Verso Paper Corp. (VRS)

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Verso Paper Corp (VRS)

Q1 2011 Earnings Call Transcript

May 9, 2011, 9:00 am ET

Executives

Mike Jackson - President, Chief Executive Officer

Robert Mundy - Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Joe Stivaletti - Goldman Sachs

Roger Spitz - Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Bill Hoffmann - RBC Capital Markets

Jeff Harlib - Barclays Capital

Richard Kus - Jefferies

Bruce Klein - Credit Suisse

Sandy Burns - Sterne Agee

Gary Madia - Gleacher & Company

Tom Koch - [Tenthaus Securities]

Michael Marczak - UBS

Presentation

Operator

Good day and welcome to the Verso Paper Corporation first quarter 2011 earnings call. Today's conference is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Mr. Robert Mundy, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Please go ahead, sir.

Robert Mundy

Thank you. Good morning and thank you for joining Verso Paper's first quarter 2011 earnings conference call. Representing Verso today on this call is President and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Jackson, and myself, Robert Mundy, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Before turning the call over to Mike, I’d like to remind everyone that in the course of this call in order to give you a better understanding of our performance, we will be making certain forward-looking statements.

These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions or estimates prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from management’s expectations.

If you would like further information regarding the various risks and uncertainties associated with our business, please refer to our various SEC filings which are posted on our website, versopaper.com, under the Investor Relations tab.

Mike?

Mike Jackson

Thanks, Bob, and good morning, everyone. If you would move to slide 3, our first quarter results of $47 million resulted in EBITDA being $34 million above the first quarter of 2010. Operating income was a positive $14.1 million as compared to an operating loss of $21.5 million in the first quarter of 2010.

This result was driven by a number of positive factors. We continue to see favorable price realization both on a year-over-year and sequential quarter comparison. Gross margin for the quarter was 15.4%, up from 7.4% in the same quarter of last year.

Actual sales price for our products was 2.5% above fourth quarter 2010 and 13.3% better than the first quarter of 2010. Quarter volume was certainly better than expected as it was about 10,000 tons above the fourth quarter of 2010 as well as first quarter of 2010.

The combination of total price in volume increased our revenue by $53 million or almost 15% above the first quarter of 2010.

On the manufacturing front, our operations ran well and continued to improve relative to craft optimization, the usage of water, certainly recovery boiler efficiency and overall machine reliability.

Moving on to input prices, they were close to where our guidance was during our last call and they were certainly up versus the fourth quarter of 2010. Later on in the slides, Bob will give you a greater detail on that cost position.

As many of you know, we have announced a $40 a ton increase for April and the pipeline of inventory certainly supports that decision. Total tons at the end of user in the mills are from an industry perspective at good levels as it relates to this time of year.

Working capital was up seasonally, although a bit higher than in the past due to achieving such a low level of working capital in the fourth quarter of 2010 and a high amount of receivables during the latter part of March of this year.

Lastly, during the quarter, many of you know that we refinanced $372 million of debt and by doing so extended the maturity date of 2019 and lowered our interest expense. With that, I'll turn it back to Bob.

Robert Mundy

Thanks, Mike. If you'll turn to slide 4 you'll see our overall volume for the quarter was about 6000 tons above the first quarter of 2010 and comparable on a sequential basis with the fourth quarter of 2010. Revenues were up 15% versus the first quarter of last year due to a higher volume and prices being over 13% higher than last year.

Sequentially, sales were up resulting from the continued increase in sales price realization. Operating income from the first quarter of $14 million was up significantly versus the $22 million operating loss of last year.

On slide 5, you can see that coated volumes were up almost 10,000 tons versus a very strong fourth quarter of 2010 and about 11,000 above the first quarter of last year. We continued to see coated prices increase during the first quarter and we expect prices to continue to increase as we move into the second quarter of 2011 based on our April 1 price increase announcement.

Pulp volume was down about 8000 tons primarily resulting from increased coated [presheet] sales at our [Quinneseg] mill and the need to build some pulp inventory for usage during our outage in the second quarter at [Quinneseg]. Pulp prices were about flat versus the fourth quarter of 2010 and up almost $45 versus the first quarter of last year.

On slide 6 you can see the key changes between our first quarter 2011 adjusted EBITDA of $47 million versus the $13 million in the first quarter of 2010. As I mentioned earlier, overall volume was up.

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