CF Industries Holdings Exec Insights: Nitrogen Prices, Ammonia Volume

On Friday, CF Industries Holdings Inc (NYSE:CF) reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Here’s what the C-suite revealed.

Nitrogen Prices

Vincent Andrews – Morgan Stanley: Congratulations on pretty great execution, not just in the quarter, but through what’s been a volatile period for a while now. I guess, one question is obviously, what do you think happens in the second half of the year on the price side. I think everybody would agree that we saw nitrogen prices in the first half higher than we would have thought, three, six, nine months ago. So I guess my question is do you think that application rates in the U.S. are higher on a per acre basis or combined with the amount of acreage that we are planting. Maybe you’re taking enough supply out of the second half so that even if there is a little more incremental capacity, the back half won’t be as bad as what, may be what people thought, six or nine months ago. Any sort of thoughts along that would be helpful and then I have a follow-up.

Stephen R. Wilson – Chairman, President and CEO: Vincent, I’ll make just one comment here to your last point. I don’t think anything about our outlook is bad, all right, and I’ll just turn the overall question to Bert Frost.

Bert A. Frost – SVP, Sales and Market Development: Well, looking at the latter half, of the first six months period, you have lot of activities still to place with various applications on corn, and then continued application of ammonia in the northern tier as well as side-dress, and so we are very positive of what can and will take place and believe that end applications will be up for the year on 96 million which is a recent record on acres as well as the other crops and we are getting positive rainfall in Texas. We are anticipating good demand for the cotton crop as well as the pivot application in the western (Woodward) area, and so that coupled with – we have to take also into account world demand to sustain, because we are in a world market, to sustain world pricing event and what’s taking place as you are following India and South America and the limits of exports coming out of China, all really roll up into a very positive period moving forward.

A Closer Look: CF Industries Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Vincent Andrews – Morgan Stanley: My follow up is just – could you talk a little bit Steve – you didn’t buy stock back in the quarter. The press release talks about being opportunistic. So maybe you could just help us understand what types of things would be considered opportunistic.

Stephen R. Wilson – Chairman, President and CEO: Sure. With respect to the whole question of cash deployment, I’d like to put a little bit of context around it. We’ve now have been a public company for going on seven years. I think our record of investment and other cash deployment has been quite positive, and frankly I’m very proud of it. Going back to 2008, we had an opportunity in front of us to repurchase our shares following at that time of peak in the summer of 2008. We bought the stock back in the fall at a very attractive price, $500 million worth of our own stock. Last summer in August which is only eight months ago, our Board authorized a comprehensive approach to cash deployment that included a plan to invest up to $1 billion to $1.5 billion inside (the fence) in our Nitrogen business and to buy up to $1.5 billion of our own stock back. We bought $1 billion worth of that stock back before year end. I think the average price of those shares was around $153 and change. Recently our stock has been trading in the range of $180 to $200 a share. I think that was a very prudent amount of purchases at a pretty good price. The authorization that was put in place in August of 2011 runs through December of 2013. So I’m proud of what we have done both strategically and tactically. In this regard we will continue to develop strategy in the future, consistent with our good stewardship to-date and the tactics will become visible as we make announcements about actions that have occurred when they occur.

Ammonia Volume

Sandy Klugman – Susquehanna International Group: This is (Sandy Klugman) sitting in for Don. Actually two part question related to the second quarter. As you pointed out, you wisely walked away from some lower price nitrogen business at the end of the year and your customer advances are up sequentially but they are still sown $350 million year-over-year. The question is to what extent should investors expect the strong second quarter nitrogen pricing environment to eventually be reflected in your second quarter results? Then you have also talked about how the early start to the application season helped the first quarter volumes, do you feel that any demand has been pulled forward from the second quarter? I mean, if possible, could you quantify the financial impact on second-quarter results?

Stephen R. Wilson – Chairman, President and CEO: I’ll make a – Sandy, I’ll make a comment on your second question and then I will ask Bert to deal with the pricing question. With respect to volumes, obviously we had a terrific first quarter in terms of volume and we were certainly able to sell everything that we can produce. The first quarter was particularly strong in ammonia and it would be unrealistic for us to think that, for example, we could repeat the ammonia volume we had a year ago because a lot of the preplanned ammonia is essentially down, now it’s not being applied in the – in as much in the second quarter as it was a year ago. But on the other hand urea – I’m sorry UAN is a second quarter product. We have lots of UAN to move, lots of capacity to sell. We are very pleased with our physical position with respect to the UAN market. Bert?

Bert A. Frost – SVP, Sales and Market Development: Relative to pricing what you saw on the first quarter was a fairly weak period coming out of the fourth quarter through January and February and then pricing appreciated beginning in March, may be late February and has continued to do so through April. We recognize and obviously we have to participate in these environments on a day-to-day basis, but believed our story and believe the potential of the high acreage number and then we priced accordingly for the first quarter. For the second quarter and looking forward, what we say about order book is we’re pleased with where we are and we have products to sell throughout the quarter. But pricing will continue I think to be positive throughout this second quarter period, because you’ve had less exports coming into the United States for ammonia and urea, little higher on UAN to-date. And higher acreage and high application rates and so you can see where its posted in some of the publications, probably will trend through the quarter and then begin to weaken for the fill period.

Sandy Klugman – Susquehanna International Group: Great so it sounds like you’re happy with your inventory position in UAN. Just want to make sure I am clear, the recent outages we’ve been reading about, you don’t expect them to have a real impact on second quarter shipment.

Stephen R. Wilson – Chairman, President and CEO: We’re as you saw in our press release ammonia units ran at the rated capacity in the first quarter. I think absent some kind of problem that’s not anticipated at this point. We expect to be very pleased with our production in the first half of the year.