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Stewart Enterprises (STEI)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

March 08, 2012 11:00 am ET

Executives

Martin R. de Laurèal - Senior Vice President of Corporate Development & Investor Relations

Thomas M. Kitchen - Chief Executive Officer, President, Director and Member of Investment Committee

Lewis J. Derbes - Chief Financial Officer, Senior Vice President and Treasurer

Analysts

Albert J. Rice - Susquehanna Financial Group, LLLP, Research Division

Erin E. Wilson

James Clement - Sidoti & Company, LLC

Dick Innes - JC Clark Ltd.

Colin Stewart - JC Clark Ltd.

Presentation

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Stewart Enterprises First Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] Please note this call is being recorded. Now I would like to turn the call over to Martin de Laurèal, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Martin R. de Laurèal

Thank you, operator. Good morning, everyone. On behalf of Stewart Enterprises, I would like to welcome everyone. By now, you should have received a copy of our press release. If not, please visit Stewart's website at www.stei.com.

On today's call, management will provide an overview of the first quarter of 2011, and then we'll be open to the call -- open the call to questions. The information contained in this call is current only at the time of the call. Statements made by the company that are not historical facts are forward looking statements. The company assumes no obligation to update any statements including forward-looking statements made during the call. Examples of forward-looking statements include projections of revenue or earnings, growth rates, free cash flow, debt levels, tax benefits and other financial items, statements regarding plans and objectives of the company or its management, statements regarding industry trends, competitive trends and their effect on future performance, and assumptions underlying forward-looking statements regarding the company and its businesses.

The company's actual results could differ materially from any forward-looking statements due to several important factors, which are described in the company's Form 10-K for the year ended October 31, 2011.

The company uses adjusted earnings, adjusted EPS, adjusted EBITDA, net debt and free cash flow as financial measures. These financial measures are not in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America, or GAAP, and are intended to supplement rather than replace or supersede any information presented in accordance with GAAP. A reconciliation of the most directly comparable GAAP financial measure can be found on the company's website at www.stei.com under Investor Information. The reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures can also be found in the company's press release dated March 7, 2012.

With that said, I'd like to introduce management of Stewart Enterprises. On line, we have Tom Kitchen, our President, Chief Executive Officer; and Lew Derbes, our Chief Financial Officer.

At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Tom. Please go ahead .

Thomas M. Kitchen

Thank you, Martin. And good morning, and thanks -- thank you for joining us on the call today.

I'll offer a few opening comments, and then I'll turn the call over to Lew. He'll review the financial performance in more detail before we open it up for some Q&A.

Overall, many of the core fundamentals of our business were stronger in the quarter. We increased both preneed funeral sales and cemetery property sales, improved average revenue per same-store funeral service and generated impressive total returns on our preneed and perpetual care trust.

As you read in the press release, for the first quarter of 2012, we reported net earnings of $8.5 million or $0.10 per share, compared to net earnings of $8.1 million or $0.09 per share for the same period of last year.

After adjusting net earnings for some unusual items including a prior-year tax charge, we reported adjusted net earnings of $8.8 million or $0.10 per share compared to $10.7 million or $0.12 per share for the same period of last year.

Looking at the reported numbers, however, doesn't tell the whole story regarding the company and its performance during the first quarter. And I'd like to spend a few minutes to put it in the right context.

First, the number of deaths in the United States continues to show downward trends for the quarter, and indicate as we evaluate also suggest our decline is in line with the industry-wide data.

With our funeral events off some 4.4% from the prior year, we recognize we cannot predict or control the number of deaths in our markets. We can come, however, exercise more control of our preneed sales in order to add to our backlog and protect market share and provide future revenue opportunities.

In line with this, and in contrast with the decline in our funeral events, we are encouraged by our preneed sales during the first quarter. We experienced increases in preneed funeral, as well as cemetery property and merchandise sales. Specifically, very pleased with the 17% increase over last year in preneed funeral sales. This 17% increase is impressive, and we believe it shows that the consumer continues to value the services we provide.

We also believe it's a reliable indicator of our future performance since the preneed funeral sales are not recognized as revenue until the underlying contracts are performed.

In addition, we increased cemetery property sales by 4%. These sales are recognized as revenue once a certain deposit requirement is met or as the related construction is completed.

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