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New Mountain Finance Corp  (NYSE:NMFC)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 28, 2019, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to the New Mountain Finance Corporation Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. All participants will be in listen-only mode. (Operator Instructions) After today's presentation, there will be an opportunity to ask questions (Operator Instructions) And please note that today's event is being recorded.

And now, I would like to turn the conference over to Rob Hamwee, CEO of New Mountain Finance Corporation. Please go ahead.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, and good morning, everyone. And welcome to New Mountain Finance Corporation's fourth quarter earnings call for 2018. On the line with me here today are Steve Klinsky, Chairman of NMFC and CEO of New Mountain Capital; John Kline, President and COO of NMFC; and Shiraz Kajee, CFO of NMFC.

Steve Klinsky is going to make some introductory remarks. But before he does, I'd like to ask Shiraz to make some important statements regarding today's call.

Shiraz Y. Kajee -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks Rob. Good morning, everyone. Before we get into the presentation, I would like to advise everyone that today's call and webcast are being recorded. Please note that they are the property of New Mountain Finance Corporation, and that any unauthorized broadcast in any form is strictly prohibited. Information about the audio replay of this call is available in our February 27th earnings press release.

I would also like to call your attention to the customary safe harbor disclosure in our press release and on page two of the slide presentation regarding forward-looking statements. Today's conference call and webcast may include forward-looking statements and projections, and we ask that you refer to our most recent filings with the SEC for important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those statements and projections.

We do not undertake to update our forward-looking statements or projections unless required to by law. To obtain copies of our latest SEC filings and to access the slide presentation that we will be referencing throughout this call, please visit our website at www.newmountainfinance.com.

At this time, I'd like to turn the call over to Steve Klinsky, NMFC's Chairman, who will give some highlights beginning on pages four and five of the slide presentation. Steve?

Steven B. Klinsky -- Founder and Chairman

The team will go through the details in a moment, but let me start by presenting the highlights of another strong quarter for New Mountain Finance. New Mountain Finance's net investment income for the quarter ended December 31, 2018, was once again $0.36 per share, above our guidance of $0.33 to $0.35 per share and more than covering our quarterly dividend of $0.34 per share.

New Mountain Finance's book value decreased by $0.36 per share to $13.22 per share. Importantly, this decrease in book value is not reflective of any material credit deterioration, but reflects overall financial market weakness at 12/31, much of which has reversed quarter-to-date. We are also able to announce our regular dividend, which for the 28th straight quarter will again be $0.34 per share, an annualized yield of approximately 10% based on last Friday's close.

The company had a productive quarter of deal generation, investing $265 million in gross originations versus repayments of $76 million. To support our growth, we have continued to expand our credit facilities, secured an investment grade rating from Kroll and recently completed a tactical equity issuance. Additionally, at the end of Q4, we successfully monetized our largest investment, Hi Technology, generating $35 million of investment income and gains in under two years.

Credit quality remained strong with once again no new non-accruals. I and other members of New Mountain, continue to be very large owners of our stock with aggregate ownership of 10.1 million shares, approximately 13% of total shares outstanding.

Finally, the broader New Mountain platform that supports NMFC, continues to grow, with over $20 billion of assets under management and over 145 team members. In summary, we are pleased with NMFC's continued performance and progress overall.

With that, let me turn the call back over to Rob Hamwee, NMFC's CEO.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Steve. Before diving into the details of the quarter, as always, I'd like to give everyone a brief review of NMFC and our strategy.

As outlined on page six of our presentation, NMFC is externally managed by New Mountain Capital, a leading private equity firm. Since the inception of our debt investment program in 2008, we have taken New Mountain's approach to private equity and applied it to corporate credit, with a consistent focus on defensive growth business models and extensive fundamental research within the industries that are already well-known to New Mountain.

Or more simply put, we invest in recession resistant businesses that we really know and that we really like. We believe this approach results in a differentiated and sustainable model that allows us to generate attractive risk-adjusted rates of return across changing cycles and market conditions. To achieve our mandate, we utilize the existing New Mountain investment team as our primary underwriting resource.

Turning to page seven. You can see our total return performance from our IPO in May 2011 through February 22, 2019. In the nearly eight years since our IPO, we have generated a compounded annual return to our initial public investors of over 11%, meaningfully higher than our peers and the high yield index, and approximately 1,000 basis points per annum above relevant risk-free benchmarks.

Page eight goes into little more detail around relative performance against our peer set, benchmarking against the 10 largest externally managed BDCs that have been public at least as long as we have.

Page nine shows return attribution. Total cumulative return continues to be largely driven by our cash dividend, which in turn has been more than 100% covered by net investment income. As the bar on the far right illustrates, over the nearly eight years we have been public, we've effectively maintained a stable book value inclusive of special dividends, while generating a 10.3% cash-on-cash return for our shareholders.

We attribute our success to, one, our differentiated underwriting platform; two, our ability to consistently generate the vast majority of our NII from stable cash interest income in an amount that covers our dividend. Three, our focus on running the business with an efficient balance sheet and always fully utilizing inexpensive, appropriately structured leverage before accessing more expensive equity. And four, our alignment of shareholder and management interest.

Our highest priority continues to be our focus on risk control and credit performance, which we believe over time is the single-biggest differentiator of total return in the BDC space. Credit performance continues to be strong, with no new non-accruals during the quarter and no material quarter-over-quarter credit deterioration in any single name.

If you refer to page 10, we once again lay out the cost basement -- the cost basis of our investments, both the current portfolio and our cumulative investments since the inception of our credit business in 2008, and then show what has migrated down the performance ladder.

Since inception, we have made investments of approximately $6.6 billion in 254 portfolio companies, of which only eight representing just $125 million of costs have migrated to non-accrual, of which only four representing $43 million of costs have thus far resulted in realized default losses. Further, virtually 100% of our portfolio at fair market value is currently rated one or two on our internal scale.

Page 11 shows leverage multiple for all of our holdings over $7.5 million when we entered an investment and leverage levels for the same investment as of the end of the most recent reporting period. While not a perfect metric, the asset-by-asset trend and leverage multiple is a good snapshot of credit performance and helps provide some degree of empirical, fundamental support for our internal ratings and marks.

As you can see by looking at the table, leverage multiples are roughly flat or trending in the right direction, with only a few exceptions. Only three loans have had negative migration of 2.5 turns or more. Two are names we have discussed in prior quarters, neither of which this quarter experienced a material change in leverage ratio or medium-term prospects.

These two loans include the previously restructured Edmentum, where prospects remain bright, and a second issuer, where we continue to believe the likelihood of payment default is low, particularly in light of a December equity contribution from the sponsor that resulted in a 29% loan pay down. The other issuer is in the late stages of a process, which we expect will either result in full loan repayment or a significantly deleveraging equity contribution.

The chart on page 12 helps track the company's overall economic performance since its IPO. At the top of the page, we show how the regular quarterly dividend is being covered out of net investment income. As you can see, we continue to more than cover 100% of our cumulative regular dividends out of NII.

On the bottom of the page, we focus on below-the-line items. First, we look at realized gains and realized credit and other losses. You can see, looking at the row, highlighted in green, we've had success generating real economic gains every year through a combination of equity gains, portfolio companies dividends and trading profits.

Conversely, realized losses, including default losses, highlighted in orange, have generally been smaller and less frequent and show that we are typically not avoiding non-accruals, by selling poor credits at a material loss prior to actual default. As highlighted in blue, we continue to have a net cumulative realized gain, which currently stands at $18 million.

Looking further down the page, we can see that cumulative net unrealized depreciation, highlighted in gray, stands at $62 million and cumulative net realized and unrealized loss highlighted in yellow is at $45 million.

The increase in unrealized depreciation this quarter reflects the market weakness experienced in December and not any material credit deterioration. The net result of all of this, is that in our nearly eight years as a public company, we have earned net investment income of $587 million against total cumulative net losses, including unrealized of only $45 million.

Turning to page 13. We have seen significant growth in the portfolio over the last three quarters, as we have increased our statutory leverage from 0.81 to 1.23. Consistent with the strategy, we articulated when we received shareholder authorization to increase leverage, the preponderance of our asset increase has been in the form of senior loans.

In fact, over the nine-month period, significantly more than 100% of the growth in assets have come from senior securities, as through repayments and sales, non-first liens have actually shrunk on an absolute basis by $201 million, while first lien assets have grown by $552 million.

The fourth quarter also saw the realization of our largest asset, HI Technology. As detailed on page 14, we proprietarily sourced a $105 million investment in Hi Technology, a little less than two years ago. The attractive risk reward profile of our investment was a function of both the company's niche market dominant global franchise, as well as the security that was structured at under 20% of loan to value.

Although the security had no call provision, other than a 1.75 liquidation preference at year five, given the company's desire to broadly review its capital structure, we negotiated a $140 million repayment, locking in an attractive return and monetizing a significant amount of accrued pick dividend and realized gains.

I will now turn the call over to John Kline, NMFC's President, to discuss market conditions and portfolio activity. John?

John R. Kline -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Rob. As outlined on page 15, credit markets experienced volatility in the month of December, negatively impacted the marks on our liquid portfolio, but also provided us with the opportunity to invest money in high-quality assets at attractive yields.

Certain segments of the loan market sold off by as much as 3 to 5 points, and some primary loans were issued in the mid-90s. While the leverage levels and structures of these new loans were consistent with the rest of the quarter, in December, investors demanded more compensation for credit and market risk.

Since the end of the quarter, the broader loan market has stabilized. The secondary market for loans has almost recovered to November levels and high-quality new issue loans have strong demand from the lending community. New deal activity has also begun to accelerate, resulting in a consistent improvement of our pipeline throughout the quarter. We anticipate funding a number of high-quality deals with attractive spreads in the coming months.

Turning to page 16. Throughout 2018, the steady increase in three-months LIBOR has been a meaningful earnings tailwind for NMFC. This benefit has been driven by our floating rate loan portfolio, combined with our fixed rate liabilities, which currently account for 55% of our total debt.

The four LIBOR curve currently suggest a flattening of three months LIBOR over the near-term, which would have no material earnings impact on our business. In the event that rate restart their upward trajectory, the earnings of the portfolio will benefit, while a potential base rate decrease would pressure earnings.

However, in our view, any such material move lower would signal challenging financial market conditions, which would be accompanied by higher loan spreads.

Turning to portfolio activity on pages 17 and 18. NMFC had a very good quarter with total originations of $265 million, offset by $76 million of portfolio repayments and $119 million of sale proceeds, representing a $70 million expansion of our investment portfolio.

Our new investments were highlighted by a number of middle-market club deals, several opportunistic purchases afforded to us by the market volatility and expansion of our net lease and senior loan programs. As Rob mentioned earlier, the majority of the quarter sale proceeds were related to our exit of the Hi Technology preferred stock investments.

On page 19, we provide an annual review of our origination progress since the IPO. Over this time, we have shown fairly consistent growth each year in our total originations, which reflects our expanding market presence and growing sourcing channels. From a net origination perspective, 2018 marked our best year by far and we see positive momentum in 2019 as New Mountain's franchise continues to grow.

Page 20 shows our origination activities since the end of the quarter, where we have seen net portfolio expansion of $120 million, which brought us to the upper end of our target leverage range, creating a need for more equity capital, which we addressed with our February 11 equity offering. We are pleased to report that we have a growing investment pipeline, which should translate into more deal closings in the coming months.

Turning to page 21, our mix of originations continues to skew heavily toward first lien loans, again accounting for nearly 70% of total new originations this quarter. On the right side of the page, we show that 81% of our repayments were non-first lien assets. This shifts toward a higher percentage of first lien assets is consistent with our stated plan to employ increased portfolio level leverage with a more senior-oriented asset mix.

As shown on page 22, the asset level yield on the portfolio decreased by 60 basis points versus Q3, as Q4 new origination yields were 9.8% compared to the average yield on repayments of 12.3%. The slightly lower than average yield on new originations is a function of a first lien heavy mix and a flattening of the forward LIBOR curve.

Repayment yields were somewhat higher than the average yield of the portfolio due to the subordinated nature of the assets that we paid. We continue to maintain a very healthy weighted average yield on our portfolio of 10.4%, which comfortably supports our dividends.

The top of page 23 shows a balanced portfolio across our defensive growth-oriented sectors. In the services section of the pie chart, we break out sub-sectors to give better insight into the significant diversity within our largest sector.

The chart on the bottom left of the page presents our portfolio by asset type, where you can see the shift toward first-lien oriented assets that we discussed earlier on the call. The chart on the lower right shows that virtually all of our portfolio is performing in line with expectations and we have no performing loans that have a substantially elevated risk of non-accrual.

Finally, as illustrated on page 24, we've a broadly diversified portfolio, with our largest investment at 4% of fair value and the top 15 investments accounting for 40% of fair value.

With that, I will now turn it over to our CFO, Shiraz Kajee, to discuss the financial statements and key financial metrics. Shiraz?

Shiraz Y. Kajee -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, John. For more details on our financial results and today's commentary, please refer to the Form 10-K that was filed last evening with the SEC.

Now, I'd like to turn your attention to slide 25. The portfolio had approximately $2.35 billion in investments at fair value at December 31, 2018, and total assets of $2.45 billion. We had total liabilities of $1.4 billion, of which total statutory debt outstanding was $1.2 billion, excluding $165 million of drawn SBA-guaranteed debentures. Net asset value of $1 billion, or $13.22 per share, was down $0.36 from the prior quarter. As of December 31st, our statutory debt-to-equity ratio was 1.23 to 1.

On slide 26, we show our historical leverage ratios. The step-up in leverage over the past three quarters is in line with our new target statutory debt-to-equity ratio of 1.2 times to 1.4 times. On the slide, we also show historical NAV adjusted for the cumulative impact of special dividends, which shows the stability of our book value since our IPO.

On slide 27, we show our quarterly income statement, results. We believe that our NII is the most appropriate measure of our quarterly performance. This slide highlights that while realized and unrealized gains and losses can be volatile below the line, we continue to generate stable net investment income above the line.

Focusing on the quarter ended December 31, 2018, we earned total investment income of $63.5 million, a $3 million increase from the prior quarter, largely attributable to an increase in interest income from a larger asset base.

Total net expenses were approximately $36 million, a $2.6 million increase from the prior quarter, primarily due to higher borrowing costs from the added leverage. As in prior quarters, the investment advisor continues to waive certain management fees. The effective annualized management fee this quarter was 1.44%. It is important to note that the investment advisor cannot recoup fees previously waived.

This results in fourth quarter NII of $27.5 million, or $0.36 per weighted average share, which is above guidance and more than covered our Q4 regular dividend of $0.34 per share. As a result of the net unrealized depreciation in the quarter discussed earlier, for the quarter ended December 31, 2018, we had a decrease in net assets resulting from operations of $1.3 million.

On slide 28, I'd like to give a brief summary of our annual performance for 2018. For the year ended December 31, 2018, we had total investment income of approximately $232 million and total net expenses of $125 million.

This all results in 2018 total net investment income of $106 million, or $1.40 per weighted average share. In total for the year ended December 31, 2018, we had a total net increase in net assets resulting from operations of approximately $72 million. Finally, for 2018, we declared regular dividends of $1.36 per share.

Slide 29 demonstrates our total investment income is recurring in nature and predominantly paid in cash. As you can see, 94% of total investment income is recurring and cash income remained strong at 88% this quarter. We believe this consistency shows the stability and predictability of our investment income.

Turning to slide 30. As briefly discussed earlier, our NII for the fourth quarter covered our Q4 dividend. Given our belief that our Q1 2019 NII will fall within our guidance of $0.33 to $0.35 per share, our Board of Directors has declared a Q1 2019 dividend of $0.34 per share, which will be paid on March 29, 2019, to holders of record on March 15, 2019.

On slide 31, we highlight our various financing sources. Taking into account SBA-guaranteed debentures, we had approximately $1.7 billion of total borrowing capacity at quarter end. In Q4, we exercised (ph) our Wells Fargo credit facility and entered into a new revolving credit facility with Deutsche Bank.

As a reminder, both our Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank credit facility's covenants are generally tied to the operating performance of the underlying businesses that we lend to rather than the marks of our investments at any given time.

Finally, on slide 32, we show a leverage maturity schedule. As we've diversified our debt issuance, we've been successful at laddering our maturities to better manage liquidity. We have one near-term maturity in 2019 and are actively pursuing various options to efficiently refinance that debt.

With that, I would like to turn the call back over to Rob.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Shiraz. It continues to remain our intention to consistently pay the $0.34 per share on a quarterly basis for future quarters, so long as net investment income covers the dividend in line with our current expectations.

In closing, I would just like to say that we continue to be pleased with our performance to date. Most importantly, from a credit perspective, our portfolio overall continues to be healthy. Once again, we'd like to thank you for your support and interest.

And at this point, turn things back to the operator to begin Q&A. Operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. And we will now begin the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) And the first questioner today will be Chris Kotowski with Oppenheimer. Please go ahead.

Chris Kotowski -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Yeah. Good morning. I guess, I was wondering, you folks have a good track record of not raising equity unless you see near-term use for it. And just all things being equal, one would have kind of expected that the hiccup in the leverage credit markets in the fourth quarter would have put a pause on things.

But then you look at the capital that you've deployed in since the end of the year and it's quite a lot. And I'm just curious, why -- where these transactions in the works prior to December and did it all just go through? Or how did it come that the market wasn't more disrupted than it was?

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it's a combination of things, Chris. You're right. Number of them were deals that were in process and M&A has to get -- that's committed to, it has to get funded. And I think we were able to get somewhat higher spreads given the disruption.

And then, secondly, the market is still open. It was clearly disrupted in December. It's come pretty roaring back with the equity markets as John talked about. So, there is new business to be done as well, again, at somewhat higher spreads.

So, this disruption is, we've seen this many times before since the financial crisis, going all the way back to the European issues REACH 1, REACH 2, Fukushima, whatever it's been, couple years ago with the oil disruption. So, this is something you've experienced many times and continue to be able to transact in this environment.

Chris Kotowski -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Okay. And then, I had just kind of two questions about the like use of the 30% bucket and the triple net lease vehicle in particular. And kind of the specific question is within the triple net lease vehicles on page 106 of the investment schedule. It look like there was a significant mark up on GLRC, GLCR and kind of mark down on KRLN.

And I'm just wondering, is that an accounting cork or is that something fundamental? And then kind of more broadly, philosophically speaking, does the availability of the higher leverage limits that you have now make the use of the 30% buckets less strategic? Are they as important to you going forward as they were in the past?

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So, on the first issue around net lease, at the end of the year, given the seasoning of the net lease portfolio working with our accountants, we felt it was important for the first time really to revisit cap rates across the board for all of the underlying properties in the net lease portfolio. We did some extensive market studies and things have moved a little bit up, a little bit down.

And that's what you've seen across the portfolio. For the most part, cap rates have improved and that drives valuation upwards. The one exception where there has been some tenant weakness is on KRLN and we thought it was prudent to increase the cap rate there, modestly decreasing the value there. So, that is fundamental. It is substantive kind of across the board and you can see the net impact is a modest, overall increase across the net lease portfolio.

In terms of the 30%, vastly (ph) going forward, it continues to be an important element for us. We are not ever have been close to maxing out that basket. I wouldn't expect us in the near, intermediate term to use that. We always run a significant flexibility there, but it still is an important element of the overall strategy.

Chris Kotowski -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Okay. That's it for me. Thank you.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Great. Thanks, Chris.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And our next questioner will be Angelo Guarino with Retail (ph). Please go ahead.

Angelo Guarino -- -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Do you have a sense, Shiraz, of the UTI carry forward from 2018 yet?

Shiraz Y. Kajee -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. We are putting that together right now. So, we'll actually be posting that to our website in the next two days.

Angelo Guarino -- -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you very much. Good quarter.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Our next questioner will be Paul Johnson with KBW. Please go ahead.

Paul Johnson -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Good morning, guys. Thanks for taking my question. My question on the net lease is already answered. But I'm just curious, you mentioned in a little bit, I'm curious as far as your fourth quarter originations go, were any of those opportunistic secondary purchases that you were able to make during the volatility late in the quarter, or were the maturity then just kind of traditional deals that have been in the works for a while?

John R. Kline -- President and Chief Operating Officer

So this is John. I'll highlight two deals. One deal is toward the end of the quarter. We were able to add to our existing position in Kronos' software and we did that in the secondary market. And typically that loan is not available at all. And so Kronos did become available in decent size. And we were able to purchase at a par. It typically trades well above par.

The other just one note was Dealer Tire in early December was not a secondary purchase, but it was a syndication that struggled. And we were able to purchase that at an attractive price, significant discount to par or a couple of points discount to par.

And it's worth noting that first-lien loan had a spread of probably 150 basis points wider than the targeted spread that the underwriters had at the outset. So, that went from being a pretty normal first-lien loan that would go on a CLO to a very attractive asset for BDC. So, I would highlight those two deals as ways that we were able to take advantage of the volatility that we saw.

Shiraz Y. Kajee -- Chief Financial Officer

And then, John, there were a few things that flowed into Q1. NaviHealth, I think it's on the schedule as a secondary trade and there maybe some smaller things in the other bucket. So, I think, yeah, overall, we are always looking to be opportunistic when the market dislocates.

Paul Johnson -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Great. That's wonderful detail. Those were all my questions this morning.

John R. Kline -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Great. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And there look to be no further questions at this time. So, this will conclude our question-and-answer session. I would now like to turn the conference back over to Rob Hamwee for any closing remarks.

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Great. Thank you. And thanks to everyone on the phone today. We appreciate the continuing interest and support, and look forward to speaking again in a few months. Have a great day. Bye-bye.

Operator

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

Duration: 34 minutes

Call participants:

Robert A. Hamwee -- Chief Executive Officer

Shiraz Y. Kajee -- Chief Financial Officer

Steven B. Klinsky -- Founder and Chairman

John R. Kline -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Chris Kotowski -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Angelo Guarino -- Analyst

Paul Johnson -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

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