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Valmont Industries Inc.  (NYSE:VMI)
Q3 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Oct. 24, 2018, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the Valmont Industries Third Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. It is now my pleasure to introduce your host Renee Campbell, Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications. Thank you. You may begin.

Renee Campbell -- Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications

Thank you, Christine. Good morning, and welcome to Valmont Industries' Third Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. With me today are Steve Kaniewski, President and Chief Executive Officer; Mark Jaksich, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Tim Francis, Vice President and Corporate Controller.

This morning Steve will discuss highlights of our third quarter performance and provide a strategic overview of our business. Mark will then give a detailed review of our financial and operating results, and then we will open the call for Q&A.

Our press release was issued yesterday after the market closed and a supplemental slide presentation can be found on the Investors page at valmont.com. An archive of today's call will be available for the next seven days and instructions for accessing the replay are included in our press release. Before we begin, please note this conference call is subject to our disclosure on forward-looking statements, which applies to today's discussion and will be read in full at the end of this call.

I would now like to turn the call over to our President and Chief Executive Officer, Steve Kaniewski.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Renee. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. Before I begin, I want to mention a few third quarter highlights. First, we delivered on our commitment to improve Engineering Support Structures margins by achieving over 150 basis points of improvement. Second, in North America, Irrigation sales grew 16% compared to last year. We also completed three acquisitions and announced the fourth. We completed share repurchases totaling $43 million. And we continued to execute on our operations transformation strategy, which will be complete by the end of 2018.

With that I'd like to begin today's remarks by taking a few minutes to speak about capital management. During the third quarter, we deployed nearly $188 million of capital, in part to fund three acquisitions totaling a $116 million and share repurchases of $43 million. As shown on Slide 12 in the presentation, we have deployed a total of $287 million this year. Balanced and strategic use of capital is a meaningful part of our growth strategy, and we hold ourselves accountable to our shareholders and our Board in meeting these priorities.

Turning to acquisitions, I'm excited to share a few more details about the three that we completed in the quarter. In our Utility segment, we purchased the assets of Derit Infrastructure, fulfilling our commitment to enter into the lattice market. Derit is a state-of-the-art 40,000 metric ton lattice structures facility located in Vadodara, India. The factory, which includes custom galvanizing services, provide lattice structure capacity to serve global markets for both the utility and the wireless communication structures. We can now provide our customers with a complete offering of utility structures across all voltage classes, and we have already shipped our first orders. We're building backlog as we head into 2019 and expect margins to be in line with segment margins once factory efficiencies and approvals are realized.

Also in our Utility segment, we purchased a 75% majority stake in Convert Italia, headquartered in Rome, Italy. Convert designs highly engineered solar-tracking solutions, including their patented single-axis tracker, known as the TRJ, positioning solar panels to track at the sun's rays producing approximately 25% more energy for only about 10% additional cost. The partnership with the Convert teams uniquely positions us to supply every type of electrical grid structure within the utility market, a first in the industry. Eventually, we anticipate margins in this business to be slightly greater than segment margin, as we achieve supply chain synergies. Combining the single-axis tracker technology with our manufacturing capabilities and utility customer base provides an integrated solution for utility customers all over the world. As evidenced by independent market data, the solar tracker industry is expected to grow at low-to-mid double digits and exceed $3 billion by the year 2022. With this acquisition, we are now well positioned to participate in this market growth. One synergy we have identified is leveraging our global irrigation manufacturing footprint to make the structural components that support the trackers and panels. As you might imagine using this capability to offer a complete solar package that includes pivots, pumps and other items opens opportunities to explore on-field solutions in our global irrigation business as well.

In the Engineered Support Structures segment, we acquired the assets of Walpar, an industry-leading manufacturer of sign structures products in Birmingham, Alabama, strengthening our commitment to the growing sign structures market. With the advancement of intelligent roads and highways, smart city development and driverless vehicles, we expect annualized growth rates that are higher than the general North American transportation market. We are excited to expand our participation in this market and expect margins to be higher than current segment margins as we build on synergies.

In addition to these three acquisitions, during the quarter, we entered into a definitive agreement to acquire CSP Coatings Systems, further expanding our geographic footprint in the New Zealand market. The transaction closed during the fourth quarter on October 18th and we expect margins to be in line with segment margins. All four transactions advance our strategy of entering or strengthening adjacent market positions that we outlined at our Investor Day. As referenced on Page 13 of the slide deck, we have implemented a formalized M&A process, including a standard work playbook for integration. Regular reviews will be held with our management teams and Board to track progress, and we look forward to providing updates on future calls.

With that, let me now turn to our third quarter results. Net sales of $678.7 million were down slightly from prior year. Excluding last year's third quarter revenue from the grinding media business, which was divested earlier this year, sales grew 2.7%. Adjusted operating income increased by 5.2% to $63.2 million, and adjusted earnings per share was $1.82, an increase of 17.4% over last year. Foreign currency translation unfavorably impacted third quarter EPS by $0.04, primarily from our Latin America operations.

Turning to our segment highlights, and starting with the Engineered Support Structures segment. Revenues grew more than 2% over last year. In North America, transportation product volumes were higher, driven by a strong US economy (ph) and states enacting legislation through increased transportation funding. In fact, over the past few years, over 30 states have increased fuel taxes to support infrastructure investment. Pricing actions taken earlier this year also contributed to sales growth. In Europe, market demand has continued to show signs of improvement and we are encouraged by the outlook. Sales of commercial lighting grew this quarter, also benefiting from pricing actions taken earlier this year. We led the market in price recovery and sales volumes have remained steady, supported by strong service levels that we provide to our customers.

In the Asia-Pacific region, sales of highway safety products were higher, and we believe governments will continue to support safe product (ph) initiatives and infrastructure in the region. Wireless communication sales were lower compared to prior year, as carriers temporarily paused new spending to focus on 5G site preparation. The recent ruling SEC to streamline small cell fee regulations should provide clarity to carriers who may have suspended decisions on project spending. We continue to see significantly lower volumes in the Asia-Pacific region. China Tower, our largest customer in China, completed their IPO during the third quarter. We expect this market to be muted until we can gain more clarity on their bidding programs that will be forthcoming.

Moving to the Utility Support Structures segment, sales of $218.3 million were 6.6% higher than last year. In North America, pricing to recover steel cost increases was partially offset by a less favorable product mix caused by continued market demand for smaller structures. Sales of offshore wind structures in Northern Europe were lower compared to last year. As we stated last quarter, increased competition from China has led to a significantly more challenging price environment in the region. In the Coatings segment, sales of $90.4 million, grew 9.5% over last year, about evenly split between volume and price from continued strong industrial demand across all regions. Our Asia-Pacific operations continued to perform well from improved end-market demand.

Turning to the Irrigation business; global sales of $140.2 million were 4.9% below last year. While uncertainty of tariffs and trade policy and pressure on net farm income levels continue to cloud the outlook, third quarter sales in North America grew by more than 16%. While independent market share analysis does not exist for the North American market, we are confident that we gained short-term market share. International sales were 23% lower compared to 2017, due to lower project volumes and unfavorable currency translation. Excluding impacts from currency, sales were down 17%. Sales in Brazil were also lower as order releases continue to be delayed due to extended approvals of government-sponsored financed programs and uncertainty regarding the impact from the Presidential Election. As we've consistently highlighted, long-term growth in the Irrigation business will come from international markets and advanced technology. Last week, we hosted a first-of-its-kind Israeli AgTech Summit at our Valley, Nebraska campus, which showcased our Ag technology solutions are critical to the future of water sustainability and total crop management. US and Israeli government representatives and policy makers, as well as the global drip irrigation company, Netafim, spoke on the importance of agriculture and global trade. In addition, nine Israeli AgTech companies presented how their businesses are expanding the use of technology on a global scale. This summit is one example of how Valmont and Valley Irrigation are leading global advancements in irrigation technology. As evidenced by the attendants at the summit, we continue to advance our strategy of delivering integrated technology solutions to the market. We believe growers benefit from these offerings even during challenging market conditions. Last month, we expanded the release of our Valley scheduling software to the North America market. We are excited to offer this innovative total crop management solution to even more growers, enabling them to make real-time data-driven decisions on when, where and how much to water. This field-proven technology has been refined over the past 10 years and is being fully utilized on more than 5 million acres in 12 countries and 47 different crops.

Moving to the operations side of our business. Additional actions were taken during the quarter to improve efficiencies in our supply chain and optimize our global footprint. We completed the consolidation of three access systems facilities in China into a single location in the Shanghai province. We also closed an Engineered Support Structures manufacturing facility in the Shandong province. Ongoing evaluations of local market conditions plus additional costs from the Shandong facility closure have resulted in an increase in anticipated pre-tax full-year restructuring expenses from $20 million to a new estimate of $27 million, of which $19 million is cash expense. We believe that these strategic actions combined with the others taken throughout the year will align our operational footprint with our stated market growth strategies by the end of 2018.

I would now like to turn the call over to Mark for the financial update.

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Steve, and good morning, everyone. Before I cover the financial results for the quarter, I would like to touch on the more significant non-recurring events affecting our Q3 financials. First, we completed our debt refinancing by retiring 6.625% bonds due in 2020, incurring a $14.8 million make-whole expense or $11 million after tax, equivalent to $0.49 per share. As mentioned last quarter, we refinanced existing debt at fixed attractive rates and extended our debt maturities to 2044 and 2054. Second, we recorded $6.3 million of restructuring charges this quarter, as we continue to refine our desired future state manufacturing footprint. This mainly includes a cost of reducing our China capacity in the ESS segment. Third, we recorded a $15.8 million non-cash impairment of goodwill and other intangible assets in our offshore structures business in Northern Europe. Significant adverse challenges in the wind energy market in that region and a lack of protective tariffs have led to an extremely competitive pricing environment. As we completed our annual goodwill impairment testing, the resulting lower near-term financial projections led to the impairment charge. Fourth, we closed on three acquisitions this quarter. The impact on Q3 results included $2.9 million of transaction costs, which are expensed as incurred.

As we move into the quarterly financial results, please refer to the adjusted results as outlined in the Reg G disclosure in the press release and Page 6 in the slide deck. In the third quarter, sales were comparable to 2017. Sales, pricing and mix was favorable by 4.5%, while volumes were down 2.5% and currency translation was an unfavorable 2%. Acquisitions, net of divestitures had a negligible impact on the top-line for the quarter. On a segment basis, the volume decreases were primarily in the Irrigation and ESS segments, but in both segments, North America sales increased, while international sales were down compared with 2017. Each of our four segments realized improved pricing over last year and helped in recovering higher raw material cost.

Q3 adjusted operating profit increased by 5.2% and operating margins from continuing operations were 9.3%, 50 basis points higher than 2017. We are pleased that despite an inflationary cost environment, we manage this well through effective supply chain, operational and pricing actions. FX translation effects had a $1.2 million negative impact on operating income or $0.04 per share as compared to 2017. Our income tax rate for the quarter on an adjusted basis was 22.4%, lower than Q3 2017, due to a combination of improved tax credits related to research and development activities and the effects of lower US income taxes this year. 2018 adjusted earnings per share was $1.82, an increase of 17.4% from a $1.55 in Q3 2017.

Turning now to segment operating income results, in the Engineered Support Structures segment, operating income increased 34% from 2017, with adjusted operating margins 220 basis points higher than last year. Aside from solid sales demand in most markets, particularly in North America, Q3 reflected the realization of pricing actions taken this year, benefits from restructuring actions despite a weak trend to market. In the Utility Support Structures segment, operating income was down 12% from 2017. Segment results were negatively impacted by a less favorable product and order mix and the extremely challenging market conditions in the offshore business. In the Coatings segment, operating income was flat with last year and in line on a sequential basis. Turning to the Irrigation segment, operating income increased 17% from 2017 on the strength of North America sales growth and margin management through operational supply chain initiatives, along with market pricing actions in light of higher raw material prices. Segment operating margin for the quarter was 15.2%, very solid considering Q3 as the seasonal demand low point in North America.

Turning to cash flows. Operating cash flows to the first nine months of 2018 were $68.1 million compared with $121.8 million last year. Capital spending was $48.9 million compared with $39.9 million in 2017. Our operating cash flows this year were lower due to the make-whole expenses related to the bond redemption and increased order specific finished goods inventory and to a lesser degree ESS. In these segments, we have seen a higher-than-normal amount of shipment delays due to factors such as project timing and weather events, as evidenced by the hurricanes in the US. These delays have had a short-term impact on cash flows. While shipping schedules are fluid, we are remaining close to our customers to ensure product gets delivered to their job sites when needed. Going forward, we are taking certain actions to improve our working capital performance, including supply chain, financing programs and fixing certain raw material prices contractually to protect margins without taking on material earlier than necessary.

Moving to the balance sheet. As mentioned earlier, this quarter, we redeemed our 6.625% senior notes due in 2020 for $269 million of cash, reducing our long-term debt to $740 million with maturities in 2044 and 2054. We are pleased to have completed our refinancing of long-term rates that are lower than historical averages, providing a very attractive long-dated debt profile. As a result, along with cross-currency swaps completed during Q3, we expect our annual interest expense going forward to be around $40 million or $4 million less than our annual interest expense before the refinancing.

Turning to capital deployment; summary of our accomplishments this year on Slide 12 of presentation, we continue to execute on our stated goals of supporting our current businesses through investments in working capital and fixed assets; secondly, acquisitions that align with our strategic goals and drive shareholder value through returns that exceed our cost of capital over time; three, returning cash to shareholders through dividends; and four, executing on opportunistic share repurchases. Capital spending this year will be $65 million to $70 million compared to $55 million in 2017. This includes our planned investments in Poland in the ESS segment and an expansion of our irrigation facility in the United Arab Emirates to support market growth opportunities in both regions. As previously mentioned, we deployed $116 million in cash for three acquisitions this quarter. In addition to the divestiture of our non-core grinding media business in the second quarter, provided cash to help fund these acquisition and as part of our overall capital allocation strategy in actions this year.

As Steve mentioned in his remarks, during the quarter, we repurchased approximately 309,000 shares of company's stock for $42.9 million at an average price of $138.81 per share. At the end of Q3, $45 million remained on the current authorization as shown on Page 12 of the slide deck. We have been able to effectively deploy capital in each of these areas this year without incurring additional debt.

Let me now turn to our outlook for balance of 2018. Sales for the year are expected to be in the range of $2.75 billion to $2.8 billion. In the ESS segment, we expect positive comparisons for the balance of the year, continuing the momentum generated in the third quarter. In the Utility Support Structures segment, we will have unfavorable comparisons, mainly due to a very difficult market and competitive environment and offshore structures in a much less favorable sales mix during 2017 in North America. In the Coatings segment, good economic growth in the US is expected to result in solid demand end results with normal seasonal impacts in Q4. In the irrigation business, global sales are expected to be similar to last year. The North American market is expected to continue to be somewhat muted for low net farm income and commodity prices and the international sales, as always can be impacted by project timing. We expect raw materials, including freight to remain elevated, but relatively stable in the short run. And for the year, we expect our full-year free cash flow to approximately 60% to 65% of net earnings and after tax on return on invested capital to exceed 10%. We have revised our adjusted EPS guidance for 2018 to reflect anticipated impacts for incremental LIFO inventory expense, resulting from raw material inflation trends in inventory levels, as well as impacts from currency translation.

We now expect full-year adjusted EPS to be in the range of $7.50 to $7.65 per share, updated from the previous range of $7.55 to $7.65. This excludes the effects of restructuring actions, net income effect from the sale of the grinding media business, cost of the bond refinancing and other one-time M&A related costs. We continue to execute on a balanced approach to capital allocation, while remaining committed to an investment-grade credit rating.

With that I will now turn the call back over to Steve for closing remarks.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mark. We are updating our 2018 full-year revenue guidance to the range of $2.75 billion to $2.8 billion and expect fourth quarter revenues to be in line with last year. Our guidance reflects the current forecasted impact of the most recently enacted tariffs on certain imported purchases. Supply alternatives for these items are already being implemented, as US imports of raw steel, aluminum and other -- excuse me, and other materials are minimal. We continue to monitor the tariff impacts very closely and will provide updates if they are needed. As we look ahead to next year, we expect revenue growth of approximately 7% to 8% in 2019. While North American irrigation demand and end-market challenges are likely to be similar to this year, international markets and project activity remains strong, and our technology offerings will provide growth opportunities.

As we look to align our management structure with our growth strategy, in 2019, we plan to begin reporting Irrigation segment revenues in three categories; domestic, international and technology sales, with technology as a subset of the global sales. Our Engineered Support Structures business is supported by firm markets and we will benefit from the restructuring and pricing efforts completed this year. Our Utility business will benefit from continued strong demand in North America and acquisitions. Performance in our Coatings business will be supported by strong industrial demand and ongoing benefit we derive from GalvTrac and the Valmont Coatings Connector. The wind market environment in northern Europe remains challenged for the reasons we stated earlier. In addition to the goodwill impairment this quarter, we are undergoing a significant operational and financial review of this business and we'll provide additional updates next quarter.

Continued long-term growth drivers for infrastructure and agriculture remains strong and we are encouraged by growth opportunities across all our segments. We are continuing to initiate new pathways to growth and our acquisition funnel continues to be robust, aligned with our growth strategy. As we execute on our transformational opportunities within our supply chain and operations, we are confident that we will continue to generate good free cash flow and smart capital deployment.

I will now turn the call back over to Renee.

Renee Campbell -- Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications

Thank you, Steve. At this time, we are ready to take your questions. Christine. Please go ahead.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. We will now be conducting a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Nathan Jones with Stifel. Please proceed with your question.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Nathan.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Can we start on the free cash flow. Obviously -- can you first clarify that 60% to 65% on adjusted net income, rather than GAAP net income? And then it looks like a lot of the headwinds come out of working capital. You've got about $60 million, I think, consumed on primary working capital or $67 million so far this year, and then prepaid expenses another $60 million so far this year. Can you talk about payables, receivables, inventory, all consumed cash just a different pieces of that; what led to the consumption of that cash this year, what the timing is of getting that cash back out and specifically on the prepaid expenses, what's driving that up?

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Okay, Nathan. This is Mark. There is several questions in that one. But let me try to address everything. The 60% to 65%, if you think about it in dollar terms, it would be in that neighborhood of $85 million to $90 million in dollars. So in that way we don't have to get between adjusted and GAAP net earnings and so forth. Now what's happening with us -- first of all, let me step through some of the individual pieces; receivable turns are very consistent with where we've been historically, so there's no real big shift in that over the course of time. With respect to inventories, there is an inflationary impact of that as well. Since raw materials and other inventory costs are up on a unit basis, that's going to drive some level of increase on inventory level, just because if we have the same things on hand, the inflation drives up the number. Really, what's happening in the prepaid expenses is really the costs and earnings in excess of billings that we see that we're picking up on a percentage of completion basis, we're recognizing the revenue and the gross profit related to that, the cash conversion cycle really has not changed and that's based on shipments. And we are seeing a lot more delays with respect to shipments than we would normally see, which is making it challenging to forecast the cash flows. So those are really the major items, I would say, that are really impacting the cash flow items. And right now our projected, what we're seeing as far as shipments for the fourth quarter, support what our projection is, but of course, the actual timing of those shipments is going to determine where the numbers actually turn up -- watching out on regular, daily, weekly basis.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Do you think the 2019 looks like it it can be a year where you get back to that target of 100% conversion? Are you expecting continued delays or anything else in there that could continue to drag on that cash conversion cycle?

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I believe so wholeheartedly. I think some of these items will level out over the course of time regarding the timing of shipments plus we're just starting some work around supply chain finance programs and some things around raw material price hedging that doesn't involve taking material on. I think those three things altogether will contribute to better cash flows in 2019 as measured against net earnings, no doubt.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay and then my follow-up -- Steve, thanks for the initial outlook on 2019. You said 7% to 8% revenue growth. I'm wondering, if you can give us any color on how that breaks out either what price versus volume or any color you might be willing to share on what that ranges are expected to be for any of the segments?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's really just a combination of all of the efforts -- the commercial efforts, whether that is true volume growth, pricing or acquisitions being baked into that number as well. Most of the pricing actions, let say, the heavy lifting of the pricing actions were taken in 2018 and particularly in the first and second quarter of this year. So what you'll see as you look at '19 will be still some pricing actions, but not nearly to the extent and really it's more volume and acquisition and growth based where we see the opportunities.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Do you guys want to give us the number that's from acquisitions, just so we know what the organic number is?

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Not specifically, Nathan. But what I will tell you is that if you look at the acquisitions overall, they probably -- the couple of that we announced, again, Derit was negligible, almost nothing for this year because we had a business -- basically, we're buying assets. The Walpar and Convert, let's say, between the two of them probably are somewhere in the range for the year, again, that's not in our 2018, but of around $80 million of revenue between those two acquisitions. So then it would be the normal CAGRs and growth rates that we announced at that point. So hopefully that gives a little bit more clarity.

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay, thanks a lot. I will pass it on.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Craig Bibb with CJS Securities. Please proceed with your question.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Hi. Just a quick two clarifications. The USS volume in North America was up how much year-over-year and then the same question for ESS (ph)?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So the North American volume in ESS -- oh, you started with USS, was up -- sorry, sorry I'll get back to it. We said that that would be -- sales were up total 6.6% for the segment and that was against some unfavorability in the offshore wind for the third quarter. There's more unfavorable comparisons in the fourth quarter related to offshore wind. And so that was from just a pure volume kind of perspective, at that point. It's again in lower or smaller structures, so we're expanding roughly the same number of production hours, but not getting the same kinds of OP dollars and/or revenue dollars off of that production. And that is, as you look at a lot of the grid hardening that's going on, it typically has done at the lower voltage classes as opposed to load growth, which would be at higher voltage classes overall.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Okay. I am -- sorry, go ahead.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

And then in ESS, we saw a good volume growth, particularly in the North American market, offset by the decline in China. And that's kind of the way you would look at it and with Australia and India being kind of a flat at that point. So North America is seeing good growth. China, again, we've stepped out of some of that China Telecom business and the business itself has remained at a low level while they went through their IPO.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Okay. I'm just trying to get at the underlying volume growth in North America for both segments. It sounds like it's kind of mid-single digits, somewhere in there. But your mix is hurting it USS, is that --?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

That would be correct.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then with the IPO in China, your largest customer, does that mean the (inaudible) wireless in China?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we're still waiting to see how the bidding programs and 5G factor into that. As you are aware the 5G is a lot of sites, but they tend to be smaller sites. And we are building a very strong capability around delivering small sites. But until we get some clarity on their CapEx spending, it's hard to know exactly when that will come back in, but we are still bidding work and we're still seeing work just not to the extent for pre-IPO. So more to come.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then in Europe, offshore wind obviously, extremely weak again. You are already evolving your European business more toward onshore and USS and ESS. Can you give us maybe an update on the rest of the EU?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So when it comes to just the wind business, we have now a management structure that is really looking at opportunities for alternative energy, construction, that will be things like a wood chip plant. We have a series of round utility structures markets that we're approaching out of that business as well. And then from the wind business itself, there is some next-generation kind of turbines that will require new structures. As the markets prognosticate, it really looks like at the back half of '19 into '20 is when you start to see a market rebound. We're not going to wait until then. We are going to start to take actions now. There's a number of competitive companies that are actually in a much more acute position than us, including filing for restructuring and/or looking to be sold. So it's a challenging market overall. When it comes to just traffic and lighting business in Europe, we've seen a modest increase over last year and we believe it's been a sustainable trend that we've seen throughout the year, and as we look forward, we think it will continue. It won't be -- it will be kind of low-single digits, but compared to where Europe has been contracting for a number of years, it's still a positive outlook.

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

All right, thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Brian Drab with William Blair. Please proceed with your question.

Brian Drab -- William Blair -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning. Thanks for taking my questions. First one, why do you think that you're outperforming your competitors in North America in the irrigation market recently and what's driving that and are there any particular regions where you think that you picked up some share in the near term?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. As we've said, kind of repeatedly, there are markets where we tend to have a stronger position than other competitors. And quarter-by-quarter, you can see fluctuation related to the strength in those particular markets. So we believe that when we look at really the market for the quarter, parts overall were actually down and it was unit sales that drove much of the increase. So it was just a good solid mix coming from our more traditional strength areas, that we also believe is being driven by the technology solutions. The pivot always has and always will have a great payback and now with the technology solutions that we can apply to it from a cost to maintain the pivot to a cost administer and from just a quality of life perspective, we think that those are helping the markets in its entirety to help people make those decisions in a somewhat stressed situation when it comes in net farm income. If they see real paybacks, people will move forward. And so that's what we attribute much of the increase to this quarter.

Brian Drab -- William Blair -- Analyst

Would you be willing to put a finer point on the strength areas that you're referring to?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's just our traditional areas, Brian. So we wouldn't break out any particular region per se, but we have our strengths and they have -- others have their strengths.

Brian Drab -- William Blair -- Analyst

Yeah. Okay. And then just one more for now, I guess. Can you elaborate maybe on the synergy between Convert Italia and Irrigation? I think, what I was hearing is that you hope that there is the opportunity for growers, potentially to use the solar power to maybe power pumps and irrigation systems. Is that part of the plan?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, in the near term, it's to utilize the supply chain. Because this is angle that is punched and pressed and gearboxes, exact same thing that pivots are. So, a solar tracking solution and pivot are of the same ilk, but just utilized in a different way. So that will allow us to utilize the irrigation footprint all over to globe -- to quote all over the globe. And because we can buy directly from mills as opposed to service centers, it really should give us strong supply chain synergies and we're working on those things aggressively right now, and they will build over time. In the more intermediate term, we know that power and the remoteness (ph) of growing regions particularly in developing markets will lead people to want to utilize solar power as a way to power pumps, pivots and other farm equipment. And so the fact that, Convert already works on small grids in the, kind of, low megawatts, kind of, areas as well as the large-scale projects, we believe that particularly large growers or government-supported growing regions instead of running utility lines hundreds of kilometers may just put in a micro-grid to support the farming in that area. And so those are things that we're very excited from a product offering perspective that we'll be able to bring to the market, again over the intermediate term.

Brian Drab -- William Blair -- Analyst

Okay. Got it. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Brent Thielman with D.A. Davidson. Please proceed with your question.

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Great, thanks. Steve, on the Utility business, what's the visibility on large projects in North America now? Should that normalize the return in 2019? And then, assuming the wind business is going to be a headwind or sustained headwind into next year, but you get the large project business back, can you get that segment back to the kind of 12% to 14% margins been known to do?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So, the visibility we have going into 2019 suggests that the project work will continue in a very robust way. Our backlogs are actually pretty good. But it will remain on the small side. So for us to get additional margin, and this is something we've already been working on aggressively this year, we believe will bear more fruit next year, is the planning, the operational efficiencies and even to an extent the manufacturing capability we have to do that more effectively, is what we're going to have to focus on to improve margins on the small structures. When it comes to the wind business, we're going to have to look at obviously all the costs associated with the business and really on the commercial side, being able to capitalize on some of the non-traditional wind business kinds of opportunities. But as that then develops into 2020, especially with weak players out in the market that may, I would venture to assume that you're going to see some consolidation in the market, which should help the competitive environment, but again, more in 2020. So we believe that we can work to get back to the margins we've seen. It's going to be probably built over the year. It won't be right up front in Q1. But as we kind of move through the quarters, we should really see improved margins overall there.

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Okay, great. And then, it doesn't really sound like you're incorporating any material uplift in Brazil through the rest of this year. You mentioned the election seems to be holding or maybe holding back some activity. Does that start to unlock in 2019 just based on what you hear from your customers?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So in fourth quarter, we don't anticipate any kind of rebound, to just confirm your point there. If the front-runner is elected and seated in January, we believe he will be supportive to the agricultural economy. It will take a while to get it kind of steam back up again. But the sentiment in Brazil is still very strong and the prospects for agriculture there are good. And so we believe we should see positive comparison year-over-year in the Brazilian market.

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Thank you.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Brent.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from the line of Jon Braatz with Kansas City Capital. Please proceed with your question.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

Good Morning, Steve and Mark.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Jon.

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Jon.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

Steve, in your commentary, you talked about the expectations for the margins and the acquisitions that you just -- companies that you acquired. Some may take a little bit longer than others. But can you give me a -- can you give us a little time frame where you think the margins can get to where -- your -- the expected levels that you're shooting for, a year or two years or three years? Can you give us a little color on that?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So if you take Derit, it's really a matter of building backlog and obtaining customer and/or weld approvals that we need. So to get that to, let's say, utility-type margins, I would say, building over the course of next year. So by the end of the year, we should be add those kinds of margins. So if you were to go to fourth quarter next year, we should be there. In Convert Italia, those margins already are about at par with our current margins. And so the synergies and building, particularly along the supply chain, also should be something in about a year that we should be able to realize better-than-current margins in that business. The Walpar sign structures business also is at a level that is probably slightly higher than our typical ESS margins. And so with that one we would expect that also in about a year to improve the margin profile there. So none of these are multi-year kinds of synergy cases. On the commercial side, they fit in pretty easily, because of the channels to market we have already. And really, it's just an operational kind of synergy, which is usually a lot easier to obtain than a commercial synergy. So, we feel good that they'll build pretty quickly.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

Okay. The acquisition in India, the lattice project or lattice company, that was basically a greenfield start-up. Am I thinking of it correctly?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. It's a plant that had been in operation for about five years. But because it had gone through a bankruptcy, really didn't have much of a backlog to speak of. And so we view it as a greenfield from a commercial perspective of getting them back into the market. Now the fact is, we're already shipping orders and we're already building backlog. We didn't have to build the factory, we don't have to put the machinery in and now we're able to capitalize on what was there already. And so that's why we feel confident that maybe greenfields take a little longer; this one's kind of already well in place and now it's just getting the book of business in there.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

Okay. And secondly, in the Coatings business, zinc prices sort of hit a high back in the February time frame and have come down significantly. Should we begin seeing some tailwinds, if you want to call it, from lower zinc prices impacting -- favorably impacting margins in the Coatings segment?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

We would hope so, as we work off some of the inventory from before. But as always, the balancing act is how much does the average zinc price come down. If it comes down very significantly, very quickly, then you'll get customers that will push back and look for that. If it comes down slowly and moderately, we usually able to hang onto price pretty well. And I'll give credit to our team. They've been very focused on this, with going out ahead of most people with the increases; we're not going to be the first to lower price either.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

While prices have come down from, I guess, $1.75 to $1.20, is that too quick, too much to (inaudible)?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's moderated slightly, recently. We have gotten some pressure. But we don't work to give it all back. So luckily, I guess, as you look at it, more and more of the focus is on steel. And the steel prices and things like tariffs and impacts tend to be getting more of people's focus in the purchasing realm than is zinc, which is still a pretty small piece of the equation overall for their projects.

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jon.

Operator

Okay. Next question is a follow-up question from Brent Thielman with D.A. Davidson. Please proceed with your question.

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Thanks. On Irrigation, in particular North America, could you flush out the contributions that Torrent Engineering -- just trying to understand what, I guess, the core business did on organic basis?

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So, Torrent, out of the 16%, probably contributed about 6%. So we were still up about 10% on the base business.

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Okay, great. That's all I had. Thank you.

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

All right. Thanks, Brent.

Operator

Thank you. We have no further questions at this time. Ms. Campbell, I would now like to turn the floor back over to you for closing comments.

Renee Campbell -- Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications

Thank you, Christine. This concludes our call. We thank you for joining us today. As mentioned, today's call will be available for playback on our website or by phone for the next seven days. We look forward to speaking with you again next quarter. Have a good day.

Operator

Included in this discussion are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements are based on assumptions that management has made in light of experience and the industries in which Valmont operates, as well as management's perceptions of historical trends, current conditions, expected future developments, and other factors, believed to be appropriate under the circumstances. As you listen to and consider these comments, you should understand that these statements are not guarantees of performance or results. They involve risks, uncertainties, some of which are beyond Valmont's control and assumptions. Although management believes that these forward-looking statements are based on reasonable assumptions, you should be aware that many factors could affect Valmont's actual financial results and cause them to differ materially from those anticipated in the forward-looking statements.

These factors include, among other things, risks factors described from time-to-time in Valmont's reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as future economic and market circumstances, industry conditions, company performance and financial results, operating efficiencies, availability and price of raw material, availability and market acceptance of new products, product pricing, domestic and international competitive environments and actions and policy changes of domestic and foreign governments. The company cautions that any forward-looking statement included in this discussion is made as of the date of this discussion and the company does not undertake to update any forward-looking statements.

This concludes today's teleconference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation.

Duration: 55 minutes

Call participants:

Renee Campbell -- Director of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications

Stephen G. Kaniewski -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Mark C. Jaksich -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Nathan Jones -- Stifel -- Analyst

Craig Bibb -- CJS Securities -- Analyst

Brian Drab -- William Blair -- Analyst

Brent Thielman -- D.A. Davidson -- Analyst

Jon Braatz -- Kansas City Capital -- Analyst

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