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Natural Resource Partners LP (NYSE:NRP)
Q4 2019 Earnings Call
Feb 27, 2020, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Natural Resource Partners LP Fourth Quarter 2019 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to introduce your host for today's conference Tiffany Sammis Natural Resource Partners Manager of Investor Relations. Ms. Sammis you may begin.

Tiffany Sammis -- Investor Relations

Thank you. Good morning and welcome to Natural Resource Partners' Fourth Quarter 2019 Conference Call. Today's call is being webcast and a replay will be available on your our website. Joining me today are Craig Nunez President and Chief Operating Officer; and Chris Zolas Chief Financial Officer. Some of our comments today may include forward-looking statements reflecting NRP's views about future events. These matters involve risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to materially differ from our forward-looking statements. These risks are discussed in NRP's Form 10-K and other Securities and Exchange commission filings. We undertake no obligation to revise or update publicly any forward-looking statements for any reason. Our comments today also include non-GAAP financial measures.

Additional details and reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP measures are included in our fourth quarter 2019 press release which can be found on our website. I would like to remind everyone that we do not intend to discuss the operations or outlook for any particular co-lessee or get into detailed market fundamentals. In addition I refer you to general resources public disclosures and commentary for specific questions regarding our soda ash business segment. Now I would like to turn the call over to Craig Nunez our President and Chief Operating Officer.

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thank you Tiffany and welcome everyone to our quarterly call. I am pleased to announce that NRP continues to generate significant amounts of cash which allowed us to pay off $163 million of debt and $62 million to common unitholders equity before noncash accounting impairments and pay out nearly $33 million of common unitholder distributions over the last year. Excluding discontinued operations we recorded $139 million of free cash flow over the last 12 months. And our consolidated return on capital employed before impairments was 16.1% with the coal segment coming in at 18.3% and soda ash delivering 19%. Our cash flow cushion which is the free cash flow remaining after mandatory debt repayments of our private placement notes payments of preferred dividends and the current common unit distribution was $7.8 million over the same period.

I'm also very pleased to announce that the long-standing lawsuit against us by Anadarko has been resolved with the court ruling in our favor in all respects and 0 liability for NRP. With this matter behind us we have no material litigation outstanding. We are especially pleased that we have been able to continue executing on our multiyear plan to delever and derisk our business during what has turned out to be a challenging time for the coal industry in general. And a financial crisis for a number of our lessees in particular. As pointed out in previous calls a number of our lessees went bankrupt last year and Foresight our largest lessee has been in a forbearance agreement with its lenders since October. The fact that we have been able to generate solid operating and financial performance in spite of these developments. Makes it clear that the actions we took in recent years to fortify our financial position and streamline our cost structure are now paying off.

We believe we are well positioned to continue paying down debt and making distributions to our unitholders despite the challenging business environment. Even at current benchmark prices for met and thermal coal which are down approximately 30% and 45% respectively from the average prices as recently as the fourth quarter of 2018 we expect our coal business to generate robust free cash flow. And our soda ash investment which has recently seen its cash distributions reduced to fund a large expansion project that an annual production record in 2019 and is positioned to deliver higher cash distributions following completion of the planned expansion. NRP's cash flow cushion remains in positive territory and we have almost $200 million of liquidity should we need it consisting of $98 million of cash and $100 million of untapped borrowing capacity. Additionally our parent company bonds have more than five years from before maturity and our bank facility which is undrawn has over three years of life remaining.

Against this backdrop the rising tide of sustainable investing has resulted in a level of investor activism that few would have envisioned not long ago. The impact on companies with exposure to thermal coal has been significant with some institutional investors even going so far as to ban companies from their portfolios that have thermal coal exposure exceeding certain thresholds. While bias against thermal coal investments has been most visible in the equity markets the trend is also alive and well in the bank and bond markets. Even the insurance market is taking notice as several large casualty insurers recently announced plans to stop underwriting liability insurance for thermal coal companies all of which leads to the questions. What are we at NRP doing in response to this? Quite a lot I'm pleased to say. We took numerous transformative actions in recent years with the goal of rightsizing our business solidifying our capital structure and providing the financial flexibility to live within internally generated cash flow.

Since we cannot control capital providers' appetite for our business. We have been laser-focused on minimizing the need to ask for money. This was the driver last year behind the extension of our debt maturities as far out in the future as possible to minimize the likelihood of having to source external capital for refinancing. We worked hard to prepare our business and capital structure for anything the market might throw our way. So to sum it up coal markets are challenging. Soda ash distributions are down as we build cash for expansion and many investors are skeptical of coal. All the while our businesses continue to generate robust amounts of free cash flow which we are using to pay down debt build partners' equity and pay distributions to our unitholders.

With that I'll turn the call over to Chris to cover our financial performance.

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

Thank you Craig and good morning everyone. I'd like to start out summarizing some significant items that are impacting comparisons between 2019 and in 2018. Starting with items that occurred in 2019. First we recognized $148 million of asset impairment expense in the fourth quarter. As a reminder asset impairment is a noncash expense and does not have an impact on our debt covenant compliance. And second we recognized a $29 million loss on early extinguishment of debt in connection with the refinancings of our bonds and revolving credit facility. These refinancings reduced our ongoing interest cost extended maturities and significantly improved our liquidity and financial flexibility. Moving to items that occurred in 2018. First we recognized $18 million of noncash asset impairment expense. Second our 2018 fourth quarter results were impacted by the Hillsboro litigation settlement with Foresight which resulted in the receipt of $25 million of cash that was recognized as other income in Q4 of 2018. And lastly our full year 2018 results included a $13 million gain in our soda ash segment related to a royalty dispute litigation settlement.

With all of that being said let's discuss our overall fourth quarter and year-end results. During the fourth quarter of 2019 we generated $19 million of operating cash flow and $28 million of net income from continuing operations excluding the impact of asset impairments. Full year 2019 amounts were $137 million of operating cash flow and $123 million of net income excluding asset impairments. Moving to our segment results. Our Coal Royalty segment generated $41 million of revenue and other income and $39 million of operating cash flow during the fourth quarter of 2019. Full year 2019 amounts were $217 million of revenue and other income and $179 million of operating cash flow. These results were lower compared to the prior year periods primarily due to two main factors: the first was weakened metallurgical and thermal coal markets; the second was the $25 million one-time payment we received from the Hillsboro litigation settlement in the fourth quarter of 2018. These two drivers of our lower results in 2019 were partially offset by increased revenues from our Hillsboro property that began to that we began to recognize in 2019 after the completion of the litigation settlement with Foresight.

Additionally full year 2019 results benefited from a $16 million increase in revenues related to lessee forfeitures over culpable balances from the minimums paid in prior years. In terms of our Coal Royalty sales mix metallurgical coal made up approximately 45% of our total Coal Royalty sales volumes and approximately 60% of our Coal Royalty revenue during the fourth quarter of 2019. And met coal made up approximately 50% of sales volumes and 65% of sales revenues for the full year 2019. I'd also like to point out that while a number of our lessees went through the bankruptcy process in 2019. Lessee bankruptcies had a minimal net impact on our 2019 financial results as bad debt expense from bankrupt lessees was offset by lease amendments we executed during the bankruptcy process for certain leases that generated cash flow and revenues we recognized in 2019.

And finally as previously mentioned our 2019 Core Royalty segment results were impacted by $148 million of noncash asset impairments in the fourth quarter. Moving to our second business segment soda ash. We received $6 million and $32 million of cash distributions from Ciner Wyoming during the fourth quarter and full year 2019 respectively. This compares to $10 million and $47 million in the comparable prior year periods. As discussed in our previous earnings call the managing partner of Ciner Wyoming decided to reduce distributions during 2019 from the multiyear capacity expansion project that is expected to result in higher future earnings and cash distributions. As a result we expect to receive approximately $25 million to $28 million of annual cash distributions from Ciner Wyoming until the project is funded. In regards to our soda ash business' operating performance.

Net income decreased $3 million compared to the prior year quarter primarily due to a 4% decrease in average sales price and a 1% decrease in sales volumes compared to the prior year quarter. For the full year 2019 our soda ash net income decreased $1 million from $48 million in 2018 down to $47 million in 2019. Excluding the impact of a $13 million gain from a royalty dispute litigation settlement in the third quarter of 2018 our full year 2019 net income increased $11 million compared to the prior year as a result of record 2019 soda ash production of 2.7 million short tons and a slightly average sales price in full year 2019. Our corporate and financing segment costs declined $8 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to the prior year quarter primarily due to lower interest expense as a result of the $163 million of debt we've repaid over the last 12 months.

Cash paid for interest in the fourth quarter of 2019 increased $15 million as compared to the prior year quarter as a result of the timing of interest payments on our parent company bonds that were refinanced in the second quarter of 2019. We pay interest on our new parent company bonds in June and December compared to paying interest in March and September on the previously issued parent company bonds. For full year 2019 our corporate and financing segment cost increased $7 million compared to the prior year as a result of the $29 million loss on early extinguishment of debt we recognized in the second quarter of 2019 in connection with our debt refinancings. Excluding the impact of this loss our corporate and financing segment cost decreased $22 million in 2019 as compared to the prior year driven by less debt and lower interest expense.

Regarding our common and preferred unit distributions we paid a quarterly $0.45 per unit distribution to our common unitholders and a quarterly cash distribution of $7.5 million to our preferred unitholders in the fourth quarter of 2019. Full year 2019 quarterly distributions were $1.80 per common unit and $30 million to our preferred unitholders. In addition we paid an eight per unit special distribution in May 2019 to our common unitholders to cover their tax liability resulting from the sale of our construction aggregates business in December of 2018. And finally in February this year we paid a quarterly cash distribution of $0.45 per common unit and a $7.5 million cash distribution to our preferred unitholders.

And with that I'll turn it back over to the operator for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] The first question is from Mark Levin with Benchmark Company. Your line is open.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Great, thanks very much and congratulations on navigating through a very very challenging times. First question has to do with just sort of a housekeeping question. For 2020 the mandatory principal payment can you just remind me what that figure is?

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

Sure Mark. On our Opco senior notes that's about $45 million.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

$45 million this year. Got it. Okay. And then one of the things just looking at kind of the other revenues this year production lease minimums minimum lease straight line revenues. Pretty big step-up. So in total almost $40 million versus the year earlier $10 million. Can you maybe give us some thoughts about how to think about going forward given sort of all the activity that's been going on in the coal industry? Those two line items specifically?

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

Sure Mark. So like I said in my prepared remarks we had some significant items in 2019 are the impact comparison. One of those was with those forfeitures of lessee recoupable balances. That was increased about $16 million in 2019. So that's something that was a onetime event that we can't expect to continue going forward. And in regards to our minimum straight line revenues that's that was also mentioned is the additional revenue we recognized in 2019 compared to 2018 primarily were driven by the Hillsboro revenue that we're now recognizing after the litigation settlement which we do expect that to continue.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

And that will obviously will recur. Got it. Okay. Fair enough. And so the number will obviously be less than the more than the $10 million that you had in 2018 but less than the $38 million obviously that you got 2019?

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

Right.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Great. Okay. And then just in general and I know it's I know Foresight is going through forbearance as one of your largest lessees. But just generally speaking is there anything you can say about how that process affects or will affect NRP in 2020?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Mark this is Craig. What we can say of course is that we follow them as you are in the public markets. And to the extent they have a restructuring of bankruptcy a problem something along those lines. We suspect that we'll have the same issues we've had with other bankruptcies and the numerous bankruptcies we've gone through in the past. We don't have any insight at this point on exactly what that may mean for us? Will that mean that our cash flows will be reduced? Or will they stay the same? Or we don't? We do know that we've been quite successful throughout the past which we've had a quite a number of bankruptcies over the last five years and restructurings with lessees and we've been quite successful essentially maintaining our terms and maintaining our cash flows from those bankruptcies. As we've talked about it previously on the earlier calls the key driver as to whether or not our leases continue to produce and continue to generate royalty revenues for us and minimum payments for us and the like is the actual economic viability of the properties themselves.

If the assets are profitable then they tend to keep operating regardless of who the operator is and regardless of what the bankruptcy settlement is. And we tend to keep getting paid. If those mines were not profitable if they were not economically viable then those are usually the assets that get shed in the bankruptcy process. The unfortunate thing about Foresight of course we're not the operator but it appears that those are their assets are some of the lowest cost lowest costs lowest-cost mines East in the Mississippi. So they're pretty good assets to have.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Got it. Very helpful. And then Craig I know in the past you've not wanted to give necessarily a leverage target and I understand that. It's clear that you want to continue to reduce debt and I think that that's prudent. But I was just curious around free cash flow cushion. I think you mentioned $8 million last year and that being the more relevant metric in terms of what excess cash ultimately looks like. Is there a number from a free cash flow-cushion perspective that I mean it does it just simply need to be positive? Or is there a number or something that you're kind of looking to or targeting?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

No we don't have a target on free cash flow cushion. What I will tell you is that my gut looking out at the landscape today and my gut tells me that I think we're going to have a positive margin say in the next 12 months. And I think that would be good in this environment to maintain a positive free cash flow margin. Because that our cushion excuse me because that means that we are continuing to delever and continuing to pay our distributions. And so improving the balance sheet derisking the business despite the environment.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

And it sounds like your just from your comments it sounds like you're confident that despite the environment that you should be able to maintain the common distribution. Is that a fair statement or am I putting words in your mouth?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Well my lawyers always say be careful whenever you used the words confident for anything but that's our plan.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Got it. Okay fair enough. And then just the last question and I'm fairly confident you won't be able to give any guidance here but I'll ask nonetheless. Just kind of looking at your sales volume in 2019. It was roughly 23.7 million versus 26.9 million in 2018. And you've got some lessees that are obviously the thermal market is under threat and even the met market while prices have recovered they're still pretty it's a pretty tough environment in the Atlantic Basin but 26.9 million to 23.7 million any thoughts as to what that number could look like in 2020? And I know you're going to say no guidance but just maybe even generally speaking what the expectations are what you see out in the landscape?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Well my gut just tells me looking at it that I don't think we're going to have material changes on it. But that's just since we don't operate we don't work the mine plans per se. It's hard for us to give that guidance at all. Any guidance at all on that just because we have a little more insight probably than just someone looking from the outside in but we don't operate and we don't make those operating decisions.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

But it doesn't even and from your perspective though it doesn't look like there is a catastrophic fall kind of I mean from what you can tell obviously anything can happen. But it doesn't look at least at this point in time something...

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

I would not envision anything as you define it catastrophic. As you say catastrophic absent some catastrophic corresponding change in the economic environment such as...

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Great.

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

There you go.

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Now, that's perfect, thanks. Appreciate it all the color.

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

You got it.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] The next question is from Nick Jarmoszuk with Stifel. Your line is open.

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. Given that the Opco amortizations are lower in 2020 how do you think about buyback opportunities with the Holdco notes?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Buyback opportunities with the holdco notes? Yes. Well I always like to buy $1 for something less than $1 if you can. And in order to so looking at buying back debt would always be on the table with excess cash that we deem that we had. And I can say that we'll consider that. It's not been a big push yet because we have been having a great deal of uncertainty in our operating environment. And as long as we have that we like the idea of having a significant cash flow cushion or having a significant amount of cash liquidity on hand. But that's all I can say about them.

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay. And then on the Foresight situation could you talk about how you are managing receivables? Are they on cash terms? Or what the age of their receivables are?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

We don't ever disclose that information for any lessees at all. I would I guess what I would direct you to is our fourth quarter results that was Foresight was as we understand it was in the same forbearance situation in Q4 that they are in say now. And as you can tell from our results that there was no material impact to our results in Q4 as a result of Foresight.

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

And then one other thing you can look at is our accounts receivable balance compare that in what we had in 2018 compared to what we have at the end of 2019. It's gone down a couple of million.

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay. Okay. So is it fair to say that as a lessee starts becoming stressed do you become more active in managing that credit risk?

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

I guess conceptually yes it's fair to say that but I would say that we are always extremely active in managing lessees. And if we are not actively managing them in advance of them becoming more financially stressed then we're probably not looking ahead as well as we should be. So we try to stay ahead of the game.

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay. And then while we're monitoring public developments on FELP just as you are. Have there been any discussions with FELP regarding the structure of their leases? Or is there...

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Well as we said at the beginning of the call and as we've done repeatedly over the years with every company every lessee we've had that's been in financial difficulties or in bankruptcy but close to bankruptcy or bankruptcy we just cannot comment on any of that at all whether we are or not in discussions with them about anything. I will say that if you look back throughout the bankruptcies that we've had that there's not a lot of record of renegotiating the terms of our leases to the detriment of the company to of NRP.

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

That's all I had. Thank you. That thanks for the questions.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. I'll turn the call back over to Mr. Nunez for any closing remarks.

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Thank you everyone for joining our call. We appreciate your interest in NRP. We've been getting a lot of calls from a number of you and appreciate we your support. Thank you. And so next quarter. Take care. [Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 27 minutes

Call participants:

Tiffany Sammis -- Investor Relations

Craig W. Nunez -- President and Chief Operating Officer

Christopher J. Zolas -- Chief Financial Officer and Treasure

Mark Levin -- Benchmark Company -- Analyst

Nick Jarmoszuk -- Stifel -- Analyst

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