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Reliance Steel And Aluminum Co (NYSE:RS)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
Apr 22, 2021, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings. Welcome to the Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company First Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

I will now turn the conference over to your host, Kim Orlando of ADDO Investor Relations. You may begin.

Kimberly Orlando -- Senior Vice President

Thank you, Operator. Good morning, and thanks to all of you for joining our conference call to discuss Reliance's first quarter 2021 financial results. I am joined by Jim Hoffman, CEO; Karla Lewis, President; and Arthur Ajemyan, Vice President and CFO. Bill Sales, Executive Vice President, Operations, will also be available during the question-and-answer portion of this call. A recording of this call will be posted on the Investors section of our website at investor.rsac.com. The press release and the information on this call may contain certain forward-looking statements which are based on a number of assumptions that are subject to change and involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties or other factors, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic conditions on our future operations, which may not be under the company's control and may cause the actual results, performance or achievement of the company to be materially different from the results, performance or other expectations implied by these forward-looking statements.

These factors include but are not limited to those factors disclosed in the company's annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2020, under the caption Risk Factors, disclosure in our press release this morning and other documents Reliance files or furnishes with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The press release and the information on this call speak only as of today's date, and the company disclaims any duty to update the information provided therein and herein.

I will now turn the call over to Jim Hoffman, CEO of Reliance.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, everyone, and thank you all for joining us today to discuss our first quarter 2021 financial results. I will begin today with a high-level overview of our first quarter performance and capital allocation priorities. Karla will then speak to our operating results and demand trends by end market, and Arthur will conclude with a review of our first quarter 2021 financials. Our resilient business model, coupled with outstanding execution in a favorable market, resulted in record financial performance during the first quarter of 2021. I would like to personally thank all of my colleagues within the Reliance family of companies for their dedication to health, safety and operational excellence despite disruptions from the ongoing global pandemic and various supply chain constraints.

We experienced ongoing strength in metals pricing during the first quarter, led by multiple price increases for carbon steel products, along with improving demand in many markets, and leveraged our decentralized operating structure, small order sizes and diversification of products, end markets and geographies to achieve record gross profit margin for the third consecutive quarter of 33.6%, up 60 basis points from the fourth quarter of 2020 and up 330 basis points from the first quarter of 2020. Our record quarterly gross profit margin, combined with average selling prices well above our expectations and our continued focus on expense control, contributed to record pre-tax income of $359 million in the first quarter of 2021, up over 100% from the prior quarter and up over 300% from the prior year period. Our quarterly earnings per diluted share of $4.12 were also a record and substantially exceeded our outlook. Our strong earnings and effective working capital management resulted in cash flow from operations of $161.8 million in the first quarter of 2021 despite $182.8 million of working capital investment.

This is a significant result as we typically use cash in the first quarter as we rebuild working capital from seasonal low fourth quarter levels, compounded by the significant increases in metals costs we are experiencing. We improved our inventory turn rate to 5.4 times, surpassing our 2020 annual rate and companywide turn goal of 4.7 times. Our ability to cross-sell inventory among our family of companies, which we believe is the key advantage and differentiator of our model and scale, was a significant contributor to our improved inventory management. Despite extended mill lead times and inventory shortages, collaboration among our family of companies and strong long-standing relationships with our domestic mills enabled us to source the metal needed by our customers. Our managers in the field effectively supported our valued customers by ensuring inventory availability while maximizing margin on opportunistic orders.

Our strong cash flow generation and significantly enhanced liquidity position enables us to maintain a flexible capital allocation strategy focused on both growth and stockholder returns. Our 2021 capital expenditure budget of $245 million includes new buildings and other projects to expand, upgrade and maintain many of our existing operating facilities. However, when factoring in project delays and extended lead times for equipment due to COVID-19, we believe our potential cash flow outlays for our capital expenditure will be closer to $300 million in 2021 due to the prior year holdover spending. During the first quarter of 2021, we invested $43.7 million back into our business through capital expenditures, including several growth opportunities to address and exceed our customers' and suppliers' needs.

For instance, we've invested in toll processing expansions in Texas and Kentucky given the significant demand we've experienced in our toll processing capabilities throughout our footprint. Operations at our Kentucky facility commenced in November 2020 and have been steadily ramping ever since. Construction continues in Texas on our new greenfield facility focused on carbon steel tolling, which will support increased capacity of our toll processing customers who are primarily metals producers and their end customers. We're very excited about these opportunities to expand our toll processing service offerings and see many more possibilities in the future for our toll processing capabilities moving forward. As mentioned on our last call, we are installing energy-efficient lighting and solar panels in certain of our facilities as well as investing in additional innovative processing equipment to continue providing our customers with the highest quality products and services.

Turning to M&A. We continue to see a healthy pipeline of prospective opportunities, including in adjacent businesses in addition to traditional metals service center businesses as we've broadened our universe of potential acquisition candidates. Nevertheless, we will maintain our strict transaction criteria, including our focus on quality of earnings when we evaluate any prospective targets to ensure a strong fit within our family of companies. I will now turn to our stockholder return activity. During the first quarter of 2021, we paid $44.8 million in dividends to our stockholders. We've maintained our payment of regular quarterly dividends for 62 consecutive years without ever suspending payments or reducing our dividend rate. In fact, we've increased our dividend 28 times since our 1994 IPO, including the most recent increase of 10% in the first quarter of 2021.

At March 31, 2021, approximately 2.8 million shares remained available for repurchase under our stock repurchase program. We expect to remain a prudent allocator of capital by maintaining our flexible approach focused on both growth, which remains our top priority; and stockholder return activities, including opportunistic repurchases of our common stock. In summary, I am inspired by the strong operational execution demonstrated by the entire Reliance team during the first quarter of 2021. Our unwavering focus on the core elements of the Reliance business model, including health and safety, pricing discipline, diligent expense control when needed, inventory management, organic growth and innovation, enables us to perform from a position of strength in both good times and bad. In the current environment characterized by extremely high metal pricing, strong demand from many of our customers and limited metal availability, we believe Reliance remains well positioned to continue generating strong earnings.

Given our strong liquidity position, we look forward to continuing to support the growth and needs of our customers and suppliers while also returning value to our stockholders. We will continue to support our colleagues, customers, suppliers and communities in a sustainable manner through both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We remain confident that America is going to need Reliance to rebuild.

Thank you for your time and attention today. I will now turn the call over to Karla to review our operating results and demand trends. Karla?

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Thanks, Jim, and good morning, everyone. I would like to echo Jim's sentiment by thanking all of our colleagues within the Reliance family of companies for their amazing performance during the first quarter. Strong demand conditions in the majority of our end markets resulted in our tons sold increasing 11.3% compared to the fourth quarter, which was within our guidance range of up 10% to 12% and above the typical seasonal improvement in shipping volumes we experienced in the first quarter. While demand is healthy and continues to improve in most markets, our first quarter shipments did not reach pre-pandemic levels and were down 4% from the first quarter of 2020.

However, on a per day basis, our tons sold were down only 2.5%. We believe underlying demand is stronger than our shipment levels reflect, given many factors holding back economic activity for us, our customers and our suppliers, including metal supply constraints, supply chain disruptions for various components and materials and labor and trucking shortages. The good news is we expect to fill this demand in future periods and these factors support increased metal pricing. This strengthened demand, coupled with rising input costs and limited metal availability, resulted in metal prices accelerating throughout the first quarter for many of the products we sell, most notably carbon steel products. Our average selling price increased 20% compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding our guidance of up 12% to 14% by a significant margin.

These robust demand and pricing conditions contributed to an all-time high quarterly gross profit margin of 33.6%. On a non-GAAP FIFO basis, which we believe is the best measure of our day-to-day operating performance, we achieved a record gross profit margin of 37.1%, an increase of 350 basis points compared to the prior quarter and up 600 basis points from the first quarter of 2020. Way to go, team Reliance. Our record gross profit margin was the result of outstanding execution by our managers in the field who once again effectively implemented price increases at the time of mill announcement prior to receiving the higher-cost metal into inventory, maintained their focus on higher-margin orders and were very selective given limited metal supply, which enabled us to capture an incremental margin benefit in excess of already strong levels.

I'll now turn to a high-level overview of our key end markets. Demand for nonresidential construction, which includes infrastructure and is the largest end market we serve, continue to improve with first quarter shipments approaching pre-pandemic levels. We continue to experience strong quoting activity for projects for big-box retailers, healthcare facilities, schools, large warehouses and data processing centers, among others. And given our healthy backlogs, quoting activity and positive customer sentiment, we believe demand will remain steady at current solid levels. We saw continued strength in demand for the toll processing services we provide to the automotive market, surpassing activity levels in both the fourth and first quarters of 2020 with automotive OEMs and steel and aluminum mills continuing to ramp production. Importantly, our tolling operations serving the automotive market saw only minimal impacts to date as a result of the global microchip shortage, and we expect tool processing volumes to remain strong.

Demand in heavy industry for both agricultural and construction equipment continued to improve in the first quarter as our customers increased production levels to meet customer demand and replenish dealer inventories. Demand for industrial machinery used in manufacturing processes was also strong in the first quarter of 2021. Absent disruptions for our customers that impact their production, we expect demand to continue at strong levels. Semiconductor demand during the first quarter continued to strengthen from the fourth quarter, and we expect this to continue.

The semiconductor space continues to be one of our strongest end markets. In regard to aerospace, I'd like to remind you all that commercial aerospace represents roughly half of our aerospace exposure. Demand in commercial aerospace began to experience limited signs of improvement compared to the fourth quarter of 2020, which we believe was the trough of the current cycle. We expect limited improvement throughout 2021. On the other hand, demand in the military, defense and space portions of our aerospace business remains strong with backlog improving during the quarter.

We anticipate strong demand continuing in the noncommercial aerospace market for the balance of the year. Finally, demand in the energy sector, which is mainly oil and natural gas, saw a modest recovery toward the end of the first quarter of 2021. We anticipate a slight improvement in the second quarter given current oil prices and customers needing to replenish inventory for certain products. We entered the second quarter of 2021 with strong demand and pricing momentum that creates an environment for us to optimize our model and deliver strong results.

We remain dedicated to partnering with our key customers and suppliers during these extraordinary times, and we can only do this with the continued commitment to health and safety and operational excellence that our Reliance colleagues have demonstrated every day throughout very challenging times.

Thank you all. I will now turn the call over to Arthur, who will review our financial results. Arthur?

Arthur Ajemyan -- Chief Financial Officer and Vice President

Thanks, Karla, and good morning, everyone. I'll start with a recap of our quarterly results. Strong pricing, healthy demand and record gross profit margin contributed to record gross profit dollars, which in turn drove record pre-tax income and record earnings per share. Turning to our sales. The significant increase in metal pricing and healthy demand resulted in our first quarter sales increasing 33% over the fourth quarter of 2020. Compared to the prior year period, our first quarter sales were up over 10%, supported by the strong pricing momentum for most carbon steel products. As Jim and Karla mentioned, the strong pricing environment, along with our focus on higher-margin orders and continued investments in value-added processing capabilities, collectively resulted in record quarterly gross profit of $953.7 million and a record gross profit margin of 33.6% in the first quarter of 2021. We incurred LIFO expense of $100 million in the first quarter of 2021.

This compares to LIFO income of $20 million in the first quarter of 2020 and LIFO expense of $15.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2020. At the end of the first quarter, our LIFO reserve on our balance sheet was $215.6 million. We revised our annual LIFO expense estimate to $400 million from $340 million primarily due to higher-than-anticipated costs for certain carbon steel products. Consistent with our accounting policy, we allocate our annual estimate on a pro rata basis in each quarter. As such, our current projected LIFO expense for the second quarter of 2021 is $100 million.

As in prior years, we will update our expectations each quarter based upon our inventory cost and metal pricing trends. Now turning to our expenses. Our SG&A expense was generally consistent with traditional seasonal trends, increasing $54.9 million or 11.8% compared to the fourth quarter of 2020 due to strong volume and pricing momentum. The quarter-over-quarter increase was mainly a result of higher incentive-based compensation given our record gross profit and pre-tax income. Overall, our head count remained relatively consistent with year-end levels. In comparison to the prior year period, SG&A expense was roughly flat due to lower wages as a result of reduced head count, which was down approximately 8% year-over-year, and was offset by higher incentive compensation due to record earnings levels in the first quarter of 2021 and to a lesser extent, inflationary increases.

We will maintain our disciplined approach to expense management and continue to monitor our expense structure as we progress further into 2021. Our non-GAAP pre-tax income of $357.1 million in the first quarter of 2021 was the highest in our company's history and represents an increase of $136.5 million or 61.9% from the first quarter of 2020 due to favorable demand and pricing conditions, strong execution and diligent expense management. Our non-GAAP pre-tax income margin of 12.6% was also a record and exceeded the prior year period by 400 basis points. Our effective income tax rate for the first quarter of 2021 was 25.3%, up from 24.3% in the first quarter of 2020 mainly due to higher profitability. We currently anticipate a full year 2021 effective income tax rate of 25%. As a result of all these factors, we generated record quarterly earnings per share of $4.12 in the first quarter of 2021 compared to $0.92 in the first quarter of 2020.

On a non-GAAP basis, our first quarter earnings of $4.10 per share significantly exceeded our outlook and were up 104% from $2.01 in the fourth quarter of 2020 and up 67.3% from $2.45 in the first quarter of 2020. Turning to our balance sheet and cash flow. Our operations continue to generate cash despite significantly higher working capital needs. We generated strong cash flow from operations of $161.8 million during the first quarter of 2021 due to our profitable operations and effective working capital management, including our focus on inventory turns. As of the end of the first quarter, our total debt outstanding was $1.66 billion, resulting in a net debt-to-EBITDA multiple of 0.85. We had no borrowings outstanding on our $1.5 billion revolving credit facility, providing us with ample liquidity to continue executing on all areas of our capital allocation strategy while maintaining our investment-grade credit rating.

I'll now turn to our outlook. While macroeconomic uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we remain optimistic about business conditions with strong underlying demand in the majority of the end markets we serve. However, factors impacting shipment levels in the first quarter of 2021 such as metal supply constraints and supply chain disruptions for many of our customers will continue to persist in the second quarter of 2021. Despite these factors, we estimate tons sold will be flat to up 2% in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2021. We expect metal pricing will remain near current levels with the potential for further upside in certain products. Since current metal prices are substantially higher than the average selling price in the first quarter of 2021, we estimate our average selling price per ton sold for the second quarter of 2021 will be up 5% to 7%. Given the strong demand and pricing fundamentals, we anticipate continued strength in our gross profit margin in the second quarter of 2021.

Based on these expectations, we currently anticipate non-GAAP earnings per diluted share in the range of $4.20 and to $4.40 for the second quarter of 2021. In closing, we're extremely pleased with our record first quarter 2021 operational and financial performance, supported by strong pricing and demand trends as well as excellent execution by all of our colleagues in the field. These factors collectively resulted in yet another quarter of robust profitability and cash flow, enabling us to continue executing on our capital allocation priorities of investing in the growth of our business and returning value to our stockholders.

That concludes our prepared remarks. Thank you for your attention. And at this time, we'd like to open the call up to questions. Operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our first question is from Seth Rosenfeld with Exane BNP Paribas. Please proceed with your question.

Seth Rosenfeld -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Good morning. Thank you for taking our questions today. If I can kick off with a question on margin performance and inventory holding gains you achieved in Q1. You walked through the benefits to the company of passing on higher price hikes to your customers before you realize the higher cost in inventory. Can you give us some color on how you expect that to progress into Q2 and beyond? Should we expect a comparable level of tailwind or some compression as it's going to catch up on the inventory cost side? Thank you.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes, sure. I'll answer that. How are you Seth?

Seth Rosenfeld -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Very well thank you.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Well you know, we've been doing this a long time. We've -- that's part of our model. I think our customers see us as a part of their business. The customers we service know and we've proven to be there for them, time and time again, with innovative new equipment and the fact that we're able to give them an uninterrupted flow of production equipment. So we work real hard to make sure that we're there for them, and we haven't let them down. So I think the majority of the customers that we do business with, they see us differently. They know if they want a lower price, they can go elsewhere and spend time on the phone and try to beat somebody down on the price.

So we know what we bring to the market, so we're going to continue to do that because it works. And we care about our customers and our suppliers care about us. So it's a model that we've been working real hard on for decades, and over these last couple of years, we've tweaked it to actually do more value-adds. So we think it will continue to go, and we're not going to let our customers down, and I know that our domestic partners aren't going to let us down. So that is the need to continue to be able to pass these increases along because, right now, it's a matter of availability and service and what have you and Reliance happens to do real well on both of those.

Karla R. Lewis -- President

And Seth, just to add on a little more specifically to your question on the inventory holding gains. As Jim said, I mean, that has been our model for years, and we think our folks execute on it very well. With the guidance we had given and as we commented on, prices did increase more than we had anticipated in Q1, so we were able to keep that momentum going during the quarter. The way it works for us in our model, if, at some point, the increases stop and as we do get more of the higher-cost metal in, then we will see some compression in those elevated gross profit margins.

However, with the current dynamics that are out there of continued price increases and a little bit of supply constraint, getting the metal in to average up our inventory, we have been experiencing these really strong FIFO gross profit margins, but we don't know that they're sustainable at that level because we do anticipate, as I said, some compression whenever our inventory cost increases. But right now, we're seeing continued strong pricing and potential for more increases.

Seth Rosenfeld -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. So continuing into Q2, but as ever, not sure how the same will be in the longer term. That makes perfect sense. On working capital, very good working capital performance in Q2 -- in Q1, sorry, and you touched on the ability to sell across the platform as being a benefit for you versus many of your peers. Can you give us a sense of how you expect working capital to progress into Q2 and beyond? Should we expect further modest investment in Q2 or something more neutral as the pace of prices potentially starts to stabilize?

Arthur Ajemyan -- Chief Financial Officer and Vice President

Yes. Sure, Seth. This is Arthur. Good question. So when you look at Q1, we had, I would say, a significant portion of the kind of working capital build behind us, so to speak, from higher prices, particularly in our accounts receivable, which was up close to $350 million quarter-over-quarter. So we wouldn't anticipate any more significant build in our receivables. But with inventories, there's continued cost escalations so there's probably going to be some additional build there. And then on the payable side, we anticipate having some tax payments in the second quarter that's probably going to be use of cash. So all in all, I think to recap, it's fair to say that the large piece of the working capital build is somewhat behind us.

Seth Rosenfeld -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Thank you

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from Sathish Kasinathan with Deutsche Bank.

Sathish Kasinathan -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Hi, Good morning James, Karla and Arthur. Thanks for taking my questions. My first question is on the M&A landscape. Given the current high profitability across the industry, are you seeing any reduction in available opportunities? And when do you think there could be a turnaround?

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Sathish, thanks for the question. Yes, the M&A front, it's active. We continue to see activity there. We've, like I said in the last call, looked at over 100 of them last year and didn't see the one that made sense or things just didn't work out. But right now, the -- what we're looking at looks fine. That's just not traditional metal service centers. We're also looking at adjacent type businesses. So we're open to good companies. We don't -- I'm sure you've heard before, we don't set a goal like we're going to buy three companies this year, five companies this year. We just look at them as they come. We're always on the prowl looking for good companies. We have a strict criteria to kind of -- to get into the family of companies. We protect that, very proud of it.

We care about the people we want to be part of the team. And there are some fine companies out there. It's just a matter of whether they are for sale and what kind of they think they're worth or what we think they're worth or both. There's some fine companies out there. We'll continue to look at those things. It's a part of our model, it has been for a long period of time. We've done 67 of them. There's no reason to think that the pipeline is empty because it's not. But we'll just -- we'll continue to work hard.

We'll do our due diligence. And we've proven over a long period of time, if you buy the right company and they fit in Reliance, that we can really do good things. So we'll continue to do that. Now M&A, that's just one of the avenues that we're able to use our cash for. So we're in a good situation with cash, and we'll continue to do the prudent thing but -- with that cash, like we always have. But M&A is certainly a part of that. And that's all I can really say right now without telling everything I know, but there's a lot of good companies out there to look at. Karla, you might have something to add to that.

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Yes. I would just add on to that. As Jim said, obviously, M&A is part of our growth strategy but so is organic growth. And we talk about our large capex budget. We see a lot of continued growth opportunities, and a lot of that is spread out across our network. But at the same time, for instance, in last year's budget, we have the two tolling operations that we talked about: one at Kentucky and one in Texas.

Those are new start-ups. Individually, they're as big and bigger than the contribution we can get from some of the acquisitions that we do. So I think maybe we don't always point that out as much, that some of those projects are similar to doing an acquisition. We just usually make more of a splash when we do it through an acquisition. So there is definitely growth continuing on the organic side as well.

Arthur Ajemyan -- Chief Financial Officer and Vice President

And just one thing to add there. Karla is right. We're also -- we've worked our way into a position where we can be selective. We've already talked about that. But sometimes, you look at a company in a particular part of the world and you think, "Well, do we buy that company and pay a premium? Or do we simply dip into our capex fund and add some equipment with one of the companies we already own?" So that takes into -- you should take that into consideration when you look at our M&A activity. It's a pretty good place to be, but that is part of our thought process.

Sathish Kasinathan -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Yes, yes. That's helpful color. My second question is on Nonres Construction. Given the strong order backlog, are you adding or even planning to add additional crews to cater to the increased demand?

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Yes. So on the nonres side, that's our largest end market, and we're very positive on that. We have continued to invest in our operations servicing nonres consistently with additional value-added processing equipment, also expanding facilities. So we think we're in a very good position. We've been selective. We're focused on high-quality earnings and trying to do more value-add for the right orders. But we do have, as we've mentioned before, additional capacity in our current network to take on more volumes. So whether that comes from more traditional nonres, if the infrastructure bill passes and we see a significant pickup there, which would be very positive for us, we do have the capabilities because we have consistently invested in these operations over the years.

Sathish Kasinathan -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from Phil Gibbs with KeyBanc Capital Markets. Please proceed with your question.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Just listening to the previous questions, whatever you're doing, keep doing it. It's working. The demand environment right now, Jim and Karla, for April, how is that shaping up so far relative to what you saw in March just in terms of how the cadence has progressed through the first quarter and into April?

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Phil, yes, it continues. We're not giving you specifics. It's -- just because the quarter changed calendars, it didn't change the market. So it continues to do what it's doing. To quote a friend of mine, we're still working our mojo. So if we continue to do that, we'll have another quarter. So yes, just to answer your question, it continues.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. Great. Is Will on the call at all?

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Phill?

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Yes, Phil, I'm here.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hi, Will how are you?

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Great.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

There was some commentary earlier in the call about defense and space being solid this year with, I think, even, you said, increasing backlogs. In terms of the big major programs where the push is happening, any specifics you could give behind that?

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Well, just our -- one of the larger programs that we support is the Joint Strike Fighter, and that activity level is strong and continues to be strong. And I think that outlook, as we said, for the balance of the year should continue. And -- but then just overall, when you look at program after program, there's a lot of activity on the military and defense and space side. So it's great, seeing a little bit of the downturn that we've had to deal with on the commercial aerospace side, that we do have some offset in these other markets.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. That's great. And then just on some of the signs that you all are seeing in oil and gas and maybe some select inventory replenishment. Is that something that you all expect to accelerate as the year progresses? And is that purely a domestic comment? Or is that a global comment as well?

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Phil, so on the oil and gas side, remember, too, where we participate. We're not in the big OCTG or line pipe products. So in the areas where we participate, and we tried to make it clear, it wasn't a huge increase. But kind of any activity was positive activity. It's good to see our folks down in Houston smiling again. So we're pleased to see some activity.

We think more of it's probably maintenance and repair as opposed to any significant new growth. That's more on the domestic side. So we do see our customers coming in, asking us for quotes again that we haven't seen for a while. We're seeing them have some holes in certain parts of their inventory. Other parts, there's still plenty of inventory out there. But it was just -- especially compared to the low levels in the fourth quarter, it was positive to see some activity starting there. We think that, that will continue but again, at kind of slow, moderate rates as we move through the year. International, that has held up better than domestic, so that stayed more steady from an international standpoint.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Phil, we also participate in renewable energy as well, and the activity there is good.

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

And then last question, just out of curiosity, given all the swirling headlines on semiconductor shortages and OE outages. You obviously participate aggressively in automotive through your tolling business, which I think, just based on memory, a lot of that's just-in-time. So what are you seeing there in terms of the ebbs and flows on some of the disruptions? What are your customers telling you in terms of what may happen in terms of catch-up, if you are seeing impacts? Just trying to understand and feather that out because there's obviously a lot of things swirling.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Phil, why don't you answer that one?

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Yes. Yes, Phil. As we said, we really saw a minimal impact to that in the first quarter. We do think we'll see slightly more of an impact in Q2. But we're also able -- we're picking up some new business on the tolling side. I think it will partially be offset by some new programs that we have. So we do expect that we'll see a little more of an impact in Q2, but it's still going to be minimal from an overall point of view. And I think if you look at the programs that we support, you know it's more focused on the SUV and truck platforms, and those are the more profitable platforms with the auto guys. So your point of do we think there's going to be some catch-up, absolutely, we do. We think they'll try to ramp up production to offset some of these losses as soon as the chip availability is back in place. So I know that's a focus, and I think all of those OEMs are working hard to minimize the impact of the shortage.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks so much.

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Okay.

Operator

Thank you. [Operator Instructions] Our next question comes from Alex Hacking with Citibank.

Alex Hacking -- Citibank -- Analyst

Yes, good morning and thanks for the time. Regarding the supply chain disruptions that you and everyone else in the industry has been seeing, have you seen any alleviation there? I mean you mentioned that it's continuing into 2Q. But I guess what's the cadence? And then I guess without all these disruptions, do you think demand would be back at pre-COVID levels when you look across the board, even above pre-COVID levels, given some of the restocking activity that's going on? Thank you very much.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

That's a great question. I can just tell you what our crystal ball says. The -- on the metal side, it sounds like the mills are ramping up, which is a good thing. So that should help with that end. As far as the supply chain issues, I'm assuming you're referring to computer chips and rubber and all the other things, freight and all those types of things that are existing right now. All those things have a tendency to work themselves out. I don't think they -- that will change. It's just a matter of when they all work out. Our thoughts are and our hopes are that people will have learned their lesson.

I mean long supply chains don't work very well, and Reliance for decades has recognized that and we are short. Our decision to support our domestic suppliers isn't because they're all good-looking folks, although they are. It's just a matter of they're here, and it's a shorter supply chain. So I hope people learn that. It sounds like some are. I've read certain chip manufacturers are going to bring some production and manufacturing to the United States, which is a great step. So I -- and Karla, you may have some more on that, but we're optimistic about things getting better.

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Yes. Alex, as we kind of said in our prepared remarks, we feel that underlying demand is strong and that first quarter shipments would have been stronger if not for some of these disruptions. And we see that -- we do see that continuing into Q2. There are a lot of different factors affecting the supply chain, so it's hard to really talk specifically about the cadence except that we do think they will still be there. But we also believe that underlying demand is strong based on what we hear from our customers. In addition to actual like chips and rubber and things like that, there's also the issue with labor shortages.

We do hear from a lot of our customers that if they had qualified people to fill jobs, that they would be at higher production levels. Also, there are the freight shortages because of the activity that's out there. Reliance, remember that we actually manage -- own and manage our own fleet of trucks, so we think that's a real advantage for us in markets like this -- in all markets but including in the current one.

So we're very confident we can deliver to our customers. There's a bit more of a difficulty getting metal into some of our locations where we rely on third parties a little more. But we work very closely with our domestic mills and are looking at creative solutions to try to help with that as well. But we do think that's an advantage, but we see a lot of those pressures continuing into the second quarter.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

I think this is a really good lesson on the quote that cheap is expensive. I think people are learning that again this time around. So let's -- I'll keep our fingers crossed that people will remember at this time.

Alex Hacking -- Citibank -- Analyst

Okay. Thanks for calling. It sounds like there's a lot of pent-up demand still out there, waiting to be filled. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. We have reached the end of the question-and-answer session. And I will now turn the call over to Jim Hoffman, CEO, for closing remarks.

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Great. Thanks to all of you on the call today for your time and attention. We are thrilled with the strong operational execution demonstrated by the entire Reliance team, which contributed to our record financial achievements in the first quarter of 2021, none of which would have been possible without the hard work and relentless commitment to health, safety and the well-being of our colleagues in the field.

Lastly before we sign off, I would like to remind all of you that we will be participating virtually in the following upcoming investor conferences in May: Wells Fargo Industrials Conference, Goldman Sachs Industrials and Materials Conference and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Metals, Mining & Steel Conference. We hope many -- we hope to see many of you at these events. And thank you very much for your continued support and commitment to Reliance. Please stay safe and healthy.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 51 minutes

Call participants:

Kimberly Orlando -- Senior Vice President

James D. Hoffman -- Chief Executive Officer

Karla R. Lewis -- President

Arthur Ajemyan -- Chief Financial Officer and Vice President

William K. Sales -- Executive Vice President of Operations

Seth Rosenfeld -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Sathish Kasinathan -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Phil Gibbs -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Alex Hacking -- Citibank -- Analyst

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