Minnesota, the Sioux Falls, South Dakota area along the general area of Portland, Oregon.

For 2019, we continue to evaluate acquisition opportunities at both our construction services and construction material companies. We expect our construction companies to report full-year revenues in the range of $3.35 billion to $3.65 billion, with margins comparable to or slightly higher than our 2018 levels. I believe strongly that our geographic diversity and industry diversity between our companies, will provide solid earnings in the future.

That completes our individual business Company discussion. Now I'd like to pivot and look ahead at our overall corporation as we're initiating our 2019 earnings guidance in the range of $1.35 to $1.55 per share. This range, it reflects normal operating, economic and weather conditions, including precipitation and temperatures across all our service areas, and also anticipates an investment of $579 million for capital projects across all of our business lines. Earnings from acquisitions made throughout the year would be incremental to this range and are not included in our capital forecast.

MDU Resources has performed well in 2018, and I'm optimistic that we're well positioned to produce significant long-term value as we execute on our business plans and explore potential acquisitions and organic growth opportunities. We continue to maintain a strong balance sheet, solid credit ratings, and excellent liquidity position. And for 81 years, we have continued to provide a competitive dividend to our shareholders. As always, MDU Resources is committed to operating with both integrity and a focus on safety, while creating shareholder value that's superior as we continue to build a strong America.

I appreciate your interest in and commitment to MDU Resources, and ask now that we open the line for questions. Operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Chris Ellinghaus with Williams Capital. Please go ahead.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Hey, guys.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Hi, Chris.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Dave, you said construction materials had some challenges. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

I'll touch on it a little bit. I know we talked earlier in the year weather had an impact to us at the early start of the year. I'll say some challenging economic times up in Alaska as we saw effects from the energy industry there. I'll hand it over to Dave Barney though. Maybe you can talk a little bit around his areas as to any particulars that he would have.

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Hi, Chris. Well, Dave really hit on it. A lot to do with weather in Texas. We just continue to get -- we got hammered with rain there earlier in the year and later in the year and weather in Minnesota, Ohio and as they touched on our energy states, they're down, but that was the biggest impact versus weather this year.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Okay. Are you anticipating any difficulties not knowing the weather (inaudible) of being able to recapture some of that later in the year?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Well, you saw our backlog. We have a large backlog and we need the weather to cooperate, at least normal weather so we can get out there and execute on the backlog we have, and we're hoping the weather will cooperate. We'll have a good year if it does.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Okay. Dave, the guidance as is typical, scares people at the beginning of the year. With the -- sort of the discussion of the construction business's revenue outlook and the potential for flat to high -- slightly higher margins, what would you have to see in order to achieve toward the lower end, because the -- sort of the detailed in the -- details in the guidance would certainly suggest higher earnings for the year versus 2018. So what kind of things go into the lower end of the guidance that would have to happen to achieve that kind of number?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yes, Chris, you're spot on so far. As we're starting this year, we noted the record backlog at both of our construction businesses. You noted too the margins being comparable to actually slightly increasing in those segments. So, it is a very good starting point for the year. More particularly to the question though, and Dave touched on it earlier, there's always an effective whether, if you would, depending on how soon we can get out and get after that backlog. So that can have some variable to it as we execute on the projects. We assume that there'll be nothing material relative to any government shutdown or delays there associated with -- they could have an effect on our businesses, unknowing whether it'd be permitting for pipelines or DOT related from the materials segment, but there could be something there as well I think.

I do want to remind you and others, we are tied to the economy. We think we've got a very good start to the year. We also have a backlog about -- not that we work it all off in the same year, but a strong majority of that. That's about half of what we are guiding from an overall revenue perspective on our businesses. So we still need to secure and win additional projects which I have confidence in our team, but I would point to those as a couple of the elements that could drive those to the lower end of that range.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Okay, great. Jeff, the guidance for revenues (technical difficulty). Is there labor constraints that are driving your expectations for revenues for the year?

Jeffrey S. Thiede -- President & CEO of MDU Construction Services Group, Inc

You bring up a good point regarding labor and we do see pressure on available labor and most of our markets. There's always a need for more alignment. We're seeing, in some of the regions we work, unanswered calls from the union halls and especially in the Ohio region. So we're looking ahead at selective opportunities that are going to fit our resources, and lot of it has to do with timing. So, we're still out pursuing projects. We still have the capacity to add to our backlog, but a lot of it comes down to labor availability, resources and alignment with our client needs.

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

Okay. Thanks for the details, guys.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Hey, thank you, Chris.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Paul Ridzon with KeyBanc. Please go ahead.

Paul Ridzon -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

Good afternoon.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Hi, Paul. Good afternoon.

Paul Ridzon -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

Can you quantify the reserve you took in the electric segment in the fourth quarter?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Paul, was your question quantify what we reserved in the electric segment for the fourth quarter?

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Yes.

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Paul, this is Jason. Just trying to confirm. Is this -- you're talking about the reserves for 2017 from a comparative standpoint? We...

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Maybe I misread the release. Okay, sorry.

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Yeah. No, I'm just curious. So we certainly saw some impacts last year as it relates to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. So we had some -- we took a adjustment I would say in 2017 too that reflected that as we talked about in our release. Really, nothing that I would quantify as a significant reserve that we took in the fourth quarter of this year for anything at the utility business. However, as we worked through the Tax Cut Jobs Act filings throughout the year, we certainly did see some impact of that throughout the year with that and Nicole can elaborate a little bit if needed.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

(multiple speakers) And then weather in the fourth quarter construction materials, kind of, how much of a drag did that cause versus plan?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Yeah, Paul. This is Dave. Yeah, it was a big drag compared to 2017. That was the biggest cause of the lower earnings in the fourth quarter was weather. Like I said in Texas, we had -- I don't think we had any work done in Texas in all of October and most of November, and as I said Iowa and Minnesota. We just had the early weather and it hurt us. We still made money but no, it did hurt our earnings in the fourth quarter.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

And then, is there any way to quantify? We had another 30-day government shutdown, what that could mean?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

I could tell you we saw no impact from this last shutdown. We don't feel -- we don't think it would be a large impact to our Company. Most of the jobs that are in our backlog is funded and then, even in the past when you look at California, they did some payment warrants to get people through. So, we don't believe it will have a big impact. It should have some type of impact when you're looking to get federal permits for jobs you got -- you already have, but we don't believe it will be a big impact, but we won't know until it happens obviously right?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Paul, this is Dave. Just maybe to expand on it, you quantified your question as a 30-day shutdown and clearly, I think, opinion wise, 30 day would not have a material effect on the year, but if we got extended beyond that, then you start looking at permitting and right of way and federal agencies (inaudible) even from sighting of our other growth projects, for instance, on our pipelines. And so, Dave touched on kind of from a DOT funding, but if it got longer than that, it's yet to be seen. We really haven't been that territory. So it's unknown to us exactly how that might be played out.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

And is the fact that the past -- the most recent shutdown had little impact just because it happened in January?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Yeah, obviously. Paul, this is Dave again. Yeah, it was in the holidays and through January, but we still had some work out there, not a lot, and we really been seeing the impact. We saw bidding continue to go through that time period and would expect. I mean, if we had a shutdown in late February -- like I said, it might have a little impact, but I don't think it'll be a big impact on our Company.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

And then lastly, I know I ask this every quarter, but have you seen any more competitive pressures eating into the savings from tax -- TCJA?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

No, Our margins continue to grow. We continue to get price increases on our products -- almost all our products, and we really haven't seen any pressure at all given anything back on the taxes.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Is that -- go ahead, Dave.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Paul, I'm going to ask Jeff to comment in services on the same question.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Thank you.

Jeffrey S. Thiede -- President & CEO of MDU Construction Services Group, Inc

We're not really seeing much of an impact to either. So, not materially.

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Okay, thank you very much.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Okay. Thank you, Paul.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Andrew Levi with ExodusPoint. Please go ahead.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Hi guys, how are you.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Hi, good afternoon, Andrew.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Just a couple follow-ups. Just, I want to get a better understanding of the guidance that ended up being that light relative to what maybe (inaudible). Did you feel then anything for the weather up to now? I mean, I know you're only four or five weeks into it, but was January's weather are factored anyway?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

No, we would have not factored in any of January into how we're viewing 2019.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

And then, also in 2019, I know that you have a ramp-up in capital costs regarding the construction materials business, and I guess that is for equipment. Is that correct?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Some of that is -- (multiple speakers) some of that is just -- I'll say normal O&M, I mean, normal capital from -- keep the equipment and the fleet fresh. Some of it's also taking out leases and putting them on the balance sheet instead of a -- from a lease perspective, and we do not have any capital included in materials or services relative to any M&A activity. So it's kind of ongoing -- just ongoing capital needs.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

No, but if I remember correctly , I think it was either in the third quarter call or December you increased the CapEx for that segment for '19?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

We did -- we did move it up some over the five year period, certainly from where it had been -- had been almost at historic lows for the prior five years.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Is that a drag at all in '19 just because whether it's taking -- dealing with the leases are buying new equipment?

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Andrew, this is Jason. Yeah, you could see a little bit of that. I think as you look at just from the fact that as you add more assets, you're going to have a little bit higher DD&A expense is going to flow through the income statement, which could have some impact there. From a cash flow standpoint, that can help you from an expensing standpoint to some of the new tax reform regulations we have out there being able to address that. So, it's kind of a little bit of a flip between O&M and DD&A in some cases. So, I don't think we would have a significant impact of any sort, because if you're buying out equipment versus leasing, it's really not going to have that much impact on your bottom line.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Okay, great. Saw the ramp up in that. So, I was wondering if it's really in '19 it's a little bit of a drag, and then as things get cooking in 2021 that drag no better way before it gets (inaudible) by top line growth are more efficient.

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Yeah. No, I would say not really a huge impact on '19 based on that, I don't see that being a huge driver for it.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Was the pensions an issue in '19 at all? Higher pension expenses?

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

No, not really. We've had -- most of our pensions that we have are frozen. So, I mean, we don't really have a lot of impact from ongoing there. You've certainly got -- you look at the back half of the year, we saw quite a bit of change in asset returns, obviously, which can have some impacts over the longer term on some of these plans, but yeah, it's spread out over quite a bit of time with the smoothing. Discount rate adjustments going to have some impacts too. The fact that the interest rates have come down a little bit here again toward the end of the year, but no significant impacts that, really, are a driver for us I would say in 2018.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Okay. So, to be honest with you, I'm kind of a little bit at a loss as you know. I'm looking at what you earned in 2018 and then your guidance -- your midpoint of the guidance is $1.45. So, getting kind of back to what Chris Ellinghaus was talking about. Why would there be no significant growth in '19 over '18. I know what your stated growth rate is, but if you were to come in at $1.45 versus $1.38, it doesn't achieve the growth rate. Obviously $1.55 does. So, I'm just a little confused to be honest with you. So maybe you can walk us through how you kind of came up with the midpoint, why at the midpoint, there would be no significant growth in '19 over '18 or is that $1.45 is conservative and we'd expect that toward the high end.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yeah, I think, Andrew, as you look at the range there, certainly we have probably a wider range than some of our utility brethren out there and we provide a range where some of our material and services brethren don't provide a range at all. So I think when you think of the range, the upper end of that range certainly provides, I think, a nice percentage of growth on a year-over-year basis. Even the midpoint of the range would be catching, if you will, our 5% to 8% that we talk about on a longer-term basis. And so -- and there is some variability as I commented earlier in our business. So whether it'd be weather effects and how soon we get out in the field and execution of our strong backlog that we have. And so, there is some variability certainly. As we get out of the gate here in the first quarter, we would look to update that throughout the year, and as we know more, we'll firm that up and adjust accordingly throughout the year, but this is how we're starting the year and certainly I would just ask you to stay tuned as we go throughout the year.

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Okay, thank you very much.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thank you, Andrew.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Vedula Murti of Avon Capital. Please go ahead.

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

Good afternoon.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Good afternoon.

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

Just wondering in terms of going through the business lines and the capital opportunities as well as potential M&A. Can you -- I came in a little bit late, but can you -- is there -- in terms of looking at the M&A landscape across your businesses, is there anything right now you're kind of prioritizing? And given where your balance sheet is right now, can you give us a sense as to kind of -- what type of capacity you feel like you'd be comfortable with if you found something that kind of match your criterion with regards to potential acquisition relative to the size of your balance sheet?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Sure. So, Vedula, as we think about each of our construction businesses, we have stated for some period of time now that we've resumed our business development teams in both services and materials. We announced throughout last year four acquisitions in our material segment. Those were all certainly executed last year. Also, our business teams are very active there. Services, while we didn't announce anything last year, we have business development teams active there, and looking at those markets from. On the regulated side, I would say our focus there is more from an organic growth perspective. We've got 5% CAGR at our utility over the next five years from a rate-based investment opportunities, all organic.

And then, if you take a look at our pipeline group, the projects that were completed last year on time, on budget, whether it was Valley Expansion or Line Section 27. We've got -- announced Line Section 22 near Billings also the Demicks Lake are nice organic growth projects. And then, the one we just recently announced a very sizable project, that will be a 2021 project, the North Bakken Expansion, which is $220 million. So, I see that as much more likely in line of sight from organic growth at both the pipeline and the utility group.

And so, I think the part two of your question was about balance sheet capacity here. And so, I'll turn that over to Jason Vollmer and he can touch on that a little bit. I mean, that's always situational specific, certainly, but just give you a sense.

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Yes, sort of I can touch on that just briefly. We do feel we've got a strong balance sheet. We're well positioned to experience some additional growth here and potentially look at some acquisitions as we go through the year as we did in 2018, certainly being able to make some acquisitions there without significant impacts of the balance sheet or any changes to our credit ratings. We are BBB plus rated with both -- both at S&P and Pitch at this point in time, and those targets that they look at from their perspective are typically either FFO to debt target or a debt to EBITDA type target. And , we feel like we've got some room there. I guess, it's hard to quantify that. It depends. It's specific to each individual acquisition. You can look at as far as what kind of additional EBITDA or FFO those acquisitions would create, but we feel like we've got some room to continue to grow and maintain the credit ratings where they're at today, which we really like that stable BBB plus type rating.

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

Just so I am clear, it seems like that the focus on anything that would be outside of what's in the current capital program or that's outside of organic within all the business lines, anything that's outside of organic would be focused more toward the materials and services area at this time?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

I think that's fair to say, but still at the same time, we wouldn't dismiss opportunities that we'd have both from capital deployment, both at the pipeline along with the utility. And so, I wouldn't preclude that. I would just say, it's much more line of sight and that's what's currently included in our five-year plan.

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

I'm also just curious -- just when you take a look at the regulated side of the business in pipeline some -- valuations to some extent have been somewhat elevated. And I think, we've discussed this in the past. I'm kind of curious how you view that today and kind of how you're looking at things going forward and putting that in context?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Sure. And I mean the elevated value is some of the reason why we're probably less focused on M&A opportunities because of the challenge there to ensure that they're shareholder value created. And so, that poses its own set of challenges, if you will. And again, we're very focused on what's right in front of us from the organic growth opportunity set.

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

All right. Thank you very much.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thank you, Vedula.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from line of Ryan Levine with Citi. Please go ahead.

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

Hello. Couple of questions on the construction materials segment. Would you able to breakout the contribution from recent acquisitions for the quarter in both backlog and in terms of the EBITDA. Was that meaningful for the Q4 performance? And is there a way to comment around how the recent acquisitions have been performing relative to expectations, and if there is any noise that is baked into your 2019 guidance?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Ryan, great questions. I'll ask Dave, maybe start with the first one, Dave, about just how are the operations functioning and being integrated and just given we've had one here just in the fourth quarter and then three earlier in the year.

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Yes, well, on the South Dakota, the Sweetman materials, we just purchased that in the fourth quarter, and we're just getting them, we've been --

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

Integrated?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Integrated, yes, that's the word I was looking for. Integrated within our companies and that's come along fine. They really don't have a backlog. They are a materials company. So there is no backlog that you would -- we would put within our $700 million number. You're not going to see any backlog there and the Tri-Cities, a small backlog. We have those integrated. They're working well, right now. They didn't contribute that much to earnings in 2018. We're looking for more of that contribution in 2019. That answered your question?

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

Is there any 2019 volatility associated with the recent acquisitions?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Not that I know of.

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

In terms of earnings?

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

No. I would say all upside.

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

And in terms of the EBITDA contribution from the quarter, do you know what those acquisitions collectively providing? Trying to understand what's organic versus inorganic in construction materials group?

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

Hi, Ryan. This is Jason. I'd just jump in quick, I would say it's really hard to pull what that is (inaudible) bolt-on type acquisitions really get integrated with other operations that we have within those areas. I would say largely, as far as impacts in the fourth quarter as Dave mentioned, Sweetman was probably the more significant acquisition that we made. So it was -- which was happened in the fourth quarter here. So, I really didn't have a whole lot of track record behind it as we acquired that, brought it in. And really, just from an integration strategy throughout the year, I mean, we've certainly incurred some expenses to acquire these companies as well, which probably offset any additional impact throughout the scene. So, I would call it kind of a wash on the year and certainly on the fourth quarter.

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

Okay. And then in terms of the M&A market going forward, are you seeing any change in pricing or terms in light of the competitive dynamic for ag or other construction material or service businesses?

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yes, we'll start with back to Dave Barney in the materials, then we'll move on to Jeff Thiede for services.

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Ryan, our sweet spot, what fits us well is that $30 million to $60 million M&A deals, and so we're trying to stay out of the large platform deal that you're going to see the double-digit multiples. So the multiples we're seeing are between 6 and maybe 8, we're willing to pay depending on what kind of synergies we'll get from those companies as we integrate them within our companies, but right now there's -- we're getting calls all the time. We're working on a few as we speak right now, and hopefully we can announce some here in the next couple of months.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Jeff?

Jeffrey S. Thiede -- President & CEO of MDU Construction Services Group, Inc

Yeah, we're seeing higher premiums and about similar multiples. Our business is similar to Knife River's, but unique. We're continuing to evaluate companies that will add to our growth and our priorities of -- two major priorities which is adding a company that fits our culture with services that are complementary to what we currently provide, and second, looking to grow outside of our current markets and in areas that are business friendly, and areas that have diversified economies. So we can't get more specific than that, but we can tell you we're looking to grow. We have the backing to grow. We also have the M&A team seek, evaluate and integrate additional companies into our organization.

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thank you.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thank you. Ryan.

Operator

This marks the last call for questions. (Operator Instructions) This call will be available for replay beginning at 5:00 PM Eastern Time today, through 11:59 PM Eastern Time on February 20. The conference ID number for the replay is 7586823. Again, the conference ID number for the replay is 7586823.

At this time there are no further questions. I would now like to turn the conference back over to management for closing remarks.

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Well, thank you. 2018 was certainly a solid year for all of our businesses and in which we executed well on both our strategies and our long-term way to create shareholder value. We are committed to building a strong America and being optimistic about our opportunities for 2019 and beyond. We certainly appreciate your participation on our call today and we thank you for your continued interest in MDU Resources. With that, I'll turn it back to the operator.

Operator

This concludes today's MDU Resources Group conference call. Thank you for your participation, you may now disconnect.

Duration: 44 minutes

Call participants:

Jason L. Vollmer -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer

David L. Goodin -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Chris Ellinghaus -- Williams Capital -- Analyst

David C. Barney -- President & Chief Executive Officer of Knife River Corporation

Jeffrey S. Thiede -- President & CEO of MDU Construction Services Group, Inc

Paul Ridzon -- KeyBanc -- Analyst

Paul Thomas Ridzon -- KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc -- Analyst

Andrew Levi -- ExodusPoint -- Analyst

Vedula Murti -- Avon Capital -- Analyst

Ryan Levine -- Citi -- Analyst

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