Resolute Forest Products: Net Loss of $128 Million for Quarter

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Lumber stacked at Mission Sawmill in Thunder Bay Ontario
Lumber stacked at Mission Sawmill in Thunder Bay Ontario

Resolute Forest Products Inc. (NYSE: RFP) (TSX: RFP) today announced a net loss for the quarter ended December 31 of $128 million, or $1.64 per share, compared to a net loss of $52 million, or $0.63 per share, in the same period in 2020. Sales were $834 million in the quarter, an increase of $65 million from the year-ago period. Excluding special items, the company reported net income of $37 million, or $0.48 per diluted share, compared to net income of $45 million, or $0.55 per diluted share, in the fourth quarter of 2020.

For the year, the company reported GAAP net income of $307 million, or $3.83 per diluted share, compared to net income of $10 million, or $0.12 per diluted share, in 2020. Sales were $3.7 billion, up by 31% from the previous year. Excluding special items, the company reported net income of $523 million, or $6.51 per diluted share, compared to net income of $56 million, or $0.65 per diluted share, in 2020.

“The $921 million of adjusted EBITDA generated in 2021 allowed us to reduce our debt, invest in our business and return cash to shareholders,” said Remi G. Lalonde, president and chief executive officer. “Our fourth quarter results reflect higher realized prices across most of our segments, especially wood products, but also cost pressures across the business. We faced higher manufacturing costs, mainly due to higher energy prices, lower internal power generation and higher fiber costs, as well as higher freight costs and a mark-to-market of share-based awards following a stock price appreciation of roughly 30% in Q4. Rising interest rates helped to reduce our net pension and OPEB deficit by over $400 million this year, further strengthening our balance sheet and credit profile.”

“We also recently amended and extended our ABL credit facility, which includes an ESG module, one of the first examples in the forest products industry. Looking back on the year, I am particularly proud of our employees for setting a new bar on safety, with an annual OSHA incident rate of 0.47. Our long-term ambition is to continue to improve until we reach 0 injury, but this is an impressive success along the way – despite the pandemic and other challenges – and I wholeheartedly applaud our employees for our achievement,” added Mr. Lalonde.

Non-GAAP financial measures, such as adjustments for special items and adjusted EBITDA, are explained and reconciled below.

Operating Income Variance Against Prior Period

Consolidated

The company reported an operating loss of $101 million in the quarter, compared to operating income of $102 million in the third quarter. The variance largely reflects the company’s decision to indefinitely idle its pulp and paper operations at the Calhoun (Tennessee) mill, pursuant to which it recorded non-cash charges of $158 million, including impairment charges on fixed assets, inventory write-down and other asset write-offs, as well as $13 million in accruals for cash closure costs.

The remaining variance reflects a $62 million increase in costs. This includes $44 million in manufacturing costs due to higher energy prices ($12 million), lower internal power generation ($11 million), and higher fiber, labor, maintenance and other costs ($21 million). It also includes an increase in selling, general and administrative expenses (or, “SG&A“) due to a higher share-based compensation expense in the quarter ($12 million), and higher freight costs ($6 million). These higher costs were only partly offset by stronger market prices in the wood products, paper and tissue segments ($37 million).

For all of 2021, the company generated operating income of $584 million, a $485 million improvement over 2020, reflecting the favorable impact of higher market prices in wood products ($670 million), market pulp ($178 million) and paper ($91 million), offset by higher manufacturing costs ($198 million) and freight costs ($18 million). The higher manufacturing costs include higher log costs due to stumpage fees and harvesting costs ($77 million), higher energy prices and lower internal power generation ($52 million), higher labor costs ($13 million), and higher maintenance expenses ($33 million) as a result of timing and scope. The company also incurred a charge of $12 million related to a process improvement program and $6 million in ramp-up losses for its Hagerstown (Maryland) converting facility acquired in 2020.

The 2021 results also reflect the unfavorable impact of a higher variable compensation expense ($20 million) in SG&A and the stronger Canadian dollar ($83 million). The operating income variance also reflects an unfavorable impact of $91 million related to the announcement of the indefinite idling of the Calhoun mill, net of closure related costs for the Baie-Comeau and Amos (Quebec) newsprint mills recorded in 2020.

Segment Operating Income Variance

Wood Products

The company generated operating income of $82 million in the quarter in the wood products segment, an improvement of $18 million from the previous quarter. The average transaction price improved by $39 per thousand board feet, to $612, and the operating cost per unit (the “delivered cost“) rose by $14 per thousand board feet, or 3%, mainly due to higher maintenance, staffing and labor expenses. Shipments rose by 28 million board feet compared to the third quarter, reflecting capital project downtime in the previous period. Finished goods inventory decreased to 126 million board feet. EBITDA improved by $17 million, to $92 million.

In 2021, the wood products segment recorded operating income of $772 million, compared to operating income of $276 million in 2020. The improvement reflects a $309 per thousand board feet, or 62%, increase in the average transaction price and a 74 million board foot increase in shipments. The higher shipments mainly reflect additional volume with the ramp-up of operations at the restarted El Dorado (Arkansas) and Ignace (Ontario) sawmills. The delivered cost rose year-over-year by $80 per thousand board feet, mainly due to higher log costs due to stumpage fees and harvesting expenses, as well as unfavorable maintenance and labor costs. EBITDA in the segment was $814 million for the year.

Market Pulp

The market pulp segment recorded operating income of $19 million in the fourth quarter, $27 million lower than in the previous quarter. The average transaction price slipped by $20 per metric ton and shipments fell by 29,000 metric tons as a result of logistics constraints and lower productivity, mostly at the Calhoun mill. The operating cost per unit rose by $67 per metric ton, or 10%, reflecting higher fiber and energy costs, as well as lower internal power generation as a result of a turbine failure at the Saint-Félicien (Quebec) mill. Finished goods inventory was 59,000 metric tons at year-end, up by 7,000 metric tons in the quarter due to logistics constraints. EBITDA in the segment was $25 million.

For 2021, the market pulp segment reported operating income of $99 million, compared to an operating loss of $1 million in 2020. The change reflects a $168 per metric ton, or 28%, increase in average transaction price, offset by a 56,000 metric ton drop in shipments due to lower productivity. The delivered cost rose by $74 per metric ton, mainly due to higher prices for energy and lower internal power generation at Saint-Félicien. EBITDA in the segment was $123 million for the year.

Tissue

The company reported an operating loss of $6 million in the tissue segment in the quarter, compared to an operating loss of $9 million in the third quarter. The average transaction price improved by $160 per short ton, or 9%, due to better product mix, and shipments rose by 1,000 short tons on improving market conditions. The delivered cost increased by $37 per short ton, or 2%, partly due to higher freight costs. Finished goods inventory was unchanged at 6,000 short tons. Quarter-over-quarter segment EBITDA improved by $3 million, to negative $1 million.

For the year, the tissue segment reported an operating loss of $24 million, compared to a loss of $1 million in 2020. The average transaction price slipped by $10 per short ton because of unfavorable product mix. The delivered cost rose by $249 per short ton due to higher fiber costs and accumulated market downtime as a result of consumer inventory rebalancing and pandemic-related logistics and labor challenges. Shipments were lower by 6,000 short tons. The difficult market conditions in 2021 and the impact of market downtime ($6 million), a process improvement program ($5 million) and the ramp-up of the Hagerstown converting facility ($6 million), contributed to weaker performance in 2021, with EBITDA in the segment at negative $5 million for the year.

Despite the lost integration benefit of approximately $15 million in the tissue segment and approximately $5 million for on-going costs associated with closed site maintenance, the company anticipates an improvement in its overall operating income of approximately $35 million to $40 million as result of the indefinite idling of pulp and paper operations at Calhoun.

Paper

The paper segment incurred an operating loss of $4 million in the quarter, compared to operating income of $16 millionin the third quarter. The average transaction price rose by $29 per metric ton, or 4%, with increases in all grades, but the delivered cost increased by $78 per metric ton, or 12%, due to higher energy prices and unfavorable maintenance and fiber costs, as well as lower internal power generation due to low water levels at Hydro-Saguenay. Shipments slipped by 10,000 metric tons, and finished goods inventory rose by 12,000 metric tons, as a result of logistics constraints with limited railcar and truck availability. EBITDA in the segment was $12 million for the quarter.

For the year, the segment recorded an operating loss of $19 million, compared to an operating loss of $46 million in 2020, reflecting a $66 per metric ton improvement in average transaction price, offset by a reduction of 99,000 metric tons in shipments following capacity reductions earlier in the pandemic. The delivered cost rose by $50 per metric ton, mainly due to higher energy prices, unfavorable maintenance costs due to timing and scope, and higher expenses related to a process improvement project, partly offset by the indefinite idling of the Baie-Comeau and Amos newsprint mills. EBITDA for the segment was $43 million in 2021.

Consolidated Quarterly Operating Income Variance Against Year-Ago Period

The company reported an operating loss of $101 million in the fourth quarter, compared to operating income of $4 million in the comparable quarter of 2020. The $105 million variance reflects charges related to the indefinite idling of pulp and paper operations at the Calhoun mill, net of Baie-Comeau and Amos closure related costs recorded in the fourth quarter of 2020 ($91 million), as well as higher manufacturing costs due to unfavorable energy prices and lower internal power generation ($26 million), higher fiber costs, including log costs impacted by a rise in stumpage fees and harvesting expenses, and the price of recycled furnish ($24 million).

Prices were favorable across all segments ($103 million) but volume was lower for the wood products, pulp and paper segments ($14 million).

The operating results also include the unfavorable impacts of a stronger Canadian dollar ($17 million), higher freight costs ($12 million) and a higher variable compensation expense ($6 million) in SG&A.  At $111 million, adjusted EBITDA was $18 million lower than the fourth quarter of 2020.

Corporate, Cash and Liquidity

The company generated $68 million of cash from operating activities in the quarter and $648 million for the year. It invested $112 million, net, in fixed assets for the year, including $33 million in the fourth quarter.

The company repurchased 4.6 million shares of common stock in 2021, or 6%, for $48 million, including 1.3 million shares in the fourth quarter. After repurchasing 15% of its outstanding shares and exhausting in December the previous program launched in March 2020, the company announced a new program to repurchase up to $100 million or 10 million of its common shares, whichever occurs first.

With $112 million of quarter-end cash, liquidity stood at $953 million, and net debt was $190 million.

By quarter-end, the company had recorded cumulative softwood lumber duty deposits of $397 million on the balance sheet, including $26 million in the quarter.

In 2022, the company anticipates disbursements of approximately $45 million related to Calhoun pulp and paper cash closure costs, including the $13 million accrued in the fourth quarter.

As a result of an increase in applicable discount rates and strong investment returns, the net long-term pension and other postretirement benefit liability on the year-end balance sheet dropped by $411 million from 2020, to $1.151 billion. The company expects pension contributions to fall by $9 million in 2022, to approximately $95 million.

Outlook

Mr. Lalonde added: “As the Omicron wave passes, the weather softens and knots in the logistics system loosen, we should see a recalibration toward a more normal business environment. It could, however, take several months, especially for the transportation network, and it is unclear how much of the input costs inflation will remain.Benchmark lumber prices started the year strong, and we expect that the combination of encouraging underlying fundamentals, higher cost structures and higher softwood lumber duty rates will contribute to above trend prices for some time. After slipping marginally in the fourth quarter, we expect realized transaction prices for market pulp to improve in the first quarter, largely due to limited availability of supply. The higher operating rates and the price recovery in printing and writing paper markets, which should continue, will support our cash generation strategy for the segment. In the case of pulp and paper in particular, pricing improvements will mitigate the effect of rising cost pressures. We anticipate better performance from our pulp and paper operations with the indefinite idling of the Calhoun pulp and paper assets, which, despite the loss of pulp integration benefits in the tissue segment, will contribute a net positive for all of Resolute. In tissue, we expect the retail market to continue its recovery and the away-from-home market to remain sluggish for some time. Following the indefinite idling of pulp and paper operations at Calhoun and as markets continue to stabilize, we are reviewing strategic options for the tissue segment.

Earnings Conference Call

The company will hold a conference call to discuss the financial results at 9:00 a.m. (ET) today. The public is invited to join the call at (888) 550-7724 at least fifteen minutes before its scheduled start time. A simultaneous webcast will also be available using the link provided under “Presentations and Webcasts” in the “Investors” section of www.resolutefp.com. A replay of the webcast will be archived on the company’s website. A phone replay will also be available until February 18, 2022, by dialing (800) 770-2030, conference number 2946857.

Description of Special Items

Special items

2021

2020

(in millions)

Fourth
quarter

Full
Year

Fourth
quarter

Full
Year

Closure costs, impairment and other related charges

$

142

$

144

$

55

$

53

Inventory write-downs related to closures

29

29

25

25

Start-up costs

3

3

Net gain on disposition of assets

(2)

(11)

Non-operating pension and other postretirement benefit (credits) costs

(3)

(11)

24

Other (income) expense, net

(4)

70

28

4

Income tax effect of special items

1

(16)

(36)

(28)

      Total

$

165

$

216

$

97

$

46