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Construction Partners, Inc. (NASDAQ:ROAD)
Q4 2019 Earnings Call
Dec 10, 2019, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings, and welcome to the Construction Partners Inc. Fourth Quarter Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. [Operator Instructions]

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Rick Black, Investor Relations. Thank you, Mr. Black. You may begin.

Rick Black -- Investor Relations

Thank you, operator and good morning, everyone. We appreciate you joining us for the Construction Partners' conference call to review fourth quarter and fiscal year-end 2019 results. This call is also being webcast and can be accessed through the audio link on the Events and Presentations page of the Investor Relations section of constructionpartners.net. Information recorded on this call speaks only as of today December, 10, 2019. So please be advised that any time-sensitive information may no longer be accurate as of the date of any replay.

I would also like to remind you that the statements made in today's discussion that are not historical facts, including statements of expectations or future events or future financial performance are forward-looking statements made pursuant to the Safe Harbor provision of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We will be making forward-looking statements as part of today's call that by their nature are uncertain and outside of the Company's control. Actual results may differ materially.

Please refer to the earnings press release that was issued yesterday for our disclosure on forward-looking statements. These factors and other risks and uncertainties are detailed -- are described in detail in the Company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Management will also refer to non-GAAP measures, including adjusted EBITDA. Reconciliations to the nearest GAAP measures can be found at the end of our earnings press release. Construction Partners assumes no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements.

And now, I would like to turn the call over to Construction Partners' President and CEO, Mr. Charles Owens. Charles?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Rick and good morning, everyone. With me on the call today are Ned Fleming, our Executive Chairman and Alan Palmer, our Chief Financial Officer.

In my opening remarks today, I will provide comments about our fiscal 2019 and provide an update on our business. I will then turn the call over to Ned for a few additional comments. Finally, Alan will review our financial results and discuss our 2020 outlook before we take your questions.

We are pleased with our fiscal 2019 performance. Revenue for the year was $783.2 million, up 15.2% compared to last year and led to a strong growth in adjusted EBITDA to $92.3 million, up 22.2% compared to last year. In addition, our adjusted EBITDA margin increased to 11.8%, up 70 basis points over the last year. These increases were driven by sustained demand across our 33 distinct market areas for road repairs and maintenance projects coupled with our acquisition of two hot mix asphalt plants and favorable working conditions in the last six months of fiscal 2019.

The margin growth was fueled by strong operational performance, an increased utilization of hot mix asphalt plants and equipment fleet. In October, we announced our 20th acquisition with a hot mix asphalt manufacturing plant and paving company in a high-growth area of the Florida East Coast. This location is close to the Okeechobee acquisition that we made in February.

We expect both markets to benefit from the close proximity and enhanced vertical integration with our diverse equipment fleet and workforce capability of performing a broad range of services. This transaction represents another important step in our effort to build our business in areas where we believe there are meaningful opportunities to add scale, drive growth and provide value for our customer.

With this acquisition complete and fully integrated, we have now completed five successful acquisitions since our initial public offering in May of 2018. Today we operate 33 hot mix asphalt plants across five southeastern states. In addition, we operate nine aggregate facilities and one liquid asphalt terminal. Overall we internally source a portion of our aggregates at all of our hot mix asphalt plants. Additionally, we internally sourced some of our hot mix plants, the liquid asphalt through the Florida terminal we acquired in February and began operating in March.

As we move into fiscal 2020, we will continue to consistently execute the strategy of controlled profitable growth, utilizing three primary levers; by doing more work in the current market, by making strategic acquisitions, and by expanding through greenfields where we installed an asphalt plant establishing a new market.

Our acquisition pipeline remains robust and we continue to have conversations with many family owned businesses. We are also very patient with acquisition opportunities and evaluate prospects that best fit the CPI strategy. Before turning the call over to Ned, I'd like to thank our Senior Management team for their leadership and I would also like to thank more than our 2,200 employees for their dedication and hard work that enables us to execute our strategy.

Now I'll turn the call over to Ned Fleming, our Executive Chairman, for a few additional comments. Ned?

Ned N. Fleming -- Executive Chairman of the Board

Thank you, Charles, and good morning to everyone. As 2019 results demonstrate, the team continues to deliver controlled profitable growth. We are pleased to have completed a successful secondary offering in early September, that was oversubscribed and we believe it has helped to increase our daily trading volume. As we continue to tell the CPI story, we believe investors appreciate the compelling dynamics of our differentiated business model.

They understand the benefit of our local market competitive landscape, coupled with the rapid growth throughout the states we operate and the increased state funding, all of which create continued opportunities for consistent growth. Executing on this proven strategy, the same we have and the way we have since founding the Company combined with the corporate structure and culture built on hard work, honesty, data orientation, safety, and respect, perhaps an under-appreciated aspect of the Company's story is its strong cultural focus on people. We have an extremely talented and experienced senior team that focuses on obtaining, training and retaining great employees, while providing the opportunity for employees to grow and be promoted within the organization.

As more investors research the Company and evaluate the business, they discover it is a very local business. We are mostly competing with other family owned businesses that often do not have the level of vertical integration of CPI, both on the manufacturing and the services sides of the business.

CPI does not typically pursue mega projects, but instead continues to focus primarily on recurring maintenance projects with average durations of six to eight months. CPI's business model capitalizes on local recurring revenue and vertical integration. As an analyst recently pointed out, it is similar to the waste services industry.

The Company is strategically positioned to continue to deliver industry-leading top line growth and margin as well as strengthening its balance sheet. Our business is located in fast-growing southeastern states with both demand for ongoing road repair projects and increasing public funding that will continue to fuel growth. This recurring demand as well as the funding expansion will continue to grow in our market. The team continues to work hard to enhance financial results and cash generation to maximize value for our shareholders as well as all the stakeholders.

And with that, I'd like to turn the call over to our CFO Alan Palmer. Alan?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Ned and good morning everyone. I want to start by quickly highlighting our key performance metrics in the fourth quarter before discussing our fiscal year-end results.

From a financial standpoint, as Charles mentioned, favorable working conditions, strong operational performance and increased utilization of hot mix plants and equipment throughout all markets led to year-over-year increases in the fourth quarter and the fiscal year 2019.

Compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018, revenue was $237.3 million, up 10%; gross profit was $38.9 million, up 16%; net income was $16.6 million, up 9%; and earnings per share were $0.32 up from $0.29.

Revenue for the year increased to $783.2 million, up $103.1 million over fiscal year 2018. Revenues in our existing markets increased approximately $51.5 million as a result of growing demand in both the private and public sector. The increase also includes approximately $51.6 million of revenue attributable to acquisitions completed during or subsequent to the year ended September 30th 2018.

Gross profit increased to $117.9 million, up approximately $18.4 million over last year, primarily due to higher revenue and a higher margin. The higher gross profit percentage of revenue was a result of the strong operational performance and increased utilization of hot mix plants and equipment during the year.

Net income was $43.1 million, down from $50.8 million compared to last year.

Earnings per share were $0.84 compared to $1.11 in the last year. As a reminder, fiscal 2018 net income included settlement income of $10.6 million after taxes.

Adjusted EBITDA increased $16.8 million resulting in an adjusted EBITDA margin of 11.8% compared to 11.1% last year. The higher adjusted EBITDA margin was a combination of higher gross profit margin and a lower general and administrative expense as a percentage of revenue.

G&A expenses were $62.7 million in the fiscal 2019 or 8% of revenue compared to last year of $55.3 million or 8.2% of revenue.

Turning now to the balance sheet. At September 30, 2019 we had $80.6 million of cash and $14.4 million of availability under our $30 million revolving credit facility after deducting outstanding letters of credit. Our debt to trailing 12 months EBITDA ratio was less than one time at 0.66. We have a very strong balance sheet to support the growth opportunities we are seeing. Cash provided by operating activities were split $54.7 million [Phonetic] for the 12 months ended September 30th 2019, compared to $66.1 million for the 12 months ended September 30, 2018. The decrease is due to higher accounts receivable and work in progress balances of significantly higher revenue and a $6.5 million increase in inventory related to the operation of our new liquid asphalt terminal.

Capex in fiscal 2019 was $42.5 million compared to $42.8 million last year. For fiscal 2020, we expect our capital expenditures to be in the range of $44 million to $47 million, excluding amounts to purchase certain equipment previously subject to operating leases.

Project backlog at September 30th 2019 was $531.1 million compared to $594.4 million at September 30th 2018. Of this amount, approximately 82% or $435.9 million is expected to be completed during the 2020 fiscal year. The remainder representing approximately 18% of project backlog is expected to be completed in future years.

While our total backlog is lower than at the same point last year, this is primarily a result of our disciplined approach to strategically focus on recurring repair and maintenance projects, while some of our markets were letting a project mix that included more mega projects at the time that we typically do not pursue.

Backlog is expected to build again through the first half of the current year for several reasons, including a return to a normal project mix in several key markets, a gas tax in Alabama that took effect in September, and an acquisition that we completed in October in a high-growth area in Florida.

Based on the continued opportunities for growth in our markets and our current backlog, we're providing our outlook for fiscal year 2020 with regard to revenue, net income and adjusted EBITDA as follows: Revenue of $830 million to $870 million compared to $783.2 million actual in fiscal year 2019; net income of $39 million to $44 million compared to $43.1 million actual in fiscal year 2019; and adjusted EBITDA of $94 million and $102 million compared to $92.3 million actual in fiscal year 2019.

In summary, we were pleased with the fiscal 2019 results and we continue to see positive market trends and project demand in fiscal 2020.

With that, we'll now take questions. Operator?

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 Andrew Wittmann Robert W. Baird & Company. Please proceed with your question.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Great. Good morning. Thanks for taking my questions. I guess my first question here is probably for Alan, and it's related to the guidance, Alan. I just wanted to understand, particularly on the revenue outlook here, kind of what's assumed in there? I think I heard in the prepared script that it sounds like all three knobs that you have to grow the business organic, greenfield, and acquisitions, are all part of the strategy in 2020, no doubt. But I think particularly around organic growth, can you talk about how you see the business shaping up in 2020 on the organic side, particularly in the context of the backlog that you printed here for the quarter? I think some commentary on that would be helpful for us all?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Andy. This is Charles. Alan can step in at any time, but far as the outlook, our guidance is still going to be just like we've talked about that we're going to grow in the single -- high-single digits and through the double-digits and maintain our double-digit EBITDA numbers. So that's kind of where we are. And keep in mind that this year that we've entered three new markets and we feel like our [Indecipherable] is going to be -- continue to be strong with our different labors. We don't have to exercise with that lot this year, that we are doing -- we will work in the areas where we are and we'll have some strategic acquisitions, and obviously, some greenfield opportunity.

So, Alan, do you want to make any comments on that?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Same thing really, Andy. When we've always talked about our growth, we don't split it until we look back at historical as to how much has been acquisitive and how much has been organic. We see our markets bidding and our markets are still strong. The lower backlog that we're starting out with compared to last year, one thing to point out there is, that backlog does not include the backlog that was in acquisition October 1st, because we didn't own that company at September 30th. So that would improve that backlog some. And what we look at are not just the projects that we have on backlog that's certainly very important, but we look at the projects that are coming up to be it in.

And we've got -- in Alabama, we see some opportunity with the new tax increase that there's going to be a lot of work done by the cities and counties, because I get a portion of that tax and they're going to be doing the maintenance, and we are in, probably 16 or 17 different markets in Alabama. So we see that as a great opportunity, and in the others, we're still seeing private work is going on strong in most -- all of our markets where we do a substantial amount of private work. So we see a lot of opportunities to pick up, because we generally be and complete 35% to 40% of our work in the same year. So we see that continuing in this current year.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. For my follow-up, I want to drill in on that a little bit more, maybe ask it this way. First, just on the revenue guidance, does the middle to upper end of that guidance, Alan, do you think that you'll probably need some acquisitions to get there? And then, just here on the backlog, just kind of another shot at this one. You have the commentary in the press release about the mega projects and how it's kind of not your game, hasn't really been your game and that's been what's out to bid. Bypassing on those are you kind of implicitly saying those weren't really the margin profile that you're looking at or that you'd like to see here early in the stages?

And that are you saying that the backlog and the margin potential of the of the things that you can't be putting in the backlog in the next few months for 2020 is likely better? So was this a willing decision to pass on big projects because they are too high risk and too low margin? And do you see that as the year unfolds, you'll be able to put in better margin stuff? Is that kind of implicitly what you're saying with the way the backlogs unfolded so far?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Hey Andy, this is a Charles again. Yeah, we made a decision not to look at these mega jobs unless they are out there in our market area where we have the workforce and the equipment available to do them because we don't want to interfere with our core business. And these mega jobs, you take on a lot of risk because a lot of these projects are being bid with not a complete set of plans and it turns out to be a lump sum job and they are multi-years. And people -- some people in these markets have struggled and -- but it's just really high-risk jobs that we just don't want to participate in at this time. And -- so that's kind of where we are on the mega jobs or why we don't do that mega job. We don't concentrate on the business that has got us to where we are today and we are staying focused on these pretty maintenance jobs. And so from that standpoint that's kind of where we are from a mega job standpoint.

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. And Andy on that when we're looking at the next 12-month plan that the DOTs have, they have a lot of jobs coming up that are more like what we do participating in and we're not seeing a big number of mega jobs in 2020 that are out there in our markets. And with regard to the outlook in the revenue, the range we deal -- it includes the consideration that we can grow both organically and that we can grow by acquisition.

So which combination of those that's hard to predict, but what we've consistently done there has been able to grow in that high-single and low-double digits. And when we put out our guidance at the beginning of the year, that's what we've got implied in there. So certainly to get to the higher end, it would either take a higher organic growth than we've historically experienced or it would take some additional acquisitions, which is what we've been able to do. As Charles said earlier, since our IPO we've made 5 [Phonetic]. So we would expect the cadence to be somewhere in that range.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Josh Wilson of Raymond James. Please proceed with your question.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Good morning Ned, Charles, and Alan. Thanks for taking my question.

Ned N. Fleming -- Executive Chairman of the Board

Good morning Josh.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Wanted to look at the guidance as well. It seems like you're guiding for EBITDA margin to be flat to down year-on-year and '20 versus '19. So, Alan, if you could walk us through what sort of the building blocks are that are -- especially those that are offsetting the sales growth?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. If you look back when we gave our guidance last year, our guidance this year is actually up about 20 to 30 basis points from the guidance that we gave at the beginning of 2019. And in 2019, our team did a great job of execution and -- but we can't fully predict that we're going to have perfect execution for 2020 as we sit here at the beginning of the year. So, what we've focused on as we build our projection, our budgets from the ground up, 33 different markets and different mix of work that we have in those, so we look at it as if conditions go like they did last year, then we might be able to exceed our guidance as we did in 2019.

We beat it probably about 40 basis points or 50 basis points, but we're not going to say at the beginning of the year and say we're going to have ideal conditions or something. We go with what we've got in our backlog and we go with what we see indeed in our markets. So while we might be down over what we achieved in 2019, we were actually up over what our expectation for 2019 was when we started the year.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

And there is no step-up in fixed costs anywhere then?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

No other than from the acquisitions. I mean, when we make acquisitions, they have a certain amount of fixed cost, but we're not seeing anything other than what's factored in by the three acquisitions that we made last year. And of course the October acquisition is built into our expectation and we've said before generally when we make the acquisitions here some short-lived margin compression and it usually takes 18 to 24 months to get through that backlog. So, that has some impact, but that's not overly significant.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

And on the topic of the acquisition, what are the annual sales of the business you bought in October?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

We don't give the sales projections on acquisitions unless it's a major acquisition, over 20% of our revenue. What we do provide is, on a historical basis, after we've completed it, so we got what impact the acquisitions that we made in '18 and '19 or on our 2019, we generally don't give out any projections on the new acquisition till we get it operating under our bill.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Okay. So in lieu of that question then, can you give us a sense of how quickly you think backlog could improve or maybe where backlog is trending as we get to the end of December?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Well historically, because we complete 40% of our work in the first six months only -- only 40%, we generally build our backlog in our first and second quarter. That's also generally the period where a lot of the resurfacing work, which we do a lot of in our markets [Indecipherable] in the January, February, March, April period and then you complete them by the end of October. So historically, our backlog would grow from September 30th to March 31st. And then, because we complete 60% of our work in the last six months and some of those short-term projects are not led during that period, it generally declines. So we would expect it to be building through the second quarter of 2020 or March 31st quarter-end.

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Got it. [Indecipherable].

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Trey Grooms of Stephens, Inc. Please proceed with your question.

Noah Merkousko -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Hi, good morning guys. This is actually Noah Merkousko on for Trey Grooms.

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Hello. Good morning, Noah.

Noah Merkousko -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Good morning. So I wanted to look a little bit more closely at the most recent quarter. So, it looks like you guys just came in a little short of your top-line guidance. I just wanted to sort of drill into what drove that. You guys reiterated your guidance back in August, so was there something that happened in the last two months of the quarter that drove the miss?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

No. From a revenue being down a little bit, we are operating at 33 different markets, and even though we had some favorable weather, you know of the 33 different markets, say some markets that -- maybe we can get as much work done at the time. But we have concentrated also on other sections of our business that had a little bit higher margins. And so from just a mixture of the 33 different markets, some markets we were able to accomplish a little bit more than the others. But keep in mind that we did have a record revenue year of over $783 million and we had a growth of 15.2% and our team executed -- they [Indecipherable] 2019, concentration on EBITDA growth and EBITDA margins paid out into 2019.

Noah Merkousko -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. And then for my follow-up, I kind of wanted to follow on with the EBITDA margin guide for next year, it seems like that implies there might be some headwinds to gross margin. Could you maybe talk about your expectations for gross margin? It sounds like now that you're getting these acquisitions integrated and your vertically integrated strategy is working, why would gross margins maybe be down for next year?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Maybe I didn't do a good job, I partially answered that before. They are really down because in 2019, we had excellent opportunities. We had very good execution on our backlog. The volume that we were running through our plants and equipment was on the high end. And so, we exceeded our expectations in 2019. 2020, as I've said earlier, we're going more back to -- it's a higher margin than what we had on our initial 2019 guidance. So, we don't see it as reducing it, but just not building in, that we're going to have nine months of great weather, and we don't have the same execution level if you will, that is provided by that. So, certainly if -- we will be working to get the margins on our existing backlog there as we did in 2019. But, we generally don't start out the year with an expectation that we're going to have those conditions that allow us to do that.

There is really not any change of significance overall, and the backlog margin that we have or any type of additional fixed costs that are coming in other than from the acquisitions I mentioned earlier, they have a little bit of a headwind until we work through their backlog and on the new acquisition. Of course, we may get [Indecipherable], so we've not -- we're just beginning to work through that backlog and understanding it. But those things, all of the impact of it, but we hope that if we can get on the higher end of the range, especially with organic growth coming in good, then we can move out that margin for 2019 -- 2020. There is a little bit of savings at the G&A level, as a percent of revenues, so that's helping also, but it's not overly significant.

Noah Merkousko -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay. That makes sense. I'll leave it there.

Operator

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

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

Thank you. Good morning.

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Hey.

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

Hey, Alan, maybe this one's for you. I apologize if you've touched on this in the script, but on the guidance you're forecasting a pretty big increase in DD&A in fiscal '20, like more than 20% over fiscal '19. Can you clarify what all that relates to? I assume that's not just for this latest transaction.

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Well, part of it would be the acquisitions, because they have that in them, the valuation that supply to their equipment generally is a write-up. So that's part of what's driving it. Part of it is, I mentioned in the prepared comments that we -- that our depreciation for 2020 -- excuse me, our capital expenditures for 2020 did not include some operating leases that we bought out at the beginning of October. And those are leases that we would have bought out at the end of the operating lease period, and under the new accounting guidance that we became subject to October 1st. Those were going to have to be capitalized as capital leases.

So we just want to get involved in now. So that's added a couple of million dollars of depreciation in 2020 that would have been lease expense under the old accounting rules. So, that's part of it, and then of course, we made a number of purchases of new equipment during 2019 that was made during the middle of the year that will be in there for the full year of 2020. So, it's just a combination of all three of those.

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

Got it, OK. Thanks for that. And then second question would just be, do you guys have any greenfield plans, I guess in fiscal '20? And then if you could, curious to hear your sort of thoughts on sort of seller expectations on the M&A side right now. Are you still able to close these deals kind of at the average multiples you've been able to do historically?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Brent, this is Charles. We have a lot of conversations going on with the privately held companies right now and we do feel like there will be some deals done this year. And from a greenfield standpoint that's always a lever that we are looking at and we've identified some areas from -- so there's always, we have that option to pull those levers anytime we see fit with [Indecipherable] purchase price, we are still seeing everything in kind of where we are in the year in the range before anywhere from 4 to 5.5. And so just depending on the Company and the organization and equipment fleet, so yeah, we're still a lot very optimistic that we still have a strong pipeline to continue our growth strategy, just like we've outlined.

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

Okay. Appreciate it, Charles. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Adam Thalhimer of Thompson Davis. Please proceed with your question.

Adam Thalhimer -- Thompson Davis -- Analyst

Hey. Good morning, guys.

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Adam Thalhimer -- Thompson Davis -- Analyst

First question, wanted to ask about North Carolina, the NCDOT had some funding issues pop up in Q4 and then it looks like there was a legislative fix in November. Just curious what you're seeing on the ground, the halted engineering, I think on 900 projects, what's your thought on how that flows through next year?

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

What we see in that market, that we see a coming back to a record level of funding. As you know there were some hurricanes that went through and some of that money that was used out of DOT I believe was used to correct some of that work that may be done on roads there but that will be repaid to the DOT and that funding has been taken care of. So we are fixing get back to a regular normal season of where they're going to be letting work and the tap work that we do and obviously there were several mega jobs bid in that area, but what we see now is things coming back to normal to where they can be just doing work -- letting work that we concentrate our efforts on.

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Adam, a lot of that engineering and the consultants that they used for that, cutting those back is more likely to impact larger projects in the pipe that we do because many of the projects that we do have very little external engineering that has to go into almost there, just curious milling up and resurfacing, an existing road or something like that, then you don't have the same type of engineering time.

So, certainly the engineering firms were substantially impacted because they went from 0 to 100 miles an hour to 0. During that period that there were some dysfunction there, but it didn't significantly impact us because we have longer-term projects that we've got on backlog that we're working on and we have the ability to maneuver into city and county work, private work, so that we're not totally dependent on the DOT like a lot of those engineering firms are.

Adam Thalhimer -- Thompson Davis -- Analyst

Okay. That's a good point. Thanks. Thanks, Alan. And then can you just round out the top -- the other top three states, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, it looks like Alabama and Florida budgets are up, Georgia budget might be down a touch next year. How does it look for your type of work?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I mean we see in our markets, which we don't look at the total budget, we will look at our markets, but we see that there is, Alabama, obviously, the gas tax increase is going to have a very positive impact for us and Florida, just with the population growth and the people that are traveling down there, we see there gas tax collections trending very positively. So that's what we see. Georgia again in our markets, we're seeing some opportunities, some really good opportunities come that will be available for us. So we see it is very positive in those states.

Adam Thalhimer -- Thompson Davis -- Analyst

Okay. I appreciate the time.

Operator

Our final question comes from the line of Andrew Wittmann of Robert W. Baird & Co. Please proceed with your question.

Our final question comes from the line of Andrew Wittmann of Robert W. Baird.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Sorry, about that guys. I was on mute. Thanks for taking my follow-up question. Alan, I wanted to ask about --

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

[Technical Issues] question.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Exactly. No, but -- so I just want to talk about free cash flow here guys. 2019 obviously had some headwinds. Alan, you talked about kind of accounts receivable whether they're billed or unbilled up a bit here. You had the inventory to fill the tanks at the terminal, which is kind of a one-off item that was I guess you called about like $6.5 million or something there. But could you give us maybe before '19 your free cash flow was $25 million to $30 million, pretty consistently even on a smaller company base. Can you help us bridge from the $8 million or $9 million of free cash flow this year to the '30 [Phonetic] and describe kind of the components? It sure seems like that AR is a pretty big chunk of the reason why the free cash flow was down this year. And then I guess the more important question is looking forward, do you see the ability for at least for it not to get worse the AR consumption of cash or is there even an opportunity to the pull some cash out here as we head into fiscal 2020? I think those cash flow dynamics would be helpful.

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I mean historically because our fourth quarter and if you're looking at year-over-year is -- often can have a pretty significant increase because of acquisitions that we've added during the year and we don't buy their working capital. So all of that receivable from them shows up as a negative cash flow if you will. And the fact that our volume is higher in the last quarter of the year then on a year-over-year, as we're growing that receivable balance rises also as the -- we generally does that cost in excess of billings. While we've experienced a little bit in 2019 and we -- to answer, we don't think it will get worse, but hopefully it will get better is that some of the DOTs have started using third-party intermediaries to handle their payments and their determination of the quantities that are completed.

So, we can have four, five-day delay and when we get a billing finalized, so for us when we close our books, we may have a few projects that the billing is not finalized on so that ends up showing up in our cost in excess of billings. And that's one reason why that's grown some this year. And then, the turnaround on collecting those were historically, if you go back for 10 years it was generally you collected all the DOT billings within the month that you bill them. So you bill them on the 10th of December and you collect them in December. But with these third parties that are getting involved that has slowed that collection down on some jobs, not all of them and that's part of the bill. You're going to collect it, but it might be the third or fourth, for the next month, instead of the same month if you bill it. So it doesn't become a collection problem, but it does slow down the turnaround of that and that's part of what we've seen this year, started at the first part of the year when they started kind of a different procedure and it's continued. We feel like once those consultants, if you will, get more proficient at processing it like the DOT used to be, then we will hopefully see that come back. We certainly don't see it getting any worse.

And on the private work side, there's really been no change in that turnaround, because again, we're dealing directly with the owners. But sometimes when you're right subcontractor on the job and in a lot of our commercial work, we might be a subcontractor to a builder, then that can delay it some, because they've got to collect their money before they pay us. But we don't see that as a long-term thing, but it's certainly something we've been experiencing all year this year.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Okay. Then just a technical question to follow that one up. You mentioned the leases that you were going to buy out or have bought out already this new fiscal year. I was just wondering, so you had $44 million to $47 million kind of normal capex budget, but then you've got the one-offs to buy out these leases. Alan, how much is that kind of one-time buyout of the leases that you've done or are in the process of doing?

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

It's $10 million, approximately.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you very much.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. I would now like to turn the floor back over to CEO, Charles Owens for any closing remarks.

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Hey, I'd like to thank everyone for being on the call today and I'd just like you to know that our team was very pleased with the performance we had in 2019 and that we are more excited about 2020 and what we see in [Indecipherable] and the opportunities that we have not only in our markets, but our employees and just wanted to -- want you all to keep in mind that we will definitely stay focused on our strategy. And I want to thank you again for your time at this time. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 47 minutes

Call participants:

Rick Black -- Investor Relations

Charles E. Owens -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Ned N. Fleming -- Executive Chairman of the Board

Alan Palmer -- Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird & Company -- Analyst

Josh Wilson -- Raymond James -- Analyst

Noah Merkousko -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

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

Adam Thalhimer -- Thompson Davis -- Analyst

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