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Cabot Still Feeling Hit from Contract Lag

On Wednesday, April 30, Cabot released its results for its second quarter of FY 2008. The company announced net income of $11 million for the quarter, including $8 million after-tax of charges from certain items.

This compares to net income of $30 million ($0.45 per diluted common share) for the second quarter of fiscal 2007, which included $12 million after-tax ($0.17 per diluted common share) of charges from certain items. Cabot’s results during the quarter were unfavorably impacted by approximately $20 million from the time lag of the feedstock related pricing adjustments in the Company’s rubber blacks supply contracts and the immediate recognition of higher feedstock costs in North America, due to the use of LIFO accounting. This compares to a $5 million positive impact from these factors during the same quarter of 2007.

The excerpt highlighted below is from the section of the release covering the Carbon Black Business:

When comparing the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2007, rubber blacks volume declines in Europe and South America were driven by decisions we made to change our customer and product mix to maximize profits, with the resulting loss of shorter term volumes. When comparing the second quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2008, rubber blacks volume declines in China and Asia Pacific were driven by seasonality due to holidays in those regions.

(Emphasis mine).

The press release is here.

Cabot held its conference call on the results yesterday, May 1. The webcast of the conference call is here. Cabot again has provided a deck of slides to accompany the presentation. See the above link under “Supporting Materials.” Here is a transcript of the conference call.

Beginning last quarter, Cabot now provides additional data to better illuminate the effect of Contract Lag and LIFO (last-in, first-out) inventories for feedstock purchasing on the Carbon Black Business PBT. (Contract lag refers to the time lag in the company’s ability to pass on feedstock cost increases to customers for carbon black sold under long term contract.) Data is provided going back ten quarters, to Q1 2006. In Q2 2008, Contract Lag and LIFO together reduced Carbon Black PBT by $20 million, which is its highest level ever, according to the company.

Here are some of my takeaways from the conference call:

One useful slide in the presentation provides Cabot’s installed capacity and dollar sales for China for the last seven years. Current capacity is about 275,000 tonnes, and annual revenues are about $260 million. Cabot is on-schedule to bring two additional rubber black units on-stream at Tianjin in early 2009. A new unit for performance blacks was started up at Tiajin in October 2007.

Cabot closed the Waverly plant during 2Q 2008, 40 years to the month from the date the plant was first opened. The closing was attributed to: 1. the declining tire market in the US 2. an attempt to reduce the company’s fixed cost base in the region. Cabot estimates that it will realize $10 million per year in fixed cost savings after the Waverly closure is complete.

As highlighted in the bolded section above, it is clear that Cabot is restructuring its contracts to emphasize margins instead of volumes. One caller (Mike Judd from Greenwich Consultants) asked whether Cabot was seeking to alter the terms of its long-term and annual contracts to enable the company to more quickly recoup the feedstock costs. In response, Cabot’s President and CEO, Patrick Prevost, said, “Clearly, some of these contracts were negotiated at a time when oil prices and raw material prices were much more stable and they did not create the types of effects we’re seeing today. So we’re in the process of looking at how we’re going to deal with the situation, contracts will come up for renewal and we will consider ways to mitigate the lag and work with our customers to make sure both sides can actually live with a perhaps improved contract structure.” (My transcription.)

In response to a question regarding profitability in Performance Products, Bill Brady indicated that pricing trends are strong in this segment, and that the company is doing a “timely job of recovering feedstock increases.” He also said that, “the higher the value in the application, the better we’re doing.”

In response to a question on North American utilization rates after the closure of Waverly, Bill Brady indicated that Cabot’s utilization rates are high (without giving specific figures), but estimated that industry-wide rates are low, in the 80s. (This agrees with Notch industry-wide figures.)

Cabot indicated that it would hold an Analyst’s Day on May 29, so more information on strategic issues will be available then.

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