Cliffs Natural Resources Earnings Call Insights: Working Capital Outlook and CapEx Guidance

Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE:CLF) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Working Capital Outlook

Michael Gambardella – JPMorgan: I just want to know, you had some good results in the quarter on working capital reductions. How much more do you have in the pipeline?

Joseph A. Carrabba – President and CEO: We’ve got quite a few programs, Mike, just like everybody else has with that. We’re really just beginning on the SG&A. We’ve got a very structured program to go back to and look at not only headquarters, but also look out in the regions as well and see where we can combine some of that work. So, again, we’re just in the early stages of our SG&A work, so we see that we’re going to make more strides there. Exploration, I would think, we’re pretty much finished for the year. A lot of that is just the wrap-up of the drilling, the lot of the near-mine drilling that we have from there. And I think also the $50 million has been slated for the completion of the feasibility study and the optionality of the ferrochromes is pretty much there. But still think there is some good ways to go in the SG&A.

Terrance Paradie – SVP and CFO: Mike, from a working capital standpoint, I think, again, we’re going to continue to focus in on reducing our working capital primarily related to the inventory and supply inventories at the sites.

Michael Gambardella – JPMorgan: Last question, can you give us any details on this new asset contract; the extension beyond 2016?

Joseph A. Carrabba – President and CEO: Sorry, Mike, as much as I know, the industry and the analysts are looking for that kind of information. We do hold that confidential with all of our customers and we’re delighted with the customer. We’re delighted with the extension of the customer, particularly on a contract that we thought would end in 2016, and obviously, we think it’s favorable to ourselves, but more importantly it was fair to both parties and we continue to deliver a quality product to Essar.

CapEx Guidance

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.: I still wanted to – struggling with your CapEx guidance. I thought that when you took the – postponed the Phase II, you reduced it to a couple of million dollars and then now we’re back to $1 billion, but we are still talking about Phase II concentrator and tailing postponed. So, is this the additional stuff you found out while you were working on the project that you need to do even though you have still postponed the concentrator and the tailings for the second phase?

Joseph A. Carrabba – President and CEO: It’s a little bit of everything that you’ve talked about Sal in there. I think we’ve been consistent with the conversations that we’ve had, that as we build the tailings bond and we expand the stripping in the Western Pit, those are all being built in mine for the potential of a Phase II expansion. It would be kind of silly to build that at a Phase I level and then have to go back and remodify it from there. On the tailings side and the enhancement of tailings, as you know, we did give some different water management regulations that came in which increased the expenses of the water management system but also this is more of just a refinement of our CapEx, the definitive capital as we continue to get into the property. And we felt it was appropriate to go ahead and expand and spend the money this year in that tailings bond in light if we did have an unusual storm event in particular in the spring. That will allow us and the Board to make the decision in the future if they choose to, if the market conditions are right, and there’s a good IRR on the remaining portion of that capital to go forward. So, the tailings expansion is more of definitive engineering, but it’s still irregardless sets us up for Phase II if the Board chooses to approve the decision.

Sal Tharani – Goldman Sachs & Co.: The last question on Wabush. You had mentioned in the past that if Wabush doesn’t breakeven by the end of this year, you may consider some alternatives. I was wondering if that is still on the plate because it doesn’t look like the Wabush cost is getting any better compared to where this iron ore prices are.

Joseph A. Carrabba – President and CEO: Absolutely. We’re being consistent with the message through the year and the management team and our workforce up there knows. By the way, we’re all pulling together on this, and the target they have is to below the $100 a ton mark in the fourth quarter. With that, as we said through, we did schedule the Pointe Noire. We successfully scheduled that down, had a lot of redundant folks that came out of that at Pointe Noire. We’ve got enough material to go ahead and fulfill our customer contracts, and I’m very pleased to think that after, over 50 years of operating a pellet plant that our commercial guys in these tough markets are finding a home for this product. I mean, you have to remember this is a relatively low-silica though it has a bit of a high – manganese (bank), I always forget that term. But the low-silica is finding its way into the marketplace as well. So I think when you back out the exceptional items that were discussed in the press release last night, we’re going to shrink the footprint from six mills to five mills, and the mine footprint as well. The guys have got a good biting chance on it and now they’ve got six months to really operate in the method of concentrate-only after the pellet plants have been shut.

A Closer Look: Cliffs Natural Resources Earnings Cheat Sheet>>