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Armstrong World Industries, inc (AWI) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

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AWI earnings call for the period ending September 30, 2021.

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Armstrong World Industries, inc (AWI -0.68%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Oct 26, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, and thank you for standing by. Welcome to the Q3 2021 Armstrong World Industries, Inc., Earnings Conference Call. [Operator Instructions] After the speakers' presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Theresa Womble, Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

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Theresa Womble -- Director of Investor Relations

Thank you and welcome, everyone, to our call this morning. Today we have Vic Grizzle, our CEO; Brian MacNeal, our CFO to discuss Armstrong World Industries' third quarter 2021 results, our rest of the year outlook, and progress on our growth initiatives.

Our discussion of operating and financial performance will include non-GAAP financial measures within the meaning of SEC Regulation G. A reconciliation of these measures with the most directly comparable GAAP measure is included in our press release and in the appendix of the presentation, we issued this morning. Both are available on our Investor Relations website.

During the call, we will be making forward-looking statements that represent the view we have of our financial and operational performance as of today's date, October 26, 2021. These statements involve risks and uncertainties that may differ materially from those expected or implied. We provide a detailed discussion of the risks and uncertainties in our SEC filings, including the 10-Q filed earlier this morning. We take no obligation to update any forward-looking statement beyond what is required by applicable securities law.

Now, for those of you following along with our presentation, please turn to Slide 4 as I turn the call over to Vic.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Theresa. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining our call today. This morning, we announced another quarter of recovery from the COVID impact to results of 2020.

We delivered strong third quarter topline growth, up 19% versus 2020 results with Mineral Fiber sales increasing 15% and Architectural Specialties sales improving 31%. Adjusted EBITDA of $99 million was 8% ahead of prior year results. We are pleased to have achieved these results against the backdrop of a choppy market recovery, increasing inflation, and supply chain disruptions throughout the construction industry.

Unrelated to these challenges, we also experienced a rare manufacturing equipment failure causing lower-than-expected production rates in September, which Brian will discuss in greater detail in a moment. Despite these challenges and the rare production issue, we reaffirmed the midpoints of our full-year 2021 guidance and expect to have a strong finish to the year.

To that point, these continue to be unprecedented times. Inflation remains a strain on raw material, freight, labor, and energy costs throughout the construction industry. At AWI, we have moved proactively throughout the year to increase prices and stay ahead of these inflationary pressures. And consistent with our performance over the past decade, we have successfully stayed ahead of inflation. We recognize this is unique and it's a testament to the strength of our industry-leading service model and the high-quality innovative products we manufacture that allows us to earn those price increases in the marketplace.

Specifically within our Mineral Fiber segment, we reported third quarter AUV growth of 14% which is the highest level we've achieved since we separated from the flooring business in 2016. And this growth was largely driven by like-for-like pricing improvements. And not unrelated to inflationary pressures, supply chains throughout the economy have also been under unprecedented pressure.

Again our teams throughout the organization, have been on top of their game. They have remained agile and dedicated to limiting disruptions to our customers and partners. This is critical because of our best-in-class service model is an important component of our value proposition to our distributors and to the contractors who depend on them. Because of this importance, we set a high bar for our service performance.

While many companies may track two or three service performance metrics, we track six as part of what we call our perfect order measure. These include order fill accuracy, on-time delivery, shipping damage, billing accuracy, product defects, and returns. And I can share with you with great satisfaction that this measure not only remained above our 90% threshold throughout 2021 for the Mineral Fiber segment in particular but it's improved in the third quarter. So I'm proud of how our teams have executed to handle these unprecedented challenges internally to meet our customers' needs.

Now externally, these challenges have impacted our business in the form of project delays, impacting both our Mineral Fiber and Architectural Specialties segments. Despite these challenges, Mineral Fiber sales volumes increased in the third quarter versus prior year on the strength of the R&R part of our business that has more than offset the impact of these project delays and the lower new construction activity.

Our sales rate per shipping day also showed sequential improvement in the quarter. In fact, September sales rate per day eclipsed that of 2019, and the quarterly results for this metric has now improved sequentially for the last five quarters. From a profitability perspective, the Mineral Fiber segment generated strong gross margins compared to prior year, reflecting positive like-for-like pricing, improved mix, and our ability to overcome the production headwind I mentioned earlier, with other productivity efforts, and in fact, this was the best gross margin level since 3Q of 2019.

Our WAVE joint venture delivered another strong quarter as they have maintained excellent pricing discipline to stay ahead of inflationary pressures. We're also pleased with the performance of one of the Group's newest innovation called SimpleSoffit. Now like many of our innovations, we've introduced SimpleSoffit drive efficiencies for our customers and for those who ultimately install our products. Soffit framing is a common design feature that requires a significant use of labor and materials on commercial construction jobs and has a variety of complexities based on interior design and the accommodation of HVAC systems. Given the pressures on labor, we realized creating savings in this area could be a significant value generator for our customers.

What the team at WAVE introduced are prefabricated soffit framing systems that are engineered using our automated design software to match the design specs and come prepackaged and easy to handle flat boxes. Because of their design, our SimpleSoffit systems can be installed up to 3 times faster than traditional methods, with less material and labor hours.

SimpleSoffits are making a significant difference in terms of speed and cost on the sites where they have been used, including some high profile projects such as the new PG&E headquarters in California, The Kansas City International Airport and for hockey fans out there, the UBS Arena at Belmont Park, where the New York Islanders will drop the puck for the first time in mid-November. We're very excited about how this new innovative product has gained traction and the value it's creating for our customers.

In the Architectural Specialties, the segment had a strong top-line quarter as well, improving -- and improving margin performance. In addition to the contributions from our 2020 acquisitions, sales and earnings from the organic business rebounded nicely from prior year lows. We've also successfully introduced price increases for these products and that is helping address some of the inflationary pressures on this segment as well.

New construction and major renovation activity improved but was uneven due to project delays, even with those challenges and our continued growth investments in this segment, Architectural Specialties' EBITDA margin improved 350 basis points sequentially and I expect these improvements to continue back above the 20% level. We remain optimistic about the '22 and '23 outlook for Architectural Specialties, given the fact that we are on track to exit 2021 with a very strong order backlog and bidding activity remains robust. As new construction activity regains momentum we expect sales growth to further accelerate in this segment.

The broader industry indicators that we track also support our growing optimism for both the AS and the Mineral Fiber segments. As many of these have continued to improve or remained in positive territory in the third quarter. GDP forecast remained above 5%, the Architectural Billing Index ended September well into expansionary territory at 56.6, up from August reading of 55.6, similar to the second quarter of Dodge data for both bidding and construction starts improved double-digits. These are strong indicators for growth in 2022 and 2023 and with our recent investments, we are well-positioned to capture additional growth as the market recovers.

Now with that, I'll turn the call over to Brian for a more detailed look at our financial performance. Brian?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Vic. Good morning to everyone on the call. Today, I'll be reviewing our third quarter 2021 results and our updated guidance for the year. But before I begin, as a friendly reminder, I'll be referring to the slides available on our website, and Slide 3 details our basis of presentation.

On Slide 5, we begin with our consolidated third quarter 2021 results. Adjusted net sales of $292 million were up 19% versus prior year. Adjusted EBITDA grew 8% and EBITDA margins contracted 320 basis points. EBITDA margins contracted due to continued investments in SG&A and lower manufacturing productivity. Adjusted diluted earnings per share of $1.17 was 9% above prior year results. Adjusted free cash flow was 28% above prior year results.

Our balance sheet remains healthy as we ended the quarter with $439 million of available liquidity, including a cash balance of $94 million and $345 million of availability on our revolving credit facility. Net debt at the end of the quarter was $533 million and our net debt to EBITDA ratio of 1.5, as calculated under the terms of our credit agreement, remains well below our covenant threshold of 3.75.

In the quarter, we repurchased 187,000 shares for $20 million, for an average price of about $107 per share. As of September 30, we had $544 million remaining under our repurchase program, which expires in December 2023. Last week, we announced a 10% increase in our quarterly dividend, this is our third increase in the last three years and when paired with our share repurchases, is a reflection of our commitment to our balanced and disciplined capital allocation priorities that continue to be investing in the business, expanding into adjacencies through acquisitions, and returning capital to shareholders.

You can see our consolidated third quarter EBITDA bridge from the prior year results on this slide as well. The $8 million adjusted EBITDA gain was primarily due to favorable AUV driven by positive like-for-like pricing and favorable channel mix, increased volume driven by the 2020 acquisitions, and contributions from WAVE equity earnings. This favorability was partially offset by higher SG&A costs, increased input cost on freight raw, materials, and energy, and an increase in manufacturing cost driven by the 2020 acquisitions.

The increase in SG&A was driven by more normalized discretionary spending compared to the prior year cost reductions, an increase in variable compensation, investments for future growth in our Healthy Spaces and digital initiatives, and the 2020 acquisitions.

Not surprisingly, like many other manufacturing companies, we felt inflation impacts throughout our supply chain, albeit less than some other building product companies. Our strong supplier partnerships have never been more important and our teams have done a great job of managing through this challenge. We expect inflationary pressure to continue into the fourth quarter, we now see cost of goods sold inflation somewhere in the 4.5% to 5% range for the full year 2021. As demonstrated historically and in this quarter, we will work to drive like-for-like pricing above inflation.

Our Mineral Fiber segment results are on Slide 6. In the quarter, sales increased 15%, mostly due to favorable AUV previously mentioned. We saw sequential improvement in our sales per shipping day metric and continue to track this closely in comparison to both 2020 and 2019. AUV fell through to EBITDA at historical highs, as a result of the price increases we announced in February, May and August, and again is the outcome of our ability to price ahead of inflation.

Mineral Fiber segment adjusted EBITDA increased 10%, driven by the AUV gains and another strong quarter of equity earnings from the WAVE joint venture. The team at WAVE has done a great job of pricing ahead of the steel inflation and managing issues across the supply chain. These gains were partially offset by higher SG&A spending due to the return of prior-year cost reductions, increased variable compensation and investments to support our growth initiatives.

Input cost trended higher this quarter due to raw material, energy and freight inflation, which remains a top focus area for us as we end the year and prepare for 2022. In addition, we experienced a $3 million headwind due to unplanned maintenance activities at two of our larger plants. This caused downtime at both plants and drove lost productivity, higher scrap costs and additional freight cost to maintain our best-in-class service levels. Both situations where remediated during the quarter and I'm happy to report that the plants are running very well in October. This is an atypical event for AWI. As many of you know, we consistently drive plant productivity year after year.

Moving to Architectural Specialties or AS segment on Slide 7. Third quarter adjusted net sales grew 31% or $19 million with the 2020 acquisitions in terms of Turf, Moz, Arktura, contributing $16 million and organic sales increasing $3 million. AS segment adjusted EBITDA increased 1% as improved sales from the 2020 acquisitions and the organic business more than offset project push outs, higher SG&A, and increased manufacturing costs.

The adjusted EBITDA margin for the segment improved 350 basis points sequentially from the second quarter but contracted 500 basis points when compared to the third quarter 2020 results. This segment is still being pressured by inflationary conditions continued along with a recent spike in project delays due to commercial construction labor disruptions and supply chain challenges. The project push outs are delaying some revenue to Q4 and 2022.

In September, we announced an additional round of price increases for AS products, which have already gone into effect. We've had AS price increases in each quarter of 2021.

Slide 8 shows the drivers of our consolidated results for the nine-month period, including a breakout of the impact for our 2020 acquisitions. Sales for the first nine months of the year were up 18% and adjusted EBITDA increased 10%. The year-to-date results are driven by higher volumes as the second quarter lapped a prior year more significantly impacted by the pandemic, favorable AUV, and increased WAVE equity earnings, which were partially offset by higher SG&A spend and increased manufacturing in input costs. Adjusted diluted earnings per share increased 12% to $3.28.

Slide 9 shows year-to-date adjusted free cash flow performance, which is flat versus the prior year. Increases in cash earnings, working capital improvements, and WAVE-related dividends were offset by an increase in income tax payments and higher capex spending following a reduced prior year in an effort to manage cash and liquidity during the pandemic. Our cash generation through the first nine months is in line with our expectations.

We summarize our updated guidance for 2021 on Slide 10. Please note, this guidance update assumes no significant pandemic-related shutdowns or material job delays due to supply chain issues. We are narrowing our guidance ranges for all key metrics and now we expect year-over-year revenue growth of 17% to 18%, adjusted EBITDA growth of 13% to 15%, adjusted EPS growth of 14% to 16%, and adjusted free cash flow of down 7% to 2%.

The right side of the page highlights updates for the prior -- from the prior guidance communicated in July. You'll notice the increase in Mineral Fiber AUV range from 9% to 11% as our teams continue to do a great job of realizing price from our three Mineral Fiber increases this year. We're bringing down the range of our Mineral Fiber volume to 1% to 2% as near-term choppiness remains and projects are delayed into the out months and 2022.

We continue to invest in our Healthy Spaces and digital initiatives and believe they will be meaningful contributors to our future growth. But the larger impact on volume for the current year is the project delays previously discussed. This is a shift in contribution between the 2020 acquisitions and the organic business to the AS segment as revenue impacts are felt from the project delays. We now expect the 2020 acquisitions to contribute about 30% growth and AS organic in the mid-to-high single-digit range.

In conclusion, I'm proud of the work our teams have accomplished throughout the third quarter in the face of supply chain challenges and a renewal of COVID-19 concerns. It certainly wasn't easy but they delivered a solid quarter. These are challenging times but I remain optimistic that our investments in the future, whether it's in people, growth initiatives, innovation, or partnerships, will unlock the next level of growth for AWI.

With that, I'll turn it back to Vic for Slide 11.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Brian. Before we get into the Q&A session, let me share a little bit more about how we see our current position and the progress on key initiatives and what that means for the future here at Armstrong.

Inflation and supply chain challenges are likely to persist into next year. But at AWI, we're demonstrating that we can manage our way through this, successfully delivering price ahead of inflation and minimizing the impact from supply chain disruptions. Market conditions are continuing to improve albeit and an uneven and choppy-like fashion. People are returning to offices and kids thankfully our back in classrooms and new construction activity is returning.

Despite the unevenness in the recovery, we have remained focused on strengthening our competitive advantage and improving our long-term growth trajectory. Our strong financial position has allowed us to continue investing in our growth initiatives, such as Healthy Spaces and digital innovation and those efforts are progressing well and gaining traction.

Our Healthy Spaces product sales have continued to improve quarter-on-quarter and there are clear signs of the growing recognition of the role ceilings can play in ensuring indoor spaces are healthy. For example, we have seen a significant uptick in our demand for health zone products. This is the first line of our Healthy Spaces solutions. As a reminder, these products were introduced a few years back to meet the needs of the healthcare environments in terms of disinfectibility and washability, which are now attributes important to any and all indoor spaces.

On a year-to-date basis, sales of these products have increased 38% versus 2020 and over 20% versus 2019 levels. What's most encouraging is that approximately 60% of these sales are now coming from outside of the healthcare vertical. This is validating the broader need and the transferability of existing Healthy Spaces solutions to more general-purpose applications such as offices, schools, and hospitality.

VidaShield and AirAssure, the two products that we introduced at the end of last year, again still early days, but the progress is encouraging. Sales of these products in the third quarter doubled from the second quarter sales levels. And we have more than doubled the number of active projects in the quarter and are conducting several trials on large-scale projects.

On the digital front, we continue to invest across several initiatives with a focus on speed and cost benefits for our customers. One such initiative is project Works, which is our digital design and pre-construction service. This service automates the design process from concept to builder materials, drastically increasing the speed of design while allowing design iterations along the way in minutes or in hours versus days.

In addition, once the design is complete, we can provide an accurate builder materials that makes the lives of contractors much easier. This is a service that is deepening our collaboration with architects, designers, and contractors in a mutually beneficial way. It's helping us secure additional specifications and ultimately to sell more products into more commercial spaces. We are excited about the number of projects being processed by project Works and how it's strengthening Armstrong's leadership position in the commercial construction industry.

In summary, our advancement of digital and product innovation, despite the ongoing challenges of the evolving COVID pandemic is a testament to the power of focus we have as an America's-only ceiling and specialty walls company. This power and focus has been critical throughout the pandemic as we kept all of our plants in operation and made no cuts to our sales and marketing efforts. Our unique and powerful focus has also helped us manage through the challenges of inflation and supply chain disruptions to maintain our long track record of achieving price over inflation and maintaining our best-in-class service levels.

Throughout this uncertain period, we have not slowed our efforts to execute on our company strategy. Our customer relationships are stronger now than ever and our ongoing product in digital innovation is providing important top-line growth opportunities. As our markets continue to recover, we are in an excellent position to capitalize on this recovery and to deliver increased levels of value creation for our shareholders.

And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our first question is from Keith Hughes of Truist. Your line is open.

Keith Hughes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Thank you. Just two questions. First, you had said at the beginning of the call, your September daily sales rate is greater than it was in 2019. Is that on all products or is that a Mineral Fiber comment?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Well, it's true for both, Keith. It's true for our Mineral Fiber products, in particular, which is what we were referencing because we know really that's probably the best proxy for what's in the underlying market conditions. But with our acquisitions and the growth that we've got going in Architectural Specialties, which has continued this year, that's well above 2019 levels. So it's true for both cases but I think, more importantly, it's true for the Mineral Fiber business. And again, we're trying to get to that proxy of when the market has recovered back to pre-pandemic levels.

Keith Hughes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And you had talked about -- given that, I assume there must have been some kind of a dip and -- in the orders, but that August-July -- I guess my question is how did the quarter play out sequentially?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I mean it really plays to the choppiness that we're seeing. We'll have a strong month and then we'll see a pause in the month and next month and then a strong month. So it's actually very uneven and choppy reflecting a couple of things. I think, broadly as the market's recovering, but also some of the delays in these projects. Some projects are delayed a couple of weeks, some projects are being delayed months. So a lot of that added up together is creating some of this chop. And certainly in August, I'll just comment and say that, that was where we were seeing the height of the Delta variant and it certainly impacted activity broadly as an event I will say, in the month. But again, then you see what happened in September shortly after that. So that's -- I think it's a good reflection of what we're seeing right now in this recovery. Directionally, it's recovering, but it's really uneven and choppy as we go through this.

Keith Hughes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Okay, thank you.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

You bet.

Operator

And our next question is from Garik Shmois of Loop Capital. Your line is open.

Garik Shmois -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Oh, hi, thanks. I'm just wondering if you could provide a little bit more color just on the supply chain challenges that you're seeing? Is it more on the transportation bottlenecks or raw material bottlenecks? Or is or more on the end-market side in which project continues to get pushed out? So any additional color on those challenges would be great.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Sure. The supply chain, I would like to break it up on the internal part, which is our own inputs and supply chains feeding our plants and feeding our customers, that's really I'd say our supply chain. There has been challenges in our own supply chain, whether it's from the freeze that happened earlier in the year from Texas and disrupted some of the chemical product supply chains from the hurricane. So there was several incidences along the way that put pressure on the supply chains for us. We have managed through those beautifully. And I feel like we're very fortunate. We've been able to manage among our plants and balance that out, and we have not disrupted our service to our customers in any way from those supply chain disruptions. So on that side, very little impact, if no impact to our business, frankly.

On the other side, where these projects are being impacted and we're -- therefore, we're being impacted, whether it's other building materials earlier in the building phase are delayed or -- and are -- they are delayed and it's both material, it's labor. I'm hearing more labor in the conversation now that I'm hearing materials, which was different than the second quarter. So as both material and labor now contribute to supply chain disruptions on projects, that's the impact that we're seeing in our business in terms of when they need a ceiling product for those particular jobs. And so, that's what we're referring to when we talk about the supply chain disruptions that are impacting our top-line and our ability to fully recover. That answer your question, and that give a little bit more color for you?

Garik Shmois -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Yeah, that's good. Thank you. My final question is on Architectural Specialties. You cite the confidence in a return to 20% EBITDA margin, I think it was something to do with back in 2019. You had nice sequential improvements. Any guess as to what needs to happen to get back up to 20% EBITDA margins, recognizing you're absorbing some of the acquisitions, but how quickly could that possibly happen again?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I think the key really there is absorption. So it's absorption on the new acquisitions, as you referenced. But also, as we talked about earlier in the year, we came into the year with record backlogs in some of our production sites and we invested to add capacity in those sites and we were preparing ourselves for really strong backlogs and be able to deliver on those backlogs. And a continuation, frankly as we saw beyond the current backlog, but the activity that we were pursuing in the marketplace with the project delays that have happened this year that's slowed our rate of absorption, against those new investments in our core business, let alone absorbing the acquisition. So I think to answer your question for us what we're working our way through is really absorption. Absorption of the new acquisition and absorption of the investments that we've made in some of our manufacturing sites.

Garik Shmois -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Great, thanks for that.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

You bet.

Operator

And our next question is from Susan Maklari of Goldman Sachs. Your line is open.

Susan Maklari -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Susan Maklari -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

My first question is can you give us a bit more detail on the manufacturing equipment failure that you cited in September? Any commentary around the magnitude of what happened there and how maybe it's impacted third quarter deliveries, but then also fourth quarter, if there is any kind of reverberation there?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Go ahead, Brian.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure. Hey, Susan. Good morning. So we had some unplanned maintenance at two of our bigger Mineral Fiber plants, I mentioned in our prepared remarks. And what that did was cause us to lose some shifts and even some production days. Now, the good news is we were able to move production around and continue with our great service as Vic mentioned on our perfect order measure, it actually improved in the month of September, but it was temporary. And so, we fixed that problem in the plants are running very well through the month of October and we don't expect any more headwind from that maintenance item in both plants.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So, Susan. No impact in the fourth quarter. That's fixed and behind us.

Susan Maklari -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay, all right, that's helpful. And then, my follow up is, wondering if you can give a little bit more details on inflation and maybe especially talk a bit about your exposure to energy prices? We've gotten some questions from people. Obviously, we've seen natural gas and other energy prices moving up over the last couple of months or so. Just talk about overall the cost environment and what you're seeing there.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Susan. Yeah, like everybody, we are seeing that natural gas increase. It was the highest inflationary item we had in the quarter and -- but it runs roughly somewhere between 8% to 10% of our total cost of goods sales in our total energy cost bucket. And so, that natural gas is clearly increasing year-over-year. Freight was up also and so were raws, which is one of the reasons as we step back, we increased our full-year look on inflation to 4.5% to 5% for total cost of goods sold. So now, like history, not seeing quite the inflationary impact of that other companies see, but we're being very attentive to it and making sure we're getting that price realization to more than cover that.

Susan Maklari -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay, all right, that's helpful. Thank you.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Susan.

Operator

And our next question is from Kathryn Thompson of Thompson Research. Your line is open.

Brian Biros -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Hey, good morning. This is actually Brian Biros on for Kathryn. Thank you for taking my questions. First one, I just want to see. So few of the other building product companies we speak with, kind of have talked about some of the bidding out there, but then, that's not necessarily turning into awards at the same pace. I guess, your comment on bidding so far seems to match that first part, but I guess with the current environment, how has the timeline changed to realize those bids and turn those projects and then flow through to sales for you guys?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think the bidding activity that we're referencing, it sounds like, Brian, the same thing that you're hearing is, it's a leading indicator of activity that's out there, not necessarily timed to sales. And the way we dissect this data is we look at the types of activity, bidding activity that are out there because we know new construction bidding activity is a much longer cycle before it turns into a ceiling sale, and renovation and there's alterations in between renovations. So we look at it and -- as a leading indicator in terms of 6 to 24 months out. How that's changed? I think it's yet to be determined. In terms of the delay in the timing, the normal timing of these projects between that 6 and 24-month timeframe. Certainly what we're saying today is the delay in when projects can get started because of available labor and material. In addition to the projects that already started in the delaying and getting those completed. That's really important also right before the labor to be able to move from the job that they're on to the next job is these completions and the timing of these completions has to get in sync with the start of new jobs. So there is definitely some struggle and some mismatching of labor and material, with existing projects in the starting of new projects and I think that's part of the choppiness that we're experiencing.

Brian Biros -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Understood. Thank you. And then a follow-up I guess similar to the comments in the question you just answered. The delayed projects that we saw in the quarter, across both segments. Would you characterize that as more of a blip in the quarter, with the Delta variant impact you mentioned I think in August? Or is this more of an indication of more to come, more delays in Q4 and even into '22 as we work through all the issues with labor, material shortages, and stuff?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

I think this choppiness is going to persist. I think we're not out of the woods in terms of supply chains healing themselves, catching up to demand. I think there is still a labor component that still has to get caught up. So, no, I think this choppiness could persist, which is I think reflected in our outlook for the rest of the year.

Brian Biros -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Yeah. Thank you.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Brian.

Operator

Our next question is from Adam Baumgarten of Zelman. Your line is open.

Adam Baumgarten -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone. Just thinking about pricing, like-for-like pricing, how should we think about the carryover effect from all the price you've pushed through this year into next year at this point?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

I'll take this?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Sure.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Adam. So every year, we do have that carryover and what we have -- what we managed through is we do protect project pricing in many cases. So there's always that lag effect of that full carryover year-over-year. Historically, we've been in the 30% to 35% range of price realization versus what we've announced and we see that continuing.

Adam Baumgarten -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Okay, got it. And then just switching gears to SG&A, I mean, do you see it by the end of '21 that you'll be back to more normal levels and therefore, we should see less of a drag on margins next year as you continue to grow?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

You'll take it?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Okay. I'll add something if I've got anything.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Yes, sure. So, Adam, yes, you hit it right. I mean, these -- last year and this year a little abnormal. We're still growing in and getting the leverage from our sales on that SG&A, and so we'll continue to see that as a percentage of sales move down. And -- but what we're encouraged by is some of the innovation investments, whether it's digital or product that we're able to make to accelerate some of our growth on the top-line.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Adam, let me just add some additional color to that too because we're very intentional about where we are right now with our SG&A. We made a conscious decision in 2020 to not cut the capacity of the organization, to leverage our financial strength in that time to invest into growth, and to maintain the organization capacity. And you'll remember, because you know as well that, in '18 and '19, 2018 and '19, we were rightsizing the organization to become an Americas only focused company. Because we had a global organization, we were divesting our international, that was closing in 2019 and we were readying ourselves for Americas only cost structure, which we had done. And our SG&A as a percent of sales had really gotten to some very competitive levels, I'll say. So we were -- in 2020 we intentionally went into this knowing that we'd have a couple of years here, where we would have higher SG&A to get out in front and to reposition ourselves for stronger growth coming out of the pandemic.

So again, we're where we expected and wanted to be, given the growth initiatives that we're investing in. But over time, this isn't a long-term position for us to be in. We expect to get absorption and leverage on the SG&A as we get back to 2019 levels, number one, that's the first level of absorption that we need to get back to. And then, the traction from these growth initiatives we expect to get leverage on that SG&A. So this isn't where we're going to land and stay but over the next couple of years, we expect to generate leverage and to drive that SG&A's percent sales back down to more normal levels. Hope that helped.

Adam Baumgarten -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Thank you. Yeah.

Operator

And our next question is from is this Yves Bromehead of Exane BNP Paribas. Your line is open.

Yves Bromehead -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Good morning, thank you for taking my question. I have one question. I just wanted to know if you could comment a bit on price elasticity. I mean, prices for yourself on the Mineral Fiber is already up, double-digit. I guess as you go into 2022 you'll definitely need more price increases as well. So when you reflect on what is needed to offset costs and the impact it could have on demand, are you starting to see also some delays or cancellation due to the fact that you've got more inflation on your products and some competing products as well?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

The short answer to that Yves is, no. The backdrop and I think the level of inflation on other building products is far greater than Armstrong's line of products, in many cases. So we don't see demand being impacted on these projects or the start of new projects as a result of inflationary pressures at this point.

Yves Bromehead -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Okay, and if I could just follow up with one more. You mentioned at the backlog on Architectural Specialties was at a very high level when you entered the year but given delays, you were not able to reach the -- are you able to give us a level of an indication of what was the backlog in terms of year-on-year growth when you arrived in 2021 for AS and even maybe for MF?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I don't remember that number off the top of my head. I know we revealed the level of percentage was up over prior year, but it was at a very high level. I remember it being record levels of backlog coming into the year. And what I said earlier is that the rate of absorption of that new investment that we're making behind that backlog has slowed down. We fully expect to fully absorb that investment and get leverage on that investment going forward. But on top of that backlog, we've continued to build the backlog all throughout '21. So we expect again to exit the year into '22 with a very healthy Architectural Specialty backlog.

Yves Bromehead -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

And our next question is from Zen -- Ken Zener from KeyBanc. Your line is open.

Kenneth Zener -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Good morning, everybody.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Morning, Ken.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Morning, Ken.

Kenneth Zener -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

So pricing remains quite robust. Is that -- you're asking for more price, but is that partly reflecting your enhanced competitiveness in this environment, because if you're facing challenges I assume your other competitors are facing them as well? Could you maybe talk a little bit about pricing, inventory, competitive landscape?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Ken, I think our pricing is very strong as you are alluding to. And again, there is some inflationary backdrop and there's lots of inflation out there, so we are staying ahead of that with our customers. But we know we have to earn our price increases. And the way to hold on to more of that price is you have to earn it with value creation on service, renovation. And as an Americas focused company now, we have tremendous focus on new product innovation and our service levels have never wavered through this pandemic, and I think that really is making a stand out as a unique supplier. Even our competitors and our immediate competitors in this space have not had or have had service issues along the way. And so, I feel very good about that and again it's important for us to earn these price increases as we try to stay out ahead of the inflationary pressure.

Kenneth Zener -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Great. And it sounds like inventory is not such an issue. I mean, you had the plant outage but inventory we hear about delays. I mean, is that an issue that you guys are seeing? Thank you very much.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Ken, we're not seeing any inventory gyrations up or down. We're having a very -- we have a very -- we didn't miss any deliveries and shipments to customers through this. I mean, we've been able to manage that with our inventory levels. We're maintaining our inventory levels. I know our distributors are maintaining responsible inventory levels. I'd say it's a non-event in terms of the overall service equation at -- we don't expect to allow it to get to that point, either.

Kenneth Zener -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thank you.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Ken.

Operator

And our next question is from Stephen Kim of Evercore ISI. Your line is open.

Stephen Kim -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Yeah, thanks very much guys. Good results and thanks for all the commentary here. I wanted to drill a little bit into the AUV and price. So you've indicated that you've done a great job as you always do staying ahead of inflation, but this was such an unusual year and you were so proactive it seems in getting ahead of the price. What I'm wondering is whether or not the [Technical Issues] the back half of 2021 is actually seeing a little bit more than normal net benefit price over cost. And just as we're trying to model next year, just what we should be expecting? It would be helpful to know whether you think you're seeing any a little bit more than normal price cost-benefit in the back half of this year.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Well, I would say, Stephen, we're seeing what we would expect to see against the backdrop of inflation. Historically, and again you know this well that our AUV components of like-for-like pricing and mix have trended around the 50/50 mark in terms of their contribution over time. And deflationary periods, we get a little less like-for-like in a little more mix. And inflationary periods, we get a little bit more like-for-like to compensate for that.

I would say, what we're seeing now is a bias in that mix much more to the like-for-like that reflects the inflationary environment that we're in. And, yes, we're staying ahead of the inflationary pressures that we're seeing. We had three price increases this year which we -- as you know, we normally have two and we expect to continue on the cadence of our price increases to stay ahead of the inflation. And, yes, as long as we're in this inflationary backdrop, I would expect our AUV mix to be much more tilted toward the like-for-like pricing as a result of that.

Stephen Kim -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Yeah. Okay. Yeah, so it's an interesting dynamic. So that's helpful. Thanks for reminding us about that. Second question, I guess, relates to, I'm going to go with the share repurchase. You stepped that up a little bit here. In the past, we've seen you be fairly aggressive on share repurchase. I'm curious whether or not we can read into the trend here. Stepping up in 2Q is something that you'd look forward to either in the back half of this year or what you're kind of thinking into 2022.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Stephen. I wouldn't over-read into that. I'll share how we think about this and the way we think about this and the way we're behaving around this is that it's kind of the flex for us if we are not doing acquisitions or we -- obviously with the strong cash flow given, and then without doing acquisitions, we may have more to flex into a share repurchase. Now, we did just increase our dividend by 10% which is a nice vote of confidence in our outlook for cash flow generation going forward. But I think the way we think about the share repurchase is it's an opportunity for us depending on available cash based on our first two priorities of investing back in our business and of course the bolt-on acquisitions being our second priority.

And I might just mention there, Steve, we're still open for business there. It's true we haven't done an acquisition or closed an acquisition this year but we're still active in this area and our pipeline still looks very robust. So I feel like that's going to be a continuing second priority for us back behind investing in our business. And then available cash leftover, we plan to flex into our share repurchase, which we have a long runway to in terms of the authorization there.

Stephen Kim -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Yeah. Okay. Great. Thanks very much.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you, Stephen.

Operator

And our next question is from Phil Ng of Jefferies. Your line is open.

Unidentified Participant

Hey, guys. It's Maggie on for Phil. I guess first on Mineral Fiber volumes. Just trying to marry the commentary around sales per shipping day improving and then the implied volume decline next quarter. Can you talk about some of the drivers in there and is the choppiness Steve talked about more timing related with the projects getting pushed out or are you actually starting to see new projects in the pipeline slowing?

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

While we're certainly seeing new projects flowing and -- by reflecting our backlog and so forth, but the delays are the existing projects underway federal late and getting ready for our ceiling. So those are the kinds of delays that we're seeing in the kind of the near-term choppiness. Let me comment on the fourth quarter reference that you have.

In the fourth quarter last year, so this is a big -- a part of this anomaly that we're still in from last year to this year. We had a very large inventory build from a couple of our big box customers that has created an unusual base period for us too. So I wouldn't read into there is an acceleration of project delays or something like that. That would be the wrong -- we don't see it that way. But this is more of a base period comparison that I think you're modeling into.

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

And, Vic, I would add to that. While we're seeing some of that delay in projects more so on the AS side but a little bit on the Mineral Fiber side. That R&R piece of the business in Mineral Fiber has been a good bright spot. It's a good point.

Unidentified Participant

Okay. That's really helpful. And then switching over to margins. The 4Q guide implies a real inflection there. I was wondering if that's being driven by maybe the full impact of August price increase or any other big factors to call there and is one segment leading that margin recovery or is it pretty evenly split?

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Maggie, as you look at the different -- each segment, Mineral Fiber's margin contraction was really a reflection of this $3 million manufacturing headwind we experienced in Q3. That's the primary driver. On the AS side, it's as Vic mentioned, digesting the acquisitions and getting the scale for some of the investments we made. That's being more impacted by some of the job delays in that AS segment.

Unidentified Participant

Okay. Thanks, guys.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

And there are no further questions at this time. I will now turn the call over back to Vic Grizzle, President and CEO, for his closing remarks.

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Great. Thanks again, everybody, for joining us today, and we're pleased to report we are finishing out a very choppy quarter in terms of the recovery and -- but we do expect to finish the year strong. Again I continue to be encouraged by the macro view of what we're seeing in terms of GDP remaining strong, greater than 5% forecast for this year, greater than 4% for next year, the level of bidding activity, and as I talked about earlier, across all verticals, which reflects, I think the broad-based nature of the recovery in the activity, which is what you get when you have a 4% or 5% GDP market environment.

So I continue to be encouraged by that. And the traction that we're creating from our growth initiatives. So look forward to updating you on those at the end of the next quarter, but again, thank you for joining us today.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 53 minutes

Call participants:

Theresa Womble -- Director of Investor Relations

Vic Grizzle -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Brian MacNeal -- Chief Financial Officer

Keith Hughes -- Truist Securities -- Analyst

Garik Shmois -- Loop Capital -- Analyst

Susan Maklari -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Brian Biros -- Thompson Research Group -- Analyst

Adam Baumgarten -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Yves Bromehead -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Kenneth Zener -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Stephen Kim -- Evercore ISI -- Analyst

Unidentified Participant

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