Dean Foods Earnings Call Cheat Sheet: Volume Risk and 2012 Guidance

Dean Foods Company (NYSE:DF) reported its fourth quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Take a look.

Volume Risk

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: So, just a few questions, Gregg. First on the volume side, obviously, that seems to be an issue if you look at the measured channel data or obviously some of the risk that you’ve called out. So, can you just give us some perspective on your flat volume guidance? How much do you think that you need to see the industry get better? How much of that could come from the retailers, basically passing through the lower milk cost to consumers? To the extent that there is downside risk to volume, how much flex do you have in your P&L to achieve your guidance for 2012?

Gregg L. Engles – Chairman and CEO: Those are all good questions. First of all, we’re calling our volume flat. We’re not calling the category flat. We think the category in all likelihood will continue to decline, although we expect the declines to moderate from Q4 level. So, what’s driving our flat volume call for Dean is really a number of things. First of all, it’s just simply the overlap in 2012 of volume that we picked up and share that we picked up through the year in 2011. So, not all of that volume is in 2011. It came on throughout the year. So we’ll get benefit in the first part of the year of lapping the acquisition of that volume. Secondly, milk prices are coming down. We expect them to continue to come down at least through the first quarter. Even if retailers now hold the margin that they built back in the category, prices will come down at retail and we expect there to be as there historically has been some elasticity fact of consumers coming back and finding more value in milk, particularly as we see other food commodity staying relatively high. So we expect the milk industry to benefit by picking up a little bit of volume. Then we’ve got some underlying signs of economic strength and employment growth and clearly the consumer particularly at the lower end has taken the brunt of this last recession, and as they begin to go back to work and have income growth, we expect to see their purchases and expenditures in our category improve. So, those are really the factors that go into our expectation of a better volume environment for Dean Foods in 2012 than in 2011 at FDD. In terms of how much flex there is, you can look at the P&L and FDD and see that there is not just a lot of flex in it because there is not just a lot of margin in it. So our call on Dean are pretty dependent upon price and volume. At FDD at least you don’t have the kind of levers to pull that you have in a traditional CPG business where you’ll have marketing and trade and lots of other things that you can pull when the basics of volume and price start to work against you. So we made that call out specifically in the script that price and volume would be important to delivering 2012’s guidance in FDD for specifically that reason.

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: Then just on the commodity side, so clearly the Class I mover has trended down in the last few months. What about some of the non-raw milk cost component? Obviously in 2011 those were also big hurdle for you guys, so in terms of packaging, fuel, can talk about how those are looking for 2012?

Gregg L. Engles – Chairman and CEO: They are still pretty inflationary. So, we expect the diesel price to be up from the average price that we paid in 2011 and plastic resin has continued to be a highly inflationary commodity in the U.S., as U.S. manufacturers export their product out and around the world given our low feedstock prices here in U.S. Not a lot of relief in those areas and frankly we have to continue to get better at pricing for those inputs in order to sustain the FDD algorithm over time. That’s an area where we lost ground in 2011 and we need to get better at pricing to cover non-milk inputs as we go forward.

Judy Hong – Goldman Sachs: Do you think that that gap will get better in 2012?

Gregg L. Engles – Chairman and CEO: I think there will be less inflationary in 2012 than they were in 2011. But, frankly, in our algorithm, those are still called to be a headwind as opposed to a tailwind, but less so.

2012 Guidance

Amit Sharma – BMO Capital Markets: Gregg the tone of the call seems that much more positive this quarter relative to what we have seen in the last two quarters. Do you think the worse is behind us? You know milk prices are moderating. Your plans are running at good play, cost savings are accelerating. How do you see the guidance? How do you really see the underlying business? Do you think it was (indiscernible) at this point?

Gregg L. Engles – Chairman and CEO: We’re giving guidance now for 2012 and over the time Horizon as we can see it for 2012, we feel better about the overall conditions in the industry. So, the economy is improving, disposable income is going up for people, commodity prices are coming down. All of those things should benefit volume and be a more benign competitive environment for the business, but I just want to make a point explicitly that this is a 2012 call. I think when you’ll look out over the longer term, and you don’t have to listen to my call, you can just turn on CNBC in the morning and listen to them. I think there are still significant structural issues globally that have to be worked through that could lead to significant commodity cost inflation over time and as we’ve seen over the last two and a half years that is a very challenging environment for our FDD business. So, feel pretty good about the outlook for 2012. Beyond that I’m not prepared to make a long-term declaration of victory that the issues that have challenged the business are gone.

Amit Sharma – BMO Capital Markets: Sort of modeling side of the business, Shaun, what was the run rate of SG&A savings as we exited the fourth quarter?

Shaun Mara – EVP and CFO: I think as we look at 2012, we’re targeting about $100 million in total cost savings which includes both supply chain as well as SG&A. I think the SG&A makeup of that will probably be a higher percentage than we’ve seen in the past, but we are still targeting to get cost reductions in 2012 above what we have in 2011.

Amit Sharma – BMO Capital Markets: That’s including inflation and diesel and resin that Gregg talked about?

Shaun Mara – EVP and CFO: Those are cost savings specifically on reductions we’re having within the factory, within procurement and then within SG&A.

Gregg L. Engles – Chairman and CEO: But they will be offset to some degree by inflation to the extent we don’t recover it in price.