Wood Business

Features Wood Panels
Norbord Q2 up significantly

July 26, 2016 - Norbord Inc. reported Adjusted EBITDA of $94 million for the second quarter of 2016 versus $19 million in the second quarter of 2015 and $61 million in the first quarter of 2016. The improvement versus both comparative periods is primarily due to higher North American oriented strand board (OSB) prices and shipment volumes.

North American operations generated Adjusted EBITDA of $85 million in the quarter compared to $11 million in the same quarter last year and $53 million in the prior quarter. European operations delivered Adjusted EBITDA of $11 million compared to $10 million in both comparative quarters.

"Our financial and operational performance continued to improve in the second quarter. Our Adjusted EBITDA has increased for six consecutive quarters and so far in 2016, we have generated $120 million more in Adjusted EBITDA than this time last year. Further, our Adjusted earnings were more than double the first quarter," said Peter Wijnbergen, Norbord's President and CEO. "Our North American mills produced at 96% of stated capacity during the quarter. The benchmark OSB spot price is currently up 44% since its February low, the highest level in over three years. We see further upside to our performance as recovering US housing starts, particularly single-family, continue to drive increasing OSB demand."

"In Europe, our panel business delivered a 10% improvement in Adjusted EBITDA. The underlying fundamentals of our European business remain favourable in spite of the political uncertainty following the Brexit referendum. The UK is a net importer of panelboard and as a primarily UK-based producer, the recent pressure on the Pound Sterling makes Norbord's domestically-produced panels more competitive than imports. Our modernization project at Inverness will lower our manufacturing costs and is underpinned by growing European OSB demand, largely driven by increasing substitution of OSB for higher cost plywood."

Market Conditions

In North America, year-to-date US housing starts were up 7% versus the same period last year. Single-family starts, which use approximately three times more OSB than multi-family, increased by 13% and single-family permits were 10% higher. The seasonally-adjusted annualized rate was 1.19 million in June. The consensus forecast from US housing economists is for approximately 1.20 million starts in 2016, which suggests an 8% year-over-year improvement.

Second quarter North American benchmark OSB prices increased significantly from both the same quarter last year and the previous quarter as new home construction activity and OSB demand continue to improve. OSB prices increased rapidly during the month of May before pulling back in June, and the North Central benchmark price finished the quarter at $275 per thousand square feet (Msf) (7/16-inch basis). The North Central benchmark price averaged $264 per Msf for the quarter, compared to $193 per Msf in the same quarter last year and $226 per Msf in the previous quarter. In the South East region, where approximately 35% of Norbord's North American OSB capacity is located, benchmark prices averaged $245 per Msf in the quarter, compared to $174 in the same quarter last year and $215 in the prior quarter. In the Western Canada region, where approximately 30% of Norbord's North American capacity is located, benchmark prices averaged $242 per Msf in the quarter, compared to $152 in the same quarter last year and $191 in the previous quarter.

In Europe, Norbord's core panel markets in the UK and Germany continued to experience strong demand growth in the quarter. Second quarter average panel prices were in line with both the same quarter last year and the previous quarter. OSB prices were stable in the UK and continued to rise on the continent, resulting in average prices that were 4% higher year-over-year and 2% higher quarter-over-quarter. Medium density fibreboard (MDF) and particleboard prices were 5% lower year-over-year due to increased import competition when the Pound Sterling was stronger earlier this year, but were in line with the previous quarter.

Performance

Norbord's North American OSB shipments increased 8% year-over-year and 11% quarter-over-quarter due to fewer maintenance and market shuts and improved mill productivity. Norbord's operating North American OSB mills produced at 96% of stated capacity (excluding the two curtailed mills in Huguley, Alabama and Val-d'Or, Quebec), up from 89% in the same quarter last year and 92% in the prior quarter. Capacity utilization increased versus both comparative periods due to improved productivity, as well as fewer maintenance shuts and production curtailments, partially offset by approximately three weeks of lost production due to the fire at the High Level, Alberta mill. Three of Norbord's North American mills achieved quarterly production records.

Norbord's North American OSB cash production costs per unit (before mill profit share) decreased 6% year-to-date due to improved productivity, lower resin prices, improved raw material usages, fewer maintenance shuts and production curtailments and the weaker Canadian dollar, which were partially offset by higher supplies and maintenance costs.

In Europe, Norbord's shipments were 5% higher than the same quarter last year and 6% higher than the prior quarter. The European mills produced at 104% of stated capacity in the quarter compared to 101% in the same quarter last year and 100% in the prior quarter due to improved productivity. One of Norbord's European mills achieved a quarterly production record.

Norbord's mills delivered Margin Improvement Program (MIP) gains of $14 million year-to-date from improved productivity and lower raw material use as well as merger synergies and returns on recent capital investments. MIP gains are measured relative to the prior year at constant prices and exchange rates.

In the 15 months since the merger with Ainsworth, Norbord has captured $32 million in cumulative merger synergies ($39 million annualized), or 87% of the $45 million total commitment. The Company remains on track to deliver its full $45 million target by the end of 2016. In addition to these synergies, the merger has enabled the Company to avoid significant cash outlays it would otherwise have had to incur. Norbord estimates this capital and operating cost avoidance at $18 million, which includes transferring formerly idle assets, maintaining lower inventory levels and optimizing the timing of supplier payments.

In January 2016, the Board of Directors approved a $135 million investment over the next two years to modernize and expand the Company's Inverness, Scotland OSB mill. During the quarter, on-site construction work commenced and work began to move the unused second press from the Grande Prairie, Alberta mill to Inverness.

Capital investments year-to-date were $34 million (including $6 million related to the Inverness project) compared to $28 million in the first half of last year. Norbord's 2016 regular capital expenditure budget is $75 million. In addition, the Company expects to spend $45 million on the Inverness project in 2016.

Operating working capital was $163 million at quarter-end compared to $151 million at the end of the same quarter last year and $172 million at the end of the prior quarter. Working capital increased year-over-year primarily due to the impact of higher North American OSB prices on accounts receivable and the insurance receivable related to the High Level fire. Working capital decreased quarter-over-quarter primarily due to the seasonal inventory drawdown at the northern mills and the loss of log inventory due to the High Level fire (which is covered by insurance).  

Due to improved Adjusted EBITDA, cash generated from operations for the first six months of 2016 was $86 million compared with $55 million of cash consumed in the same period of 2015.

At quarter-end, Norbord's unutilized liquidity improved by $50 million to $374 million and consisted of $12 million in cash and $362 million in unused credit lines. During the quarter, the Company repaid $55 million that had previously been drawn under the accounts receivable securitization program. In June 2016, the Company amended its bank lines to reset the tangible net worth covenant to $500 million and extend the maturity date for $225 million of the total aggregate commitment to May 2019. The remaining $20 million commitment matures in May 2018.  The Company's tangible net worth was $799 million and net debt to total capitalization on a book basis was 48%. Both ratios remain well within bank covenants.

Norbord has $200 million senior secured notes that are due in February 2017, which the Company intends to permanently repay at maturity using cash on hand, cash generated from operations and if necessary, by drawing upon the accounts receivable securitization program.

Quarterly highlights

On the back of strong North American pricing, we delivered Adjusted EBITDA of $94 million during the quarter (Adjusted earnings per share of $0.49) – over 50% more than the previous quarter. Across our global operations, manufacturing costs declined 4% year-over-year and we had record quarterly production at four mills. Our improved mill productivity enabled a 7% increase in sales volume year-over-year, consistent with the demand increases we had been forecasting. While still a small part of our revenues, sales to Asia are also improving, with exports to both Japan and China up over last year.

We continue to make progress on the synergies from our merger with Ainsworth. To-date we have captured $39 million (annualized) in cumulative synergies, or 87% of our overall $45 million target. In addition to these synergies, our now larger post-merger operations have enabled us to avoid significant cash outlays we would otherwise have had to incur. We estimate this capital and operating cost avoidance at $18 million, which includes transferring and putting formerly idle assets to productive use, maintaining lower inventory levels and optimizing the timing of supplier payments.

While we continue to allocate capital toward optimizing and growing our operations, we are also reducing our debt. During the second quarter we completely paid down our $55 million in accounts receivable securitization drawings, improving our liquidity position by more than $50 million to $374 million. Deleveraging remains a priority and we are committed to using our free cash flow and this liquidity to pay down our $200 million 2017 bonds when they come due next February.

Well positioned to navigate political uncertainty in the UK

While Norbord, like all companies active in the UK, is affected by the prevailing political environment following the referendum result, the underlying fundamentals and market dynamics that relate to our specific industry continue to be favourable. For context, our European business represents 24% of our shipments volume (of which about two-thirds remains in the UK) and contributed 12% of our Adjusted EBITDA this quarter. We are are well positioned to navigate the current economic uncertainties and this perspective is founded on two principal facts.

First, OSB represents only about 45% of structural panel consumption in Europe compared to over 65% in North America. Substitution of OSB for higher cost plywood has been driving double-digit demand growth for the past several years. Since the vast majority of competing plywood is imported from outside Europe and denominated in US dollars, it has become 10% more expensive in the UK market since the referendum. Further, the UK is a net importer of OSB, MDF and particleboard, and Norbord is the largest domestic panelboard producer. The Pound Sterling has also devalued almost 10% versus the Euro, making our domestically produced panels even more appealing for UK customers.

Second, there is a chronic undersupply of new housing in the UK. The UK government acknowledges that the number of new homes built annually needs to double from its current level. Over the past few years, a number of measures have been legislated to debottleneck the cumbersome planning process. This new supply may not be built out as quickly now as before the referendum, but the fact remains there is a housing gap that needs to be filled. While new home construction drives only about one-quarter of UK OSB demand, this continues to represent a significant opportunity for Norbord.

We are confident the underlying fundamentals are positive and that we have the right strategy and operational approach in place.

Our Inverness project is a unique and low-risk way to further strengthen our European business. Our $135 million project budget translates to $190 per thousand square feet of capacity. This is half the cost of greenfield and represents the new low water mark for capacity cost in our industry. The referendum has not changed the project economics and the benefits will be driven by significantly lowering the mill's manufacturing cost through the installation of larger scale, modern press technology that has been sitting idle at our Grande Prairie, Alberta mill. The opportunity is further underpinned by the site's access to a growing and low-cost wood basket in Europe.

 


July 26, 2016
By Scott Jamieson


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