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Arcos Dorados Holdings Inc (ARCO)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
May 12, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining our First Quarter 2021 Earnings Webcast. With us today are Marcelo Rabach, our Chief Executive Officer; Luis Raganato, our Chief Operating Officer; and Mariano Tannenbaum, our Chief Financial Officer.

Today's webcast, which is being recorded, will consist of prepared remarks from our leadership team, which will be accompanied by a slide presentation also available in the Investors section of our website, www.arcosdorados.com/ir. As a reminder to better view the presentation on the webcast platform, we suggest you scroll over the upper left hand part of the screen and click on the arrows to maximize the slides. After our speakers conclude their opening remarks, we will answer your questions, which you can submit using the chat function on the left hand side of the screen.

Before turning the call over to Marcelo, I would like to make the following Safe Harbor statement. Today's call will contain forward-looking statements and I refer you to the Forward-Looking Statement section of our earnings release and recent filings with the SEC. We assume no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements to reflect new or changed events or circumstances. In addition to reporting financial results in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, we report certain non-GAAP financial results. Investors are encouraged to review the reconciliation of these non-GAAP financial results as compared with GAAP results, which can be found in the press release and unaudited financial statements filed today with the SEC on Form 6-K.

Our discussion today excludes the results of the Venezuelan operation both at the consolidated level, as well as for the Caribbean division due to the country's ongoing macroeconomic volatility. For your reference, we include a full income statement excluding Venezuela with our earnings release.

Marcelo, over to you.

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Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Dan, and thanks to all of you for joining us on today's webcast.

I will start with an overview of our first quarter 2021 results and given how dynamic the operating conditions continue to be, I will also comment on more recent trends in the business. Luis will take you through the divisional sales results and other important operating highlights from the quarter. Then Mariano will review our profitability by division as well as growth investments and capital structure. Finally, before we take your questions, I will review our priorities for the rest of 2021.

To understand our performance in the first quarter of 2021, we think it is important to remember how we began 2020. Through February, comparable sales were up 10.9% last year and profitability was strong in the first two months of the year as well. The pandemic did not have a material impact on our results until the middle of March when the quickly spreading virus led governments across the region to implement curfews, lockdowns and other restrictions. As you know from our 2020 results, we took proactive and decisive action that successfully minimized the impact of the first wave on our business. We saw a steady normalization in the market after the pandemic peaked in April of last year. In fact, our systemwide comparable sales were down just single digits by the fourth quarter of 2020 and turned positive in the first quarter of this year.

With that context and background, let's take a closer look at our first quarter 2021 results. Systemwide comparable sales were up 2.1% for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2019, despite ongoing government-imposed restrictions on our ability to operate all our restaurants at full capacity. There are several differences between last year's performance, which included two weeks of pandemic impact and this year's first quarter, which saw operating restrictions throughout the period.

I will highlight three. First, government restrictions are more targeted. In nearly every market, dining room capacity is still severely limited. Most markets also imposed operating hour restrictions that require restaurants to close as early as 6 PM. Meaning, we cannot take full advantage of the important dinner and late-night dayparts. Still, we have been able to operate at least 91% of all restaurants this year, whereas last year, we were forced to close to 50% as well as 100% of dining rooms at the peak of the crisis. By the way, currently around 98% of our restaurants are operating at least one sales segment and two-thirds are operating, all segments.

Second, we have adapted the business to the realities on the ground and focused on the core menu and three Ds of drive-thru, delivery and digital. We enjoy a significant competitive advantage across all three pillars, which has ensured that guests are finding more ways to enjoy McDonald's with each passing day. Our drive-thru service times are much faster and more efficient than ever, without sacrificing customer satisfaction and hit new volume records in the last several months. Delivery volumes have also grown significantly, thanks to extraordinary operational improvement and reduced delivery times. And the digital platform continues adding capabilities and sophistication to our marketing and e-commerce efforts.

Finally, our guests trust the McDonald's brand more than any other, with the most extensive freestanding restaurant footprint and largest delivery market share, supported by the industry benchmark McProtegidos program, yet surveys confirm that we offer the safest restaurant experience in Latin America and the Caribbean. When we built the plan for this year, we assumed the first half would remain challenging and that we could see a return of tighter restrictions in some markets. But as I just explained, the duration and impact of these restrictions has been much lower this year. We are still hopeful that by the middle of the year, there will be enough progress in vaccinations to support a full revival in the operating environment in the second half.

Even if our assumption is off by a month or two, recent underlying trends in the business, give us confidence in the direction of the plan. In the case of Brazil, we are seeing how quickly sales levels recover once government restrictions are relaxed. Compared with 2019, sales in the first week of April were down 40%. By the last week of the month, sales had recovered to down 20%, and in the first week of May, sales are already back to within 10% of the same period in 2019. This is what we mean when we say that this year's restrictions should be shorter lived and less impactful on our results this year, even though the operating environment is still far from normalized.

I will now turn it over to Luis for a look at divisional topline results and other operating highlights in the first quarter.

Luis Raganato -- Chief Operating Officer

Thanks. Marcelo.

All four Arcos Dorados divisions, generated another sequential improvement in comparable sales despite ongoing operating restrictions in all markets. Results were the strongest in two divisions, the Caribbean where Puerto Rico and the French West Indies drove the positive result after being the hardest hit division in last year's first quarter, and SLAD where comparable sales exceeded the division's blended inflation rate by about 4 percentage points, mostly thanks to strong results in Chile and Argentina. NOLAD continued on its path of gradual sequential improvement in comparable sales across all three of its markets. Brazil started the quarter well but finished in line with its fourth quarter result due to tighter government restrictions throughout the month of March. As you just heard from Marcelo, those restrictions continued into April, but in the first week of May, we were already at 90% of 2019 comparable sales.

Importantly, according to CREST, the McDonald's brand gained 4 percentage points of market share in the quarter, reaching its highest level ever in the CREST study. We believe this is a tremendous vote of confidence and demonstrates the trust we have earned from Brazilian consumers through this period. These results show the long-term benefits of operating a single brand across a vast geographic footprint. We are able to focus on operational excellence by sharing best practices and learnings from market to market, while building the region's best restaurant portfolio and without diluting management's attention or the Company's resources among competing brands.

By operating the brand throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, we have also been able to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, given the diverse economies, currencies and consumer environment in the region. The three Ds are the main business drivers with no signs of slowing down in the quarter. Drive-thru sales were up more than 55% in constant currency and contributed 39% of systemwide sales.

Throughout the quarter and in response to the modern way people are traveling today, we encouraged guests to visit our drive-thru lanes any way they like, by car, motorcycle, bicycle or any other means of transportation. As a result, awareness of the versatility of the drive-thru segment among consumers, rose from an average of around 25% to more than 45% across many of our most important markets.

Delivery growth remained strong as well, rising more than 200% in constant currency and contributing 17% of systemwide sales in the quarter. As a central pillar of our 3D strategy, the delivery segment is benefiting from at least three factors: strong volume growth from sustained consumer demand; targeted marketing and digital initiatives to leverage group orders; and higher average check, which supported our highest-ever quarterly delivery sales. The business model for this sales segment, which has seen significant gains in popularity with consumers, is evolving. There are now 93 restaurants in Argentina and 45 restaurants in Brazil running self delivery pilots. We are on the right track with self-delivery, but before we can expand this capability and take it to other markets, we need to offer the best consumer experience and ensure it seamless, no matter who is executing that delivery.

The Advance team continues driving sales with about 37% of sales coming through digital channels in the quarter. The McDonald's mobile app has the highest user rating in the industry and it has surpassed 52 million downloads as of last week with mobile order on build sales starting to gain momentum as well. According to App Annie, at the end of the first quarter of 2021, we had more than two times the number of active users as our closest competitor in our key markets including a 30 percentage point expansion in the gap since last year. As we continue our journey from mass marketing to mass personalization, we are exploring different avenues to increase guest visit frequency. Latin America's growth potential is not limited to, just opening restaurants. In fact, organic growth through an increase in visit frequency can be just as powerful a growth engine.

One lever we are using to increase frequency is the drive-thru VIP club loyalty program. I already told you about the increased awareness of the versatility of this segment. This helped the loyalty program, which was available in 10 countries during the first quarter, already reached 1.1 million registered members. In April, we launched the program in Brazil to leverage the competitive advantage provided by more than 470 freestanding restaurants in that market. So far, visit frequency is much higher than the average mobile app user.

Visit frequency will also increase as we move to mass personalization. Our CRM capabilities are already starting to interact with guest on an individual basis, using their past orders and other mobile app usage data to send personalized messages and offers. We will soon rollout customized mobile app home screens further strengthening each guest personal connection with the brand.

Finally, guests will continue choosing the brands and experiences they trust and where they feel the safest. To that end, we are keeping a strong focus on the McProtegidos program and protocols to ensure that consumers choose the McDonald's experience more often than any other restaurant in the region.

Mariano, over to you.

Mariano Tannenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks Luis.

On our last call, we told you that January and February results were roughly in line with our internal expectations. As Marcelo already explained, we assumed the first half of 2021 would remain challenging, but the advances in vaccination programs and other measures, which support a more normalized operating environment and stronger results in the second half of the year. With that in mind, we came close to or exceeded our expectations in the Caribbean, SLAD and NOLAD. Brazil's results, which started off strongly, were impacted by increased government restrictions in March and a weaker-than-expected currency throughout the quarter. Chile and Argentina drove the strong rebound in SLAD's profitability and the Caribbean division result was even more impressive.

EBITDA margin expanded by 840 basis points, if we exclude the $4.7 million non-cash item from last year's results. The 100% company-operated US dollar and euro markets of Puerto Rico and the French West Indies respectively are generating strong cash flows to offset the temporary challenges we are facing in other markets, a clear benefit of operating in more than one market across the region.

On a consolidated basis, the Company's cost structure continues to respond well to the changing operating environment. Gross margin rose 20 basis points versus last year, despite important cost pressures. In addition, better employee productivity and the resumption of growth support from McDonald's allowed us to offset higher occupancy, advertising and promotion, other operating and G&A expenses as a percentage of sales.

Consolidated adjusted EBITDA reached $24.7 million and margin expanded by 30 basis points versus the prior year, excluding last year's non-cash item. We still expect full year profitability to be significantly better versus 2020 starting with the second quarter. The Company's balance sheet remains strong and we generated positive operating cash flows, despite the challenges of renewed government restrictions. We had a very comfortable cash position of $148 million as of the end of the quarter, zero short-term debt outstanding and no long-term debt maturities until 2023.

Cash flows in the quarter included semi-annual interest payments on our 2023 notes and catching up on three of the five deferred royalty payments from last year. As of today, all deferred royalty payments have been made. Net debt remained relatively stable versus the year-end. But as we anticipated, the leverage ratio ticked up modestly given the lower quarterly EBITDA result versus last year. Beginning with the projected improvement in the second quarter profitability, we still expect to end 2021 with a net debt to EBITDA ratio close to the high end of our comfort range.

Capital expenditures in the quarter were $17.6 million. Fortunately, given the investments and construction progress we made at the end of 2020, we were able to open 10 new restaurants in the first quarter, which puts us ahead of our typically back ended openings calendar. All 10 openings were in Brazil, with seven freestanding locations, two in-store and one food court restaurant.

We also modernized 24 restaurants in the quarter bringing the total number of Experience of the Future locations to 767 including about 60% of the Brazilian restaurant footprint. For the year-to-date through April, we have opened 15 new restaurants, adding new freestanding locations in Brazil, Chile and Costa Rica. We have already surpassed the number of openings in all of 2020 and are on track to deliver our targeted 40 openings to 50 openings in 2021. We also remain comfortable with our capex guidance range of $110 million to $130 million this year.

We have successfully navigated the most challenging period of our lifetime by making our company more agile and adaptable. Looking ahead, we will continue investing to capitalize on long-term consumer trends while remaining focused on unlocking the value of the brand and the Company for the benefit of our shareholders.

Marcelo, back to you.

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mariano.

The strategy this year focus is on leveraging McDonald's menu favorites and reenergizing the family business. The pillars of that strategy, are the three Ds plus ESG. And the keys to success are running great restaurants and keeping the McDonald's brand relevant to maximize sales, returns and market share.

With that in mind, our brand-focused marketing campaigns, included the Mequizice campaign in Brazil, focused on guests' individual rituals when enjoying their favorite McDonald's items. In Costa Rica, we celebrated the brand's 50th anniversary in the market by reconnecting guests with their memories of growing up with McDonald's. In Mexico, we brought back the popular McRib sandwich which had not been sold in the market for at least 10 years. Guest response was better than expected to this limited time offer, and we sold out in just three weeks.

Both Caribbean and SLAD ran the drive-thru campaign that Luis described earlier and also boosted chicken sales by leveraging existing menu items such as the Chicken McNuggets, as well as introducing new menu items like the crispy chicken sandwich line in Puerto Rico. This represents a multi-year journey into the chicken segment. And just two months after the introduction, the crispy chicken sandwiches continue exceeding our sales expectations.

And quickly back to Brazil, we had a very successful sponsorship of Big Brother Brasil in the quarter. We chose this television program because of its 60% penetration in Brazilian households and 40% penetration among young consumers. It receives ratings that rival the Super Bowl every single week in the country. The results were 170 million consumers impacted by TV, record mobile app downloads and record Mc delivery sales among others. The show's McDonald's Pajama Party also generated the largest merchandising campaign in the history of Brazil's well-developed reality TV industry.

Later this month, we will join the global McDonald's BTS Meal campaign. The promotion associates K-Pop's most popular group with our iconic Chicken McNuggets. It will be available in six Arcos Dorados markets, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and all three NOLAD markets, and will feature Chicken McNuggets, medium fries and medium beverage and two sauces, sweet chilli and cajun.

I usually conclude my remarks by mentioning news related to the Receta del Futuro, ESG platform. Without taking away from our next Social Impact and Sustainable Development Report that will be published in the next few days, here are a few highlights. This year, we moved closer to an integrated reporting approach by developing the content of this report together with our recent 20-F Annual Report filing. The report, which has been audited by E&Y and follows both GRI and SASB reporting standards, will include new and updated information related to our main ESG pillars, youth opportunity, sustainable sourcing, climate change, packaging and recycling and commitment to families. In the commitment to families section, for example, you will learn about all the changes we have made over the last several years to improve the nutritional content of the Happy Meal, with reduced calories, no added sugar, low sodium and fat content, as well as new fruit and vegetable choices and with no artificial flavors or colors, providing a fun and nutritious option for our young guests to enjoy.

You will also find a more robust section on our efforts to promote diversity and inclusion at Arcos Dorados, which we are adding as a sixth pillar of our Receta del Futuro ESG program. In line with increasing diversity, I am proud to announce that as of July 1, we will be welcoming Karina Montiel to the company's senior leadership team as our new Vice President of Supply Chain. Karina, who began her career with us in 1996 and is the current Finance Director in Brazil, is another example of the deep talent in Arcos Dorados.

I truly believe our management team is second to none and we manage the business according to a long-term strategic view of the Latin American restaurant industry. This is why we have a modernized restaurant portfolio focused on freestanding units and expanding digital platform with the most sophisticated capabilities in the industry, positive operating cash flows and EBITDA since at least June of 2020 and a strong balance sheet to support the expansion of Latin American consumers' favorite restaurant brand for many years to come.

Dan, I will now turn the call back to you to start the Q&A session.

Questions and Answers:

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Sure. Marcelo. In order to get started, please minimize the presentation slides so that you can access the chat function on the left hand side of the webcast platform. Please limit yourself to one or two questions so that I can read, understand and convey them to our speakers. We will now pause briefly to compile your questions.

Great. So let's get started. We have a couple of questions here from Ian Luketic at JP Morgan. I think this is for you, Marcelo. Ian asks, is it fair to say that market share improvement is related to our large number of freestanding restaurants and also our higher exposure to delivery than competitors? In other words, he's wondering if this market share is sustainable once markets are fully reopened, and if the market share gains have been across all regions or just in Brazil?

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay, thank you and good morning, Ian. Thanks for being with us in this call. First, we measure and track market share in all our markets, using a variety of sources that we try to triangulate in order to identify trends and opportunities, and based on all this information, in the first quarter of 2021, we gained market share in most of our key markets. According to CREST for example, during the first quarter of this year, we gained 4.2 percentage points of market share in Brazil's QSR industry versus the prior year. And this is significantly more than any other brand in the market.

In fact, we reached our highest share ever since CREST is available in the market and our share today is more than two times the share of our closest competitor. And I think that obviously as you mentioned in your question, we are benefiting from our footprint, particularly all the restaurants we have street facing, which includes obviously the industry's leading drive-thru network. We have almost 500 drive-thrus in Brazil and that's by far the highest amount of drive-thrus in the country. And from those restaurants, obviously is very important the operation of delivery because we have an easy access and we can capture more sales through this segment too.

But on top of that, we have another tools that we have leveraged in recent months that allow us to increase market share, everything around digital, our mobile app is the highest rated in the industry and it is capable of delivering segmented offers, which are increasingly personalized and increased frequency, and we have the highest number of downloads of our app and more importantly around 2.5 times more active users than the closest competitor that's according to App Annie official information.

And we have the highest brand awareness and consumer preference in the industry that's supported by strong brand activations. For example, we mentioned in the first quarter of this year, the huge success of our partnership with Big Brother in Brazil, and at the same time, in the base of everything we are doing, I think that the execution of our McProtegidos program, provides a strong sense of safety and hygiene to both customers and employees and that's driving our market share higher. I think that for sure, we are the best positioned player in the market to capitalize on the acceleration of the recovery going forward.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Great. And Ian's follow-up question, Marcelo, is related to May sales and profitability, since we mentioned that May was already was at 90% of 2019 levels, how are margins performing under this scenario?

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We tried to give you some color and more information about sales in the second quarter, but we cannot comment on short-term profitability trends. But what I can tell you is that there is a lot of operational leverage in the business. So, with a quick rebound in sales as we saw in recent weeks, we expect a stronger rebound in profitability.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Great. The next question is from Marcella Recchia from Credit Suisse. Marcella says, once again Arcos has been successful in managing input cost pressures and protecting gross margins on a consolidated level. She is wondering if we can comment on how that looked in Brazil and how she should think about gross margin moving forward, considering that input cost pressures are a reality? And Mariano, I think that one's for you.

Mariano Tannenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Perfect. And good morning to everybody and thanks for your question, Marcella. Yes, so far, we have been able to manage the food and paper line of the gross margin, I think, very efficiently in 2020 with a minor impact versus a very good 2019. And we are very happy to say that in the first quarter of 2021, we achieved a gross margin expansion of 20 basis points during this first quarter against the same quarter of last year.

Despite of course food inflation that we are seeing well above CPI in many of our markets, including Brazil, and that was part of your question, how we are performing Brazil, in this market, we are performing worse that at the consolidated level, the market conditions, but it's, I think very important to highlight that here is where we can see the benefits of the geography where Arcos Dorados operates and being or have a presence in 20 markets allows the Company to increase its margin despite pressures in some [Technical Issues]. Going forward, well, there are protein cost pressures they are a reality in the entire food industry, everybody is dealing with them, not just Arcos. Arcos are not just the QSR restaurant [Technical Issues]. We are the biggest buyers of beef in our market, it's also important to say by a factor many times of three times with long-standing supplier relationships.

And this gives us the ability to negotiate the best prices, but also it's important to highlight that the gross margin is also affected by pricing power and product mix. It's not only about cost pressures. So this year, we will continue working on all the levers that form or comprise the gross margin and they are under our control such as inventory management, operations, cost controls, pricing power and product mix. So we gained benefits of moving from mass marketing to mass personalization. And what we are saying here is that trying to maximize our product mix, that's one of the components of the gross margin. So going forward, the evolution of the gross margin or the food and paper line will depend on how these three factors, the costs, the pricing and the product mix will play, but we feel very confident that we will be able to manage it as efficiently as during this first quarter of 2021.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Great. So the next question is from Thiago Bortoluci from Goldman Sachs. I believe for you, Marcelo, he says, thanks for the presentation and Q&A. In the first quarter of '21, we highlighted Chile and Argentina as the key drivers for our South Latin America division. Could we please share some recent systemwide sales trends for those countries?

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, Thiago, for the question. We are very pleased with the sales trends in those markets and in SLAD division in general, and we saw a very strong momentum at the end of the first quarter and that momentum continued in the second quarter, despite some additional restrictions we are seeing particularly in Argentina, but it's important to mention that the restrictions we are facing this year are less and more targeted than last year. So results in Argentina and Chile continue to be very strong and we are very pleased with the trends in those markets.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Great. The next question is from Jim Sanderson of Northcoast Research. He asks if we have any concerns with respect to supply availability for poultry given grain trends and especially because of the expected strong demand from BTS Meal promotion.

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

No, really, we do not expect any issue with that. I think that we have a pretty strong supply chain and we do not expect anything.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Okay. And then in terms of -- I have another question from Bob Ford of Bank of America. How was mix evolving in terms of higher margins, margin desserts, beverages and sandwiches and also how are we thinking about input cost pass-through and how are consumers and competition responding?

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you Bob for being with us today. Our industry and customers in general have seen a significant increase in food inflation in most countries. So there has been room to increase prices in our markets. Food inflation obviously is happening not only at restaurant level, but in groceries, so people are very, very sensitive to that. Fortunately, in terms of input costs, we have agreements with our suppliers that allow us to plan timing and magnitude of the cost increases, as well as for which products or platforms would be impacted and we were able to leverage obviously our scale to negotiate better than the rest on the industry.

In this scenario, the competitive activity has been more rational during the last couple of quarters because everyone is facing the same kind of pressures. We have different tools to work with in order to improve our margins, particularly because price is just one tool and for example, as we mentioned a couple of calls ago, we have simplified our menu in order to focus on the highest margin and most popular products. We have leveraged our digital capabilities to segment our customers and drive revenue toward more profitable product mixes, higher average checks and more spends per order.

And we know that customers choose the best value, which is only -- it's also not only price. It's about service, quality, accuracy and safety and that's where McProtegidos plays a role. A good indicator of that is the way the customers are responding. We are gaining [Technical Issues] we are dealing very well in terms of sustaining our gross margin levels. So, that's the way we are dealing with all the things related with gross margin, including prices.

In terms of desserts, I think that you mentioned that particularly part of our product mix in your question, we still are facing some restrictions, particularly in shopping malls that are affecting our footprint of the dessert centers. But the good news in that sense is that once these restrictions are lifted, we immediately see the return of the customers to this important segment for us. So we expect some additional contribution coming from that part of our product mix, which is for sure one of the best in terms of gross margin.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Okay. So Bob has a follow up question related to our self-delivery as compared to the work today with the aggregators and he wants to know how the economics and flow of the business compare for our delivery people versus the aggregators. How is profitability and service levels last mile versus aggregators and economics and flow of business for our delivery people? And I'll turn that over to Luis.

Luis Raganato -- Chief Operating Officer

Yeah. Thank you, Bob, for the question. We still don't have the economics because we are in the early stages. What I can tell you is that we think that self-delivery is a strategic initiative because it gives us greater control over the sales and information of our customers. How it works is the process -- in the process to place the order is done through the McDonald's app and logistics is done through expert home delivery companies in each country.

I would say, even though we are in different stages, we are piloting now running pilots in Argentina and Brazil, mainly through restaurants in Argentina and 45 restaurants in Brazil, we think that we are in the right track. But before we can expand this capability and take it to other markets, we need to offer the best customer experience and ensure excellence in execution. And this is today our focus.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Great. And we have a question here from Pierre. I'm going to butcher your name, sorry. Pierre Aivasovsky from AV Securities. And he is asking, if we can elaborate on our adjusted EBITDA margin contraction when compared quarter over quarter. In other words, the bridge between the first half -- the first quarter and the fourth quarter, but maybe more of a trend in terms of margins and how things are evolving? Mariano, I think that's for you.

Mariano Tannenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Well, thanks again for the question. Well, in this case, our business is seasonal. Usually the first quarter of each year has much lower margins than the fourth quarter of any year. The fourth quarter for our company is always the highest in terms of EBITDA. In these particular six months, what we can say as well on top of the seasonality is that in terms of the pandemic during March of this year, we had very strong January and February, but during March, we had additional restrictions that we didn't have by the end of last year as we already mentioned.

So, I would say that it's not a fair comparison fourth quarter of 2020 with first quarter of '21. That's why we prefer the bridge and the comparisons with the first quarter of 2020 and usually we don't compare the sequential or consecutive quarters. In terms of trends, what we are seeing and because exactly of what I am talking about, about the seasonality and the effect of different quarters in our margins, we are expecting to see a sequential improvement in our margins throughout this year if things continue as we are seeing right now.

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Okay, great. We actually don't have any more questions in the chat. So I can ask you to wait a couple of minutes to see or a minute here to see if anybody wants to add another question. Okay so it looks like we've reached the end of the Q&A session. We want to thank you once again for your interest in the Company and for taking the time this morning to join us. We look forward to speaking with you again on our August earnings call and until then stay safe and have a great day.

Duration: 46 minutes

Call participants:

Daniel Schleiniger -- Vice President-Investor Relations

Marcelo Rabach -- Chief Executive Officer

Luis Raganato -- Chief Operating Officer

Mariano Tannenbaum -- Chief Financial Officer

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