H&R Block Earnings Call Insights: Pricing Side and Affordable Care Act

H&R Block  (NYSE:HRB) recently reported its fourth quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Pricing Side

Kartik Mehta – Northcoast Research: Question for you on the pricing side of things. You said you achieved 1.7% pricing. Are you able to give us a little bit more breakdown on how much of that came from the franchise side and how much of it came from the corporate side?

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William C. Cobb – President and CEO: No, I won’t give you a breakdown. I would say it was similar but I’m not going to go into the breakdown. I think it’s better for us to really focus on the system average. Lot of this is due to mix. Our franchisees are primarily in more rural locations, so there are differences in pricing in terms of the amount, but I would look at it more as here is what the system did because a number of franchisees do follow our lead on the pricing front. So I think the system number is sufficient.

Kartik Mehta – Northcoast Research: So were your franchisees – are you able to say, Bill, were the franchisees able to get a price increase?

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: Yes. I can say that.

Kartik Mehta – Northcoast Research: Then you talked a little bit about the do-it-yourself tool on the healthcare side. Is there a revenue opportunity here for you, Bill, or is this more about client retention, at least as you look at it today…

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: I think, Kartik, let me say this. We obviously are doing this because we think there is going to be ultimately a business impact. I don’t know at this point, but certainly we’re going to look at this as a commercial effort, whether that would be in the first year, how that would play itself out, as we get closer down the road we’ll probably have more to share with you on that. But clearly I think, as we would make an investment in that platform, we would be looking to monetize that at some point. But like I said, I don’t want to go into right now. In fact, I don’t know at this point as we make our plans and, as I stated, as we find out how this whole thing unfolds how exactly that plays out.

Kartik Mehta – Northcoast Research: Then just one last question, Greg. You looked at the cost savings this year, obviously did better than expectation. How much of those cost savings will spill into FY ‘14? I’m assuming some of those you’ve gotten half way through the year, so just trying to figure out how much that we should look for in FY ‘14 as well.

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Gregory J. Macfarlane – CFO: About $15 million of the number that we’ve communicated to you before, and I feel comfortable that that will flow into 2014. I guess, while we are talking about the expense result, I think it’s worth noting, I know there were lot of questions along the way about will this translate to bottom line, and we’ve shared with you today that we exceeded the $85 million to $100 million. I mean, I’ve only been here for a year, so a lot of this was in play when I got here, but full compliments to Bill and leadership team, frankly. I think hopefully the rest of you believe it when we said it goes to the bottom line, you can see that now in our results.

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: If I may just give a little (blow) also. We have a lot of our associates listening in. This was a top to bottom initiative, and there were a lot of people who contributed to that. I’m proud that we were able to deliver beyond what we had stated a year ago…

Kartik Mehta – Northcoast Research: Even though you exceeded your expectations by a decent amount, you still only expect about $15 million to kind of carry into FY ‘14?

Gregory J. Macfarlane – CFO: That really represents the animalization of cost decisions that were made in fiscal year 2013. Back in December we had our investor meeting with all of your, we talked about a concept more about targeting a 27% to 32% EBITDA margin range, we ended in the low 30s. We’re not going to give specific guidance for this year. Our focus on expenses will continue forever and we’ve got some good ideas, we got some benefits come in from last year. We’re not going to give you specific numbers for this year, but I think generally in around the margin percentages that we are at this year plus or minus is about where I expected to be.

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Affordable Care Act

Gil Luria – Wedbush Securities: So first of all, on the Affordable Care Act, just to confirm, you are saying you don’t expect the volume increase for fiscal ’14, and in 49 of the states, the devices are going to be complementary, so no material impact to fiscal ’14. So first of all, I want to make sure, we got that right. But then, the second part is the pilot in that one state, are we talking about your day-to-day tax advisors providing that type of advice, an additional person that’s specialized in this in the store. Are you going to try and to fit it into the navigator box that was designed for the Affordable Care Act maybe go for some federal (gains). Can you tell us a little bit about that pilot?

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: So let me answer your first question. As we sit here today and what we are trying to disclose in the comments I made earlier is, there’s a lot of unknowns at this point. So, as we go forward, we’ve done a tremendous amount of research in this area. I think we are as close to this else as anybody else in our industry. It’s very hard to say at this point what the impact is, so that’s what we were trying to convey to you, that as it goes forward, there’s still a lot to play out here. With regard to the potential for a pilot in one state, here is what I would say. It would be a situation where I’m not going to go into describing, but where you would come into a Block office and you would be able to enroll with the assistance of someone who would in effect be licensed to enable people to enroll. I’m not going to get into what box is being checked or whatever, but just the user experience is – someone would come to a Block office and be able to enroll in an exchange.

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Gil Luria – Wedbush Securities: Then secondly, one of the key reasons, it seems like that the overall tax funds this year were down. I think you discussed this was the reduction in fraud or the attempts by the IRS to reduce fraud. Did you see this – did you see evidence of this in the store? Did you have a report? Did your colleagues report from the stores that they had customers sit down and once they realized that the mechanism is changed for reporting some of those tax credits, get up and leave, or is it the word of mouth among the fraudster community kept them out of the stores? Did you get any reports from the field that would indicate that?

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: I think Gil you are hitting. I don’t – I can’t quantify it, but that’s exactly the sentiment we got back which is unfortunate. But I think this is one of the reasons why we do think it’s important that the Return Prepare Initiative which is tied up in the courts right now. I think it’s important for the country. I think it’s important for reputable tax preparers. We already comply with that, because it’s important for us with our brand our reputation and our history that we provide accurate legal returns. But yeah, you’re hitting on the qualitative feedback we received.

Gil Luria – Wedbush Securities: Finally, the Emerald Card, you grew that 9% on a two-year stack. Have you also been able to get any uplift on the reload on getting your employees and colleagues to get consumers to reload those cards, keep them longer. Has there been any level of success around that?

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: Yeah, and Greg if you want to add anything on this, we’re not going to disclose specific numbers, but reloads are up, revenue per card is up, usage stats are up. This is building and in our view we have a long way to go still, but the strides that Susan Ehrlich and her team made this year not only on enhancing the actual product, the value proposition around the product, and the features, but also now as we start to become smarter about marketing and how we teach people how to use the card, the cards are now all personalized, we’ve made a lot of steps, so I’m very hopeful that as we go forward this will continue to grow as we go on.

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Gregory J. Macfarlane – CFO: The strategy for Emerald Card, Gil, remains the same. We want to get more cards issued, although we have a very large number right now. We’re effectively the third-largest general purpose reloadable debit card program in United States. But more importantly in my opinion is the year-round usage, and we’ve shared statistics with the community before, which shows the average revenue per card for Block comparative to Green Dot and NetSpend, and we have multiples of opportunity to increase that, and so Susan and her team have worked very hard on features and functions, education, incentives, communication plans, and for all of you on the phone, it’s a great product. I encourage you to get one yourself if you don’t already have it, but that’s really what the opportunity is. And we’ve obviously just been about three months’ worth of vintage at this point, maybe four months of vintage. We don’t want to get into what will be the month of June at this point or really past our fiscal year. We saw some encouraging early results from the first two months. What I think we’ll probably plan on doing is December when we have the next kind of major get together we’ll talk a little bit more what our path looks like in some of the I think early results there.

William C. Cobb – President and CEO: And make sure you sign up for tax alerts, my favorite feature.

A Closer Look: H&R Block Earnings Cheat Sheet>>