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Stepan Company (SCL) CEO Quinn Stepan on Q3 2021 Results – Earnings Call Transcript

Quinn Stepan

Good morning, and thank you all for joining us today to discuss our third quarter and year-to-date earnings. Although many parts of the world are slowly improving, the Delta variant continues to spread and vaccine rates in much of the developed world have stalled. Global supply chain disruptions are impacting commerce and many of the products we all use every day have been impacted. At Stepan, our team continues to navigate through the turbulent environment to help our customers serve the market. Adjusted third quarter net income was $36.4 million flat with prior year. The negative impact of the global supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures was offset by onetime tax benefits. Year-to-date, adjusted net income was $121 million or $5.20 per diluted share. Both adjusted net income and adjusted earnings per share were up 22% versus the first nine months of 2020. Surfactants was also negatively impacted by lower consumer demand for cleaning, disinfection and personal wash products, which have dropped since the pandemic peak in 2020.

In the third quarter, each of our company’s three global business segments was negatively affected by raw material price inflation and significant supply chain disruptions, including raw material shortages and logistics constraints. Surfactant operating income was down 16% largely due to higher North American supply chain costs, driven by inflation, higher planned maintenance costs and the $2.2 million insurance recovery related to the Millsdale plant in 2020. Our Polymer operating income was down 12%, mostly due to the nonreoccurrence of the insurance recovery and the compensation received from the Chinese government in the third quarter of 2020. Global Polymer sales volume rose 27% and was largely driven by the INVISTA acquisition. Our Specialty Product business rose by 53% and was mainly due to order timing differences within our food and flavor business.

Luis Rojo

Now turning to Polymers on Slide 7. Net sales were $199 million in the quarter, up 70% from prior year. Selling prices increased 44%, primarily due to the pass-through of higher raw material costs. Volume grew 27% in the quarter, driven by 33% growth in global rigid polyol. This volume growth is mostly related to the INVISTA acquisition. Global Rigid Polyol volume, excluding INVISTA was flat, driven by supply chain disruptions. Higher demand within the specialty polyol business also contributed to the volume growth. Polymer operating income decreased $2.6 million or 12%, driven by onetime benefits of $4 million in the third quarter of 2020 and significant supply chain disruptions in the current quarter. We estimate the supply chain disruption had a negative impact of approximately $3 million during the quarter.

North America polyol result decreased due to a onetime benefit recognized in the third quarter of 2020 and supply chain disruptions, partially offset by higher volume. In October, we implemented price increases in the market to recover our margins. Europe results increased driven by the INVISTA acquisition. China results decreased due to the onetime benefit recorded in the third quarter of 2020 as well as higher supply chain costs. The Specialty Products net sales were up 15%, driven by volume up 9% between quarters. Operating income increased $0.8 million or 53% due to order timing differences within our food and flavor business and improved margins within our MCT product line.

Scott Behrens

Globally, we are increasing capacity in certain product lines, including biocides and amphoterics to ensure we can meet higher requirements from our customers. As discussed previously, we are increasing North American capability and capacity to produce low 1,4-dioxane sulfates. 1,4-dioxane is a minor byproduct generated in the manufacture of either sulfate surfactants, which are key cleaning and foaming ingredients used in consumer product formulations. Through a combination of process optimization and additional manufacturing equipment, Stepan will be prepared to supply customers either sulfates that meet the new January 2023 regulatory requirements. This project, along with our announcement today to invest $220 million to build under an EPC contract, a 75,000 metric ton per year alkoxylation production facility at our Pasadena, Texas site, are the primary drivers of our 2021 capital expenditure forecast of $200 million to $220 million.

We are excited about the capability and future growth that these investment projects will deliver to Stepan Company. Tier 2 and Tier 3 customers continue to be a focus of our Surfactant growth strategy. We added 300 new customers during the quarter and approximately 800 customers during the first nine months of the year. We finished our consulting work in our Millsdale plant and are focusing now on executing the recommended changes. We accelerated investments in both expense and CapEx to improve productivity and to increase capacity. We expect this project and the investment level to continue through the remainder of the year and we should see benefits, including productivity enhancements, increased capacity in several high-margin product lines and improved service levels to our customers next year.

Polymers had good performance during the first nine months of the year as market demand recovered after a challenging year in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. The business has also benefited from the INVISTA acquisition, which closed in January. However, in the third quarter, we saw significant impact to our margins due to raw material availability and cost escalation while orders from customers remained restrained by their own raw material availability and other supply chain issues. For perspective, we had suppliers declare force majeure on critical raw materials while our customers experienced market shortages on MDI and flame retardants, which are used in their finished foam insulation formulations. We are currently working to recover our margins in the fourth quarter. The long-term prospects for our polyol business remain attractive as energy conservation efforts and more stringent building codes should increase demand. The integration of the business acquired from INVISTA is going well and expect this acquisition to deliver more than $20 million of EBITDA in 2021. Given the strength of our balance sheet, we plan to continue to identify and pursue acquisition opportunities to fill gaps in our portfolio and to add new platform chemistries aligned with our company’s growth strategy.

Quinn Stepan

Thank you, Scott. The company delivered record first nine months earnings in 2021. Looking forward, we believe our Surfactant volumes in North American consumer product end markets will continue to be challenged by raw material and transportation availability. While we believe industrial and institutional cleaning volume will grow versus prior year, we do not believe it will compensate for lower consumer consumption of cleaning, disinfection and personal wash products. We believe that the demand for surfactants in the agricultural and oilfield markets will exceed prior year demand. We believe our Polymer business will deliver growth versus prior year due to the ongoing recovery from pandemic related delays and our first quarter acquisition of INVISTA’s aromatic polyester polyol business. We continue to believe the long-term prospects for rigid polyols remain attractive. We anticipate our Specialty Products business will improve slightly year-over-year despite continued raw material sourcing issues, raw material price increases, higher planned maintenance expenses and supply chain challenges. We believe underlying market demand remains strong and we are optimistic about delivering full year earnings growth this year. Low inventories across the value chain should provide opportunities in 2022.

Mike Harrison

A couple of questions on the Texas capacity announcement you had today. I believe that site was something that you acquired from Sun and then idled. So can you walk through the decision to make this investment in that and maybe help us understand how much incremental capacity that 75,000 tons a year represents in your network?

Quinn Stepan

Let me begin by saying that, Stepan, over the last several years, has built a very strong balance sheet which has allowed us to make the INVISTA polyester polyol acquisition earlier this year, and will allow us to invest in this and other strategic organic growth opportunities, particularly for our higher margin core product lines, and in this case, for specialty alkoxylates. We are investing $220 million at the Pasadena site really to meet our long-term growth expectations in both our Surfactant and our Polymer business. And maybe I’d like Scott to jump in and make a few extra comments and answer your specific question about the incremental capacity.

Scott Behrens

Mike, we believe our existing Pasadena site is an ideal location for the new growth capacity due to its close proximity to key raw materials, including ethylene oxide, propylene oxide and other key feedstocks used in the production of our specialty on alkoxylates. Additionally, the existing infrastructure at the site, which we acquired from Sun, has existing infrastructure around utilities, ample storage tanks, which makes this an attractive and a capital efficient build. We are managing the project under a third party EPC contract and will include the installation of three alkoxylation reactors, which will provide 75,000 tons of new incremental capacity to our company’s portfolio. And the site will be expandable up to 10 total reactors with future additional investment. We will leverage the investment in Pasadena to optimize our current alkoxylation network and we expect the new installed capacity to be effectively utilized after startup and after customer approvals are complete.

Mike Harrison

Can you help me understand, is this facility replacing the old idled assets in Pasadena or are you also restarting some of those idled assets?

Quinn Stepan

So the site we acquired in Sun five, six years ago, really had — we had the vision to install alkoxylation capacity at the site. The existing or the acquired assets that were at the site were not of use to Stepan. We have dismantled most of the sulfonation capacity and other esterification capacity at the site to put in the new alkoxylation investment. So we’ve been able to leverage kind of 50 different storage tanks that were on site. We were able to take advantage of the firewater pond and the logistics infrastructure that they had, but in terms of process capabilities, all the new capabilities are being added to the site.

Mike Harrison

And then the last question I have for now is kind of an overall question on pricing versus cost. Is Q3 showing the peak margin headwind or peak raw material costs or do you see the margin headwind worsening in Q4? Just maybe looking for a little bit more color on the progression of raw material costs and supply chain disruption from Q3 into Q4 as well as how much offset you’re expecting from pricing. Obviously, there’s been a lot of pricing already and you’re announcing some additional increases for October. Any color there would be helpful.

Luis Rojo

I mean, I think it’s a very volatile environment out there, but what we will say is we expect some additional inflation in Q4. I mean if you think about oil prices at $83, et cetera, it could be a little bit more inflation in the system and transportation and all of that. Now the slope of inflation is what we believe is reducing, right. The slope of inflation that you saw in Q1, Q2, Q3, that slope is reducing. And in a high inflation environment, of course, you always have a lag between pricing and cost. So that’s why, as you saw, we had a 44% price mix in polymers and 20% price mix in surfactants as well as we announced additional price increases in October to continue gradually recovering our margins. So there is always a lag, but we’ll see. I mean inflation is still out there but we, of course, are planning to recover our margins on a gradual basis.

Quinn Stepan

And I would say, from a supply chain, raw material availability perspective, we believe the situation in Q3 was bad and it is slowly recovering. So as we look at availability of key raw materials going into the fourth quarter, it is slowly improving and we would anticipate that would gradually improve and get better as we approach 2022.

Vincent Anderson

Just a couple of quick questions on the alkoxylation capacity. Just looking through your product guide, it doesn’t appear that propoxylation based products are maybe a large part of your portfolio now. Could you maybe confirm that and then if that’s true, what kind of opportunities does that product line open up?

Quinn Stepan

So I would say that today, we have over a 100 different alkoxylation based products. Again, most of those fall into the specialty range and some of those products are used as key intermediates in other Stepan products that we sell to the marketplace. So today, alkoxylation, the use of EO and PO, is a significant part of our portfolio of products that we sell to the marketplace and we’re interested in expanding that, our presence in the non-anionic market.

Vincent Anderson

And as you grow this capacity, is there any consideration for maybe having to displace some of your own sulfonation sales into detergent markets, or do you feel comfortable being able to direct it all into more specialty applications to place it?

Quinn Stepan

The vast majority of our alkoxylation products are targeted for the specialty markets, agricultural, oil field and industrial and institutional cleaning. We do use some commodity range or fair amount of commodity range, ethoxylates in our sulfonation business today, we would primarily continue to source those from the marketplace. We will utilize available capacity on an incremental basis as appropriate.

Marco Rodriguez

And then in terms of the raw material prices that you’re seeing, the increases in the prices and the planned increases of your prices to customers. Obviously, you mentioned out here in October, you’re raising them again. You raised them last quarter. Just wondering if you can maybe also talk a little bit about the kind of the competitive environment you’re seeing right now and how you’re feeling about your ability to continue to pass on through price increases if the raw material environment still kind of remains challenging throughout the next six months or so?

Scott Behrens

I would say that the supply chain disruptions and the escalation on raw materials driven by commodity prices and supply chain disruptions, they’re ramping wild across the industry. So the inflation that I think the industrial customers and our consumer customers have seen in the last, call it, three to four months is almost unprecedented and supply and security of supply is important as inventory levels are depleted across the value chain. So I would say everyone is in the same boat, ensuring that product is delivered on time so they can replenish their customers’ orders, is taking paramount over negotiations in terms of pricing.

Marco Rodriguez

And then just one quick follow-up on the alkoxylation expansion plant in Texas. When you talked earlier about it obviously being a long-term target for you in terms of growth potential, can you maybe talk a little bit about what was sort of driving that decision process for you guys? Were there certain things you were seeing in the market that you wanted to start moving more towards that or is it discussions with particular customers that were looking for increased supply there? Any sort of color there would be helpful.

Quinn Stepan

So what I would say is that today, Stepan makes alkoxylation products at two of our facilities, our Winder, Georgia and Millsdale, Illinois, facility. We also do use a network of outside tool manufacturers. And so our business is actually much larger than our current capabilities. So over a period of time, we would look to continue to grow our business and also potentially move some of the outsourced volume in-house as well, and so we believe the new capacity that we’re putting in that we can fill over a relatively short period of time at a higher margin accretive — with higher margin accretive business.

Mike Harrison

And then over on the Polymers business, you mentioned maybe some issues related to shortages of isocyanates, some delays related to other supply chain issues where some of that construction activity, they’re not able to get other products they need to move forward. Can you talk a little bit about whether you expect that isocyanate issue to subside, I guess, over the winter months, the seasonal slowdown? And maybe talk a little bit about what your polymers — your Rigid Polyol customers have said about their backlog of construction activity as we start to get into next year.

Quinn Stepan

I think from a high-level perspective, our polyol customers are telling us there is pent-up demand that they have not been able to serve. So they do have an active backlog of orders. They are anticipating that, that backlog will remain in place kind of into the first half of 2022. And we do anticipate that supply chain issues getting better, as I mentioned previously. So we are anticipating that we’re going to see growth in ’22 versus where we’re at in 2021.

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