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WestRock (WRK) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

By Motley Fool Transcribing – Aug 5, 2021 at 10:01PM

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WRK earnings call for the period ending June 30, 2021.

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WestRock (WRK -0.33%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Aug 05, 2021, 8:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Operator

Good day. Thank you for standing by, and welcome to WestRock Company third-quarter fiscal 2021 results. [Operator instructions] Please be advised that today's conference is being recorded. [Operator instructions] I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Mr.

James Armstrong, vice president of investor relations. Sir, please go ahead.

James Armstrong -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Good morning, and thank you for joining our third-fiscal-quarter 2021 earnings call. We issued our press release this morning and posted the accompanying slide presentation to the investor relations section of our website. They can be accessed at ir.westrock.com or via a link on the application you're using to view this webcast. With me on today's call are WestRock's chief executive officer, David Sewell; our chief financial officer, Ward Dickson; as well as Pat Lindner, president, commercial, innovation and sustainability.

Following our prepared comments, we will open the call up for a question-and-answer session. During the course of today's call, we will be making forward-looking statements involving our plans, expectations, estimates and beliefs related to future events. These statements may involve a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those we discuss during the call. We describe these risks and uncertainties in our filings with the SEC, including our 10-K for the fiscal year ended September 30, 2020.

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We will also be referencing non-GAAP financial measures during the call. We have provided a reconciliation of these non-GAAP measures to the most directly comparable GAAP measures in the appendix of the slide presentation. As mentioned previously, the slide presentation is available on our website. With that said, I'll now turn it over to you, David.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, James, and good morning. I would like to start today with a summary of WestRock's performance in the third quarter, as well as provide some perspective on our progress and the work underway since I joined the company. Then I'll turn it over to Ward, who will provide additional detail on our financial performance and outlook for the remainder of the year. We delivered very strong performance in our fiscal third quarter with demand for fiber-based packaging continuing to be robust.

We generated record revenue of $4.8 billion, an increase of 14% year over year. Adjusted segment EBITDA was up 15% to $811 million, and adjusted EPS rose 32% to $1 per share. This was terrific performance in a challenging inflationary environment and positions us well for the future. We had robust sales growth across all of our businesses, with packaging sales up 15% during the quarter.

Demand continued to be strong in the key markets we serve, including e-commerce, food, beverage and industrial. North American per day box shipments were up 9% year over year. We are implementing the previously published price increases across our major paper grades. These pricing gains, combined with our volume growth and mix improvements, outpaced inflation and drove 15% adjusted EBITDA growth year over year and adjusted EBITDA margins of 16.8%.

We continue to generate strong free cash flows that we used to strengthen our balance sheet while also investing in our business and delivering value to shareholders. Overall, net leverage at the end of Q3 is 2.54 times, down from 3.13 times at our peak. Last quarter, I talked about the key strategic priorities for WestRock: leveraging the power of the enterprise, leading in sustainability, accelerating innovation and executing a disciplined capital allocation program. And I would like to take a minute to walk through some of our progress in each of these areas and our path ahead.

We have been moving quickly in my first four months on the job. During this time, I've continued to visit our facilities and spend time with our customers. These visits have reinforced my belief in the unique opportunity we have to provide value through our broad portfolio of paper and packaging solutions and help our customers meet their most challenging needs for sustainable packaging solutions. We have initiated a detailed review across the business, looking at how to further enhance our focus on attractive end markets where our differentiated portfolio is rewarded.

We are still in the early stages of this process but our recently announced team realignment is a significant step forward in fully leveraging the power of our enterprise. We are strengthening our focus on commercial excellence, innovation and sustainability across the enterprise and combining these functions. Bringing these critical activities together provides focus, integration, and alignment to the disciplines that will enable us to grow our company and lead in providing sustainable and innovative solutions for our customers. We are focused on growing our packaging business and maximizing our opportunities across the portfolio.

We have combined the former MPS and our food and beverage packaging business into one team, unifying these commercial teams and operations to better serve our customers and maximize the productivity of our global operations. We have also integrated the sales teams across our consumer paperboard and containerboard businesses and combined our consumer and containerboard mills into one system. During the third quarter, we continued to implement our disciplined capital allocation strategy and further strengthened our balance sheet. Over the past three quarters, we've reduced adjusted net debt by $1 billion, raised our dividend by 20% and completed the investments in our strategic capital projects.

So what's ahead for WestRock? The WestRock team is relentlessly focused on leveraging the power of the enterprise to improve margins and returns, while continuing to deliver excellent free cash flow. We will invest in our converting systems to support growth in packaging and in our mill system to improve our overall cost structure. These investments will further enhance our packaging capabilities to serve those markets where our customers value our differentiation. This also means working to reduce our exposure to markets where we don't see this potential, such as export containerboard and low-margin SBS businesses.

We also remain disciplined in our capital allocation. We are working to ensure the strength and flexibility of our balance sheet as we invest to grow our business. We remain committed to maintaining our investment-grade credit profile and consistently growing our dividend. We will invest in our future through capital projects and tuck-in M&A opportunities that clearly align with our strategy and provide attractive returns on invested capital.

And we will make opportunistic share repurchases to return value to shareholders. The significant progress we have made in reducing our leverage ratio provides additional optionality as we consider our capital allocation priorities going forward. We will be balanced in our approach, always seeking to maximize returns, while maintaining the financial strength and flexibility required to execute our strategy. As we strive to lead in sustainability, we announced our commitment to set a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As we work to partner with our customers to improve their sustainability, we are also focused on improving our own. Sustainable fiber-based packaging is critical to realizing the full potential of the circular economy, and we are working to accelerate our innovation pipeline to help our customers meet demand for sustainable packaging. Our new EverGrow product is a great example of leveraging the power of the WestRock enterprise with capabilities that no other packaging company can bring to the customer. This product leverages our design capability, consumer and corrugated packaging and our machinery expertise, and creates a sustainable fiber-based curbside recyclable alternative to plastic produce packaging.

It has great shelf appeal, protects the produce and can be recycled into new packaging. You can use the QR code on this page for a closer look at this exciting new packaging. And with that, I'll now ask Ward to provide detail about our financial performance in the third quarter. Ward?

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, David. We executed well in the third quarter, and our results reflect this. As David mentioned, we generated revenue of $4.8 billion, adjusted segment EBITDA of $811 million and adjusted EPS of $1 per share. These results exceeded the high end of our guidance range we outlined last quarter.

Demand was strong with record net sales that increased 14% compared to the prior year. Our revenue grew across all of our businesses, and we continue to focus on improving our business mix. The implementation of published price increases and improved business mix drove $320 million in year-over-year earnings improvement and exceeded cost inflation by more than $100 million. Cost inflation was driven by higher transportation, energy, chemical and recycled fiber costs.

Operating costs were higher year over year due to the nonrecurring nature of some of the cost actions taken last year as part of the pandemic action plan. In addition, Q3 was our peak maintenance outage quarter in FY '21. We generated more than $550 million in adjusted free cash flow in the quarter and used the majority of that cash to reduce debt. Our net leverage is approaching the high end of our 2.25 to 2.5 times leverage target.

Our packaging businesses continue to grow with sales increasing 15% year over year. This revenue increase is due to both strong demand and the implementation of published price increases. As you can see on this slide, our packaging sales were 71% of our total sales in the third quarter, while paper sales were 29% of total sales. Packaging volumes were up year over year, with strong demand in food and beverage, retail, e-commerce and distribution.

Demand in markets such as cosmetics and spirits also improved as global economies continue to recover. External paper sales increased 10%, with price increases more than offsetting lower volumes. We are focused on growing our integrated packaging, domestic containerboard and paperboard businesses. We are also working to reduce our volumes in lower-margin specialty SBS and export containerboard markets.

For reference, the combination of the adjusted EBITDA margins in our lower-margin specialty SBS and export containerboard markets is below 10% as compared to WestRock's 16.8% total company average. As we actively manage our mix, we will improve our profitability going forward. We look forward to updating you on our progress. We believe it's important to also discuss our results on a sequential basis to highlight current trends.

We reported significant improvement in earnings with revenue up 8.5% and adjusted segment EBITDA up 27% quarter over quarter. Increases in pricing and improved mix enabled us to outpace inflation by approximately $100 million sequentially. While we had the sequential benefit from the ransomware and weather impact in the second quarter, third quarter was our peak maintenance-outage period. Inventories in both of our business segments remained tight.

Turning to the segment results. Our corrugated packaging segment reported revenue of $3.2 billion and adjusted segment EBITDA of $557 million. Adjusted EBITDA margins for our North American corrugated business were 19.3% and our Brazil adjusted EBITDA margins were 23.2%. As I mentioned before, demand remains strong across a broad set of end markets.

Corrugated box shipments increased 3% sequentially. Sequential cost inflation was driven by higher recycled fiber costs, which were up $22 per ton versus Q2, along with increased transportation, energy and chemical costs. Corrugated packaging, pricing and mix outpaced inflation by $89 million from Q2 to Q3. Inventory levels remained low as we came out of our peak mill outage quarter.

We have only 11,000 tons of planned maintenance outage downtime in the fourth quarter. Finally, the Florence mill continues to increase production and operate well, and we expect the mill to be at full-production levels at the end of the fourth fiscal quarter. Demand is very strong in the Brazilian market, and we expect margins to improve in the fourth fiscal quarter as the Tres Barras mill continues to ramp up. Turning to consumer packaging.

The segment reported revenue of $1.7 billion and adjusted segment EBITDA of $269 million. Adjusted segment EBITDA margins were 15.5% in the quarter and were up 210 basis points sequentially. Sales mix continues to improve, driven by strong demand in higher-margin food and beverage packaging and paperboard sales. Packaging sales increased in North America, Europe and Asia and paperboard sales were up in all substrates sequentially.

Our backlogs remain very strong and are currently at six to seven weeks across our grades. Our mill system performed exceptionally well with strong production and high operating rates. On price/mix, we saw the benefit of the flow-through of published price increases. Our sales mix improved as we sold less pulp and had higher sales of containerboard and CNK from the reconfiguration of our Evadale, Texas mill.

In Q3, we produced 44,000 tons of kraft liner and 18,000 tons of CNK at this mill. Cost inflation has increased at higher-than-normal levels throughout the year. Many of our commodity input costs have increased significantly, including OCC, which is up -- July is up $77 per ton since the end of FY '20. However, we have been successful in implementing previously published price increases across our system, which have offset this inflation.

In the fiscal third quarter, the spread between price and inflation turned significantly positive. The April containerboard published price increase should be fully implemented in our system at the end of August. We are also implementing published price increases in kraft paper and realizing higher pricing in export containerboard. Consumer price flow-through will continue accelerating into fiscal-year 2022.

We generated more than $1.1 billion in adjusted free cash flow in the first three quarters of this fiscal year. Following the KapStone acquisition, our adjusted net debt peaked in the second quarter of fiscal 2019 at $10.5 billion. We've made outstanding progress in reducing this debt quickly and exited the third quarter with $7.9 billion in adjusted net debt. We are quickly approaching the high end of our two and a quarter to two and a half times net leverage target.

We continue to reduce debt and strengthen our balance sheet. We recently announced the redemption of $400 million of our senior notes that mature in March of 2022. The redemption will occur in September using cash on hand, which will reduce our debt even further. Turning to fiscal-fourth-quarter guidance.

we expect higher prices, stronger volumes, minimal scheduled maintenance downtime and improved productivity. This will be partially offset by sequentially higher recycled fiber, virgin fiber and energy costs. As a result, we expect adjusted segment EBITDA to be in the range of $870 million to $920 million, and adjusted earnings per share in the range of $1.15 to $1.29. And now I'll turn it back over to David. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

We have great opportunities to grow our company and improve margins while providing value to our customers, teammates and shareholders. We are making rapid progress on our strategic priorities. First, we are leveraging the power of the enterprise. This quarter, we made several commercial and operational leadership changes that further align our teams to our strategy.

This new structure will enhance market alignment, enable greater agility and deliver efficiencies. And we are working to determine how we grow faster in high-value markets and minimize our exposure in export containerboard and low-margin specialty SBS markets. Second, we are striving to lead in sustainability and accelerate innovation. We remain excited about the growing opportunity to partner with our customers to improve the sustainability of their packaging.

As I mentioned earlier, we have committed to setting a science-based target to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and are making excellent progress on the commercialization of our plastic replacement solutions. And finally, we will be disciplined in capital allocation. As we achieve our leverage target, we have more opportunities to utilize our strong cash flows to create shareholder value. The future is bright at WestRock and I want to thank our 50,000 team members for their incredible work.

This is a team that is truly committed to solving our customers' most difficult challenges. I'm confident in our ability to successfully achieve our goals. And as we provide differentiated solutions that customers value, we will continue to deliver excellent performance. With our complete and differentiated portfolio, we have multiple levers to create value and grow sales and earnings.

We are excited about the opportunities ahead. With that that concludes my prepared remarks. James, we are now ready for Q&A. 

James Armstrong -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, David. As a reminder to our audience, to give everybody a chance to ask a question, please limit your question to one with a follow-up, as needed. We'll get to as many as time allows. Operator, may we take our first question? 

Questions & Answers:


Operator

Thank you. Your first question comes from the line of Anthony Pettinari of Citi. Your line is open.

Anthony Pettinari -- Citi -- Analyst

Good morning. David, do you have a time line for when the strategic review might largely be completed? And then, as you look at kind of people, processes, technology, is there anything that stands out to you in your first few months as a particular strength within WestRock or a particular need within the organization? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, thanks, Anthony. A couple of things to your question. I think, we're in the early stages of our strategy review, and you'll see announcements throughout the rest of the year and through the activities that we do as we make progress. But we're really looking forward to announcing those.

But the structure changes were the first step in supporting our strategy. And I will tell you there will be a few things to our approach which are really important. And I think, it goes to the second part of your question is what's the strength that I've seen in the four months I've been here. And the biggest strength I see, other than the people who have been tremendous, is the value of our unique portfolio, how do we continue to leverage that, both from a growth standpoint and an efficiency standpoint, and we have tremendous opportunity to do that.

Our enterprise customers who buy both corrugated and consumer are approaching $8 billion annually, and they want to partner up with us for solutions on innovation and sustainability, which is a huge demand from our customers. So we want to continue to push that. And we're excited to have Pat lead our innovation and sustainability, and focusing on the market growth where we can get rewarded, as well as continuing to be relentless in our productivity efforts. So I guess, to answer your question, I would say the timing will be throughout the rest of the year.

I think, the structure was the first piece of that. The strength is really our broad portfolio with our people and executing that. And we just -- the opportunity that I see is further integration and synergies from the acquisitions that we made. And I think, we have an opportunity to continue to take cost out of our systems.

So that's where I see it so far in the first four months, and I think you'll see a lot more here throughout the rest of the year. 

Anthony Pettinari -- Citi -- Analyst

OK, that's very helpful. And then, just in consumer, is it possible to say what you think sustainable underlying demand is in this market? Are you seeing real evidence that it's moved higher because of sustainability or plastic substitution? I'm just asking because there's a lot of moving pieces with reopening and food service and comp against COVID, just trying to understand what's the underlying growth here. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, yeah, we're excited about our consumer business. As you know, we've consolidated our former MPS business with our consumer business, our food and beverage business. And that's really exciting, just again, from the efficiencies on the back end, but also the growth we can bring pulling those together. We're seeing retail come back, obviously, quite a bit.

And what's also really exciting about the consumer business is our ability to improve margins, which is a big focus for us. Our tie-in with the machinery business allows for really unique solutions. So we think consumer has tremendous opportunities for further growth. We're seeing that growth both in the U.S.

and in Europe. So we see this continuing as we go through the rest of the year and into 2022.

Anthony Pettinari -- Citi -- Analyst

OK, that's very helpful. I'll turn it over. Thanks.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of Phil Ng of Jefferies. Your line is open.

Phil Ng -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Hey, David, the change you're looking to accomplish, defer to integrate the business and extract more synergies is certainly very exciting. Curious, will it require a noticeable amount of capital to step up from here? And do you think you have the right people to kind of execute on the goals that you try to implement going forward? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Phil, thanks for the question. The people have been tremendous. We have the right leaders leading our businesses now. So I'm really excited about our path forward.

The piece on the capital, we're really focused on our productivity efforts and bringing -- as evidenced by bringing the mill systems together. And there will be additional capital spend to extract further cost-out opportunities. We've committed to $900 million to $1 billion in fiscal-year '22 in capex. So we're comfortable with that number.

And along with those investments and our productivity efforts, we're really confident we're going to start seeing results and extracting value out of our operations. 

Phil Ng -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Got it. And then, maybe a question for Ward. Certainly, it's a very inflationary backdrop. I think, implicit in your fourth-quarter guidance, price cost is still kind of the headwind.

When we look at the Q1 and assuming the August increase is reflected by the indexes for containerboard, do you think you're still gonna be behind the price/cost curve in fiscal 1Q? And do you have enough productivity to at least drive margin expansion year over year? Thanks.

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Phil. So I'm going to challenge you a little bit. I think, our -- if you look at our price inflation trends, both sequentially and year over year, we're actually driving more price realization than we are, it's a positive relationship between price and inflation. Moving into the fourth quarter, clearly, the largest inflationary item that we have is we've got the increase in OCC, and that's really $45 to $50 a ton embedded in our guidance.

But we also have the continued flow-through and the full-quarter flow-through of the PPW published price increases in containerboard from April and the accelerating momentum that we have in the realization of the -- all of the price increases across the published price increases across the consumer business. As we head into Q1, what -- I think if PPW does, in fact, publish, we'll start to generate the benefits really in Q1 pretty quickly. We won't get much in Q4. It will be -- it will ramp up in Q1 and then, move into Q2.

So I think, our guidance is actually -- we're growing earnings sequentially from Q3 to Q4. And part of it's volume, part of it is the fact that we're -- we exited our peak maintenance outage, but it's also the price cost relationship as well. So we think we have earnings momentum as we move into next year, albeit in an environment where we have elevated transportation costs, recycled and virgin fiber costs. 

Phil Ng -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Got it. OK, that's very helpful. I really appreciate it.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Your next question comes from the line of Adam Josephson of KeyBanc. Your line is open.

Adam Josephson -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

David and Ward, good morning. Thanks very much. Just one more question about the assumptions embedded in 4Q guidance. So for OCC, it was up 20 in July.

So I assume that you're thinking it will be up another, call it, 25 to 30 in August, just please confirm or refute that. And then, what about the insurance -- any insurance proceeds you're expecting in fiscal 4Q compared to what was in your previous full-year guidance. And then, any impact from the potential third price increase in that guidance.

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, so let me take the quarter first, and then, I'll give -- I'll spend a minute on the second half relative to the guidance that we gave you back in April. So our average OCC cost for Q3 was about $105 a ton, what's embedded in our guidance is about $145 to $150 a ton for Q4. So that implies some sequential increases from August into September as well. But you can -- I've always tried to be very transparent about our OCC assumptions, and I think I've done that here as well.

What we have with price, the price realization has been very, very consistent from what we had in the April guidance for both Q3 and for the full year. Really, the driver of the midpoint being lower than the 3.05 full-year guidance that we gave at the end of -- on the April call, has simply been the elevated inflation environment. So our assumptions back then, and I think you can probably go to the transcript, is we thought we would exit Q4 with OCC around $105 a ton. So it's gonna be $45 to $50 higher than what we assumed back in April.

And then, we've had higher natural gas costs that we thought would start to moderate and they've remained elevated. And then, virgin fiber is also a little bit higher. But we've been able to steer our way through this and still feel really good about the momentum that we have in FY '22, the cash flow generation that we have. And Adam, I have not -- we have filed our claim with our insurance carriers for the ransomware recovery.

Because I have not embedded any recovery in the current-quarter guidance related to the business interruption portion of the claim, I just know that I'm very confident that we're going to recover our claim. I just don't have clarity around the timing. And as we get more clarity, I will communicate it. 

Adam Josephson -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

I appreciate that, Ward. And David, one for you, just on the containerboard export commentary. How do you plan to sustainably reduce your exposure to that market? Is it through acquisitions of independents? Is it through some other means? Because, obviously, in the good times when domestic demand is booming as it is now, it's pretty easy to do. But when things go in the opposite direction, it's that much more difficult to not be involved in export markets in some capacity.

So just wondering how you're thinking about that. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I appreciate the question on that, Adam. A couple of things. There is some very attractive domestic containerboard markets that we enjoy and are good margins. We've successfully improved our integration over the last several years from the mid-60% to about 80%, and we said we wanna be at about 90% from a vertical integration standpoint.

And what we'll do to continue to do that is exactly what you said. We'll continue to look at bolt-on acquisitions of independents that will continue to happen as we move forward. And we also have a multiyear investment plan in our operating systems. So we'll continue to invest there to optimize what the right manufacturing footprint is to support the markets that we wanna be in and grow.

And that's part of our strategy work that's going on right now, is our desire to accelerate that and get that moving faster. And I think, you'll see as a result, continued margin expansion in this segment. And we think we have a great path to get there. 

Adam Josephson -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thanks so much, David.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Your next question comes from the line of Cleve Rueckert of UBS. Your line is open.

Cleve Rueckert -- UBS -- Analyst

Thanks very much, and thanks for all the color already. I just wanted to ask a follow-up on the integration and sort of your plans for the containerboard market. I appreciate that it's a strategic focus and has been for a couple of years to improve integration. Can you tell us where it was in the quarter? And then, I guess, what's the time frame for your investment plan? Do you have excess capacity in the box business today that some of these changes on the sales force side are going to help improve that? Or is it really going to require investment and the type of bolt-on acquisitions that we've been discussing?

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

So we exited -- thanks for that question, Cleve. We exited Q3, I believe, at 81% integration in the system. And again, that's continuous progress of where we wanna be. As far as timing, that is something that we are looking at right now, and we will certainly share that with you as soon as we really dial that in.

But you will see continued progress and focus on that. And again, it's going to go exactly -- as you said, it's going to go as part of our investments in our system. It's gonna be shifting into strategic markets that we wanna be in, which is with our mill system, providing flexibility to where we want to play and also deemphasizing where we don't want to play. And then, there'll be strategic bolt-on M&As that help support that as well.

So it's gonna be a multifaceted approach to that. We want to accelerate this because this is an important part of where we want to go as a company. I'm not ready yet to give you exact timing, but we will share that with you as soon as we start dialing in the plan to do so. And Ward, I'll turn it over to you just for any other further commentary. 

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

And Cleve, what I would note is that we've invested in our box plant system. If you look over the last five years, we've invested almost over $750 million to upgrade our system, and we've installed over 43 EVOLs. So we've had a path that we've been on, and we'll continue to do that, and then, we'll supplement it with the potential of tuck-in acquisitions as well for more vertical integration. 

Cleve Rueckert -- UBS -- Analyst

Yeah, so I mean, I guess, I don't know, it sounds almost like more of a sales focus at this point than an investment focus, but I guess, we'll sort of stay tuned and see how you go. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I would actually say it's both. I would say it's both. I mean, it's also part of just how do we optimize what we have and there will be investments on our infrastructure toward point on what we've done in our facilities. There'll be the M&A piece and there'll be the strategic focus piece. 

Cleve Rueckert -- UBS -- Analyst

Right, right, yeah, that makes sense. Thanks for that detail. I just wanted one follow-up on OCC and OCC availability. I guess, sort of one of the thematic just some things that we heard throughout the first half was that recycling rates were quite a bit lower in OCC last year with sort of the shift to at-home consumption.

I'm just wondering if you're seeing any increase in OCC availability within your system as a sort of the reopening has played out through the middle part of the year.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, that's a really good question because, as you know, we operate our own -- we operate 18 plants of our own recycling facilities and many single streams facilities. And it's interesting, our generation over the last year is actually up 3%. And what we've done inside of our system is we've actually made some investments in our single-stream capabilities to ensure that we can capture some of the smaller sort packaging that we see from the e-commerce stream. So generation in our facilities has been up.

But we've made investments to make sure that we can capture the shift. And remember, we also, from a fiber security point of view, we manage more tons than we actually consume. So we have brokerage relationships with other generators of OCC to ensure that we've got fiber security into our system. 

Cleve Rueckert -- UBS -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks, guys. Good luck this quarter.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks.

Operator

And your next question comes from the line of George Staphos with Bank of America. Your line is open.

George Staphos -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Hi, everyone. Hope you're doing well. Thanks for taking the questions. So David, I want to ask you a question.

Given your past experience, obviously, you haven't been running WestRock for very long. But what experience do you have in adjusting and consolidating operations and sales forces? There's frequently sensitivities around doing that. What do you think is key about enabling that effectively? And kind of a related point, I did not see the detail, perhaps it's in the deck and I've missed it, on the number of accounts and combined revenue to customers who are buying over $1 million of both consumer and corrugated, so if you can sort of update us on that in your answer, and then, I had a quick question on the quarter itself coming up.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Thanks, George, for the question. From an experience standpoint, going back to my previous life at Sherwin-Williams, being part of an $11 billion acquisition of Valspar, that's exactly what we did. We fully integrated that business.

We segmented where appropriate. We brought teams together where we brought more value from a customer standpoint to bring solutions. And then, on the infrastructure side, we brought operations into -- under one leader to really drive those efficiencies. And I'm really proud of the work I was a part of with that team to really drive a lot of value.

So there's a playbook that I use when bringing on acquisitions to ensure that you just don't do a bolt-on, you do it for how do you drive more growth, bring more value to customers, where they get excited about it and then, also drive the synergies on the infrastructure. And I think, that's really important, and it's been a lot of what I've done throughout my career. And I'm excited about the opportunities here. There's just really good opportunities for us to continue to further integrate this business and bring value.

As far as the enterprise piece, we have -- we will approach on a yearly basis about $8 billion in sales of customers that buy over $1 million in consumer and over $1 million in corrugated. So there is, obviously, with that data tells us there is value in customers wanting to come to us with solutions for all of our products. And I thought EverGrow, which we highlighted, is a great example of that. When you tie in our machinery business, and even if you look at our Victory Packaging distribution business with e-commerce.

So where we're focused is we know our customers want innovation and sustainability. They're looking for us to help them achieve their sustainability goals. Those enterprise customers are the ones pushing us the hardest. And we can combine our complete solutions, we're seeing a lot of value in that, and we're getting rewarded for that.

And Pat, maybe I'll turn it over to you just to extract a little bit about what we're doing on enterprise and the excitement we have there. 

Pat Lindner -- President, Commercial, Innovation and Sustainability

Sure. Thanks for that, David, and good morning. So as David mentioned, we are making good progress and increasing our sales across the enterprise and up to almost $8 billion from about $5 billion at the time of the merger. So that's a really good progress.

I think, as we go forward, we're going to put even more focus on those top strategic accounts. I was with a very important customer earlier this week, and they were commenting on the importance of WestRock providing unique solutions, particularly to optimize primary, secondary and tertiary packaging, and we're the only ones that can do that. I mean, we have a unique capability to pull all of those together, mix it in with machinery, drive the automation, our digital capability. We don't often talk about the displays business, but that's a really important part of it, too, because every time you have a display in retail, which is gaining some strength now, you have a carton, a folding carton in that.

So there's opportunities for us all the way throughout the value chain to optimize primary, secondary and tertiary packaging. And from a commercial standpoint, sustainability, innovation, we are going to put a lot more focus on those top accounts, and we certainly look forward to sharing many of those examples with you where we've been successful, as we've done in the past, but sharing some more examples in the future. 

George Staphos -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Thanks for that. Just prices are going up, so $8 billion is great relative to the $7.5 billion you're at in the prior quarter. Just can you talk about the number of accounts, you were at 169 last quarter? Have you added accounts here? And then, my follow-up just on the quarter, can you talk about how volumes are shaping up so far early in fiscal 4Q? And what the maintenance step-down adds to your earnings? Thank you. Good luck in the quarter.

Pat Lindner -- President, Commercial, Innovation and Sustainability

Yeah. So just on the -- from the 169, we're up to 178. So we continue to add customers. So it's a number of customers, as well as the revenue that continues to climb, and that's just really important to us, not only in cross-selling, but leveraging the overall power of the enterprise.

I think, if I understand your second question, it was really around how the quarter -- the current quarter is starting off?

George Staphos -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Yeah, it's more for Ward. 

Pat Lindner -- President, Commercial, Innovation and Sustainability

OK, Ward, do you want to handle that one? 

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

So remember, in the earnings -- the sequential earnings, I think, we have one more shipping day sequentially, so that's a part of the driver of volumes. There is volume contribution to earnings sequentially. The comparisons -- the year-over-year comparisons, obviously, get harder as we go into the end of the calendar year when everything started to reopen and demand started to strengthen across both of our businesses. Your maintenance downtime question, it's down almost 110,000 tons sequentially.

George, I would say that's $15 million to $20 million of earnings contribution sequentially.

George Staphos -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Thank you very much, Ward. Thank you, guys.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, George.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mark Weintraub of Seaport Research Partners. Your line is open.

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Thank you. First one, big picture question. As you're looking at the two businesses, containerboard and consumer packaging, for a long time you've been getting pretty substantially higher margins in the corrugated business than the consumer business, I think it's like 400 basis points right now. When you think about these businesses and their capital intensity and other various ingredients, is there reason for there to be on, an average basis, that sustained spread in the margins in those businesses? Or is that something that you think will equalize more over time? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Mark, thanks for that question. I want to make sure I understand it. Are you talking about the consumer business margins matching our corrugated business margins? 

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Yeah, comparing those two, the EBITDA margins. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So our goal is to continue to drive our packaging margins to a much more attractive level to where we're at. We have further to go in consumer, as you well know. But I'm really pleased with the progress we're making.

I'm not sure we'll get all the way to where we think our corrugated margins can get to, but we want to get very close to that. I think, our EBITDA margins in the quarter have improved sequentially over 200 basis points on consumer, and we expect that to continue. The other thing about that is we are reporting our paperboard sales in there. So if you extract the lower margin external SBS, our margins are even more attractive.

So that's why that focus of reducing our exposure to the external market in SBS, combining our former MPS business with the consumer business, with that opportunity, plus the plastics replacement opportunity, we really believe that it's going to enhance continued acceleration of our margin expansion. 

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Great. That's helpful. And then, and I apologize if you had some technical difficulties earlier, but I've picked up some indications there's gonna be a little bit more capital to achieve the various goals. Can you give us kind of a general view as to what average capex might be in the next couple of years? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, we've come out with a capex of $900 million to $1 billion for fiscal-year 2022. I would expect us to maintain that range moving forward. We'll look at opportunities with our capital allocation, though. So with the strong cash generation, we're going to look at with the excess cash we have, where do we provide the best return? So if there's great return with further capex to drive out costs, we'll look at that.

We'll continue to look at other opportunities for bolt-on M&As, and we'll look at opportunities and share repurchases. So from a capital allocation standpoint, we wanna be very disciplined in where we go with our capex, with our sustainable and growing dividend. And then, with the excess cash and where we are with our debt levels, we're excited about the opportunities that brings for flexibility.

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Appreciate it. I'll hand it over. Thank you.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mark.

Operator

[Operator instructions] Your next question comes from the line of Mark Wilde of Seaport. Your line is open.

Mark Wilde -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Good morning, David, different firm, but you get the idea. When you talk about these investments in the mill and converting businesses, is it possible to give us some examples of what you're thinking about in both cases? I mean, there has been a fair amount of money, as Ward mentioned, that's going into the converting business over the last five years. And really, if we go back over the last eight to 10 years, there were a number of mill projects at Hodge, at Hopewell and then, most recently at Florence. So trying to get a sense of what those projects might look going -- like going forward, how they might be different.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, thanks, Mark. Appreciate the question. I'll start, and then, I'll turn it over to Ward with any additional commentary. As Pat alluded to earlier, we continue to invest in EVOLs at our conversion plants.

We think they really bring a great return for us. We look to do things like Florence. We, obviously, had the investment in Brazil as well. Tres Barras was, I believe, a $345 million investment.

Florence was $400 million investment. So we've made some really large investments in our mill systems and we continue to make investments in our conversion plants. One of the things that we really are looking at to is flexibility in our mill systems. So if you recall at Evadale, we converted SBS to CNK that provided us an ability to get into higher-margin businesses, and again, get into the strategy of exiting lower-margin SBS business.

So with that, there was no capital needed to do that. But as we look at our footprint now that we have one mill system, we're going to continue to look at those flexibility options. Some of them may require capex. But if we can invest in flexibility in what we want to produce depending on demand, which provides the best return for us in those high-margin growth segments, we'll continue to do that.

Ward, I'll certainly turn it over to you as well. 

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I mean, Mark, again, I'll kind of reiterate some of the key themes of the investments that we've made in the container system, the EVOL deployment, the corrugator upgrades. We actually did build on greenfield box plant a couple of years ago in Soland. And then, on the mill side, there's continued opportunities for woodyard upgrades, other debottlenecking projects and numerous projects that are focused on reducing costs. 

Mark Wilde -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yeah, that's helpful. David, for my follow-up, I just wondered you've been in the sales for four or five months now, just any thoughts on potential changes in terms of how you'd like to set up incentive comp structures at WestRock?

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Mark, that's a really good question because for me, it's really important to reward our sales team with where we want to grow. So part of that is revamping and reinvigorating our sales incentive plans to reward the behaviors that we want to do. So as we go into fiscal-year '22, that's a high priority for us, and it's something we're working with the teams on right now. 

Mark Wilde -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

OK, very good. I'll turn it over. Thanks, David.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mark.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mark Connelly of Stephens. Your line is open.

Mark Connelly -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you. David, now that the teams are in place, can you give us a little more insight into the benefits you're expecting to get from combining containerboard and paperboard mill operations? In containerboard, it's been more common to tightly align the mills with the box plants, and that was the strategy of some of the companies that WestRock acquired. Does this new approach put more separation between your board manufacturing and your converting operations? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Actually, what we hope is to allow -- and we will allow our mill systems to be 100% focused on being as efficient as possible and supporting our converting systems the most effective way possible. So with allowing this structure, and again, talking about some of the flexibility, optimizing our supply chain, understanding the -- with the strong demand we have, how do we ensure we have the most efficient supply chain as well. This structure allows us to do that. I just really believe in focus and segmentation.

And as the mill systems wake up every day, they're gonna be thinking about safety, quality, cost and service. And that's going to benefit both our customers and our shareholders. 

Mark Connelly -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

OK. Now second question, following up on Mark Weintraub's question. You have a lot more recycled in your containerboard system than some of your competitors do. Does that significantly reduce your ongoing capex requirements at those mills? And is it a goal to introduce more recycled fiber as you reinvest in that system? I'm really wondering about the systems capital intensity relative to your peers. 

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, so Mark, this is Ward. Our fiber mix is approximately 65% virgin, 35% recycled. And you're right, the virgin, I mean, the capex load for a recycled fiber mill is lower than it is for the virgin mills. We've always liked the balance that we have in the system because, ultimately, we have a very broad offering to our customers in terms of lightweight, heavyweight, virgin and recycle liners and mediums, and we think that ultimately positions us to support a wide range of customers.

And so, David, I'll ask you to see a comment about whether you think that mix is appropriate, but it gives -- we have balance in the system and we've always felt comfortable with the balance. And again, Mark, I think, another thing to remember is we've got some fiber flexibility across our mills, too, to be able to take advantage of introducing more recycled fiber mix into our virgin system and vice versa as market conditions for those critical input costs change. 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Ward, I think, you hit it right on. And I think, there's a theme here of -- I think we're in a great position from a flexibility standpoint. And that's the benefit of our broad portfolio is we can pivot and shift to provide the best returns and service to our customers as needed throughout our system. So I think, Ward, you covered that well. 

Mark Connelly -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Very helpful. Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Gabe Hajde of Well Fargo. Your line is open.

Gabe Hajde -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

David, Ward, good morning. Curious just have you guys put any thought into revisiting your leverage target? I mean, I spent some time kind of beyond the upper bound for a while. Obviously, you guys were doing some acquisition activity, but it just -- and I appreciate it, it seems like you guys are committed to an investment-grade rating. But to afford you the flexibility to do things you would like to do seems like a pretty tight window.

I'm just curious if you guys have thought about that. 

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Well, we talk about it a lot. We talk about it with the board. And investors have -- I've had some investors ask us to consider expanding the range and others to talk about tightening the range and lowering it. Frankly, you helped to answer part of the question.

We like the flexibility that this target provides us. We do like the investment-grade credit profile and the discipline that that brings into our organization and capital allocation. And I think, we've talked about in the past and we've had a track record of saying if the right opportunity exists for us to lever up for a short period of time above the target to generate synergies and then, pay down debt to get back within the target, then we're not prohibited from doing that. So I've always felt that this gives us the strong balance sheet that we need to be able to execute our strategy and also to have the flexibility in a business that has some variability in input cost and supply demand conditions from period to period.

David, do you want to add anything to that? 

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would just say, as we talked about our capital allocation approach, where we want to put our cash is where we can get the best return. So part of that, the must-haves are a growing a sustainable dividend, reinvesting in our business, investment grade profile. And with the -- again, the available cash, we'll look at should we -- how should we look at debt, how should we look at share repurchases or even additional investments. So I think, that flexibility is really important.

And as Ward mentioned earlier, calling a bond in 2022 to pay it in the fourth quarter with our available cash was a good use of our cash, but we still have additional opportunities to look at other areas of investment. So we'll continue to do that. 

Gabe Hajde -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

OK, thank you. And one last one. I appreciate it's challenging sometimes on an open format like this. But in terms of the strategy, is there anything that's off the table? Or can you give us a couple of ideas of things you might look at? I mean, could it include things up to divesting certain mills or product lines or something like that? Or is it everything you feel like you have you're going to keep and it's more about investing and figuring out the way to maximize returns?

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I appreciate that follow-up question. My approach always when you go into strategy is everything is on the table. We have to evaluate everything. We have to evaluate our businesses, our footprint, the markets that we're going after, our structure that supports the strategy.

So to answer your question, I would tell you, we're looking at everything in fairness. And we will continue to communicate with you throughout the year on what that means. But the ultimate goal results of our strategy will be organic profitable growth, margin expansion and improved return on invested capital. 

Gabe Hajde -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Understood. Thank you.

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mark Weintraub of Seaport Research Partners. Your line is open.

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Thank you. Just a quick follow-up, if I could. As you have on that Page 13, you've got a lot of published price increases recognized in the consumer packaging grades. And I think, most of us have a pretty good understanding of how the containerboard flows through, etc.

Can you just remind us how the consumer packaging price increases tend to flow through and the degree to which there might be cost tight elements that also flow through into pricing?

Pat Lindner -- President, Commercial, Innovation and Sustainability

Yeah, great, thanks very much. This is Pat. So let me try to handle that from a commercial standpoint. So as you mentioned, containerboard is a pretty good understanding of that.

And majority of the corrugated box and containerboard is linked to PPW and pass us through in three to four months, as we've indicated in the past. Consumer is a bit more complicated because of the number of substrates and the different routes to market or different integration levels across those different substrates. And so we use a number of different value capture and pricing mechanisms in the consumer segment. In aggregate, I can say about half of that is tied to PPW, and those flow through in different time periods.

The other models, pricing models are based on cost, and also a fair amount of open market, which gives us quite a bit of flexibility. And so the way we think about pricing overall is that it's just the price and the lag and the type of model that we have is just part of the overall value capture and negotiation and discussion with the customer. As far as timing is concerned, we start flowing through and you can see some of this starting in the third quarter and more in the fourth quarter, and as Ward indicated, accelerating into fiscal-year '22, we start to see that right away. It will ramp up, and it's really based on a previously published price increase.

It's usually about six to nine months for that all to flow through. But again, it doesn't wait for the six to nine months. It's flowing through and it will continue. In our case, with the published price increases to date, it will continue to flow through into fiscal-year '22.

Operator

And there are no further questions at this time. I would like to turn it back to Mr. James Armstrong for the closing remarks. 

James Armstrong -- Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, operator, and thank you for joining our call today. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. And have a great day. 

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 63 minutes

Call participants:

James Armstrong -- Vice President, Investor Relations

David Sewell -- Chief Executive Officer

Ward Dickson -- Chief Financial Officer

Anthony Pettinari -- Citi -- Analyst

Phil Ng -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Adam Josephson -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Cleve Rueckert -- UBS -- Analyst

George Staphos -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Pat Lindner -- President, Commercial, Innovation and Sustainability

Mark Weintraub -- Seaport Research Partners -- Analyst

Mark Wilde -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Mark Connelly -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Gabe Hajde -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

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