Plum Creek Timber Co. Earnings Call Insights: Regional Pricing and Guidance Analysis

Plum Creek Timber Co. (NYSE:PCL) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Regional Pricing

Anthony Pettinari – Citi: In southern sawlogs you referenced pockets of strength in geographies where lumber production is picked up, and I guess across the business your log prices were up $2 a ton or 6%. I was wondering in those Southern markets or maybe micro markets where mills are being capitalized and really ramping production, can you give us any color where some of those prices were up in the quarter? You talked about those regions being maybe leading indicators, I’m just trying to get a sense of maybe how much log prices are moving in some of those micro markets.

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David W. Lambert – SVP and CFO: From a general standpoint we saw greater strength on the eastern seaboard than we did in the western part of our southern ownership during the quarter. A lot of appetite for small chip-n-saw logs and some better price pension. They were up about $1 per ton as a whole for the quarter not the two that you referenced, but in some markets we saw greater traction in that.

Anthony Pettinari – Citi: You almost doubled your earnings year-over-year, but your free cash flow in the quarter was more flattish and I am wondering as you look at the full year and think about potentially increasing EPS maybe double digits assuming you hit the midpoint of your guidance would you expect full year free cash to kind of keep pace with the earnings growth or are there items that we should be modeling for the remainder of the year from a cash perspective that might impact your cash generation?

David W. Lambert – SVP and CFO: We discussed in our call last time we are expected to have lower real estate sales this year than we did last year in growing cash flow from non-real estate activity. So, net-net we don’t see quite the same improvement in overall free cash flow, but we are seeing significant growth in kind of the manufacturing in timber cash flows this year…

Anthony Pettinari – Citi: But you would still expect free cash flow to rise year-over-year. Is that fair?

David W. Lambert – SVP and CFO: I think EBITDA is down slightly as a result of lower basis on our real estate sales this year than it was in 2012. Consistent with the guidance we had provided on the last call.

 

Guidance Analysis

Mark Wilde – Deutsche Bank: I’m just curious; you had better than expected first quarter, wood products prices were better than any of us. I think, expected back in January. You are seeing kind of – you had a nice pop in solar prices, but you held your guidance for the full year. Can you help us understand that?

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Rick R. Holley – President and CEO: Well, I think, it’s still earlier in the year, Mark, and I think we are bit optimistic that the second half will continue to show some improvement and we’ll start to see some even increased improvement in Southern sawlog prices, but it’s really too early to call. So, I think at this point in time, we are going to stay within our guidance range of $1.25 to $1.50. It’s pretty broad range in any case. But I think we are very comfortable in the range, but we just want to see the trend that we’ve seen continue and I know there is a lot of uncertainty over the second half in Southern sawlog prices giving wood deferrals and how much production capacity will come online to meet the demand of the growing market. So, again, we are pretty optimistic, we are going to continue to see improvement in the second half, and if we do, we’ll adjust guidance as we go.

Mark Wilde – Deutsche Bank: Rick, I wanted to just moving over to real estate, if you can update us on that joint venture with the Rockefeller Group, what kind of progress you’ve made there. Also just what you’re seeing in terms of real estate inquiries and pipeline, in general, I thought last week (indiscernible) had some pretty constructive things to say on that count?

Rick R. Holley – President and CEO: The Rockefeller Group is evaluating two projects that we have in the Southeastern United States currently and we are supposed to hear back from them in the next month or so with their full evaluation. They seem pretty excited. So, I think, hopefully, it will be net-net positive for both themselves at Plum Creek and we’ll keep you posted on that. The pipeline, as David mentioned, in his comments, the inquiries are up. There is a lot more activity today, especially in markets like Florida and Georgia and even Montana the lights are on again. So markets where it was pretty dark last year the lights are on and they’re starting to see some activity, and I think as we go through the next couple of years that should translate in a much better pricing than we’ve seen, in which case we start to see price recovery in those high end markets will start to move some of that products. So we’re feeling lot better now than we would have a year ago on that.

Mark Wilde – Deutsche Bank: You had either some developments or perspective developments as I recall in both Florida and Georgia. Has there been any more movement on that front?

Rick R. Holley – President and CEO: In Alachua County Florida, where the University of Florida is, we’ve made a lot of progress on there if you go to envision Alachua, there is a lot of information on that website about our project and we’d make great strides, it’s going to be a terrific project. Currently, we’re working with the State of Florida and others try to find some anchor tenants to come in with some industrial commercial development large-scale ones to kind of partner with the University of Florida. So, we feel very good about where that project is and our ability to do something very special there.

Mark Wilde – Deutsche Bank: Then finally Rick, could you just remind us about how you think about the different wood products operations that you’re involved in, some others have kind of monetized into a strengthening market. Just want to get a sense of how core each of those wood products operations as the Plum Creek.

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Rick R. Holley – President and CEO: You’re talking about our Manufacturing business?

Mark Wilde – Deutsche Bank: Yeah, exactly.

Rick R. Holley – President and CEO: We clearly, the MDF businesses are doing very, very well. We just increased capacity of one of our lines there. So we’ll continue to perform there. We like our position in the plywood business very well with both plants. So, I think really long-term with those businesses that are well-positioned. As you know even in the weakest part of the market, a few years ago they were all cash flow and earnings positive. Our lumber business, we’re in the board business, which is a nice niche value-added and we reopen the basically the studmill here recently just to capture what’s going on in the market today which continue to go in the next few years. So, I think we feel very good about what we have. We don’t plan to expand outside of that footprint. We are not going to add manufacturing capacity anywhere else in the country.

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