Nortech Systems Incorporated

Q1 2024 Earnings Conference Call


spk01: Systems Incorporated First Quarter 2024 Earnings Conference Call. With me on the line today are Jay Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, and Andrew LaFrance, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of Finance. All lines have been placed on a listen-only mode, and the call will be open for questions and comments following the management presentation. At this time, it is my pleasure to turn the call over to Andy LaFrance.
spk05: Thank you, Matthew. I'd also like to welcome everyone to today's conference call. Jay will begin the call with a review of our operations, recent developments, and business outlook. Then I will review Nortec's first quarter 2024 financial results before turning it back over to Jay for his closing comments. Then we will open up the call for your questions. Before we continue, please note that statements made during this call may be forward looking statements regarding expected net sales, earnings, future plans, opportunities, and other company expectations. These estimates, plans, and other forward looking statements involve unknown and known risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied on this call. These risks, including those that are detailed in our most recent Form 10Q, may be amended or supplemented. The statements made during this conference call are based on information known by NORTEC as of this date and time of this call, and we assume no obligation to update the information in today's call. You can find NORTEC's complete safe harbor statements in our SEC filings. And with that, I'll turn it back over to Jay for his opening comments. Jay?
spk06: Thank you, Andy, and good afternoon, everyone. We're glad you can join us today. In the first quarter of 2024, we extended our reporting of solid operating results, notably by improving margins and managing expenses. During the first quarter, I have met with hundreds of Nortec employees to share our appreciation of their efforts and our results on behalf of the management, board of directors, and shareholders. Everything starts and ends with how our employees live Nortec's values of teamwork, excellence, commitment, innovation, and integrity every day. It is very clear to me that our employees are living these values, and we would not have delivered our first quarter of 2024 financial results without our team members' continued outstanding contributions. Once again, the whole Nortec team deserves our sincere appreciation. Touching briefly on our financial results now, we posted net sales of $34.2 million for the first quarter, along with continued improvements in gross margin. We work carefully with our customers as strategic partners to adjust pricing as needed to reflect market conditions and supply chain realities. Our EBITDA levels were also solid at $1.6 million for the first quarter. In the 12-month period ended March 31, 2024, we have generated $8.1 million of EBITDA. Overall, we are seeing a shift in customer ordering activities wherein they are seeking to shorten their ordering times, which is requiring us to work on different strategies to stock inventories and work with vendors to have ready-to-pick parts on hand. We believe this is an expected evolution of supply chain management given the normalization of supply chains and focus on near-shoring strategies. We recently hired a new global leader in supply chain management to lead this initiative. We are also noting, similar to many other contract manufacturers, recent reduced visibility to bookings in the next several quarters as compared with order patterns in the prior year quarters as customers are balancing their inventories and therefore deferring the placement of some workers. Earlier today, we announced our plan to consolidate our Minnesota facilities to optimize our operating expense structure and plant capacity utilization to increase the efficiency of our operations. Part of our strategy for continue to improve the bottom line and direct our future capital expenditures. Specifically, we are closing our Blue Earth Minnesota production facility by the end of 2024. We will be shifting wire and cable assembly and system level assembly manufacturing to Nortec's Bemidji, Minnesota location. All of the Blue Earth employees are being extended job offers at our other Minnesota facilities. We are very hopeful to keep all of the Blue Earth employees in the Nortec family. Further, we are reducing the square footage of our Maple Grove, Minnesota headquarters and engineering facility by almost 30%. This reduction reflects our current and future space needs. which have been heavily influenced by the company's hybrid remote work arrangements. Andy will speak in more detail on the impact of these facility optimization activities. Our three-tier global strategy of manufacturing in the US, Mexico, and China gives Nortec's customers flexibility in improving their own competitiveness. We can move production around based on factors like cost, operational requirements, quality control, and intellectual property management. Our customer teams and engineers evaluate each customer's needs to determine the most suitable location, which may also change over the course of a product's lifetime. In terms of China, as I mentioned in past calls, much of our production work there is built in country for country, a nearshoring approach to better serve our customers in the global market, including reduced shipping and cost times. Next, I will turn it over to Andy for a more in-depth look at our financial results. Andy? Thank you, Jay.
spk05: In the next few minutes, we'll provide certain details of our financial performance in the first quarter of 2024, but I would encourage you to review our press release issued earlier this morning and our latest filings this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as they contain far more information about our business operations and financial results than we will cover on this call. As a continued theme, we have historically noted that our individual quarterly performance can be affected by outside factors. These might include timing fluctuations, including seasonal fluctuations, customer shipments, and supply chain issues. Any of these could materially impact a particular quarter either positively or negatively. Consequently, we believe it is more appropriate to review our business on a 12-month basis rather than focusing on quarterly performance. This approach will help normalize these potential anomalies and offer a better gauge of our strategy's long-term success. So today, while I'll focus most of my comments on the first quarter results, I will provide some comparisons for the 12-month period ended March 31, 2024, and compared with the same period ended March 31, 2023. As of March 31st, 2024, we did see sustained year-over-year nine-day backlogs. And for the quarter, we realized gross margin improvement as well as increased levels of net income EBITDA as compared with the first quarter of 2023. Net sales for Q1 2024 totaled 34.2 million. This represents a 1.9% decrease from net sales of 34.9 million in the first quarter of 2023. Nortec's first quarter net sales performance was driven by year-over-year growth in the aerospace and defense category, offset by decreases in medical and industrial. For the quarter, the medical market was down by $1.1 million, or 5.1%, as compared with the same quarter in 2023, with the majority of the decrease coming from medical component products. For the quarter, net sales from the aerospace and defense category totaled $5.9 million, a 44.9% increase from the prior year quarter. And net sales from Nortec's industrial category were down $8.1 million or 14.8% from the prior year quarter. First quarter 2024 gross margin totaled $5.4 million or 15.9% of net sales compared with gross profit of 5.5 million or 15.7% of net sales in the same prior year quarter. First quarter operating expenses totaled $4.3 million, a 3.1% decrease from the first quarter 2023 operating expenses of $4.4 million. As a result of our performance in the first quarter of 2024, we realized net income of $765,000 or $0.26 per diluted share compared with $681,000 or $0.23 per diluted share in the same quarter of 2023. As Jay discussed in his comments, our board of directors yesterday approved two actions to facilitate our optimization of our North American facilities footprint. First, we announced the closure of our Blue Earth facility by the end of 2024. The decision to close our Blue Earth facility was not without much forethought and deliberation. While we're closing this facility, our commitment to all of our Blue Earth employees will continue through offering of employment at another NORTEC facility in Minnesota. We hope that all of our Blue Earth employees will continue with NORTEC. We estimate the Blue Earth closing will result in a restructuring charge of $1 million to $1.1 million in the last three quarters of 2024. These expenses include estimated non-cash impairment charges of $400,000, with the remaining costs consisting of payments to move equipment, shut down the Blue Earth facility, and employee retention. We expect to pay substantially all of the cash restructuring costs in 2024. Second, we have signed an amendment to our Maple Grove, Minnesota lease to reduce our square footage by approximately 30% while repositioning the retained space to better serve our needs for the next several years. We expect to realize annual savings starting in 2025 of at least $1.6 million related to these two consolidation activities. Moving to the cash flow statement, first, for the quarter ended March 31, 2024, net cash provided by operating activities totaled $2.8 million as compared with $1.7 million for the same period in 2023. As noted in our press release distributed this morning, we used earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortization, or EBITDA as a key performance indicator to manage our business. In the press release, we have provided a reconciliation of our financial performance determined in accordance with the U.S. generally accepted kind principles and EBITDA. For the quarter ended March 31, 2024, EBITDA increased 5.1% to $1.637 million as compared with $1.558 million for the same period in 2023. This increase is largely due to improved gross margins and operating expense management. Turning to the balance sheet, as of March 31, 2024, cash and cash equivalents totaled $4 million, up from $1.7 million as of December 31, 2023. The fluctuation in cash balances reflects timing of cash receipts and expenditures, as well as line of credit borrowings. We ended the first quarter of 2024 with $8.1 million of borrowing capacity under our line of credit. Counts receivable as of March 31, 2024 were $16.1 million, down from $19.3 million as of December 31, 2023. This is in line with our strong fourth quarter sales and the expected timing of customer payments. Inventories were $23 million as of March 31, 2024, as compared with 21.7 as of December 31, 2023. Our contract asset, which represents revenue earned but not yet billed to customers, decreased slightly to $14.2 million as of March 31, 2024, as compared with $14.5 million at the end of 23. This decrease reflects the timing of customer shipments. As a reminder, the majority of our net sales are generated from products manufactured specifically to a customer's unique application, and as such, we recognize revenue in accordance with U.S. generally accepted client principles as we produce those products. As we also disclosed in our press release issued earlier today, we have presented non-GAAP results including trailing 12-month financial data in EBITDA. For the trailing 12-month period ended March 31st, 2024, net sales were $138.7 million as compared with $138.3 million for the same 12-month period ended March 31st, 2023. In addition, EBITDA for the 12-month period ended March 31, 2024 with $8.1 million, as compared with $6.7 million for the 12-month period ended March 31, 2023. As we stated in March, our top financial priorities for 2024 remain unchanged. First, we are extremely focused on continuing to strengthen our balance sheet. Next, we will take further advantage of opportunities to align our operations and infrastructure with the market demand that we are seeing to deliver sustainable EBITDA growth, as well as driving improvements in free cash flow. Coupled with discipline, lean operation execution, expense management, and R&D innovation, we believe Nortec can deliver on our objectives. With that, I will turn it back over to Jay for his closing comments. Jay?
spk06: Thanks, Andy. Before we open the call to your questions, I want to touch on three related areas that together serve our customers and help advance Nortec's corporate stewardship. Our engineering expertise, product innovation, and sustainability plans. For engineering expertise, we have a dedicated engineering services team that is focused on enhancing manufacturability and serviceability, supply chain risk mitigation, and cost efficiency for our customers. Earlier in this call, I mentioned the benefits of our three-tier cost structure across the U.S., Mexico, and China, and how we can quickly adopt our global resources to fit our customers' changing needs. Nortec's engineering capabilities also further our research and development activities with advancements like the Expanded Beam Extreme Fiber Optic Technology, or EBX, that we announced in January. EBX is designed for digital data transmission and offers improved speed and reliability when compared to traditional copper. At the simplest level, the vast majority of Nortec's products provide digital connectivity solutions that transmit data and power in various applications. As you may know, the Internet of Things, or IoT, integrates a variety of electronic components such as microcontrollers, sensors, actuators, and connectivity modules. These components, in turn, enable IoT-connected devices to collect, parse, transmit, and receive data. More and more today, that data is being evaluated and analyzed using human intelligence and combined artificial and human intelligence for improved performance and data management for our customers as well as for their customers. More data needs... More data needs better data pipelines, and that's where Nortec comes in. Technology like our EBX smart cables helps collect and distribute this data faster, more cost-effectively, and more securely across these sophisticated networks. We see strong opportunities for growth. For example, industrial IoT applications are expected to experience impressive double-digit annual growth from 2023 to 2030, according to Fortune Business Insights. Our pivot to more fiber optic technology improves product performance for our customers by offering unparalleled speed and reliability. It also aligns with our sustainability goals we share with many of our customers. When compared with traditional copper, fiber optics offer significant environmental benefits during both production and operation, including improved energy efficiency and less material usage while decreasing the carbon footprint of the complex cables we manufacture. For example, aerospace and defense customers are adopting fiber optic technology due to these key advantages. Reduce size, weight, and power requirements, immunity to electromagnetic interference, and greater durability in harsh environments. Harsh environments, of course, are very common in aerospace and defense applications. Nortec has a proud history of serving these customers unique needs dating back roughly 30 years. It's the smallest of our three core markets by net sales, but very important to our diversification. Our contributions to our national defense are also a source of great pride for Nortec employees. The majority of our aerospace and defense cables are still the traditional black, rounded, and molded type common and legacy defense systems, such as shipboard missile launchers for the Navy. But we are looking to the future with fiber optics and evolving along with our customers. In closing, we are excited about technological developments across all of our markets and expect them to support our long-term sales momentum, aided by stabilization supply chain and customer orders. Last month, IPC cited improving outlook among global electronics manufacturers with stronger demand and shipments reported in January. Our progress over recent quarters confirms that outlook. Now we'll open the call for your questions.
spk01: Matthew, go ahead and open the lines. Certainly. Everyone at this time will be conducting a question and answer session. If you have any questions or comments, please press star 1 on your phone at this time. We do ask that while posing your question, please pick up your handset if you're listening on speakerphone to provide optimum sound quality. Once again, if you have any questions or comments, please press star 1 on your phone. Please hold while we poll for questions.
spk02: Thank you. Once again, everyone, if you have any questions or comments, please press star, then 1 on your phone. Please hold while we poll for questions. Thank you. Your first question is coming from Aaron Salen from Marion Road Capital Management. Your line is live.
spk03: Hello, Aaron. Go ahead, Aaron. Can you hear us? Once again, Aaron Salen, your line is ready.
spk00: Hey, sorry. I was on mute. That's all right. We figured. As far as the Blue Earth closure goes, you guys own that facility, correct? We do. Are you going to put that up for sale?
spk06: Yes, we will. Once we move operations out of Blue Earth and up to Bemidji, we will put that on the market.
spk00: And can you say how that facility compares to the Bemidji and Mankato facilities that you sold a few years ago?
spk06: Yeah, so it's an older facility. It happens to be larger. It's quite a bit less efficient, if you will. And as we've seen a shift in the global market, we've seen a shift of business out of Bemidji, for example, to Mexico. Bemidji, by the way, is a plant that is certified for aerospace defense. And it just made sense with a newer, more efficient facility in Bemidji to move operations and hopefully as many of our really, really good people as possible up to Bemidji.
spk00: Okay. Yeah, it makes sense. And then as far as like the, I guess, when I look out 12 months from now, just given the earnings of the company and any sort of cash coming in from a real estate sale, it looks like you should be net cash. positive by the end of the year. What are your, I guess, anticipated priorities for using cash going forward?
spk06: Well, as you might imagine, there's a number of things. It's nice to have the credit to pay down the line of credit, especially with interest rates a little bit higher. But we're also investing in taking good care of our employees, both in terms of benefits, the environment we're going to invest in our plants, our existing plants. Part of the reason we're moving to Bemidji is we have made some significant investments in that plant to make it a lot more sustainable and more employee-friendly, if you will. And we expect we will continue to do that as well, along with continuing to fund our innovations. We talked about EBX. We expect to keep pushing on, pushing the envelope in terms of fiber optic technologies for our customers in the future.
spk00: Okay. And then do you have any sense as far as where working capital or inventory levels stand in some of your customers? I know in the queue there was mention of like destocking at the industrial and medical divisions, but do you have any insight into kind of like where we are in that cycle?
spk05: Aaron, I think... As many contract manufacturers have seen, it's kind of across the board. And the way I would characterize it, you've got some customers in the medical device area in particular where they're level setting their inventories. I would also say, you know, we have some customers that are in a transition where they're at end of life of one version going to their next version. And so it's really given our diversification we have in our portfolio of customers in those two segments, it's really kind of a mixed bag. We do think that's what is happening is going back to more 2020, 2021 sort of buying habits where we see shorter lead time and less bookings. And we're just working our way through that with our customers right now to get better clarity to what the second half of 2024 is going to look like.
spk00: Got it. And as far as A&B goes, really, really strong growth there. Are there any kind of like projects or like subsectors that you can point to that has kind of driven that?
spk05: We don't really get into that sort of granularity. We keep our commentary at the segment level. So I don't know that we have done that traditionally.
spk06: As you might imagine, a lot of this stuff is pretty confidential too. So we typically don't share that level of information.
spk00: Yeah. Okay. Fair enough. And then the last one, I know you don't necessarily manage the business like this, but just when I'm looking at the margin for the quarter and versus last quarter, I think, you know, obviously a lot of variation between the two. Is there anything that you can point to as far as why Q4 was just so high relative to where it has been and then, you know, why it's kind of come back down to like more of a normal level this quarter?
spk06: Yeah, you know, we do have quarters where oftentimes it's mix of product is a factor. where we will just be shipping a range of products that are just higher margin as opposed to other quarters where we may ship a range of great products that just happen to be a little bit lower margin. So some of that is just mixed. I think the general trend that you have seen, I mean, we expect to continue to improve our margins going forward. It's part of the reason we talk about these 12 month periods, because that gives you a better sense of where the business is trending as opposed to quarter to quarter. Because, you know, clearly on a gross margin basis, fourth quarter was quite a bit stronger than first quarter. You know, we also tend to be a little, we tend, if you look at our history, we tend to have stronger fourth quarters and the more revenue we have, typically the higher our gross margins as well.
spk05: I would add to that, Aaron, two comments. Clearly with revenue kind of levels, you see changes in operating leverage related to the fixed costs is impactful. And the other thing that you would note in the queue is that we did record an adjustment for $178,000 for some Mexican retirement benefits that hit gross margin. So that had some impact on the quarters margin as compared with Q4 as well. Got it.
spk00: All right. Well, thanks for taking my questions. Nice work, and keep it up. Thanks, Aaron. Aaron, good to talk to you. Thank you.
spk01: Thank you. Once again, everyone, if you have any questions or comments, please press star, then 1 on your phone. Please hold while you poll for questions.
spk03: Thank you.
spk01: There are no further questions in the queue. I will now hand the conference back to our host for closing remarks. Please go ahead.
spk06: Thank you very much, Matthew, and thanks to everyone for joining us today. We look forward to talking with you in August when we report our second quarter 2024 results. Again, thank you and goodbye.
spk01: Thank you, everyone. This concludes today's event. You may disconnect at this time and have a wonderful day. Thank you for your participation.

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