JS Notes: CHRW, MHFI, AET, L, SCTY, ICE, CHK, BUD, NOV, MKL

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Jeremy S., an investment analyst here in Southern California, has started to contribute to Avondale’s company notes database. Below are quotes from some of the calls that Jeremy has read this week.

 

C.H. Robinson (CHRW) CEO John Wiehoff says the company played a critical role to helping customers ship their goods effectively and efficiently given the West Coast port shutdown 

“Unlike intermodal, we do believe that the port delays on the West Coast probably helped our global forwarding business a little bit. We do know that several of our customers had difficult opportunities that we were able to help them with, and in some cases where customers were unable to get direct access to ocean capacity, we were able to help them with our capacity. So we do know of examples and believe that our global forwarding results probably were helped somewhat by the West Coast port delays.”

C.H. Robinson (CHRW) CEO John Wiehoff says he would like to do an acquisition in the intermodal or contract logistics space, the firm remains disciplined on finding the right candidate

“With all of the services that we offer, our belief is that our long-term competitive advantage is in the quality of our service and the quality of our people. And when we look at the acquisition opportunities, we want to make certain that we’re not disrupting any of that service capability or continuity and that we have the time and focus to make sure that we improve our competitive position in the marketplace while doing it. So while we’ve been looking at opportunities in both intermodal and contract logistics, we haven’t found what we thought was the right blend of value and integration capabilities to really improve our competitive positioning in the marketplace.”

C.H. Robinson (CHRW) CEO John Wiehoff says he still believes firm’s “asset light” business model is a differentiator versus many of its competitors

“In the longer run, we have belief that our third-party model of separating the capacity ownership and the capital investment from the customer service and go-to-market strategies can be a very effective way and the most effective way to serve a large part of the marketplace.”

But he conceeds more competitors have entered the space in the last few years

“As others continue to invest in that business model and more of the marketplace gets served by a third-party or a logistics-type business model, we think that that just reflects some of the secular changes in how we’re all competing. So the market is more competitive, we’re adapting to how things are changing and with regards to the business model that each of our competitors pursues around a blend of capital and logistics type stuff, we’ll just have to factor that in to how we sell and how we grow in the marketplace.”

Their customer base continues to be diversified 

“From an enterprise standpoint, we have a lot of customers that are around the 1% net revenue, and we’ve shared before from an enterprise standpoint that our top 100 customers are around a third of the business and that our top 300 or 400 customers make up around half of the business.  That’s part of that customer diversification that we feel is the strength of our business model.”

 

 

 

 

McGraw Hill Financial (MHFI) CEO Doug Peterson says the firm’s bond rating unit has benefited from a large number of corporations refinancing before the oncoming Federal Reserve rate hike

“If we turn to issuance, the recent trends in US and European issuance did benefit our businesses. First-quarter issuance in the US was quite strong across all sectors. Investment grade increased 24%.  In the US the improvement in corporate issuance was largely due to a 45% increase in industrials issuance.  Large debt financed M&A transactions also contributed to the lift in issuance.  In addition, a continued thirst for yield has enabled corporate issuers across the rating spectrum to tap the capital market, extending maturities at beneficial pricing and terms. High yield increased 39%, public finance was up 61% over an unusually weak first-quarter in 2014.”

Additionally, the firm remains competitively positioned with its S&P ETF business

“If we turn to the key business drivers, the ETF industry experienced record first quarter inflows of $97 billion.  We believe that once investors place funds into passive investment, these funds tend to stay in passive investment and then they shift between various ETFs based on asset allocation models and decisions.  ETF AUMs associated with our indices increased 22% to $810 billion versus the end of first-quarter 2014 with approximately three quarters of this growth coming from inflows.”

The company’s Platts commodity business continued to grow revenue during the quarter even though client interest in commodity investments remains muted

“During the quarter, Platts continued to grow revenue despite low commodity prices. As we have seen in recent quarters the newer areas of metals and agriculture had the highest revenue growth rate.  Global trading services revenue increased primarily due to license revenue from the steel index derivative activity at the Singapore Exchange.”

The firm continues to benefit from some of the large U.S. banks shedding non-core assets

“We are also encouraged by the facts that banks are probably struggling after the LIBOR scandals with their ability to continue to manage benchmarks inside of their businesses. They might be non-core or they might not really be a business that it makes a lot of sense for them to be in.”

 

 

 

 

Aetna (AET) CEO Mark Bertolini says value based medical care reimbursement as opposed to quantity based reimbursement is now a substantial portion of the business

“Value based contracting now represents approximately 30% of Aetna’s medical spend with a goal to achieve 75% by the end of the decade.”

The firm benefitted from having lower medical insurance claims than expected

“Our commercial medical benefit ratio was 77.4% for the quarter, an excellent result that benefited from higher premiums, moderate cost trends and strong prior year’s reserve development.”

 

 

 

 

Loews (L) CEO Jim Tisch says the company is positioned opportunistically to deploy its large cash balance

“I want to start today by looking at Loews $5.5 billion of cash and investments.  As we have said before, money doesn’t burn a hole in our pockets. While we acknowledge that cash can be a drag on Loews short term returns, we feel that having the flexibility to be opportunistic and not rely on financing markets has served our shareholders very well over the long term.”

Loews (L) CEO Jim Tisch says the market is priced for perfection and he is having a hard time finding undervalued assets

“I think that after all these years of low interest rates and quantitative easing, what we have is markets both fixed income and equity markets that are priced for perfection.  So, my guess is that for the time being businesses look like they’re priced too high for us.  Now one of the things that I always remember is that the world is cyclical. And it’s easy to lose sight of that because we’re now in – firmly in year six of an upcycle for equity prices.  But at some point in time something will happen, people will lose all the confidence that they have and my guess is that opportunities will present itself.  I’d rather be patient and get a good business at an attractive price rather than lose patience and buy a business at too higher price.”

Loews (L) CEO Jim Tisch says that one of it’s oil rig subsidiaries, Diamond Offshore, performed poorly during the quarter but still sees further downside for the industry ahead which he hopes will ultimately lead to a buying opportunity

“I think right now the conditions are bad enough for rig valuations to go down. The problem is they haven’t been bad enough for long enough.  In the next two, three or four quarters, I think we could see that some fifth and six generation rig assets become available for sale.

 

 

 

 

Solarcity (SCTY) Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive says solar installation costs are falling at a dramatic pace which is allowing solar energy distribution to be competitive to electric utilities

“On the residential side, our fully installed solar battery system costs are about one-third of what they were a year ago. We expect cost to decline further at manufacturing sales and over the next five to 10 years these costs reductions will make it feasible to deploy the battery by default with all of our solar power systems.”

Solarcity (SCTY) Chief Financial Officer Brad Buss says access to the capital markets for the solar capital markets is gaining momentum as investors becoming increasingly confident in the business model

“Every six months I only see our credit spread shrinking as we continue to perform as the paper continues to perform. So I am very happy where things are going from that perspective and then obviously on a cost spend of it. It is really is the cost of capital and the cost that’s really driving our success and where I think we will continue to outdistance and be cost efficient.”

 

 

 

 

 

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) Chief Financial Officer Scott Hill says the company has seen increased volume in its oil contracts and is benefitting from increased volatility in the commodity sector

“This was enabled by an 11% increase in commodity revenues on the strength of our global oil markets.  Brent crude contact revenue  grew 51% year-to-year to a record $74 million. Brent continues to expand its lead as the global benchmark for pricing crude and refined oil products, with open interest up 15% from year-end to a record 4.4 million contracts. Notably, Brent open interest is up 49% from last March, with strong growth due to the ongoing shift of Brent in commodity indexes and longer-term secular trends.”

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) CEO Jeff Sprecher says he expects to see continued growth in their Asian products over the coming years

Similarly, Asia’s markets are expanding due to greater demand for the type of products we currently offer through our Western exchanges and clearinghouses.  Our work there is foundational, and we will launch ICE Futures Singapore and ICE Clear Singapore this year. We’re seeing a good deal of interest in our newly announced Asian market products and for the increased access to central clearing.  The other interesting thing is there’s also a lot of capital moving towards Asia.  You see it in the demand right now for the linkage between the Hong Kong Exchange and the Shanghai Stock Exchange in equities.”

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) CEO Jeff Sprecher is optimistic about taking over the LIBOR and gold price benchmark administration from what used to be a consortium of banks that set those price levels 

At ICE Benchmark Administration, in March, the ICE Swap Rate replaced the ISDAFIX, and we successfully launched the gold price with record-level participation. We’ve also undertaken market consultations for both LIBOR and the LBMA Gold Prices to evolve the best practices for determining these prices.”

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) CEO Jeff Sprecher says the New York Stock Exchange continues to be the global leader in IPO’s and capital raising

The New York Stock Exchange continued to lead in global capital raising, with $50 billion in total proceeds raised in the first quarter. This is more than the next 2 largest exchanges combined. And we continue to attract companies of all sectors and market capitalizations because of our unique market model, combined with our unparalleled visibility and service.”

Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) CEO Jeff Sprecher focuses on profit per share of the company rather than market share

We have, in a very disciplined way, decided to not participate in options volume that does not earn a return for the company.  So the fact that we send uncompetitive business to our competitors is to not concern our shareholders.  And let’s let those competitors have the bragging rights if they have a lot of market share, but there isn’t a lot of income to go along with some of that business.”

 

 

 

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) Executive VP Chris Doyle says the firm is using big data techniques to analyze how to drill the most effective well

“The Operational Support Center (OSC) is manned by 100 industry experts, drilling superintendents, geosteerers, geologists, engineers, lease operators and analysts. OSC is Chesapeake’s central command center. It’s like NORAD in Oklahoma City. But more than just monitoring and supporting, the OSC links our teams executing out in the field with real-time data analytics, industrial analytics and tactical performance-enhancing adjustments.  y identifying optimal drilling parameters based on historical drilling data, every single well had a well plan based on what it took to drill the fastest, best, most competitive well. And any and all trouble time was analyzed, evaluated, all events in the past and so the OSC was able to forewarn our drilling organization, including the drillers on the rig floor, when they were either outside the optimal drilling window or they were headed for a potential issue. The result was optimized drilling performance and elimination of downtime events. That’s how you reduce cycle times from 26 days to 12 days.”

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) Chief Financial Officer Domenic Dell’osso stated that the company has reduced it’s rig count dramatically which will likely hurt oil rig manufacturers

“We started 2015 with around 70 rigs running, including a few spud rig, and averaged 54 rigs during the first quarter. Today, we’re running 26 rigs in total and we’re forecasting to drop to 14 rigs during the third quarter.”

 

 

 

 

Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD) CEO Carlos Brito said that the Bud Light brand continues to struggle in its attempt to resonate with the U.S. consumer

“We estimate the Bud Light brand was down approximately 20 bps in terms of total market share.  We have a long way to go in stabilizing the share of Budweiser.”

Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD) CEO Carlos Brito said the company continues to gain market share in China and its various brands now represent almost 1/5 of all beer consumed in China

“We estimate our market share in the quarter reached 18.5% when including our recent acquisitions.”

Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD) CEO Carlos Brito on how he thinks about the craft brewing movement in the U.S.

“We’re adopting the strategy very clearly of having more regional relevant brands. So that’s the case when we joined with Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Elysian, but also developing our own like Shock Top, and also trying to focus in a few that could be nationally expanded.  In other markets, what we’re trying to do is get the U.S. learnings over to other markets and try to be, of course, ahead of the curve, especially markets where we lead, like Brazil.”

Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD) CEO Carlos Brito on how they are incorporating social media into their marketing

Social media continues to grow within our mix of media spend between social and traditional. We are learning every day by connecting more with consumers and making our contents relevant. Of course, it’s a very fast paced type interaction with consumers, and we don’t intend to get everything right all the time.”

Anheuser Busch Inbev (BUD) CEO Carlos Brito expects the company to compete effectively in the Vietnamese beer market

So in terms of Vietnam, yes, we’re building a brewery there. We expect to ship beer in May. So this month in Vietnam. We’re very excited about Vietnam. It’s a country, again, demographics, weather, beer culture, 90 million people, a very extensive or a very big high-end segment. And that’s where we want to play with Budweiser, Stella and Corona, also Hoegaarden. So very exciting market, we’re very committed to it, and learning from our experience in China to do a lot of what we did with Budweiser in China in Vietnam.”

 

 

 

 

National Oilwell Varco (NOV) CEO Clay Williams says the pace of the decline in the oil rig count is unprecedented in history

The rate of decline of active rigs, most acute across North America is breathtaking and unequaled in prior downturns. NOV saw activities and orders slow in just about all areas of our business and all of our units are experiencing pricing pressure.”

And the company is under serious pricing pressure to reduce their selling price to customers

“We are also under pricing pressure and requests to cancel work, which we are vigorously opposing. We are seeking to structure discounts around volume-related rebates tied to payments and expanded product purchases, in effect picking our points, to try and win greater share, defend volumes, and improve absorption in our plants. We don’t want our customers to get out of the habit of buying from us, to maximize our market position when the inevitable recovery comes.  We closed three facilities within the unit during the first quarter and continued to reduce costs within our supply chain. North America was hit hardest, but the Middle East and other international markets are more stable.”

 

 

 

 

Markel (MKL) CFO Anne Waleski says the firm remains disciplined on price and will not write insurance in which it cannot earn a reasonable rate of return

“Market conditions remain very competitive, consistent with our historical practices we will not rate business when we believe prevailing market rates will not support our underwriting profit targets.”

Marke (MKL) President Rich Crowley says the reinsurance sector remains ultra competitive with capital as a result of low interest rates

“In the reinsurance segment we saw pressure in terms and rates during the January 1 renewal process. As the year moves forward, while still extremely competitive it does appear that the decrease in rates and terms has slowed to some extent.  In summary and we stated it many times, we’re not going to chase premium when we feel the rates are inadequate. We continue to reinforce this message with our underwriting teams as is reflected in our first quarter’s gross premium numbers.”

Markel (MKL) Chief Investment Officer Tom Gaynor says even though they are earning very little on their short duration bond portfolio due to the low interest rate environment, they think today’s economic and financial climate warrants conservatism

“I’m sure that if we were really smart and clever we could find some alternative investment approach that would increase the yield on our short term portfolio from essentially nothing to something more than that. We’re not that clever or smart, so we won’t try to perform that sort of alchemy. We’ve seen enough of those experiments end badly to dissuade us from going down that path.”