OKOTOKS, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Dec. 14, 2016) - Mullen Group Ltd. (TSX:MTL) ("Mullen Group" and/or the "Corporation") announced today the business plan for 2017 has been approved by the Board of Directors (the "Board"). The annual process encompassed an extensive review of a wide range of issues including: expectations for the Canadian economy; the impact of the recent recovery in oil and natural gas prices on the industry, including drilling activity in western Canada; the balance sheet of Mullen Group; and expected cash flows. Based upon this review, the Board approved a capital budget of $25.0 million for 2017, exclusive of corporate acquisitions. The capital will be focused towards acquiring replacement of trucks, trailers and specialized equipment to support the operations of Business Units in the Trucking/Logistics segment. A particular focus will be the replacement of older trucks with new fuel efficient units. The current capital budget does not contemplate any significant new capital for the Oilfield Services segment, however, this will be reviewed after the first quarter.
Highlights of 2017 Business Plan
Generally speaking, this segment is closely correlated to Canada's GDP growth. Our expectation for 2017 is that the Canadian economy will expand moderately year over year. The consumer remains an integral component of the economy and all indications are that consumer spending will remain strong, however it is difficult to see incremental growth in the absence of real wage increases. Government spending including infrastructure development has been highlighted as a government priority. In addition, any stronger growth in the U.S. economy should provide some increase demand for Canada's exports, along with improving prospects for the Alberta economy, which has been the major drag on the overall economy, with the recent rise in oil and natural gas prices.
While the current trucking/logistics market remains extremely competitive our view is that these pressures will ease throughout 2017 as demand for freight services grows, accompanied by a tightening supply as competitors reduce capacity due to cash flow issues. The Trucking/Logistics segment will account for approximately 65.0 percent of Mullen Group's 2017 revenue, net of any acquisitions made in 2017.
Oilfield Services Segment
The oil and gas industry is closely tied to commodity pricing. Over the course of 2016 prices for both commodities has been extremely volatile, reaching multi-year lows in the first quarter of the year followed by steady increases. Today crude oil prices are above $50.00 U.S. per barrel and the natural gas price is now above $3.00 U.S. MCF, levels that provide producers with an incentive to begin reinvesting in the industry. Recent reports indicate that capital allocated to drilling activity in western Canada will increase somewhere in the range of 20.0-40.0 percent year over year, increasing the demand for oil and gas services. This will provide our 11 Business Units leveraged to drilling activity with a better market to operate within. Our view is that the competitive prices prevalent today will not ease until the latter half of 2017, as the demand and supply fundamentals begin to normalize.
In addition there is some reason for optimism surrounding certain large diameter pipeline projects as well as LNG development. Several Canadian projects have recently received conditional approvals. In addition, the Keystone pipeline project has a very good chance of receiving U.S. approvals under the new administration. While each of these are positive developments, we cannot predict the timing of the projects as such we will maintain a cautious approach until the projects receive full sanctioning.
In terms of new oil sands related development we view 2017 as a transition year. Several major projects including the Suncor Fort Hills and the Northwest Upgrader are nearing completion leaving a significant void in the need for specialized transportation services. As such, on balance, we expect our Oilfield Services segment will generate improved results as compared with 2016, but the loss of major oil sands work will be a negative factor to consider. The Oilfield Services segment will account for approximately 35.0 percent of Mullen Group's 2017 revenue, net of any acquisitions made in 2017.
Non-Asset Based Logistics
Mullen Group has renewed the development of the business-to-business Moveitonline load matching operating platform which connects shippers and carriers, providing price discovery and service capabilities in one system. In 2017, Mullen Group expects to fully connect our 28 Business Units with our 2,000 certified subcontract carriers. Once the initial development has been completed and tested, this application will provide Mullen Group with new growth opportunities in Third Party Logistics ("3PL"), the fastest growing part of the freight/logistics business today.
Having a strong, well-structured balance sheet is a key component of Mullen Group's strategy which is imperative when markets are challenged and unpredictable, such as they are today. In 2016 we took the prudent steps of deleveraging the balance sheet, paid down a series of notes, restructured the debt covenants with noteholders and raised new equity of $153.2 million. As we entered the final quarter of 2016 Mullen Group's cash and cash equivalent position was $261.3 million and we expect this to remain relatively consistent as we finish 2016. Mullen Group's proven business model generates free cash which provides the Corporation with options and flexibility as we enter 2017 and contemplate the repayment of our Series E (U.S. $85.0 million) and Series F (Cdn. $20.0 million) Notes. Annual interest payments in 2017 will be approximately $31.6 million, assuming the repayment of Series E and Series F Notes.
Acquisitions remain an important element of our growth plans and we fully expect that we can use our strong balance sheet to capitalize on the right opportunities. In 2016, we witnessed increase deal flow and completed a number of small acquisitions which largely fit into our Trucking/Logistics segment and we expect this trend to continue in 2017. There is also evidence of many distressed competitors, in both the oilfield services and trucking/logistics sectors, who have locked in pricing for the coming year and which have failed to anticipate increased costs most notably with labour, repairs and maintenance, the increased cost of fuel and Alberta's carbon tax. Mullen Group will maintain a disciplined acquisition strategy, however, we expect to complete more acquisitions in 2017.
"I am more optimistic today than I have been for a few years, in spite of the current market challenges. My optimism stems from the fact that the pricing environment for crude oil and natural gas has changed significantly over the past few weeks as evidence mounts that the supply/demand imbalances prevalent over the course of the last two years may finally be returning to levels that will support higher prices. If this trend continues it is very possible that the oil and gas service sector could recover much quicker than was expected just a few months ago. Our Business Plan for 2017 contemplates a steady recovery for this sector beginning in the last half of the year. However, we have not committed new capital for our oilfield related Business Units, and will not until we are convinced firstly, that the current trend is maintained and secondly, that pricing for oilfield services increases from the current unsustainable levels. In addition, our Trucking/Logistics segment is once again on track for another solid year in 2017 based upon our expectation that the Alberta economy will experience some growth accompanied by the stable outlook for the Canadian economy," commented Mr. Murray K. Mullen, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer.
DIVIDEND - 2017
Mullen Group also announced today its intention to continue its practice of paying an annual dividend of $0.36 per Common Share over the course of 2017 aggregating to a total of $37.3 million. Such dividend will be paid on a monthly basis, subject to Board approval. The Board will continue to monitor economic conditions, the Corporation's financial performance, growth opportunities, potential acquisition opportunities and capital requirements in determining the appropriate dividend level in 2017.
"I believe the outlook for the economy and the oil and gas industry has changed for the better and as such Mullen Group will benefit. South of our border a new administration has been elected, generating optimism that the U.S. economy will enter a new faster growth phase. Furthermore, the oil and gas markets appear to be strengthening based upon improving supply/demand fundamentals along with the announcement by Saudi Arabia that they will essentially abandon a market share strategy in favour of a higher oil prices. Under this scenario our business will begin to recover after two very challenging years. In addition, we are well positioned to pursue acquisitions and recapture market share from competitors that have mispriced their services and are over leveraged. The timing of the recovery or acquisitions is somewhat elusive but I have a high degree of confidence that 2017 will be the beginning of growth for our organization once again," added Mr. Mullen.
This news release includes certain statements regarding Mullen Group's future plans and operations, including the 2017 Business Plan and Dividend Policy, and contains forward-looking statements that we believe allow readers to better understand our business and prospects. The use of any of the words "expect", "anticipate", "continue", "estimate", "objective", "ongoing", "may", "will", "project", "should", "believe", "plans", "intends", "strategy" and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking information or statements. More particularly and without limitation, this news release contains forward-looking statements and information concerning the 2017 Business Plan, Dividend Policy, capital budget, operating income and anticipated revenues.
With respect to the forward-looking statements and information concerning the 2017 Business Plan and Dividend Policy, Mullen Group has provided such in reliance on certain assumptions that it believes are reasonable at this time, including but not limited to the allocation of 2017capital budget, impact of general economic conditions, volatility of commodity prices and activity in the oil and gas industry in western Canada. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on the forward-looking statements and information contained in this news release. Readers are cautioned that the assumptions used in the preparation of such forward-looking information and statements, although considered reasonable at the time of preparation, may prove to be imprecise and, as such, undue reliance should not be placed on forward-looking statements. Our actual results, performance, or achievement could differ materially from those expressed in, or implied by, these forward-looking statements. We can give no assurance that any of the events anticipated will transpire or occur, or if any of them do, what benefits we will derive from them.
Readers are cautioned that the foregoing list of factors is not exhaustive. Additional information on other factors that could affect the operations or financial results of Mullen Group, are included in reports on file with applicable securities regulatory authorities, including but not limited to Mullen Group's annual information form dated February 10, 2016, under "Principal Risks and Uncertainties" and in Mullen Group's other filings available at www.sedar.com.
Mullen Group is a company that owns a network of independently operated businesses. The Corporation is recognized as one of the leading suppliers of trucking and logistics services in Canada and provides a wide range of specialized transportation and related services to the oil and natural gas industry in western Canada - two sectors of the economy in which Mullen Group has strong business relationships and industry leadership. The corporate office provides management and financial expertise, technology and systems support, shared services and strategic planning to its independent businesses.
Mullen Group is a publicly traded corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "MTL". Additional information is available on our website at www.mullen-group.com or on SEDAR at www.sedar.com.