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Applied Industrial Technologies Inc (AIT) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

By Motley Fool Transcribers - Apr 29, 2021 at 11:01PM

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AIT earnings call for the period ending March 31, 2021.

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Applied Industrial Technologies Inc (AIT -0.30%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Apr 29, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to the Fiscal 2021 Third Quarter Earnings Call for Applied Industrial Technologies. My name is Cheryl, and I'll be your operator for today's call. [Operator Instructions] I will now turn the call over to Ryan Cieslak, Director of Investor Relations and Treasury. Ryan, you may begin.

Ryan Dale Cieslak -- Director of IR & Assistant Treasurer

Okay. Thanks, Cheryl, and good morning to everyone on the call. Hope you're all doing well. This morning, we issued our earnings release and supplemental investor deck detailing our third quarter results. Both of these documents are available in the Investor Relations section of applied.com. Before we begin, just a reminder, we'll discuss our business outlook and make forward-looking statements. All forward-looking statements are based on current expectations subject to certain risks, including the potential impact from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as trends in sectors and geographies, the success of our business strategy and other risk factors.

Actual results may differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements. The company undertakes no obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statement. In addition, the conference call will use non-GAAP financial measures, which are subject to the qualifications referenced in those documents. Our speakers today include Neil Schrimsher, Applied's President and Chief Executive Officer; as well as Dave Wells, our Chief Financial Officer. With that, I'll turn it over to Neil.

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thanks, Ryan, and good morning, everyone. We appreciate you joining us, and hope you're doing well. I'll start today with some perspective on our third quarter results, current industry conditions and our position going forward. Dave will follow with a summary of our most recent quarter performance as well as some specifics on our forward outlook, and then I'll close with some final thoughts. Overall, we had a strong third quarter. That highlight solid execution and a number of positive trends developing across the business. I want to recognize the entire Applied team through the foundation of the strong results you see materializing across our company today. Their perseverance and operational focus over the past year reflects our one Applied culture and puts us in a great spot entering a period of significant potential for the company.

As it relates to the quarter's performance, I want to emphasize four key points that stand out. First, we saw a sustained recovery in demand that accelerated into March. Secondly, our technical and solutions focused value proposition is driving incremental growth opportunities. Third, we are managing supply chain and channel dynamics very well. And our final key point, we are benefiting from a leaner cost structure. With regard to the broader demand recovery, underlying trends improved across the business as the quarter progressed, driving daily sales above normal seasonal patterns and our expectations. Combined with the initial lapping of prior year pandemic-related weakness, sales returned to modest year-over-year growth following double-digit declines over the past three quarters.

Trends were strongest in March and have sustained positive momentum into the early part of our fiscal fourth quarter with organic sales through the first 19 days of April up approximately 10% over the prior year. So with the last quarter, we're seeing greater break fix and recurring maintenance activity across our Service Center customer base as production continues to ramp and capacity comes back online. The rebound in activity is currently greatest among larger strategic accounts. So we're seeing encouraging signs across local accounts as well. Demand across our Fluid Power & Flow Control segment is also building, with orders and backlog up sequentially and year-over-year during the quarter.

When looking across our customer end markets, areas such as food and beverage, aggregates, technology, lumber and wood, chemicals and pulp and paper remain the strongest. And we are seeing improved order momentum across heavy industries, including metals, mining and machinery, where sequential sales trends improved from last quarter. Given the break-fix intensity and related service requirements of these heavier industries, the improvement is a favorable development. We're also seeing greater growth opportunities tied to various secular trends in our technical position. In our Service Center segment, we believe our local presence, scale and service capabilities are increasingly valuable post the pandemic as customers address their increasing production and labor requirements while adhering to new facility protocols and mitigating supply chain risk.

In our Fluid Power & Flow Control segment, we continue to see strong demand tailwinds tied to 5G infrastructure, cloud computing and other growing technologies, including providing solutions across the semiconductor manufacturing channel. Customers are proactively investing in solutions that optimize the productivity, safety and efficiency of their production infrastructure and equipment. This is driving demand for our leading Fluid Power service and engineered solutions capabilities as well as encouraging organic growth and backlog across our expanding automation business, focused on vision, robotics and digital solutions. Our automation team is making solid early progress connecting their premier engineering and application expertise across our growing footprint and legacy customer base.

Overall, the current demand backdrop and forward indicators, including commentary from our sales teams, is encouraging and leaves us optimistic on the near-term outlook. That said, inherent risks and uncertainties still exist as the recovery remains early, following in an unprecedented downturn. We're keeping a close eye on emerging supply chain constraints across the industrial sector. While consistent with typical early cycle dynamics, lead times are extending across certain product categories. A greater number of suppliers are highlighting component delays, as broader production capacity and logistics catch up to the demand recovery. The direct impact to our operations and performance has been modest to date.

However, we expect a tighter industrial supply chain to persist as industry capacity and labor adjust following the pandemic. We believe our strong industry position, local presence, sourcing capabilities and strategic supplier relationships put us in a solid spot to manage these dynamics well and meet our customers' critical supply chain needs. In addition to encouraging top line performance, the improving demand environment, combined with our strong channel execution, drove gross margin expansion during the third quarter. We are seeing greater number of suppliers announced price increases in recent months. To date, supplier price increases aligned with our broader early cycle expectations, though the backdrop remains fluid as suppliers deal with higher raw material and supply chain costs.

We have an established track record of effectively managing supplier inflation through the cycle. This reflects our industry position, exposure to break-fix activity and engineered Solutions and systems mix as well as ongoing self-help gross margin opportunities. We remain highly focused on our requirements as well as leveraging our channel position as we look to optimize with our suppliers and serve customers' growth and supply chain initiatives. Our third quarter results also reflect emerging benefits from a leaner cost structure, following business rationalization in recent years and operational efficiencies gained from processes, systems and talent across the organization.

Combined with our cost discipline, we grew adjusted EBITDA firmly above the rate of sales growth and expanded margins in the quarter. While growth requirements will influence our operating cost trajectory going forward, third quarter results are encouraging and provide insight into our operational leverage and EBITDA margin expansion potential as the demand recovery continues to unfold. And then lastly, our balance sheet is in a very solid position, following record cash generation year-to-date. We believe our margin expansion potential and ongoing working capital initiatives will allow us to drive stronger cash conversion through the cycle relative to history, enhancing our ability to accelerate growth and enhance stakeholder returns. Our M&A pipeline remains active, and a primary focus for capital deployment as we look to further expand our automation, fluid power and flow control offerings. At this time, I'll turn the call over to Dave for additional detail on our financial results and outlook.

David K. Wells -- Vice President, Chief Financial

Thanks, Neil. Before we begin, a reminder regarding the availability of the supplemental investor deck, which is posted to our investor site each quarter for your additional reference as we discuss our most recent quarter performance. Now turning to our results for the quarter. Consolidated sales increased 1.2% over the prior year quarter. Acquisitions contributed 1.8 points of growth, and foreign currencies increased quarter sales by 0.6%. This was partially offset by one less selling day over the prior year period, typically impacted sales by 1.6%.

Net these factors, sales increased 0.4% on an organic daily basis. Average daily sales rates increased over 8% sequentially on an organic basis versus the prior quarter, which was higher than our normal seasonal trends. Excluding some weather-related disruption during February, underlying sales activity strengthened sequentially as the quarter progressed, including accelerating trends during March. Sales performance was relatively consistent across both segments, as highlighted on Slides six and seven. Sales in our Service Center segment increased 0.4% year-over-year on an organic daily basis when excluding the impact from foreign currency and one less selling day in the quarter. This represents a notable improvement from the double-digit declines in the recent quarters and partially reflects easier comparisons as we begin to lap the onset of the pandemic in March.

The segment's average daily sales rate has now improved over 18% from the fiscal '20 June quarter. Underlying demand improvement was broad-based during the quarter, though end markets such as food and beverage, aggregates, pulp and paper, lumber and forestry and chemicals remain most productive right now. As Neil mentioned, we are also seeing improved sequential trends from heavier industries, while growth across our international operations has provided additional support. Within our Fluid Power & Flow Control segment, sales increased 4.5% over the prior year quarter with our recent acquisitions of ACS and Gibson Engineering contributing 5.9 points of growth. On an organic daily basis, segment sales increased 0.2%.

The segment benefited from favorable demand within technology, life sciences and chemical end markets as well as improving trends across off-highway mobile applications. This benefit was partially offset by ongoing year-over-year declines across certain industrial and process-related end markets, albeit an improved rate. We are seeing greater demand for our Fluid Power solutions tied to electronic control integration, equipment optimization and automation. In addition, demand across our emerging automation platform is showing positive momentum with related organic sales, orders and backlog, all growing during the quarter. Moving now to gross margin performance. As highlighted on Page eight of the deck, gross margin of 29.4%, improved 43 basis points year-over-year or 29 basis points when excluding noncash LIFO expense of $0.8 million in the quarter and $2 million in the prior year quarter.

On a sequential basis, gross margins improved over 50 basis points. The improvement primarily reflects strong channel execution, effective price cost management, the improving demand environment and the benefit of ongoing internal initiatives. Turning to our operating costs. On an adjusted basis, distribution and administrative expenses declined 3.4% year-over-year or approximately 6% when excluding incremental operating costs associated with our ACS and Gibson Engineering acquisitions. Adjusted SG&A excludes $2.6 million of nonroutine income recorded in the third quarter of fiscal 2021 and $3.9 million of nonroutine expense in the prior year quarter. The year-over-year decline primarily reflects our ongoing discipline and controlling cost as well as the benefit of a leaner cost structure following business rationalization executed over the past several years.

Another key driver of SG&A productivity is the efficiency gains we continue to realize from operational excellence initiatives, leverage of our shared services model and technology investments, while T&E, bad debt and amortization expense were also lower year-over-year. These dynamics more than offset the elimination during the quarter of various temporary cost actions, which we had implemented this time last year in response to the pandemic. Overall, our strong cost control, combined with improving sales and gross margin, drove favorable operating leverage in the quarter. As a result, adjusted EBITDA grew over 14% year-over-year and 27% sequentially, while adjusted EBITDA margin was 10.3%, up 119 basis points over the prior year.

On a GAAP basis, we reported earnings per share of $1.42, which includes the previously referenced nonroutine income. On a non-GAAP adjusted basis, excluding this item, we reported earnings per share of $1.37, which compared to $1.02 in the prior year quarter. Our adjusted tax rate during the quarter of 18%, was below prior year levels of 23.3% and our guidance of 23% to 25%. The adjusted tax rate during the quarter includes several discrete benefits related to income tax credits and stock option exercises. Excluding this benefit, as we move into our fourth quarter, we believe a tax rate of 23% is an appropriate assumption near term. Moving to our cash flow performance and liquidity. Cash generated from operating activities during the third quarter was $44.1 million, while free cash flow totaled $40.3 million.

Despite emerging growth and related working capital investments, cash flow in the quarter exceeded our expectations, primarily reflecting ongoing benefits from our operating working capital management initiatives, including cross-functional inventory planning, enhanced collection standard work and leverage of our shared services model, all supported with recent investments in technology. Year-to-date, we have generated record free cash of $191 million, which is up 25% from prior year levels and represents 150% of adjusted net income. Given the strong cash flow performance of the quarter, we ended March with approximately $304 million of cash on hand. Net leverage stood at 1.9 times adjusted EBITDA at quarter end below the prior year level of 2.5 times in fiscal '21 second quarter level of 2.1 times.

In addition, our revolver remains undrawn with approximately $250 million of capacity and additional $250 million accordion auction. Combining with incremental capacity on our recently expanded AR securitization facility and uncommitted private placement shelf facility, our liquidity remains strong. This provides flexibility to fund incremental working capital requirements in the coming quarters as customer demand continues to improve as well as pursue strategic M&A, fund other growth initiatives and pay down additional debt where appropriate. In addition, given our improved outlook and solid liquidity position, we will look to deploy excess cash through opportunistic share buybacks and dividends as the cycle recovery continues to unfold.

Transitioning now to our outlook. Based on month-to-date trends in April and assuming normal sequential patterns, we would expect our fiscal fourth quarter 2021 organic sales to increase by 12% to 13% on a year-over-year basis. This includes an assumption of double-digit to low-teen organic growth in our Service Center segment and high single-digit to low double-digit organic growth in our Fluid Power & Flow Control segment. As a reminder, we will be fully lapping prior year weakness from the pandemic, which resulted in an 18.4% organic sales decline in last year's fiscal fourth quarter. In addition, this direction is meant to provide a starting framework on how fourth quarter sales could shape our trends followed almost seasonality going forward.

While year-to-date sales trends have exceeded normal seasonality as the recovery has unfolded, we believe a prudent approach remains warranted as we continue to recover from an unprecedented downturn. In addition, as Neil highlighted earlier, we remain mindful of increasing supply chain constraints across the industrial sector, which could influence the cadence and trajectory of activity near term. Based on the 12% to 13% organic sales growth assumption, we believe a low double-digit to mid-teen incremental margin is an appropriate benchmark to use for our fourth quarter. This assumes gross margins moderate slightly on a sequential basis into the fourth quarter but continue to expand year-over-year.

The sequential moderation primarily reflects considerations throughout Service Center segment mix as sales from larger strategic accounts continue to recover at a faster pace as compared to local accounts near term as well as slightly higher LIFO expense. We remain focused on our internal margin initiatives and deploying countermeasures, including pricing actions in response to increasing supplier inflation. As it relates to operating expense, we expect SG&A to increase sequentially, reflecting higher incentive compensation, additional growth-related investment and the ongoing normalization of medical cost. We also have one additional payroll day in our fiscal fourth quarter this year versus our recent third quarter.

We continue to take a balanced approach to managing our operating costs. Our expense margin execution year-to-date is encouraging and provides strong indication of our potential going forward, including our target of mid- to high-teen incremental margins on average over an up cycle. That said, keep in mind that our incremental margins could vary over the next several quarters and into fiscal 2022 as we look to support our growth initiatives and we face the ongoing normalization of medical and selling-related expenses. Lastly, from a cash flow perspective, we expect free cash to moderate into the fourth quarter as AR levels cyclical build and we replenish inventory at a greater pace in support of our growth opportunities and the recovery. We remain confident in our cash generation potential and reiterate our normalized annual free cash target reach to 100% of net income over a cycle. With that, I will now turn the call back over to Neil for some final comments.

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thanks, Dave. As we close out fiscal 2021, I'm encouraged by what I see developing across our company. Our value proposition, technical industry focus and expansion into emerging industrial solutions provides a clear path for favorable growth going forward. We have the most comprehensive portfolio and technical service capabilities, premier engineered solution expertise and greatest track record of consistency and commitment to this vital space. Our local presence and ongoing talent investment provides further support to this foundation. Now more than ever, these attributes are critical to suppliers and customers as they accelerate growth investments and solidify supply chains ahead of a potential extended up cycle.

Emerging signs of reshoring and investment in industrial infrastructure are promising and could represent notable tailwinds for our business, if they fully materialize, while our expanding automation footprint is presenting new growth opportunities in faster-growing and higher-margin industrial applications. And lastly, our cross-selling initiative remains in the early innings, but is gaining momentum with related business wins increasing and broader teams engaged. Considering our embedded customer base, and addressable market exceeding $70 billion and growing, we believe this initiative represents a significant opportunity that should expand our share across both legacy and emerging market verticals in coming years. Combined with our self-help margin initiatives and strong balance, we have great potential to accelerate our earnings power and stakeholder returns long term. So once again, we thank you for your continued support. And with that, we'll open up the lines for your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from Michael McGinn from Wells Fargo. Please go ahead your line is open.

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

Hey, good morning everybody. Great quarter. I just want go back to the acquisitions. I think in the you mentioned, they added 15, what you were expecting maybe at the onset of guidance, like 11 to 13. So that's like a 25%. So we're -- now I'm just trying to square, is that like were you expecting some declines in those businesses and that 25% is the case of growth? Can you talk about how fast some of your new plays are growing at the moment?

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yes, Michael, I would say, I think we talk collectively, the run rate on the businesses prior were around $100 million in the expectations, maybe in the 10 to 11 for the two most recent additions, ACS and Gibson. I think the -- we're seeing, they are seeing the benefits of greater entrants back into customers to implement projects and have those commissions. So we're seeing that come through as an encouraging sign. And then we continue to work than the cross opportunities with customers. So if I look back at the businesses in the space, it has the capability in normal times to be at a high single digit, maybe double-digit area in the side. Obviously, in this, we're going to be looking for opportunities to further accelerate. But a little bit better than our expectations, which I think is a sign of, one, the performance and two things opening back up in some of those industry positions and customer base.

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

Okay. Question relates to -- you mentioned some of the as we this recovery, some of the working capital considerations, I'm interested in some of the people considerations. You have a a decent team of, I guess, I would call them spec engineers supporting that Fluid Power segment. What is the capacity within that team there? Do you foresee yourself adding more people or consolidating into a center of excellence for those spec engineers, I guess, I would call them?

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Right. So both application engineers and then some engineering support that goes on as we configure and build the systems. And so I'd say our deployment model is both. We will have local engineers inside of those operations in our facilities. But we also have centralized teams and expertise to help and use good engineering tools and software that can help us meet surging demands across and kind of share work across facilities or across engineering areas of expertise. So we feel like we are in a very good position right now. We continue to be active. We will beyond campus to make quality additions to the team, but we feel like we are in a good spot right now. And the team is excited as they get to engineer and be involved in more customer applications, more product application than more technology opportunities.

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

Thanks.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question comes from David Manthey from Baird.

David Manthey -- Baird -- Analyst

Thank you. Hi, good morning guys.

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Good morning.

David Manthey -- Baird -- Analyst

So first off, just as we track what constitutes normal sequential patterns on a consolidated basis, is typical seasonality the way you think about it sort of down low single in the first quarter, up low single second quarter, up mid-single third quarter and then flattish in the fourth quarter? Is that a decent template to use as we gauge this going forward?

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

That would be.

Christopher M. Dankert -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

Okay. All right. Then in the FPFC segment, could you parse out trends you're seeing in hydraulics versus Flow Control? Any disparity between those two parts of that segment?

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yes. I don't know if there's a great disparity in it. The hydraulics business has had the benefit of continued work of connecting electronics to solutions and for construction off-highway mobile applications. So perhaps a little stronger than flow control, but we were encouraged by the progress in the quarter and seeing orders and backlog increase there. There is a chemical refinery segment. It was maybe more late cycle in this recovery, and that is a portion of that Flow Control business. But the team is also doing a nice job and it's focused on its diversification on space of hygienics, food and beverage, personal care, pharma and some of those others. And so that diversification is also helping the Flow Control business.

David Manthey -- Baird -- Analyst

Okay. That makes sense. And then when the pandemic started, I seem to remember the theory was that some of these process industries just unplugged and walked away and that there would be some sort of a greater level of Service Center sales as they crank production back up. Have you seen any sort of restart type of sales? Or are the accelerating sales you're seeing on the Service Center side just mainly break fix and kind of routine production-related sales, if there's any way you have visibility for that?

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yes. I think especially in discussions with the team and with customers, we are seeing greater break-fix activity as capacity and production ramps, but also the work on the teams on projects to be ahead. I think there is a good recognition and seeing trends come through. If you were idled for a longer period of time or took down normally continuous operating equipment, you were experiencing a few more issues. So I think now the work is going on, when do they plan a downtime to administer some of these projects. But right, it's a ramping environment. And so it's a little harder for some of those customers to say, I want to plan for these cycles. So we're seeing perhaps some rolling projects, some smaller projects until they can feel like they can get to a point for a little bit of extended shutdown. And I think with that, those won't be multiple weeks, maybe weeks and weekends that we'll see that activity go on.

David Manthey -- Baird -- Analyst

Okay. Thanks a lot Neil. I appreciate it.

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. At this time, I'm we have no further questions. I'll now turn the call back to Mr. Neil Schrimsher.

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

All right. Thank you very much. So a busy earnings time, I can tell. And hopefully, a clean, straightforward quarter and a positive view on the outlook. We do look forward to connecting with many of you as we go throughout the quarter. So thank you for taking the time and joining us today.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 34 minutes

Call participants:

Ryan Dale Cieslak -- Director of IR & Assistant Treasurer

Neil A. Schrimsher -- President, Chief Executive Officer & Director

David K. Wells -- Vice President, Chief Financial

Michael McGinn -- Wells Fargo -- Analyst

David Manthey -- Baird -- Analyst

Christopher M. Dankert -- Longbow Research LLC -- Analyst

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