New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR) Q1 2019 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

NJR earnings call for the period ending December 31, 2018.

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Feb 6, 2019 at 2:40PM
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New Jersey Resources Corp  (NYSE:NJR)
Q1 2019 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 06, 2019, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning and welcome to the New Jersey Resources' First Quarter Fiscal 2019 Earnings Conference Call. All participants will be in listen-only mode. (Operator Instructions) Please note this event is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Dennis Puma, Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Dennis Puma -- Director of Investor Relations

Thank you, Kate, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to New Jersey Resources' first quarter fiscal 2019 conference call and webcast. I'm joined here today by Steve Westhoven, our President and Chief Operating Officer; Pat Migliaccio, our Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, as well as other members of our senior management team.

As you know, certain statements in today's call contain estimates and other forward-looking statements within the meaning of the securities laws. We wish to caution listeners of this call that the expectations, assumptions and beliefs forming the basis for forward-looking statements include many factors that are beyond our ability to control or estimate precisely, which could cause results to materially differ from our expectations as found on Slide 1.

These items can also be found in the forward-looking statement section of today's earnings release furnished on Form 8-K and in our most recent Form 10-K and Q as filed with the SEC. We do not, by including this statement, assume any obligation to review or revise any particular forward-looking statement referenced herein in light of future events.

Turning to Slide 2, we will be referring to certain non-GAAP financial measures such as net financial earnings or NFE. We believe that NFE provides a more complete understanding of our financial performance. However, NFE is not intended to be a substitute for GAAP. Our non-GAAP financial measures are discussed more fully in Item 7 on our Form 10-K.

I'd also like to point out that there are slides accompanying today's presentation which are available on our website and were furnished on Form 8-K filed this morning.

With that said, I'd like to turn the call over to our President and COO, Steve Westhoven. Steve?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Dennis, and good morning, everyone. Hopefully, you've all had a chance to review our earnings release from this morning. Before we discuss the results for the quarter, I'd like to begin today by focusing on our strategic outlook. The demand for clean, low-cost natural gas continues to grow. Here in New Jersey, three out of four homes are heated with natural gas, and it is our obligation to provide safe, reliable service.

As a result, our infrastructure investments are vital. In fact, natural gas Infrastructure represents the largest portion of our business, as we now serve over 540,000 retail customers in New Jersey. The extreme cold weather we've recently experienced produced one of the highest standout days in our history. To meet peak-day demand, we have designed and invested in our system to provide operational flexibility and capacity. To accomplish this, each year we spend in excess of $100 million to grow and maintain our distribution system and have programs designed to enhance safety, integrity and resiliency.

Through our SAFE and NJ RISE programs in the SRL project, we will invest over $450 million in total to enhance resiliency and strengthen our overall pipeline network.

As we continue to add new customers, the need for additional supply only becomes more apparent. Our midstream infrastructure investment, which include PennEast and Adelphia Gateway are designed to help meet this demand and provide low-cost natural gas supply to currently constrained markets.

We will assess additional projects and opportunities in the midstream space as they present themselves. Our deep understanding of wholesale natural gas markets position us well for future opportunities.

As we look forward, we recognize that New Jersey's policy focus on clean energy will play a prominent role in the state's future. We will continue to focus on the commercial and residential solar markets. To date, we have invested about $800 million in New Jersey and have about 250 megawatts of installed solar capacity.

As the state continues to move toward a clean energy future, our ongoing investments will play an important role in achieving this goal. In total, we expect to spend over $900 million on natural gas distribution, midstream and clean energy projects in fiscal 2019.

The strategic investments, which support affordable growth in renewables, sustainability-enhanced resiliency, position us well on the path to New Jersey's clean energy future.

In fact, New Jersey Natural Gas recently became the first distribution company in New Jersey to join the EPA's methane emissions challenge and the One Future program, both of which look at opportunities to reduce emissions and strengthen the system integrity. As you can see, we have a strong foundation for growth and remain focused on executing our strategy to provide our shareholders with attractive returns.

Moving to Slide 4, I'd like to go over the key highlights from the first quarter. We reported net financial earnings of $0.61 per share compared to the $1.56 per share last year. You recall that last year's results included the effects of tax reform and the performance of Energy Services.

At New Jersey Natural Gas, we achieved a significant milestone, the start of construction of the first 18 miles of our SRL project. We currently expect an in-service date in early 2020.

We also added nearly 3,000 new customers this quarter and are on pace to reach our goal of 28,000 to 30,000 new additions over the next three years. And based on current rates, this will add cumulative utility gross margin of approximately $16 million.

We also had two positive developments in our Midstream business. Adelphia Gateway received its environmental assessment from FERC, which found the project to have no significant environmental impact. We remain optimistic that Adelphia will move through the FERC approval process in a timely manner and be in service in 2019. For PennEast, we received a favorable ruling from the District Court granting the project access to properties in New Jersey required to complete the land surveys. The survey process is currently under way, and when completed, the project will update its application with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. And finally, at Clean Energy Ventures, we placed two commercial solar projects into service, totaling 19.2 megawatts of capacity. And we expect four more projects to be completed this year. In total, six installations will add over 50 megawatts of capacity.

I'd now like to turn the call over to Pat for some details on our financial performance.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Steve, and good morning, everyone. Today, we reaffirmed our fiscal 2019 net financial earnings guidance range of $1.95 to $2.05 per share. On Slide 5, you can see the breakdown of the expected future NFE contributions from each of our business segments. Our regulated businesses will continue to provide the majority of our total earnings, driven by infrastructure investments and customer growth.

Looking at the pie chart on the left, we expect NJNG to contribute between 45% to 50% and the Midstream business to contribute between 5% and 15%. As you may recall, this year we expect CEV to contribute between 25% and 35%, which is higher than prior years. There are two reasons for this. First, to take advantage of the lower tax rate, we were able to align the timing of some SREC sales to 2019. Second, we expect to recognize the ITCs associated with all of our commercial solar projects placed into service this year. We expect CEV to return to a more normalized range of 10% to 20% in fiscal 2020 and beyond as depicted by the chart on the right. We also expect Energy Services to contribute between 5% and 15%.

Slide 6 provides a breakdown of the changes from year to year in each of our principal subsidiaries for the first quarter. The results of New Jersey Natural Gas were lower due to slightly higher O&M expenses and lower BGSS incentives. Midstream and Clean Energy Ventures were down year-over-year, primarily due to the effects of tax reform on our fiscal 2018 results.

Energy Services decreased due to the lack of sustained cold weather and related pricing volatility as compared to last year. To further illustrate this point, on Slide 7, we have a comparison of Tetco M-3 daily prices versus heating degree days for the last two Decembers. What you can see is the volatility in prices in fiscal 2018, due to sustained extreme cold weather that led to a dramatic increase in heating degree days at the end of the month.

In contrast, you can see fiscal 2018 heating degree days and prices were muted, due to less extreme cold weather and related volatility. As a result, profitability decreased in Energy Services, because of the narrowed pricing spreads and reduced volatility in the natural gas market during this quarter.

The results of our SREC hedging strategy are highlighted on Slide 8. We actively hedge our SREC production to lock in revenue for future energy years. As you can see, over 90% of our SREC sales for facilities currently operational and under construction are hedged for energy years 2019 and 2020 at an average price of over $190 per SREC.

For energy year '21, the hedged amount is 65% at $192. As we approach February's BGS auction, we have seen SREC prices begin to increase. In particular, energy year 2022 has increased by approximately 30% compared with the prevailing market price as of our last earnings report. As a result, we have already begun hedging energy year 2022. We will continue to hedge through fiscal 2019 with a focus on increasing our hedge ratios in the outer years.

Slide 9 shows our capital spending update for NJNG. For the quarter, about 43% of our spend is related to projects that provide a near real-time or immediate return on our investment. The return on the remaining balance will occur on the next rate case, which would be filed no later than November of this year. You could see our CEV and Midstream capital spending and project status on Slide 10.

As Steve mentioned, in our CEV segment, we placed two projects into service during the first quarter, totaling approximately $47 million of investment. We expect to install four additional projects this year, bringing our total ITC-eligible solar investment to $169 million for fiscal 2019. We also invested a total of $2.7 million in our Midstream segment projects, PennEast and Adelphia Gateway.

Moving to Slide 11, I want to update you on our cash flows and financial projections. We expect to raise approximately $78 million of new equity this fiscal year, including proceeds from our dividend reinvestment program.

Our capital plans for fiscal '20 and '21 in excess of $1 billion are anchored by strong cash flows from operations, as all of our dividend reinvestment program will help finance our capital investments and dividend growth targets.

I'll now turn the call back over to Steve for some closing remarks.

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Pat, and thank you all for joining us today. As you can see, we've had another successful quarter. I'd like to thank our employees for their hard work that drives our performance. We have a great team who are dedicated to executing our strategy to ensure safe, reliable service for our customers, grow our business and deliver performance to our shareholders.

I'd now like to open the call for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operators Instructions) The first question is from Travis Miller of Morningstar. Please go ahead.

Travis Miller -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Good morning. Thank you.

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Good morning, Travis.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Travis.

Travis Miller -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Wonder if you could just compare or contrast the cold weather we had last week, and operationally or financially, what you've seen relative to even last year or going back to the polar vortex couple of years ago?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Hey, Travis. This is Steve. I think the big difference is that the weather that we had, even if you compare it back to the previous coldest weather we experienced is the immediate warming that has taken place right afterwards and essentially that's taken a little bit of pressure off the market, reduced volatility and certainly lightened up on some of the operational issues that pipelines would normally experience when they have a sustained cold period. So, I think that's kind of the fundamental difference between what we're experiencing now and if you were to compare it to the previous periods.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Travis, this is Patrick Migliaccio. The only thing I'd add is we considered certainly all the weather up through January into reaffirming our earnings guidance this morning.

Travis Miller -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Okay. Okay, great. And then switching to the solar, I just wondered if you could kind of give a sense for what you are seeing on the SREC, like you talked about in the pricing there, and more competition, are you seeing more competition as being reflected in SRECs or you're not seeing any more competition and that's why maybe SRECs are stronger? Just wonder if you could talk through the relationship there and if you are seeing any competition?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

So Travis, I think it's still the same, it's still the same market, you have a lot of the same participants, but there are certain situations that occur every year in the market and I will let Pat to take you through that.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Travis, remember that the fundamentals of the SREC market are driven by the supply and demand for SRECs. And with the passing of the legislation in May, that's essentially created a situation where the market for leased energy of 2019 to 2020 is likely short SRECs. And so that creates during the period of BGS auction some upward pressure on pricing and we have seen that reflected not only in the 22s, which is the vintage we're just starting to hedge now, but also in the 21s as well.

Travis Miller -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Okay. Great. Appreciate the answers.

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Travis.

Operator

The next question is from Dennis Coleman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Please go ahead.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone, thanks. Just a couple from me. I guess, one is a little bit of logistics. And SRL, seems like maybe that in-service has been moved back a little bit and I -- just I'm wondering how that fits with the rate case. I thought the plan was to try and get it done to include in the rate case. So, maybe that's a little bit different, if you can just comment on that?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

No, Dennis, that's still the plan. So remember that we are required to file November of 2019, but we will sync up the filing of the rate case with the completion of SRL. Recall that within the New Jersey regulation, we're permitted to include rate base additions up to six months after the end of a test year. And so that influences both the timing of the rate case and how we'd be able to include SRL in that.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Perfect, thanks, and I had forgotten that. Then I guess also on Adelphia, you've got the environmental permit, but still some work to do at the FERC, and then once you get that final FERC approval, then you proceed to closing?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

That's right. We received our environmental assessment from FERC on January 4th and we expect to receive our final FERC certificate second quarter this spring time frame. And then once we receive that, then we will be able to transfer ownership from Talen in the IEC Pipeline over to Adelphia Gateway, and at that point that will immediately become a FERC-regulated project and then the customers will fall under FERC jurisdiction, the operation will fall under FERC jurisdiction, and then we will begin construction on the southern portion of that line, convert it over to natural gas and then serving those customers in the future.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Got it, Steve, thanks. And just to make sure I understand, you said second quarter, you are talking fiscal second quarter?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Yes.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Okay.

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

I'd say, Dennis, it's actually about -- yes, it's -- it will be this spring. Usually, it's like 90 days after you receive your environmental assessment, but FERC schedules are very hard to predict, but rule of thumb 90 days, so sometime in and around there, three, four months after the environmental assessment was issued.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Okay. That's helpful. And then I guess if I could just tie this out to the $1 billion, that would then be in that $1 billion spend that you talked about for CapEx?

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Dennis, that's correct. So we expect that the construction on the southern portion will occur in our fiscal year '19 and have always stated that we expect the project to materially contribute to earnings in our fiscal '20.

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Perfect. That's all I have. Thanks for the update.

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Dennis.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Dennis.

Operator

The next question is from Stephen D'Ambrisi of Castleton Investment Management. Please go ahead.

Stephen D'Ambrisi -- Castleton Investment Management -- Analyst

Hey, guys, how are you?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Hey, Steve.

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Steve.

Stephen D'Ambrisi -- Castleton Investment Management -- Analyst

Thanks for taking my question. Just had a quick one. I guess when I look at first quarter earnings for NFE for CEV, it looks basically flat with first quarter 2018, adjusted for the Tax Cuts Jobs Act impact. And I guess I was pretty surprised by that given the midpoint of guidance for the year is up like $0.45, So can you just walk us through, I guess, if that's a timing impact or how these ITCs and SRECs you had recognized and when that comes through in the rest of the year, because I think that was a big thing that I think I missed?

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Yeah. So, Stephen, remember that we are required to forecast an annual effective tax rate for NJR. And in doing so, then we record only a certain amount of ITCs throughout the year, consistent with how we recognize the income. So, it is strictly timing for us. So you would expect in the second and third quarter that you will see more of the investment tax credit being recognized as the income tax benefit.

Stephen D'Ambrisi -- Castleton Investment Management -- Analyst

Okay, great. That's all I had. Thanks very much, guys.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) There are no other questions at this time. This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Dennis Puma for closing remarks.

Dennis Puma -- Director of Investor Relations

Okay. Thank you, Kate. Just wanted to thank everybody for joining us this morning. As a reminder, a recording of this call is available for replay on our website. As always, we appreciate your interest and investment in New Jersey Resources. Thanks. Bye.

Operator

The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.

Duration: 20 minutes

Call participants:

Dennis Puma -- Director of Investor Relations

Stephen D. Westhoven -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Patrick Migliaccio -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Travis Miller -- Morningstar -- Analyst

Dennis Paul Coleman -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Stephen D'Ambrisi -- Castleton Investment Management -- Analyst

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