Logo of jester cap with thought bubble.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Westlake Chemical Partners LP (NYSE:WLKP)
Q3 2019 Earnings Call
Nov 5, 2019, 12:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Westlake Chemical Partners Third Quarter 2019 Earnings Conference Call. During the presentation, all participants will be in a listen-only mode. After the speakers' remarks, you will be invited to participate in a question-and-answer session. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded today, November 5, 2019.

I would now like to turn the call over to today's host Jeff Holy, Westlake Chemical Partners, Vice President and Treasurer. Sir, please begin.

Jeff Holy -- Vice President and Treasurer

Thank you Michelle. Good morning everyone and welcome to the Westlake Chemical Partners third quarter 2019 conference call. I'm joined today by Albert Chao, our President and CEO, Steve Bender, our Senior Vice President and CFO and other members of our management team.

The conference call will begin with Albert, who will open with a few comments regarding Westlake Chemical Partners' performance in the third quarter as well as the current outlook on our strategy and opportunities. Steve will then provide a more detailed look at our financial and operating results. Finally, Albert will add a few concluding comments and then we will open the call up to questions.

During this call, we refer to ourselves as Westlake Partners or the Partnership. References to Westlake or Westlake Chemical refer to our parent company Westlake Chemical Corporation. And references to OpCo refer to Westlake Chemical OpCo LP, a subsidiary of Westlake Chemical and the Partnership which owns certain olefins assets. Additionally, when we refer to distributable cash flow, we are referring to Westlake Chemical Partners MLP distributable cash flow. Definitions of these terms are available on the Partnership's website.

Today management is going to discuss certain topics that will contain forward-looking information that is based on management's beliefs as well as assumptions made by and information currently available to management. These forward-looking statements suggest predictions or expectations and thus are subject to risks or uncertainties. Actual results could differ materially based upon many factors, including operating difficulties, the volume of ethylene that we are able to sell, the price at which we are able to sell ethylene, changes in the prevailing economic conditions, actual and proposed governmental regulatory actions, competitive products and pricing pressures, our ability to borrow funds and access capital markets, and other risk factors discussed in our SEC filings.

This morning Westlake Partners issued a press release with details of our third quarter financial and operating results. This document is available in the Press Release section of our webpage at wlkpartners.com. A replay of today's call will be available beginning two hours after the conclusion of this call. The replay may be accessed by dialing the following numbers: domestic callers should dial 855-859-2056; International callers may access the replay at 404-537-3406. The access code is 9764456.

Please note that information reported on this call, speaks only as of today, November 5, 2019. And therefore you're advised that time sensitive information may no longer be accurate as of the time of any replay. I would finally advise you that this conference call is being broadcast live through an Internet webcast system that may be accessed on our webpage at wlkpartners.com.

Now, I would like to turn the call over to Albert Chao. Albert?

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Jeff. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining us to discuss our third quarter 2019 results. In this morning's press release, we reported consolidated net income including OpCo's earnings of $82 million for the third quarter of 2019. Westlake Partners' third quarter net income was $15 million.

In the third quarter of 2019, we achieved strong financial performance and strong production volumes compared to the same period in the previous year. These financial results were attributable to acquisitions of an incremental 4.5% interest of OpCo into the Partnership in the first quarter of this year. We continue to evaluate all opportunities available to us, including growth through acquisition and margin expansion as a means to further grow our cash flows and continue to create value for our unitholders.

We had excellent ethylene production this quarter, which drove our strong results. We have demonstrated a sustained five-year record of growing our distributable cash flows, provided a historical 12% annual distribution growth, while delivering exceptional stable cash flows. These cash flows are insulated from commodity price risks via our sales agreement with our investment-grade rated sponsor Westlake Chemical, which reset it's incentive distribution rights without compensation in 2018, demonstrating excellent governance and strategic alignment.

On October 31, 2019, we announced distributions of $0.4646 per unit with respect to the third quarter of 2019. This represents a 6% annualized increase as compared to the second quarter 2019 distribution. This is the 19th consecutive quarterly increase in distributions to our unitholders and an increase of 69% over the Partnership's minimum quarterly distribution.

For the 12 months ending September 30, 2019, distributable cash flow provided coverage of 1.11 times the declared distributions. We intend to retain a sustainable top-tier distribution growth rate to unit holders that reflects the underlying value of our business. This top-tier distribution growth rate will reduce our reliance on the equity capital market, better align distributions growth to current market conditions and reduce unit holder dilution and extend the drop-down runway.

Before I turn the call over to Steve, I would note that this distribution strategy provides us the ongoing flexibility for reevaluating our distribution growth rate should MLP equity markets improve.

I would now like to turn our call over to Steve, to provide more detail on the financial and operating results for the third quarter. Steve?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Albert, and good morning everyone. In this morning's press release, we reported consolidated net income including OpCo's earnings of $82 million on consolidated sales of $217 million for the third quarter of 2019. Westlake Partners' third quarter 2019 net income was $15 million or $0.42 per limited partner unit. The Partnership had distributable cash flow for the quarter of $20 million for $0.58 per limited partner unit.

Third quarter 2019 net income for Westlake Partners of $15 million, increased by $3 million compared to third quarter 2018 partnership net income of $12 million. Distributable cash flow of $20 million for the third quarter of 2019 increased $5 million from the third quarter of 2018 distributable cash flow. The increase in net income and distributable cash flow was primarily due to the 4.5% increase in ownership interest in OpCo.

The Partnership's third quarter 2019 net income of $15 million, increased $1 million from second quarter 2019 net income of $14 million, while third quarter 2019 distributable cash flow of $20 million, increased $4 million from second quarter 2019 distributable cash flow of $16 million. The increased net income and distributable cash flow for the third quarter was driven by our record quarterly ethylene production at OpCo and lower SG&A expense.

For the nine months of 2019, net income for the Partnership of $44 million, increased $6 million from the first nine months of 2018 net income to the Partnership of $38 million. Distributable cash flow of $54 million, increased $8 million from the first nine months of 2018's distributable cash flow of $46 million. The increases in net income and distributable cash flow were primarily due to the 4.5% increase in ownership interest of OpCo and higher production of OpCo, partially offset by the timing of maintenance capital expenditures, one-time costs associated with the acquisition of an incremental interest in OpCo.

The benefit from the long-term ethylene sales agreement with our sponsor Westlake Chemical, who has short ethylene for their derivative production is a stable fee-based cash flow to the Partnership. This take or pay agreement is 95% of our ethylene sales and protects the Partnership's cash flow from the margin volatility that can be associated with the ethylene business

This sales agreement, which is structured to generate a net margin of $0.10 per pound of ethylene to the Partnership along with the take or pay provisions with Westlake Chemical, incentivizes us to continue to look for opportunities to increase capacity and operating rates.

Turning our attention to the balance sheet and cash flows. At the end of the third quarter, we had consolidated cash balance of $19 million in cash invested with Westlake Chemical through our Investment Management Agreement of $165 million. The $165 million in cash invested through the Investment Management Agreement, includes cash generated from operations throughout the quarter and the reserve for turnaround expenditures.

Our next turnaround is at our Petro 2 facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is currently scheduled for the second half of 2020. I will give more specifics on the duration of the turnaround once we finalize our turnaround planning.

Long-term debt at the end of the quarter was $400 million, of which $377 million was at the Partnership and $23 million was at OpCo.

For the third quarter of 2019, OpCo spent $6 million in capital expenditures. For the third quarter of 2019, we maintained strong leverage metrics with a consolidated leverage ratio between 1 -- below 1 times and a net debt to capitalization ratio of below 20%.

On October 31, 2019, we declared a quarterly distribution to unitholders of $0.4646 per unit. This was our 19th consecutive increase in quarterly distributions to unitholders. This distribution will be paid on November 26, 2019 to unitholders of record on November 12, 2019.

Now, I'd like to turn the call back over to Albert, to make some closing comments. Albert?

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Steve. This quarter we marked the fifth anniversary of our IPO. I want to take this time to reflect on the significant progress the Partnership has made over the past five years. We have provided a sustained and consistent distributable cash flow growth, because of the exceptionally stable earnings of our business, which are insulated from commodity risks due to the long-term contractual arrangement and strategic alignment with our sponsor Westlake Chemical. Furthermore, we have continued to maintain a strong balance sheet with conservative financial and leverage metrics.

We will continue to deliver a top-tier distribution growth strategy. Through this alignment, we will reduce unitholder dilution, further bolster our strong balance sheet and align with current market conditions to deliver long-term value to our unitholders.

Additionally, we continue to benefit from the stable fee-based cash flow generated by the fixed margin take or pay Ethylene Sales Agreement with investment-grade rated Westlake Chemical, our sponsor, along with the four levers of growth, including of any expansions of our current ethylene facilities, continuation of periodic drop-downs of OpCo into the MLP, acquisitions of other qualified income streams, either directly or jointly with our sponsor Westlake Chemical and negotiating a higher fixed margin in our Ethylene Sales Agreement with Westlake.

As an example of an acquisition opportunity is Westlake's interest in GBP2.2 billion [Phonetic] ethylene cracker joint venture with Lotte Chemical, which recently started up. We are continuing to evaluate how this asset could be mutually beneficial to both Westlake Chemical and Westlake Partners, as well as be part of a long-term growth strategy for the ownership of the asset. All of these levers, could provide opportunities to continue to grow our distributions to our unitholders.

Thank you very much for listening to our third quarter 2019 earnings call. Now, I will turn the call back over to Jeff.

Jeff Holy -- Vice President and Treasurer

Thank you, Albert. Before we begin taking questions, I would like to remind you that a replay of this teleconference will be available starting today at 2:00 PM Eastern Time. We will provide that number again at the end of the call. Please be aware that we have posted a presentation outlining our distribution philosophy, which is available on our Partnership website at wlkpartners.com. Michelle, we will now take questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Mike Leithead with Barclays. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Mike Leithead -- Barclays -- Analyst

Thanks, and good afternoon, fellas. I guess, first, could you just walk us through your decision to reduce the distribution growth rate this quarter, obviously the distribution yield today is much higher than maybe where it was three or four years ago, and I agree, you don't want to keep issuing new equity and evaluation that would be more dilutive. So I guess, how do you think about the current yield versus distribution growth in today's capital environment? And really -- how to optimize value for unitholders?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Mike, with the adjustment in our distribution growth strategy, it reflects market conditions and as we noted, we intend to retain a sustainable top-tier distribution growth rate, which reduces our reliance on the equity capital markets and I think aligns well with the approach that we've taken. I think given the balance sheet that we have and the stable income stream that we have, I think that we can continue to work on executing on those four levers that Albert just spoke to.

Mike Leithead -- Barclays -- Analyst

Got it. That's helpful. And you talked about Westlake, now and the Lotte cracker as a potential inorganic growth opportunity. Could you just talk about maybe how such a transaction would potentially mechanically work? Does that get purchased into the existing OpCo structure? Or would you need to set up a new Ethylene Sales Agreement? Just how that would work? And I guess, how you think about the relative attractiveness of such a transaction versus further OpCo purchases?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

There are variety of ways to think about it, but I think the most simplest way to consider it would be to provide the same stability that we have around the existing ethylene capacity that we have in OpCo. And so, an Ethylene Agreement that would provide that same degree of stability that we enjoy today would be structured. And that would allow the Westlake Chemical to contribute that into a vehicle, that will provide that ethylene offtake agreement with the same stability, and therefore provide the Master Limited Partnership the ability to benefit from those earning streams in the same way in which they are benefiting from OpCo's cash flow streams today.

Mike Leithead -- Barclays -- Analyst

Got it. Okay, thank you.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator, we're ready for the next question.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Shneur Gershuni with UBS. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Hey, good morning guys.

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Just wanted to sort of discuss kind of the -- this thought -- on a go-forward basis. I appreciate you sort of answered the question in a different way to the previous question, but when I think about lower distribution growth rate, expectation -- or is this not your -- more internal equity funding, how do we think of now, OpCo, sales assets to [Indecipherable], do you do them on a smaller but more frequent basis on a go-forward basis, that we can use the or are able to optimize the retained distributable cash flow, keep the equity components of minimum. Just kind of wondering, how you're thinking about optimizing this on a go-forward basis -- requirement, yet at the same time trying to continue the [Indecipherable]?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, well the approach that you outlined is certainly one of the alternatives and that being smaller transactions that could be more frequent or transaction sized to meet market conditions, and Shneur a lot of this is a function of the shape of the market and the size of the market at the time. But given the fact that we have significant flexibility with the leverage that we have available to us, we have the flexibility to really consider which approach and the timing of that approach to address the ability to reward those unitholders with growth, while at the same time adjusting the lever and the timing of that to meet market conditions.

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Okay. And when you talk about distribution growth rate being top tier, do you have a sense of what that number should be or what ballpark to look at some advantaged growth long-term [Phonetic] right now assuming people have been slowing the growth rate [Indecipherable].

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're cutting out -- you're cutting out a little bit, it's a little bit hard, could I get you to restate that again?

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Sorry, so just to repeat the question. The -- as far as a top-tier distribution growth rate, a lot of top-tier growth rates have been reset recently. So I was kind of wondering, which group of peers, you're looking at, at this point right now as to how we should think about a growth rate that you would be targeting on a go-forward basis?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

No, you're right. You're absolutely right. And so as we took a look at some of those that are growing at mid-double digits, we recognized that in this environment that's challenging for them. And so I think if you take a look at our approach here, it is to be in that top tier. And you're right, there are a number that I believe are going to have to think about their growth rates given the conditions in the market. So we want to beat [Phonetic], if you will, benchmark against those that are, have the same kind of metrics that we have, and that is stability, and the capacity to grow that stability of earnings over time. And there are a number of participants in the market that don't have the degree of stability or the ability to provide that stability over a very extended period of time. And that's the peer set, that we're kind of looking at in being able to continue to deliver that top tier growth rate.

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Great. That makes perfect sense. Thank you very much, and enjoy the rest of the day.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Shneur.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Matthew Blair with Tudor, Pickering, Holt. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, Albert and Steve.

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Matt.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

So given the low leverage ratio, the higher equity yield, and the lower distribution growth going forward, would you think about funding drops entirely with debt, at least in the short term and remove this, I guess this equity market overhang completely?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, Matthew, you've seen, we look at all funding mechanisms available to us and we've undertaken those transactions in the past. If you go back of '15, that's, that is how we undertook that. But what we're trying to do is also address the, I think the float, as you will recognize, the float in the marketplace is not as broad as we would like it. So there is a balancing act to provide both the growth in earnings, the growth in distributions as well as the growth in available units in the marketplace. But we look at all those as considerations when we think about how we fund transactions.

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

Sounds good. And then, Steve, I think you mentioned the crackers produced record ethylene in the quarter. I feel like the Q2 volumes were relatively strong as well, but I was just hoping, could you provide any sort of numbers on how much volumes improved quarter-over-quarter? And would you expect similar rates in Q4?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, the units continue to perform very well. And so when you think of the relative performance that we had, you're right, they did, as I say, they did perform very very well over the course of the quarter. And so they produced between 2% and 3% more ethylene sequentially from 2Q to 3Q. And that's the reason for the very strong performance. This was a record third quarter production performance by the three production units.

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

Do you think you can continue that into Q4? Or would there be just like natural seasonality that would pull production down in Q4?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It's not seasonality, a lot of it is just mechanical integrity and making sure the plants run well, and of course temperature has a lot to do with how well the units run as well. So long as we cool weather, it will help the unit's perform.

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

Great, thank you very much.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Eric Petrie with Citi. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Hi, good morning.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Eric.

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

So I wanted to get some historical context on the Petro 2 turnaround. I think the last time was back in first quarter of '13 for 75 days. What was the impact to earnings or costs associated with that turnaround?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're right, it did turnaround in 2013. I'm going to have to go back and take a look in terms of the number of days, but we didn't give a specific earnings number to that, just numbers of days. And as we think about the upcoming turnaround we have for -- plan for 2020, we'll be more specific once we finalize the timing of the outage and the number of days. And but we'll be able to give more clarity as we finish our planning for that.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Okay. Secondly, integrated ethylene margins were higher at the time of the Westlake Partners IPO, would it be accurate in saying parent Westlake Chemical would not offer the same $0.10 per pound fixed margin and a new contract with the incremental Lotte drop-down?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We looked at, not just the ethylene margins at the time in 2014, but we actually went back and looked at a much, much longer time period. I believe it was over 20 years. And so we looked at what the ethylene margins could be sustained for a long period of time, and not just what they were at that point in time. So we want to provide the same degree of clarity and sustainability of margins as we have for any -- as we have historically for any new ethylene assets contributed. So we're comfortable -- yeah, we were comfortable then with that $0.10.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Thank you.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Thank you. And our next question comes from the line of Steve Byrne with Bank of America. Your line is open. Please go ahead.

Steve Byrne -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Hi. Steve. There are a couple questions on this. I just wanted to know what was the last time net ethylene margin got even close to that $0.10 fixed margin to the Partnership?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, remember for the Partnership, it is a net margin. So it is fixed for the Partnership. So that's the beauty of the Ethylene Sales Agreement, that all cost including turnaround cost are reimbursed, and so therefore the Partnership is not exposed to the volatility of the earnings from the ethylene unit. That risk is really carried by Westlake Chemical Corporation, not by the Partnership. The only risk that remains to the Partnership is that small 5% attributable to those pound sold in the market.

Steve Byrne -- Bank of America -- Analyst

I'm sorry, I wasn't more clear. I really meant the risk to Westlake Chemical, does that -- that $0.10 sufficiently, give you a sufficient margin to Westlake Chemical?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

The integrated margin, when we think through the integration from ethylene all throughout a product such as polyethylene has been in excess of $0.10 over a sustained period of time, going back many years. So we're comfortable with that $0.10 sustained margin on an integrated basis and providing that $0.10 ethylene margin to the Partnership.

Steve Byrne -- Bank of America -- Analyst

And then one more for you about feedstock, if propane gets attractive and you can shift your feedstock over to propane, you get less ethylene out of that. Is that a net negative for the Partnership?

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

That -- remember the Partnership is operating the ethylene units, and so it is designed to make sure that we're maximizing production. And in my earlier comments, I mentioned that as we switch over feedstocks, on a sustained basis, it would only because we would de-rate the ethylene units from their production, because there is integrated margin downstream and we want to do that only if there was the same benefit. We haven't seen that at this stage. And frankly, Steve, I think that given the benefits that we see in ethane, I think that's not a high probability at all.

Steve Byrne -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Thank you. And at this time, the Q&A session has now ended. I will now turn the call back over to Jeff Holy.

Jeff Holy -- Vice President and Treasurer

Thank you again for participating in today's call. We hope you'll join us for our next conference call to discuss our fourth quarter and full-year results.

Operator

Thank you for participating in today's Westlake Chemical Partners third quarter earnings conference call. As a reminder, this call will be available for replay beginning two hours after the call has ended. The replay can be accessed by calling the following numbers: domestic callers should dial 855-859-2056; International callers may access the replay at 404-537-3406. The access code is 9764456. [Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 29 minutes

Call participants:

Jeff Holy -- Vice President and Treasurer

Albert Chao -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Steven Bender -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Mike Leithead -- Barclays -- Analyst

Shneur Gershuni -- UBS -- Analyst

Matthew Blair -- Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. -- Analyst

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Steve Byrne -- Bank of America -- Analyst

More WLKP analysis

All earnings call transcripts

AlphaStreet Logo