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American States Water Co (AWR) Q1 2021 Earnings Call Transcript | The Motley Fool

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American States Water Co (NYSE:AWR)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
May 4, 2021, 2:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the American States Water Company Conference Call Discussing the Company’s First Quarter 2021 Results. The call is being recorded. If you would like to listen to the replay of this call, we’ll begin this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time and run through Tuesday, May 11, 2021, on the company’s website, www.aswater.com. The slides that the company will be referring to will also be available on the website. [Operator Instructions] Please note today’s conference will also be limited to one hour.

Presenting today from American States Water Company is Bob Sprowls, President and Chief Executive Officer; and Eva Tang, Senior Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer.

As a reminder, certain matters discussed during this conference call may be forward-looking statements intended to qualify for the safe harbor from liability established by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Please review a description of the company’s risks and uncertainties in our most recent Form 10-K and Form 10-Q on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, this conference call will include a discussion of certain measures that are not prepared in accordance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or GAAP in the United States and constitute non-GAAP financial measures under SEC rules. These non-GAAP financial measures are derived from consolidated financial information but are not presented in our financial statements that are prepared in accordance with GAAP. For more details, please refer to the press release.

At this time, I’ll turn the conference call over to Bob Sprowls, President and Chief Executive Officer of American States Water Company.

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Jamie. Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. I’ll begin with some brief comments on the quarter, Eva will then discuss some financial details and then I’ll wrap it up with some updates on regulatory filings, ASUS and dividends, and then we’ll take your questions.

In this year’s first quarter, we achieved consolidated earnings of $0.52 per share versus $0.38 per share during the first quarter of 2020. That’s a 37% increase or a 21% increase on an adjusted basis. You can see from this slide that each of our three operating segments contributed to the year-over-year earnings-per-share growth.

The results of our regulated utilities were driven by CPUC-approved rate increases, while our contracted services segment performed a higher level of construction work during the quarter compared to last year. Steve will discuss this slide in more detail.

We continue to execute on our business strategies in the quarter, provide high-quality water, wastewater and electric services to over 1 million people and make timely investment in our systems, all while keeping our unwavering commitment to reliability and safety. Our capital investments allow us to replace and upgrade critical infrastructure as well as ensure we can meet our customers’ needs for generations to come.

We also remain committed to conservation, environmental stewardship, employee safety and well-being, diversity and inclusion and sound governance practices. While these issues have always been at the core of our company, we created an environmental, social responsibility and governance section, also known as ESG, on our website, to more clearly make our disclosures available in these areas. The website includes our corporate social responsibility report, TCFD and SASB disclosures and other relevant documents. We will continue to focus on our ESG commitments, which benefit our customers, suppliers, employees, broader communities and ultimately, our shareholders.

In addition to producing strong first quarter results in all of our business segments, we filed the cost of capital application for the Water segment yesterday and saw new water and electric rates go into effect starting in January, which generate additional gross margin. And on a longer-term scale, we continue to invest in infrastructure at our regulated utilities and contracted services business to provide quality services to our customers, perform more work on the military bases we serve, compete for new military based contracts and deliver consistent dividend growth to our shareholders. I’ll touch on these in greater detail later on in the call.

I’ll now turn the call over to Eva to review the financial results for the quarter.

Eva G. TangSenior Vice President-Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

Thank you, Bob. Hello, everyone. Let me start with our first quarter financial results on Slide 8. I’m pleased to report that the company had a great quarter with consolidated earnings of $0.52 per share as compared to $0.38 per share last year. Excluding the $0.05 per share loss on an investment item from the first quarter of last year, earnings for the first quarter of 2021 increased by $0.09 per share or 20.9% as compared to last year.

For our water utility subsidiaries, Golden State Water Company, earnings were $0.33 per share as compared to $0.29 per share, as adjusted to exclude the $0.05 per share loss on investments incurred in the first quarter of last year. The increase in earnings were due to a higher water gross margin generated from new rates authorized by the California Public Utilities Commission, partially offset by an increase in depreciation expense and property taxes.

Our Electric segment’s earnings for the first quarter of 2021 were $0.07 per share as compared to $0.06 per share for the first quarter of 2020 due to an increase in electric rate and a decrease in interest expense.

Earnings from our Contracted Services segment increased $0.04 per share for the quarter. This was due largely to an increase in construction activity as a result of timing differences of when work was performed as compared to the first quarter of last year, as well as lower expenses for legal and other outside services. The timing differences were expected to reverse over the remainder of 2021. We still expect the Contracted Services segment to contribute $0.45 to $0.49 per share for this year.

Our consolidated revenues for the first quarter increased by $8 million as compared to the same period in 2020. Water revenues increased $3.6 million during the quarter, due to third year step increases for 2021 as a result of passing earnings tax. The increase in Electric revenues was largely due to CPUC-approved rate increases effective January 1 this year, as well as an increase in usage as compared to the first quarter of 2020.

Contracted Services revenues for the quarter increased $3.8 million, largely due to an increase in construction activity, resulting from timing differences of when construction activity was performed as compared to the first quarter of last year. In addition, there were increases in management fees due to the successful resolution of various economic price adjustments.

Turning to Slide 10. Our water and electric supply costs were $22.6 million for the quarter, an increase of $1.3 million from the same period last year. Any changes in supply costs for both the Water and Electric segments as compared to the adopted supply costs are tracked in balanced income.

Looking at total operating expenses other than supply costs. Consolidated expenses increased $1.7 million as compared to the first quarter of 2020. This was primarily due to an increase in construction costs at ASUS resulting from increased construction activity, partially offset by lower unplanned maintenance costs and the Water segment and an increasing administrative and general expense because of lower legal outside service costs.

Interest expense, net of interest income and other decreased by $2.5 million due primarily to gains on investments held for retirement benefit plan compared to losses incurred during the first quarter of last year as previously discussed.

Slide 11 shows the EPS bridge comparing the first quarter of 2021 with last year’s first quarter.

Turning to liquidity on Slide 12. Net cash provided by operating activity was $24.7 million as compared to $15.7 million in 2020. This was largely due to recent improvement in cash flow from accounts receivable from utility customers, which were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020. The timing of cash receipts and disbursements related to other working capital items also affected the change in net cash provided by operating activities.

Our regulated utility invested $35.8 million in company-funded capital projects during the quarter, and we estimate our full year 2021 company-funded capital expenditures to be $120 million to $135 million. In addition, we intended to prepay the entire $28 million of Golden State Water’s 9.56% notes issued in 1991 and due in 2021 later this month. The early redemption will include a premium of 3% of par value or $840,000 if redeemed before May 15, 2022.

Golden State Water recovery redemption premiums in its embedded cost of capital was filed in the cost of capital proceedings, where the cost savings from redeeming high interest rate debt are passed down to customers. At this time, we do not expect American States Water to issue additional equity.

With that, I’ll turn the call back to Bob.

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Eva. I’d like to provide an update on our recent regulatory activity. As you may know, the Water segment has an earnings test that must meet before implementing the second and third year step increases in the three-year rate cycle.

As we reported in our last call, we have timely invested in our capital projects and achieved capital spending consistent with the amount authorized by the CPUC. As a result, rate increases are expected to generate an additional $11.1 million in the adopted water gross margin for 2021 as compared to the adopted water gross margin for 2020. We continue to make prudent and timely capital investments.

Golden State Water filed its cost of capital application yesterday. We requested a capital structure of 57% equity and 43% debt, which is our currently adopted capital structure, a return on equity of 10.5% and a return on rate base of 8.18%. A final decision on this proceeding is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2021 with an effective date of January 1, 2022.

As we discussed in our prior calls, Golden State Water filed a general rate case application for all its water regions and the general office last July. This general rate case will determine new water rates for the years 2022 through 2024.

Among other things, Golden State Water requested capital budgets of approximately $450.6 million for the three-year rate cycle and another $11.4 million of capital projects to be filed for revenue recovery through advice letters when those projects are completed.

We are pleased that the administrative law judge assigned to this rate case has clarified that Golden State Water can continue using the water revenue adjustment mechanism or WRAM, and the modified cost balancing account, also known as the MCBA, until our next general rate case application covering the years 2025 through 2027.

In February 2021, the CPUC adopted a resolution that extended the existing emergency customer protections previously established by the CPUC through June 30, 2021, including the suspension of service disconnections for nonpayment of electric utility customers in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For water utilities, the moratorium on service disconnections was implemented in response to an order by the Governor of California, which we believe would require another action by the governor to cease the moratorium on service disconnections for our water customers. It is expected that the CPUC will work with the governor’s office to coordinate the lifting of the moratorium for water utility customers, consistent with the electric customers.

The CPUC’s February resolution did extend the COVID-19-related memorandum accounts established by Golden State Water and by Bear Valley Electric Service to track incremental costs associated with complying with the resolution. In addition, the resolution required utilities in California to file transition plans to address the eventual discontinuance of the emergency customer protections.

Golden State Water’s memorandum account is being addressed in its pending water general rate case while Bear Valley Electric Service intends to include the memorandum account in its next general rate case application expected to be filed in 2022. Golden State Water and Bear Valley Electric filed their transition plans with the PUC on April 1 this year.

Turning our attention to Slide 16. This slide presents the growth in Golden State Water’s rate base as authorized by the CPUC for 2018 through 2021. The weighted average water rate base has grown from $752.2 million in 2018 to $980.4 million in 2021, compound annual growth rate of 9.2%. The rate base amounts for 2021 do not include any rate recovery for advice letter projects.

Let’s move on to ASUS on Slide 17. ASUS’ earnings contribution increased by $0.04 per share versus last year’s first quarter to $0.12 per share, due to an overall increase in construction activity resulting from timing differences of when work was performed as compared to the first quarter of last year and lower legal fees and outside services expenses. We reaffirm our projection that ASUS will contribute $0.45 to $0.49 per share for 2021. Thus far, the COVID-19 pandemic has not had a material impact on ASUS’ operations.

We continue to work closely with the U.S. government for contract modifications relating to potential capital upgrade work for improvement of the water and wastewater infrastructure at the military bases we serve. In addition, completion of filings for economic price adjustments, requests for equitable adjustment, asset transfers, and contract modifications awarded for new projects provide ASUS with additional revenues and dollar margin.

The U.S. government is expected to release additional bases for bidding over the next several years. We’re actively involved in various stages of the proposal process at a number of bases currently considering privatization. We continue to have a good relationship with the U.S. government as well as a strong history and experience in managing water and wastewater systems at bases, and believe we’re well positioned to compete for these new contracts.

I’d like to turn our attention to dividends. Each quarter, I’d like to remind everyone of our long and consistent history of dividend payments, dating back to 1931, in addition to our unbroken 66 year history of annual dividend increases, which places us in an exclusive group of companies on the New York Stock Exchange.

In the past decade, our Board of Directors has raised the dividend at a compound annual growth rate of 9.4%, in line with our dividend policy, providing a compound annual growth rate of more than 7% over the long term.

I’d like to conclude our prepared remarks by thanking you for your interest in American States Water. And we’ll now turn the call over to the operator for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question today comes from Durgesh Chopra from Evercore ISI. Please go ahead with your question.

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Hey, Bob and Eva. Thanks for the update today. Just wanted to start on the rate case. Just anything that you can share with us in terms of what your most recent thoughts on timing? Obviously, your rate case and your peer water utility rate cases have dragged on for a while. Just any color there? What are you seeing on the ground in terms of just getting a resolution and a final decision?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we’re optimistic. We’re currently on schedule on the rate case. We’re working through it. A lot of times, Durgesh, as you know, it will be a function of whether there’s a settlement in the case and how many issues are settled. We have not started the settlement discussion process yet. So it’s really hard to kind of handicap how long it’s going to take to do this. The hearings are scheduled now for late June, early July. So — and then after that, we’ll see how it goes.

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Understood. So next step for us to watch is just the hearing process you said June, July. And then we’ll get sort of a more tighter handle on what the process moving forward looks like and the time line?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

That’s correct. I’ll tell you, two rate cases ago, we litigated the entire capital budget the last rate case we settled every items. So there weren’t any hearings. So hard to say where this one is headed. But if I had to guess, I would suspect we’re probably going to have hearings on something.

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Understood. Thanks. And then just maybe in light of the Biden America Jobs Plan calls for the investment in lead and water, wastewater assets. Just maybe how does that impact your regulated assets? And then also, does it mean that more military bases get privatized here in the near-term and in the long-term for your ASUS business?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So we’ll be following this very closely. There’s a lot to happen yet on the infrastructure package before we see how much of it sort of works its way through to our customers. Although lead issues are not a big issue for us in California. So to the degree that’s where some of the funding is directed to — we’re in pretty good shape there.

In terms of the military bases, really difficult to handicap that as well as to see kind of where the various departments of defense or various arm services groups are headed. The Army, the Air Force and the Navy, all sort of have their own view on how to move things forward. And so we’re working with each of them. But fair to say that there’s no two of those that move in lockstep.

We are seeing the Navy put out privatization, which is really good to see, because they heretofore hadn’t really done that. So it’s exciting for us. The Army has taken a bit of a strategic pause to look at some things. It will do that from time to time. We’re not worried about the future prospects. So it just really is an example of how each branch sort of does its own thing.

Eva G. TangSenior Vice President-Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

Durgesh, I think one positive news from all of this is that at least the federal government recognized the needed investment on infrastructure. So I think that’s the important point to make to the public.

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

And money will be flowing to industrial and water utilities. It’s difficult to say how much will, as you know, Durgesh, 85% of the country’s water is run by municipalities. But I mean, we’ll obviously be pushing for our share.

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Sure. Sure. Thanks for that color. And just one quick, if I can really quickly. The guidance, the ASUS guidance for this year, that does not — the numbers that — the $0.45 to $0.49, I believe, the range, that does not include any new bases, right? Because any new base is awarded this year, you won’t be earning on them until most likely 2022, am I right about that?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, that’s pretty correct. Usually on your traditional military privatization, there’s a nine or 10-month transition plan after the award is announced. So yes, that’s a good way to look at it.

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Okay. Thanks for the time, guys.

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Durgesh.

Eva G. TangSenior Vice President-Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And our next question comes from Angie Storozynski from Seaport Global. Please go ahead with your question.

Angie StorozynskiSeaport Global — Analyst

Thank you, guys. So I was just wondering, given the changes that will impact your water business, admittedly only in 2025. But I’m just wondering if there is — you’ve seen it at California water utilities that they’re trying to expand their geographic footprint beyond California by adding some either neighboring states or again, trying to diversify away from California. Is this something you would consider?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

We definitely would. We would be looking for utilities that are for sale with areas that have fair regulation. We already have, theoretically, 20% to 25% of our business, consolidated businesses out of California to date through ASUS. But we still like California regulation. I know folks — California regulation sometimes gets a bad rap. But we think the water utilities are able to earn their authorized returns if they manage things really well and I just — I understand that there’s a lot of drama. We always coach analysts that ignore the drama and look through to the orders, and the orders are generally very good. So but I mean we would look outside of California. If there’s systems for sale, we’d definitely be in their bidding.

Angie StorozynskiSeaport Global — Analyst

Okay. Thank you. And then secondly, again, you have plenty of time to file your next GRC. But given the change to WRAM or its removal, and given the volatility that we’re seeing at San Jose Water, do you think that the changes in tiering that you were planning would in a sense mitigate those water supply issues or changes in the water supply mix? Again, it’s forward-looking, but I’m just wondering if there are any lessons learned from what we’re seeing at SJW?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Right. I mean, we would look to try to reduce the risk to the company through our next filing. One advantage we may have over the other two companies that are working through this is they have to go first. And we will be — in this particular case, we’re lucky in that we’re the last one to have to file the new rate case.

So we’ll be watching California Water and California American very carefully and see what they’re able to do and how they’re structuring things and just try to learn from things that go really well for them or learn from things maybe that don’t go so well in terms of sort of getting the rate case through the commission.

We’re — we’ve got plenty of time to plan for this. So we think it’s — I have a lot of confidence in our management team that we’re going to be able to manage through Monterey-style WRAM and the incremental cost balancing account.

Eva G. TangSenior Vice President-Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

Angie, I think also the supply mix for each company is a little bit different. We have about 55% to 60% come from our own groundwater stores. The other 40% coming from the metropolitan wholesale agencies. We only have 5% or less than 5% surface water. So a little bit different situation in supply mix among the three companies public traded in California. So I don’t know how we can compare one with the other in the supply cost mix situation there.

Angie StorozynskiSeaport Global — Analyst

Okay. Okay. And then just one follow-up on ASUS. So you’ve maintained the range of earnings for this year despite some stronger earnings year-over-year. And I know that there are some timing differences. But I thought that last year’s earnings and other services were somewhat suppressed by COVID. So assuming that there is — I won’t say it’s going away, but there’s some improvement in COVID-related restrictions. Wouldn’t that actually translate automatically into higher earnings?

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. It’s possible that it would. It’s just — you go through a number of — you kind of have to stage things. We’ve requested additional work on the bases we serve. You typically do the engineering for, I want to say, about 30% to 35% of those projects when you submit them. If they then get looked at more carefully, you need to sort of complete the engineering on it. So there is a bit of a lead time on this particular work. In fact, the new capital upgrade work, we saw a big jump in the amounts that get awarded to us. That amount was down a bit in 2020 from the prior years. And we haven’t seen a substantial change in that in 2021 from 2020 in terms of the NCU jobs that have been awarded — sorry, new capital upgrade work.

Angie StorozynskiSeaport Global — Analyst

Okay, understand. Okay. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And it’s showing no additional questions. I’d like to turn the conference call back over to Mr. Sprowls for any closing remarks.

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Thank you, Jamie. Just want to wrap up today by thanking you all for your participation today and your attention and your coverage. We look forward to speaking with you next quarter. So thank you.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 34 minutes

Call participants:

Robert J. SprowlsPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Eva G. TangSenior Vice President-Finance, Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Secretary and Treasurer

Durgesh ChopraEvercore ISI — Analyst

Angie StorozynskiSeaport Global — Analyst

More AWR analysis

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