Towers Watson & Co. Class A Earnings Call Insights: Pension Liability and Benefits Business

Towers Watson & Co. Class A (NYSE:TW) recently reported its fourth quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Pension Liability

Unidentified Analyst: I had a question on – you’re looking at the pension liability and how that changed Q-on-Q? We thought that might actually come down a little bit further, given how some of the assets have performed and the increase in discount rates. I was wondering if you can shed any more light on that.

Roger F. Millay – VP and CFO: Well, I mean, it came down quite a bit and so we did have good asset performance and the discount rate is up. I guess, I can’t say much more than where we landed reflects those changes. The other thing I will say is that the balance of funding overall for the plans has also driven up the asset side of balance sheet and so that reflects one of the changes in other assets. So, perhaps that’s a part of – in that mix a part of what’s not – you’re not seeing relative to what you hoped for.

Unidentified Analyst: Also relating to (A&D) and related expense the change in related expense relating to the increase in discount rate. Is that going to have any impact on the ’14 margins?

Roger F. Millay – VP and CFO: Well, it will drive pension expense down for fiscal ’14 relative to ’13. And it is not enough to drive order of magnitude change in the margins but that is a benefit that we have going into the year.

John J. Haley – Chairman and CEO: And that can be offset by reevaluation of our expected return on investment.

Benefits Business

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citi: I guess, my first question is with regards to the Benefits business. I know on a year-over-year basis the both lump sum business creates a tough comp challenge. Having said that, could you talk about, sort of, the longer-term potential from that trend because it seems to be quite a significant source of potential long-term upside.

John J. Haley – Chairman and CEO: I think that’s right, Ashwin. As you know, we were very cautious about just projecting too much from the big blip up we had in the middle of the fiscal year as a result of all the bulk lump sum activity. But did say, that we thought this was something that would be feature of the landscape and we would see more employers looking to do this in the future. We still think that. I think we are still seeing projects – we’re still selling projects today bulk lump sum projects and there is an underlying level of activity that is still there. It’s not nearly as high as it was in the second or third quarter, but there is still bulk lump sum project work we are continuing to see employers do that even today. And I think as market conditions fluctuate, I think, we’ll see some maybe we’ll see some spikes up in future years.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citi: So, you see that more as a response to market fluctuations then?

John J. Haley – Chairman and CEO: Well, I think that helps is what happens. But I mean, I think the fact that we are seeing an underlying basis of bulk lump sum projects even occur in say this quarter and moving forward, gives you an indication that it’s an activity that’s probably here to stay for a while and if conditions are particularly right in the quarter, you might see a blip up…

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citi: Perhaps you guys can quantify at Analyst Day. I wanted to ask also about visibility into sort of Risk Consulting recovery and failing recoveries if results continue to be like this, would you consider strategic options potentially?

John J. Haley – Chairman and CEO: No, I think the Risk Consulting and Software when we look at that, it’s got a lot of challenges right now, particularly in Europe. A lot of that has been affected by the starting and stopping of solvency too. I think that’s created a sort of a weariness I think among the insurance companies about just a lot of that activity and as they as they stopped it, they haven’t turned to other projects, we haven’t seen a lot of M&A there either, so all of that has meant that, particularly in EMEA Risk Consulting and Software, the consulting part of it is facing quite a challenging environment. What we’re focused on right now and we’ve already taken some initial restructuring steps and everything, but we’re focused on getting to the kind of margins we’ve had in the past, but this is a business that we’re committed to. And all of our businesses had some ups and downs from time to time, and we just deal with them.

Ashwin Shirvaikar – Citi: Last question, use of cash. You’ve paid down the debt, you could get one of these notes again for – related to comp, but beyond that what’s the use of cash you did not really do a stock repurchase this quarter M&A, I mean could you talk more about that?

Roger F. Millay – VP and CFO: I’d say, looking forward while we don’t have anything specific to say right now as we look at fiscal ’14, we do see that we have more free cash flexibility and flexibility based on what’s on the balance sheet and that while the ordering of our priorities emphasizing flexibility for acquisition opportunities remains our first priority we would expect in fiscal ’14 to enhance return of cash to shareholders; but again nothing specific yet on that.