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Q3 2024 Ferrellgas Partners LP Earnings Call


Tamria Zertuche; President, Chief Executive Officer; Ferrellgas Partners LP

Michael Cole; Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer of General Partner; Ferrellgas Partners LP



Good day, and thank you for standing by, welcome to the Ferrellgas Partners third quarter fiscal 2024 earnings conference call. (Operator Instructions) Please be advised that today's conference is being recorded.
I would now like to hand the conference over to your speaker today, Tamria Zertuche, please go ahead.

Tamria Zertuche

Good morning. My name is Tamria Zertuche, Chief Executive Officer and President of Ferrellgas. I want to start by saying how proud I am of our more than 4,000 Ferrellgas employees. Our experienced operations professionals. They planned well and they executed even better against the weather anomaly we experienced this quarter. They managed expenses in key areas of operations, including driving fleet expenses down by over 8% when compared to prior year.
Regarding weather impacting we have taken positive steps over the last four years to create balance in our demand across the different customer segments of our business. Our focus has been on growing our weather agnostic customer base by both customer type and geographic locations. We have made great progress in the areas of Tank Exchange, Autogas and in our Industrial Commercial segments.
However, the extended and unseasonably warm heating season negatively impacted the heating segments of our business. We experienced about 10% warmer temperatures across the dense centrally geographic areas of our business. Additionally, we regretted, seeing some long-standing businesses downsized their footprints and even close their doors.
The effects of inflation did make a mark this quarter, but our hard-working account managers, they were able to redeploy some of the assets related to those closed businesses and other areas allowing for a decrease in overall capital expenditure.
Finally, I would like to again call out the hard work of all the employees of Ferrellgas and the strong contributions that they make to this great industry.
I will now turn the floor over to our Chief Financial Officer, Mike Cole, to go over our financial results for the quarter.


Michael Cole

Thank you, Tamria, and thank you all for joining us on today's call.
I'd like to remind everyone that some statements made during this call may be considered forward-looking and that various risks, uncertainties and other factors could cause actual performance to differ materially from anticipated results. These factors are discussed in our Form 10-K filed on September 29, 2023, and other documents filed from time to time with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Additionally, we note that the purpose of this call is to discuss the results of operations for the third fiscal quarter ended April 30, 2024. As Tamria commented, warm weather negatively impacted our financial results as heating degree days during the third fiscal quarter were 15.7% warmer than normal and 9.8% warmer than the prior year quarter.
Record high temperatures across much of the United States drove an 11% decrease in gallons sold. Revenues were $71.6 million lower, which was partially offset by a decrease of $52 million in cost of product as compared to the prior year period. As a result, gross profit decreased 7% for the third fiscal quarter 2024 compared to the prior year period.
Margin per gallon for the third fiscal quarter 2024 increased to 4% compared to the prior year period. That favorable increase was due to segment mix. Our platinum plus fixed cost program for residential customers, national account pricing improvements and other cost dynamics.
Operating income per gallon for the third fiscal quarter of 2024 decreased 10% compared to the prior year period primarily due to the decrease in gross profit, previously noted. We recognized net earnings attributable to Ferrellgas Partners LP of $52.8 million and $72.4 million in the third fiscal quarter of 2024 and 2023, respectively.
Operating expense as a percent of total revenue increased 16% for the third fiscal quarter. The $3.2 million or 2% increase in operating expense was primarily due to a $2.6 million increase in personnel expense, which was comprised of a $5.2 million increase in medical claims paid, partially offset by a $2.6 million decrease in incentive accruals.
Adjusted EBITDA, a non-GAAP financial measure decreased by $21.6 million or 17% to $104 million in the third fiscal quarter compared to a $125.6 million in the prior year quarter. The change was primarily due to the increase in gross profit noted above and warmer than normal weather. We also made a $99.9 million cash distribution on April 9, 2024 to Class B unitholders of record as of March 25, 2024.
This brings our total Class B distributions paid to date to approximately $250 million. It is important to note that these distributions are discretionary and are made possible by the company's continued strong performance. Even after giving effect to these distributions, the company's cash balance at the end of third quarter was $73.6 million.
I will now turn the call back to Tamria.

Tamria Zertuche

Thank you, Mike. Focusing again on our counter seasonal Blue Rhino business the warmer than normal temperatures and strategic initiatives resulted in an increase of 19% during the third fiscal quarter, in Blue Rhino's EBITDA compared to prior year period. Consumer demand surged as the warmer weather prompted an early kickoff to the grilling season.
Additionally, Blue Rhino tank exchanged increased in areas where the electric grid failed due to the heat. We leveraged our national footprint, supply contracts and our experienced labor force executing well against higher than normal demand in our tank exchange business. To date, Blue Rhino operations professionals have installed over 500 self-service kiosks, which allow consumers to purchase a propane cylinder 24 hours a day, seven days a week quickly, and conveniently.
Home delivery service is also available in 19 markets with plans to expand. Additionally, Blue Rhino decreased capital expense by nearly $8 million this fiscal year due to supply chain improvements and inventory turns improvements.
Now to turn to the technology front, the company continues to invest in opportunities to improve customer service and reduce overall costs through automation and other tools. We've made great progress on our logistics projects, which have reduced costs over $1.2 million in fiscal 2024.
Tank monitoring and telematics technology ensures our customers have a ready supply of propane in addition to improving the efficiency of our delivery efforts. Also, our new credit processing platform went live a few months ago. This platform offers a seamless payment process for our customers, and it is on track for an estimated $1.2 million in annual cost reductions.
Now before we move to the live Q&A section of our call, I want to turn the call back to our moderator. But before I do that, as mentioned in the announcement for this call, any additional questions might be submitted via our investor relations e-mail box at

Question and Answer Session


Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, as a reminder, to submit a question, please use the Ask a Question tab on the webcast. Please stand by while we compile the Q&A roster.

Tamria Zertuche

All right. Good morning. As we are looking through the questions, we see that there are several related to the June 7, filing on the Eddystone. We are still evaluating that pending case and we will not be addressing questions on that topic today.
I think and we're going to start with a question regarding on our OpEx and movement up in OpEx as compared to prior year and what are things that we're doing to mitigate the overall OpEx expense?
So first of all, I think you've seen in some of our releases that we are working on a enterprise-wide ERP system. So obviously there's consultants, widespread training across the company that are related to that. Additionally, we have seen higher medical expenses this year, which we believe to be one-time in occurrence as compared to prior year.
And then when you think about our business, it's people and it's our fleet and the fleet side of things. We implemented telematics technology at the beginning of this year, actually fast tracked it as we saw diesel prices sort of seems steady in comparison to prior year and the cost of auto parts have telematics will greatly reduce those two areas. So those are the expense management mitigating items that we're currently working on.

Michael Cole

Yeah, good morning. This is Mike, so we have received questions around our non-maintenance CapEx and in particular, the investment returns for non-maintenance CapEx.
And so when we look at capital spending, there's essentially three buckets, we'll look at maintenance CapEx, growth CapEx and then M&A CapEx. And so when I refer to non-maintenance CapEx, it's really growth and M&A CapEx, and that is more a function of opportunities in business needs.
In terms of the investment returns, I think as everyone knows on the call is there is a hurdle rate that companies will look to in terms of making those type of discretionary investments where we don't disclose what our hurdle rate is. We think that's a sensitive information, especially as it relates to M&A activities. But those discretionary investments are made when they meet or exceed our internal hurdle rate.
The cost of our capital is out there in the market in terms of what our senior notes are trading at and what the Class B units and the preferreds are at. So people, you can calculate what you think our cost of capital is, but what we'll do on discretionary capital spending is make sure exceeds our hurdle rate and then that's what drives the financial portion of that decision.
There was a question that came up about when do we expect to file our 10-Q when is the deadline for the filing?
The 10-Q was filed last evening with the federal holiday. It will be available tomorrow morning, we received an extension and an automatic extension from the SEC with the filing that we made was either last Thursday or last Friday. So the 10-Q has been filed and will be available tomorrow morning. In turn, there's been some questions and we're looking at the questions so we're trying to prioritize them. So apologies for the pause the extending the revolver into '26 senior notes, two separate issues.
As many know that revolver matures in March '25, and one current this past March. We have been in discussions with the banks about extending and amending the revolver. We've had generally supportive conversations with the banks that process or that extension is in process. In terms of the '26 senior notes and an early refinancing of the '26 senior notes, they're callable currently at 1.344% in March of next year, they'll will be callable at par.
We have been evaluating whether or not it makes economic sense to do an early refinancing of the '26 senior notes, the indicative pricing that we've seen coming out of the high yield market now is much more attractive compared to where it was six to nine months ago.
And it's something that has caught our attention. And when we've had discussions with some of the fixed income investors. They've been very supportive of our access to the debt capital markets. So we continue to evaluate whether or not that makes sense. Obviously, the ruling this past Friday adds another aspect to that discussion, and we'll continue to evaluate whether or not it makes sense for us to come to the capital markets now, for the early refinancing of the '26 notes.
Some questions on liquidity. We have a couple of different questions on liquidity.
So when we talk about liquidity, there are several -- there's a couple of components. One is the cash balance and at the end of the quarter, the cash balance was $73 million -- $74 million, thereabouts. I'm going to round up the $75 million for easy math, we have a $350 million revolver. We do need to maintain per the financing documents on $100 million of liquidity so that puts revolver availability at $250 million.
And then we have about $70 million of LCs outstanding. All of is obviously public information that puts us down to about $180 million of availability under the revolver, combined with the $75 million of cash, that puts us at roughly $250 million-ish of of liquidity.

Tamria Zertuche

I would like to take a question here on sort of all CPG margin performance over prior years. And our outlook on that, I think margin performance is directly related to our ability to safely deliver our product to our customers with an experience they like and want to engage with again. So we believe our investments in safety and training, customer service and technology.
Our largely supportive of this continued margin performance and margin pressures are the same today, as they've always been. The economic well-being of our customers on demand factors, some related to weather, also fluctuations in the commodity pricing. We have shown great acumen in terms of being able to take advantage of those fluctuations, disruptions in the supply.
Those things are opportunities that will always remain in this industry. And if you've looked at it over the past 10 years, you can see that Ferrellgas, we've always taken advantage of those, and we see those opportunities in the future as well.

Michael Cole

Related to the refinancing of the senior notes, there are a couple of questions coming in around the capital stack and plans that we may have regarding restructuring our capital structure. This seems to be a question we get often when we go to the industry conferences, we are continuing to evaluate whether or not there's there's options around the capital structure. I talked earlier about the '26 senior notes.
There is nothing obviously were that we could announce today in terms of the restructuring right now, we are focusing on operating the business and reducing costs, including reducing our capital costs, will continue to evaluate restructuring options and when it makes sense for us to take actions we will do that. But right now there's nothing to announce regarding the restructuring of the capital structure.

Tamria Zertuche

We're jumping around between capital structure and company performance items that I think that hopefully helps with some keeping the questions moving.
There are a few questions around Blue Rhino. So I want to call out again the fact that we were able to decrease your CapEx expense in regards to Blue Rhino by $8 million this fiscal year, really due to supply chain improvements and inventory turns. We focused the first three years of this transformation of our company on our retail division, we haven't been shy about sharing that.
And our sites turned to Blue Rhino really over this past year, we've added 6,600 accounts. We've been able to increase our inventory turns and do the supply chain tweak at our production facilities to really continue to drive CapEx expense which then obviously increases our cash flow.
That has been a focus. We've also installed over 500 self-service kiosks that will create demand. We're meeting demand, then 24 hours a day. So we're excited about all that's happening on the Blue Rhino front, excited about the people and what they're doing in that area of the business.

Michael Cole

Another question came in on the refinancing of our bonds and how we think about the refinancing of the bonds?
From a conceptual perspective, there is the economic evaluation where you, as you quantify with the call premium is you quantify what the increase in interest expense would be from going from up five and 38 or whatever the rate is seven and three quarters, 8% whatever rate people want to assume and you can quantify what that impact is on the dollar amount of interest expense, you can then do a kind of a breakeven analysis to figure out, okay, where do treasuries or credit spreads need to move in order to mitigate that benefit.
So we certainly look at it from a economic perspective, but then there's more of a qualitative aspect to that evaluation. And that's one of derisking the company in terms of taking refinancing risk off the table in '26. And if we were to go out now or sometime in the next few months and do an early refinancing of the '26 that would derisk and that 2026 refinancing event.
So we look at it both from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. And as I mentioned earlier, we continue to evaluate whether or not an early refinancing of the senior notes makes sense. We also received a question on the amount required to retire the Class B shares. That's a function of additional distributions. It's a function of the timing of the redemption of the Class B's just to level set with everyone, the Class B's can be higher. Can you talk about the retirement of the Class B shares that really I'm interpreting that to mean the redemption of the Class B shares.
So there is a IRR requirement in the Class B documents, I would those are available publicly, I believe, through prior filings from back in 2021 you could go in there, you could calculate based on, you know what the distributions we made to date and you could pick a redemption date and you could calculate what the -- where the redemption amount would be?
Sorry, I can't give you a specific answer because it's dependent on the time period in which those are redeemed. But the distributions that we've made certainly reduced that redemption value versus not having made any distributions.

Tamria Zertuche

We're pausing. We're rebuilding some of these questions, make sure that we've hit the categories that and to answer most of what is here.

Michael Cole

A question has come in regarding ways to increase liquidity to deal with things like the Class B shares as well as any litigation expenses. As Tamria said, at the onset of the Q&A, we're not going to go into detailed comments around the litigation, our response with litigation or potential responses to the litigation and the impact that those various responses might have on the company.
As I mentioned earlier, our liquidity right now is consistent with prior periods in terms of revolver availability and cash balances. We think we have sufficient liquidity to continue to operate the business, and we'll continue to evaluate what our liquidity needs are, given the events that are in front of the company, including the Eddystone judge.

Tamria Zertuche

There's a couple of questions around sort of weather and how it impacts the company. And I would take that opportunity to talk about the positive sides of how it impacts before I kind of dive into the other.
So on the positive side, if you think about we have spent much time trying to move the company into weather agnostic areas. And I spoke a little bit about tank exchange, our Blue Rhino brand already. There's also autogas. We continue to have wins in this area.
Obviously, Autogas being weather agnostic. Additionally, on business support of small businesses, forklift cylinder and our Industrial Commercial, we've done a really good job of managing our volumes across all of those areas. Weather events like ice storms, hurricanes, anything that leads to power outages creates a huge demand for propane, it's portable.
It has one of the best distribution networks. There is especially at times of great need. So when there's unpredictable weather such as that I just talked about, it really creates great demand. A little bit of a picture into the tank exchange side the January -- the month of January had power outages due to heat and cold. And the tank exchange business actually had volumes that were close to summer months in this off in the off-season months.
On the flip side, it's no secret that the Ferrellgas footprint finds itself most dense in the center of the country and the upper Midwest and in particular and we have done our acquisitions on the coast as a specific geographic diversity, tactic to move ourselves out of just that middle of the country. It was warmer there on warmer than it's been in our 10-year study.
So we believe that the weather agnostic tactics we're taking will help mitigate that as we go forward and will never be completely weather independent, but we are continuing to take steps to create less dependency, in particular in that center part of the country.

Michael Cole

There is one more -- there's one more question that just came in that we will address before Tamria provides her closing comments.
And the question is, to what extent do your revolver lenders think about the '26 maturity when considering extending the revolver maturity. I can't speak for the revolver banks and you would have to talk to them directly or talk to banks and generally about how they view those things.
I would say from a conceptual perspective and the banks generally would want it in front of any type of refinancing event and whether or not that's the case for our bank group. I can't opine on that, but generally, banks do like to sit in front of material refinancing events. But that's I think that is the end of our questions. Tamria. Thank you.

Tamria Zertuche

Thank you for your interest in Ferrellgas. Listen, we truly appreciate you calling in today. And asking questions and allowing us to speak about the company. It's something that we're very proud of. We think we have a great story. We know we have a great future, we are really proud of the work that we've been doing to continue to transform the company.
Those of us in this room here answering these questions, we know that the success of the company is entirely due to the efforts of our employee owners across the country. It's their attention to safety their attention to our customers' expense management as they fuel the success.
So thank you for tuning in today, and I'll turn it back over to the moderator.


Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's conference call. Thank you for your participation. You may now disconnect.