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The Chemours Company (NYSE:CC) Q1 2024 Earnings Call Transcript

The Chemours Company (NYSE:CC) Q1 2024 Earnings Call Transcript May 1, 2024

The Chemours Company isn't one of the 30 most popular stocks among hedge funds at the end of the third quarter (see the details here).

Operator: Good morning. My name is Lovely, and I will be your conference operator today. I would like to welcome everyone to The Chemours Company First Quarter 2024 Results Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A question-and-answer session will follow the conclusion of the prepared remarks. I would like to remind everyone that this conference call is being recorded. I would now like to hand the conference call over to Brandon Ontjes, Vice President of Investor Relations for Chemours. You may now begin your conference.

Brandon Ontjes: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Chemours Company's first quarter 2024 earnings conference call. I’m joined today by Denise Dignam, President and Chief Executive Officer; and our Interim Chief Financial Officer, Matt Abbott. Before we start, I'd like to remind you that comments made on this call, as well as in the supplemental information provided in our presentation and on our website, contain forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties, as described in Chemours' SEC filings. These forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and are based on certain assumptions and expectations of future events that may not be realized. Actual results may differ, and Chemours undertakes no duty to update any forward-looking statements as a result of future developments or new information.

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During the course of this call, we will refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures that we believe are useful to investors evaluating the company's performance. A reconciliation of non-GAAP terms and adjustments are included in our release issued yesterday. Also, we posted our earnings presentation to our website last evening. With that, I will turn the call over to Denise Dignam.

Denise Dignam: Thank you, Brandon, and good morning, everyone. I'm going to start this morning by talking about our overall performance and dive more deeply into TT. Then I'm going to turn the call over to Matt to cover our segment level performance as well as our balance sheet and liquidity position. I'll then provide our outlook for the second quarter and spend some time on TSS, because I received a lot of questions from many of you on this business during our recent meetings. We'll then close with your questions. Let's start with our first quarter performance. Our TT segment met our top line expectations for the quarter. Adjusted EBITDA for TT was better than expected for 3 primary reasons. First, our actions to allocate TiO2 volumes to higher yield regions, second, more favorable than expected timing of lower cost or consumption, which we anticipate will shift mostly to the second quarter and third, our transformation plan continuing to produce strong results.

Our APM and TSS segments both performed in line with our expectations for net sales and adjusted EBITDA for the first quarter. The economically sensitive end markets served by APM began to show some signs of a modest recovery during the quarter. TSS in addition to benefiting from traditional seasonality across the refrigerant's product portfolio continue to leverage its advantage in Opteon stationary blend to support the transition to low GWP solutions in connection with the recent incremental regulatory step downs in the U.S. and Europe. In these regions, TSS also experienced the continued trends in opt in demand for aftermarket automotive solutions in line with our expectations. Now back to TT. We have not seen our order book velocity at these levels since the third quarter of 2022 and we are seeing early signs of restocking.

However, we have not seen a market catalyst such as a decrease in interest rates, improvement in residential building or an increase in auto production. Digging into the first quarter, in the most basic terms, we made purposeful choices in terms of production and volume allocation. As we finished 2023, we did not see appreciable improvement in the market and we remained appropriately conservative with our production plans. First, we made the decision to not chase volume in low value markets. Instead, we allocated TiO2 volumes to higher yield end markets. While our pricing through the end of the quarter is lower than the prior year, we've been able to retain stronger overall pricing relative to the market. As referenced, this pricing position helped us drive improved earnings as we exited the first quarter.

Second, we consumed a higher concentration of lower cost ore including from our own mines, which contributed to our profitability. And third, as previously disclosed, we pulled forward previously planned second quarter maintenance to ensure we are well-positioned for an eventual market recovery. Once we completed this maintenance, we brought the plant back online and its performance has never been better. Consistent with what I shared in our last earnings call, we have seen our order book velocity improve and have increased production across our manufacturing circuit. This supports our expected growth in TT in the second quarter. Now let's take a step back and look at our transformation plan from a wider lens. The main objective of our plan is to secure our long-term leadership position by becoming one of the lowest cost TiO2 producers globally.

Our initial focus was twofold. First, optimizing our manufacturing circuit to drive higher production efficiency. This started with the closing of Kuan Yin and redistributing production across lower cost manufacturing sites in North America without sacrificing product quality or reliability. This has been a clear success. Second, driving improved productivity from our mining operations and better utilizing that feedstock in our TiO2 production. To date, our mining performance has shown significant improvement with the consumption of our own ore feedstock improving to nearly 15% from less than 10% in late 2023. The meaningful progress that we are making on cost savings is clearly evident in the first quarter results. Our actions more than offset the decline in local price year-over-year.

Overall, since we announced the TT transformation plan in 2023, we have eliminated approximately $90 million of operating expenses. $50 million of this was in the latter half of 2023 and another $40 million in year-over-year cost outs were realized in the first quarter of 2024. For the full year 2024, we are well on our way towards our cost out targets of $125 million. Now, I'll turn things over to Matt to dive more deeply into the results.

Matt Abbott : Thank you, Denise. Good morning, everyone. Our consolidated net sales for the first quarter were approximately $1.4 billion, compared with net sales of $1.5 billion for the same period in 2023, primarily reflecting a 6% decrease in volumes in APM and TSS and a 5% decline in price across all three businesses. Consolidated adjusted EBITDA decreased 37% year-over-year from $304 million to $193 million. This decrease was primarily driven by demand weakness combined with lower cost absorption in APM and a slower start to 2024 in TSS, partially offset by the cost out actions in TT that Denise just mentioned. This decline in consolidated adjusted EBITDA also includes a $5 million unallocated item related to third-party costs associated with the TT transformation plan.

We expect this amount to recur quarterly for the remainder of the year. Consolidated net income was $52 million compared with $145 million in the prior year quarter. Net income per diluted share was $0.34 compared with $0.96 in the prior year quarter. Our corporate expenses were $55 million in the first quarter of 2024, a $10 million increase versus the prior year quarter and approximately $25 million lower than expected. Some of the costs related to the outcome of the Audit Committee's internal review and the company's remediation of material weaknesses were lower than we forecasted. The costs related to these efforts approximated $14 million during the first quarter, while other anticipated expenses moved into the second quarter. Adding to this, the first quarter further benefited from lower stock based compensation expenses, driven by lower overall achieved performance and the negative discretion exercised by the Board of Directors on former executives' compensation.

Finally, the company recognized lower than anticipated environmental remediation expenses in the first quarter due to timing of planned work. We expect corporate expenses to be higher in the second quarter by approximately $15 million to $20 million sequentially. This range primarily reflects a normalization of expenses associated with the company's long-term incentive plan and environmental remediation costs. Additionally, the company anticipates expenses related to the remediation of our material weaknesses and other recommendations arising from the Audit Committee's internal review will be relatively flat quarter-over-quarter. We anticipate there may be additional costs related to the remediation of material weaknesses over the balance of the year.

Turning to our business segment performance starting with TT. In the first quarter, TT net sales decreased 7% year-over-year to $588 million. This decrease was primarily driven by a 7% decline in pricing with volume and currency remaining relatively flat. Price decreased versus the prior year period as index based pricing contractual stability was more than offset by decreases in the market exposed customer portfolio. Volumes were flat when compared to the prior year quarter with strength in the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions offsetting weakness in North America and Latin America. TT's first quarter adjusted EBITDA was flat at $70 million versus the prior year quarter. Adjusted EBITDA margin improved 100 basis points to 12%, reflecting the impact of a decrease in price more than offset by the cost savings realized from the TT transformation plan.

On a sequential basis, net sales decreased by 10%, completely driven by a decline in volume. Adjusted EBITDA increased by 9% versus the prior quarter, primarily driven by the referenced actions to allocate volumes to higher yielding regions and the timing of lower cost or consumption. Moving now to our TSS segment. For the first quarter, TSS net sales were approximately $449 million down 8% from the first quarter 2023. This decrease was the result of a 6% decrease in volume and a 2% decrease in price with currency impact flat. The volume decrease was primarily due to lower demand in the foam, propellants and other product portfolio. While volumes in the overall refrigerants product portfolio remained relatively flat, we did observe weaker demand in the automotive OEM market in line with market expectations.

This was partially offset by increased demand for Opteon products in stationary end markets, driven by the regulatory transition to low GWP solutions. The year-over-year price decrease was primarily driven by weaker legacy refrigerant pricing influenced by higher market inventory levels. We anticipate these legacy refrigerant inventory levels to remain elevated throughout the remainder of the year. Contractual pricing declines in the Opteon auto OEM market contributed to this decline. This weaker refrigerants product portfolio pricing was partially offset by stronger Opteon blends pricing consistent with stronger stationery demand. First quarter adjusted EBITDA for TSS decreased 18% year-over-year to $151 million with adjusted EBITDA margin down 4 percentage points to 34%.

These declines were driven by the decreases in sales, volume and price as well as ongoing investments in immersion cooling and next generation refrigerants. On a sequential basis, net sales increased 20%, with volume and price increasing 15% and 5%, respectively. This increase reflected the seasonal strength across the refrigerants product portfolio, partially offset by the softer volumes in the foam, propellants and other products portfolio due to its exposure to construction markets, which remain weak. Now turning to APM. APM's first quarter 2024 net sales were $299 million a 23% decrease compared to the first quarter of 2023. This decrease was primarily driven by an 18% decline in volume, a 5% decrease in price, and flat currency impact.

The volume decrease was primarily due to weaker demand in more economically sensitive and non-strategic end markets and the tail impact of a previously disclosed extended maintenance outage during the fourth quarter of 2023, which remains resolved. Price decreased primarily due to mix and softer market dynamics compared with the prior year. First quarter 2024 net sales for the Performance Solutions product portfolio were $113 million down 22% versus the prior year quarter. First quarter 2024 net sales for the Advanced Materials product portfolio were $186 million, down 24% versus the prior year quarter. Adjusted EBITDA for APM was $30 million a 64% decline year-over-year with adjusted EBITDA margin down 12 percentage points to 10%. These declines were primarily the result of the decrease in sales price, lower volume that drove lower fixed cost absorption and the impact of a now completed extended maintenance outage, partially offset by lower input costs.

A technician performing quality checks on a range of specialty chemicals.
A technician performing quality checks on a range of specialty chemicals.

On a sequential basis, APM net sales decreased 8% with a 1% decrease in price, an 8% decrease in volume and a 1% favorable currency impact. From a product portfolio perspective, net sales declined 3% in the Advanced Materials and 16% in Performance Solutions, primarily driven by ongoing demand softness in the more economically sensitive end markets in the Advanced Materials product portfolio and specific product lines within the Performance Solutions product portfolio. The Performance Chemicals and Intermediates business in the company's other segment had net sales and adjusted EBITDA for the first quarter of 2024 of $14 million and $2 million respectively. Turning now to our balance sheet and liquidity position. As of March 31, 2024, our consolidated gross debt was $4.1 billion.

Our liquidity position was $1.6 billion, which included $746 million in unrestricted cash and cash equivalents and $853 million in revolver capacity net of outstanding letters of credit. We did not draw on our revolver during the quarter. Our net leverage ratio increased to 3.7x. We also maintained $607 million in restricted cash and restricted cash equivalents, primarily held in the Water District Settlement Fund for the terms of the U.S. Public Water Systems settlement agreement that we have discussed before. We anticipate that we will no longer maintain our reversionary interest in this fund under the terms of the U.S. Public Water District settlement agreement in the second quarter of 2024. When we relinquish our interest in this fund, we will also remove our current outstanding liability under this settlement.

The total amount of this settlement was fully funded in Q3 of 2023 and requires no additional funding from unrestricted cash to meet this obligation. Our operating cash flow during the first quarter came in slightly better than expectations with the use of cash from operations of $290 million. Capital expenditures were $102 million in line with our expectations, and we paid out $37 million in dividends to shareholders. As a reminder, outside of the net working capital timing actions disclosed in our Form 10-Q, we have a historical pattern of seasonality when it comes to operating cash flow due to the timing of sales and inventory. For the remainder of the first half of 2024, we expect unrestricted cash and cash equivalents to remain relatively flat.

And then we expect a working capital source of cash in the second half of the year as we sell product from inventory and collect receivables from our customers. In terms of our capital allocation, I wanted to take a moment to reiterate that we are focused on taking a balanced and disciplined approach to how we allocate capital. Our current strategy focuses on the following areas: one, selectively invest in organic and inorganic growth to enhance our portfolio, two, resolve contingent or accrued liabilities on terms and basis deemed to be in the best interest of the company and our stakeholders, three, maintain appropriate leverage and four, return cash to shareholders. Last, I would like to note that we continue to work on our remediation of the 4 material weaknesses disclosed in our annual report on Form 10-K.

We are devoting substantial resources towards the implementation of enhanced procedures and internal controls over financial reporting. We have established a project management office to monitor progress and we have also engaged several professional services firms to assist in the execution of a comprehensive remediation plan. We have updated our disclosures around our remediation progress in Item 4 of our recently filed Form 10-Q and will continue to provide updates in our future SEC filings. With that, Denise, back to you.

Denise Dignam: Thank you, Matt. Let's turn to our outlook. For now, we're going to continue to provide an outlook for the quarter ahead. On a consolidated basis, we expect net sales to increase approximately 15% sequentially in the second quarter with consolidated adjusted EBITDA growing in line also up approximately 15%. We expect TT to achieve sequential net sales growth in the range of 15%, reflecting the strength in our order book. Although we haven't observed a broad level market catalyst, we have seen some slight seasonal demand strength in limited end markets and in some regions. We anticipate adjusted EBITDA for TT growing in line with the sequential increase in net sales. The growth will be supported by higher volumes and improved fixed cost absorption.

However, this will be partially offset by the timing shift of higher cost or consumption from the first quarter to the second quarter. We expect TSS to grow sequentially in the mid-teens for both net sales and adjusted EBITDA driven by both seasonality and elevated demand for Opteon products. The projected sequential growth for adjusted EBITDA incorporates a modest offset from higher input costs from non-Corpus Christi source materials to service demand growth as well as lower fixed cost absorption on our legacy refrigerant production. It also includes continued investment in next generation refrigerants and emerging cooling. We anticipate these R&D investments over the year to be approximately $15 million. Finally, we anticipate APM net sales to grow in the low-teens sequentially, driven by the Performance Solutions product portfolio.

We expect a slight improvement in performance across the Advanced Materials product portfolio, reflecting the modest recovery that I mentioned earlier in some of our economically sensitive end market. We also anticipate adjusted EBITDA increasing close to 30% sequentially in APM as mixed and fixed cost absorption improve as volume increases. As I mentioned in my opening, I received a number of questions on TSS during our recent investor meeting, so I wanted to spend some time diving deeper into this business. We've also incorporated several slides in our earnings supplement that provide some additional details. So let's start with a few of the basics. TSS consists of 2 different product portfolios: first refrigerants and the second is foam, propellants and other or FP&O.

Our refrigerants product portfolio covers thermal management solutions for end markets such as mobile and stationary air conditioning for residential, commercial and industrial applications. Our FP&O product portfolio covers end markets such as foam blowing agents and propellants, including pharmaceutical grades. Approximately 80% of our overall TSS business is concentrated in North America and EMEA. Many of our products across both of our refrigerants and FP&O product portfolio utilize low global warming potential or GWP technologies, most notably our Opteon brand and our HP 152a propellant. This is important because our TSS business is closely tied to the regulatory transitions established under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and more directly impacted by the EU F-Gas Regulation and the U.S. AIM Act.

These regulatory actions are the catalysts driving the transition to low GWP solutions that is currently underway. Our refrigerants product portfolio is most directly impacted by the regulatory transitions and it makes up about 80% of our TSS sales. In terms of markets, our low GWP Opteon products are growing in automotive applications initially through OEMs and then to the auto aftermarket using a pure Opteon YF solution. Our refrigerants product portfolio also provides an Opteon Blend solution for our stationary air conditioning and commercial refrigeration applications. Opteon Blends reflect the combination of our Opteon products and certain legacy refrigerants for new and retrofit applications. This product portfolio also includes legacy refrigerants, although they are declining in our overall mix due to the regulatory driven transition towards Opteon low GWP solutions.

On a trailing 12-month basis, through the first quarter of 2024, our low GWP products make up approximately 80% of our overall refrigerants volume in EMEA and 30% of our refrigerants volume in the U.S. This compares to 70% and 25% respectively on the same basis a year ago. We anticipate this mix will continue to shift as additional step downs occur later in the decade. This is driven by the regulatory transitions taking place in key end markets in the U.S. and in the EU and of course our strong suite of patents protecting our Opteon solutions. We are supporting the continued regulatory transition in these regions through our investment in the expansion of our Corpus Christi site, which will provide a 40% increase in capacity for Opteon. I'm happy to share that this expansion is on plan to be completed during the fourth quarter of this year, and we will start up production in early 2025.

We are taking other actions to realize growth opportunities in TSS outside of those being driven by regulation. For example, we announce the expansion of our production of Opteon low GWP Foam in late 2026 continuing to secure our position in the attractive end markets that we serve. Another example we shared last year is around the development of our new specialty fluid for 2 phase emergent cooling. With anticipated commercialization in 2026 subject to regulatory approval, this is a game changer for how computing hardware will be cooled in the future. This is especially true given the trend shifting from CPU to high-powered GPU computing. The growth of data centers isn't going away and it is unsustainable without better and more efficient cooling solutions.

Our 2 phase emergent cooling technology outperforms single phase emergent cooling and direct to chip technologies with superior thermal efficiency to meet the higher-powered computing needs of today and the future. Let's talk first about how this solution works. It is 2 phase and immersion, because the solution efficiently cools the computer hardware in the fluid and not just the chips, but all immersed components. It then transfers the energy by vaporizing the liquid to produce a gas that hits a cold condensing plate and returns to a fluid form. The evaporative cooling of our 2 phase emergent cooling liquid provides superior heat removal compared to single phase chemistry, chemistries where energy removal is limited by liquid phase heat transfer.

The solution is low maintenance and requires a simpler infrastructure as chillers or evaporative coolers are not required. Importantly, if the submerged hardware needs to be serviced or replaced, it requires little to no cleaning, because the cooling fluid sheets off the equipment as it's lifted out. Lastly, our emergent cooling solutions does not corrode hardware, which was a key concern of customers with alternative liquid cooling products. If you haven't seen the technology in action, have a look at the brief video on our investor website. Now let's look at some of the significant benefits of the solution. It allows the reduction of required footprint for data center facilities by an estimated 60%. It delivers cooling energy savings of up to 90%.

And it is projected to nearly eliminate water usage. These benefits are groundbreaking for the data center industry when compared against current air-cooled systems. Some of you have asked about whether the designation of these products as PFAS is an issue and the answer is it shouldn't be. I say this because of the following: one, the environmental concerns some have raised over 2 phase immersion pooling can be mitigated. And let's not forget, the solution itself brings significant environmental benefits in terms of energy and water usage. Two, these systems are designed to be closed loop, sealed systems and the materials used must be manufactured under the highest standards. Not only do we support rigorous environmental testing based on science based regulation, but we also support manufacturing standards through our responsible manufacturing commitments.

Three, let's be clear. The cooling alternatives used today, including air-cooled data centers or newer liquid cooling technologies such as direct to chip or single phase emergent cooling, use fluorinated chemistries. Regulatory classifications of these chemistries will differ by country and region. The bottom-line is this. We believe our 2 phase emergent cooling will be unmatched as a sustainable solution that addresses some of the major technological barriers to the next generation computing and the data centers needed to enable it. We're currently sampling this technology with key partners across the value chain, including hyperscalers, server and chip manufacturers, and we are seeing strong interest in our solution and its benefits. It's innovations like immersion cooling that provide us with the opportunity to build upon our leadership position in the industry and support our mid to high-single-digit growth potential through the end of the decade with adjusted EBITDA margins averaging 30% or greater.

In closing, our focus continues to be on the two clear priorities that I shared on our last call. One, take cost out in APM building on what we have done in TT as well as our functional and corporate overheads. Two, invest in our businesses where we have significant opportunities to grow. Both of these priorities supported by ensuring we are living our values each and every day. Lovely, we are now ready for questions.

See also

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