SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
þ ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15 (d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED MARCH 31, 2019
o TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15 (d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
FOR THE TRANSITION PERIOD FROM ______________TO_______________
Commission File Number: 001-00652
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified In Its Charter)
(State or Other Jurisdiction of
Incorporation or Organization)
9201 Forest Hill Avenue,
(Address of Principal Executive Offices)
Registrant's Telephone Number, including Area Code: 804-359-9311
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Common Stock, no par value
Name of each exchange on
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
Yes þ No o
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15 (d) of the Act.
Yes o No þ
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes þ No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes þ No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and "emerging growth company" in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer þ Accelerated filer o Non-accelerated filer o
Smaller reporting company o Emerging growth company o
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes o No þ
The aggregate market value of the registrant's voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates, based upon the closing sales price on the New York Stock Exchange of the registrant's common stock on September 28, 2018, the last business day of the registrant's most recently completed second fiscal quarter, was approximately $1.6 billion.
As of May 20, 2019, the total number of shares of common stock outstanding was 24,989,460.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Part III incorporates certain information by reference from the registrant's 2019 Proxy Statement for the 2019 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which will be filed no later than 120 days after the close of the registrant's fiscal year ended March 31, 2019.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This Annual Report on Form 10-K, which we refer to herein as our Annual Report, contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). Among other things, these statements relate to Universal Corporation’s financial condition, results of operations and future business plans, operations, opportunities, and prospects. In addition, Universal Corporation and its representatives may make written or oral forward-looking statements from time to time, including statements contained in other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and in reports to shareholders. These forward-looking statements are generally identified by the use of words such as we “expect,” “believe,” “anticipate,” “could,” “should,” “may,” “plan,” “will,” “predict,” “estimate,” and similar expressions or words of similar import. These forward-looking statements are based upon management’s current knowledge and assumptions about future events and involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance, or achievements to be materially different from any anticipated results, prospects, performance, or achievements expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to: anticipated levels of demand for and supply of our products and services; costs incurred in providing these products and services; timing of shipments to customers; changes in market structure; government regulation; product taxation; industry consolidation and evolution; changes in exchange rates and interest rates; impacts of regulation and litigation on our customers; and general economic, political, market, and weather conditions. For a description of factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from such forward-looking statements, see Item 1A, “Risk Factors.” We caution investors not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements as these statements speak only as of the date when made, and we undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements made in this report. In addition, the discussion of the impact of current trends on our business in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Other Information Regarding Trends and Management’s Actions” in Item 7 should be read carefully in connection with evaluating our business and the forward-looking statements contained in this Annual Report.
This Annual Report uses the terms “Universal,” “the Company,” “we,” “us,” and “our” to refer to Universal Corporation and its subsidiaries when it is not necessary to distinguish among Universal Corporation and its various operating subsidiaries or when any distinction is clear from the context in which it is used.
See the “Results of Operations” section in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in Item 7 for a discussion of segment operating income, a non-GAAP financial measure that we refer to in this Annual Report on Form 10-K and consider useful in understanding our business results and trends.
Item 1. Business
We are the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. We operate in over 30 countries on five continents and procure, finance, process, pack, store and ship leaf tobacco and other agri-products. Tobacco has been our principal focus since our founding in 1918. The largest portion of our business involves procuring and processing flue-cured and burley leaf tobacco for manufacturers of consumer tobacco products. We do not manufacture any consumer products. Rather, we support consumer product manufacturers by selling them processed raw products and performing related services for them. Our reportable segments for our flue-cured and burley tobacco operations are North America and Other Regions. We also have a third reportable segment, Other Tobacco Operations, which comprises our dark tobacco business, our oriental tobacco joint venture, and certain tobacco- and agribusiness-related services. We generated approximately $2.2 billion in consolidated revenues and earned $161.2 million in total operating income and $186.8 million in total segment operating income in fiscal year 2019. Universal Corporation is a holding company that operates through numerous directly and indirectly owned subsidiaries. Universal Corporation’s primary subsidiary is Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Incorporated. See Exhibit 21, “Subsidiaries of the Registrant,” for additional subsidiary information.
Key Operating Principles
We believe that by following several key operating principles we can continue to produce good financial returns and enhance shareholder value. These key operating principles are:
Strategic market position. We work closely with both our customers and our suppliers to ensure that we deliver a product that meets our customers' needs while cultivating a strong, sustainable supplier base. We balance purchases of leaf tobacco against indicated customer demand and maintain global procurement and production operations to maximize supply chain efficiencies.
Strong local management. Having strong local management in all of our key supply origins allows us to identify and react to constantly shifting market conditions. Empowered and experienced local management, coupled with global coordination, affords us the flexibility and knowledge necessary to adapt quickly in order to continually deliver high quality, competitively-priced products and services.
Compliant products. Customers expect a sustainable supply of compliant, traceable, competitively-priced product, and we believe that we lead in delivering these products. Among other initiatives, we invest in training farmers in good agricultural practices that encompass crop quality, sustainability, environmental stewardship and agricultural labor standards.
Diversified sources. Our business is reliant on a strong and resilient supply chain, which enables us to deliver a stable supply of quality tobacco to our customers. We operate in over 30 countries on five continents and maintain a presence in all major flue-cured, burley, oriental, and dark air-cured tobacco origin markets. This global presence allows us to meet our customers' diverse leaf requirements while minimizing the effects of adverse crop conditions and other localized supply disruptions.
Financial strength. Financial strength is critical and enables us to fund our global operations efficiently and to facilitate investment when suitable opportunities arise. Management of liquidity, interest expense, and capital costs provides us with a competitive advantage, affords us flexibility when responding to customer requirements and market changes, and allows us to enhance shareholder value.
Our website address is www.universalcorp.com. We post regulatory filings on this website as soon as reasonably practicable after they are electronically filed with or furnished to the SEC. These filings include annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, proxy statements, Section 16 reports on Forms 3, 4, and 5, and any amendments to those reports filed with or furnished to the SEC. Access to these filings on our website is available free of charge. Copies are also available, without charge, from Universal Corporation Investor Relations, 9201 Forest Hill Avenue, Richmond, VA 23235. Reports filed with the SEC may be viewed at www.sec.gov. We also post our press releases on our website. Information on our website is not deemed to be incorporated by reference into this Annual Report.
In addition, our Corporate Governance Guidelines, Code of Conduct, and charters for the Audit Committee, the Compensation Committee, the Executive Committee, the Finance and Pension Investment Committee, and the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee are available free of charge to shareholders and the public through the “Corporate Governance” section of our website. Printed copies of the foregoing are available to any shareholder upon written request to our Treasurer at the address set forth on the cover of this Annual Report or may be requested through our website, www.universalcorp.com.
Description of Business
Our primary business is procuring, financing, processing, packing, storing, and shipping leaf tobacco for sale to manufacturers of consumer tobacco products. Procuring leaf tobacco involves contracting with, providing agronomy support to, and financing farmers in many origins. We do not manufacture cigarettes or other consumer tobacco products. Rather, we support consumer product manufacturers by selling them processed leaf tobacco and performing related services for them. Through various operating subsidiaries and unconsolidated affiliates located in tobacco-growing origins around the world, we contract, purchase, process, and sell flue-cured and burley tobaccos, as well as dark air-cured and oriental tobaccos. Flue-cured, burley, and oriental tobaccos are used principally in the manufacture of cigarettes as well as in shisha and next generation products, and dark air-cured tobaccos are used mainly in the manufacture of cigars, natural wrapped cigars and cigarillos, smokeless, and pipe tobacco products. We also provide value-added services to our customers, including blending, chemical and physical testing of tobacco, service cutting for select manufacturers, manufacturing reconstituted leaf tobacco, and managing just-in-time inventory.
Several important operating factors characterize our company and our primary business, leaf tobacco:
•Experience dealing with large numbers of farmers,
•Expertise in delivering a sustainable supply of compliant, traceable, competitively-priced leaf tobacco,
•Capability to meet unique customer requirements for style, volume and quality,
•Longstanding customer, farmer and community relationships,
•Presence in all major leaf tobacco sourcing areas, and
•Financial strength and flexibility.
In addition to our leaf tobacco business, we are involved in other smaller-scale tobacco and agribusiness opportunities. Our wholly-owned subsidiary, AmeriNic, Inc., produces liquid nicotine for next generation tobacco products. AmeriNic’s products are manufactured under stringent United States Pharmacopeia ("USP") standards. Global Laboratory Services, Inc., another wholly-owned subsidiary, provides testing for crop protection agents and tobacco constituents in seed, leaf, and finished products, including e-cigarette liquids and vapors. Analytical services include chemical compound testing in finished tobacco products and mainstream smoke. We also have a business that produces high-quality dehydrated and juiced fruit and vegetable ingredients and another business that recycles waste materials from tobacco production. Additionally, we are involved in research and development growth trials with trusted partners for agriproducts production, such as our current vanilla trial in Brazil. We also have developed an investment pipeline and continue to explore growth opportunities outside of leaf tobacco in adjacent industries and markets that we believe will utilize our assets and capabilities and deliver value to our shareholders. We consider adjacencies to be industries and markets where we can leverage our strengths such as country knowledge, agricultural expertise, and complex grower and logistic network management. A potential investment might involve high-value, non-commodity, or crop-based agricultural products requiring value-added handling or processing.
With respect to our leaf tobacco business, we generate our revenues from product sales of processed, packed tobacco that we source, from processing fees for tobacco owned by third parties, and from fees for other services. Sales to our six largest customers, with whom we have longstanding relationships, have accounted for more than two-thirds of our consolidated revenues for each of the past three fiscal years. Our sales consist primarily of flue-cured and burley tobaccos. For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, our flue-cured and burley operations accounted for 88% of our revenues and 93% of our segment operating income.
We conduct our business in varying degrees in a number of countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Paraguay, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Zimbabwe. In addition, our oriental tobacco joint venture, Socotab, L.L.C. has operations in Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, and Turkey.
Because unprocessed, or “green,” leaf tobacco is a perishable product, timely processing is an essential service to our customers. Our processing of leaf tobacco includes grading in the factories, blending, removal of non-tobacco material, separation of leaf from the stems, drying, packing to precise moisture targets for proper aging, as well as temporary storage. This generally requires investments in factories and machinery in areas where the tobacco is grown. Processed tobacco that has been properly packed can be stored by customers for a number of years prior to use, but most processed tobacco is used within two to three years.
We are a major purchaser and processor in the chief exporting regions for flue-cured and burley tobacco throughout the world. Africa, Brazil, and the United States produce approximately two-thirds of the flue-cured and burley tobacco grown outside of China. We estimate that over the last five years we have handled, through leaf sales or processing, between 30% and 40% of the annual production of such tobaccos in both Africa and the United States and between 15% and 25% in Brazil. These percentages can change from year to year based on the size, price, and quality of the crops. We participate in the procurement, processing, storage, and sale of oriental tobacco through ownership of a 49% equity interest in Socotab, L.L.C., a leading supplier of oriental tobaccos. In addition, we maintain a presence, and in certain cases, a leading presence, in all other major tobacco growing regions in the world. We believe that our leading position in the leaf tobacco industry is based on our volumes handled, our operating presence in all of
the major sourcing areas, our ability to meet customer style, volume, and quality requirements, our expertise in dealing with large numbers of farmers, our long-standing relationships with customers, our development of processing equipment and technologies, and our financial position. The efficiencies that we offer our customers, due to our established network of operational expertise and infrastructure on the ground and our ability to market most styles and grades of leaf to a diverse customer base, are also key to our success.
We also have a leading position in worldwide dark tobacco markets. Our dark tobacco operations are located in most of the major producing countries and in other smaller markets. We operate in major dark tobacco producing countries, including the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia, Paraguay, the Philippines, and Brazil. Dark tobaccos are typically used in the manufacture of cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco products, and as components of certain “roll-your-own” cigarette products.
Sales are made by our sales force and, to a much smaller degree, through the use of commissioned agents. Most customers are long-established tobacco product manufacturers. Customer contract arrangements vary around the world and include negotiated pricing as well as cost plus arrangements. Discussions of a customer’s longer-term needs may begin as early as one to two years in advance of a particular crop purchase. These discussions are key to our future crop production planning. Prior to planting each year, we use early customer indications for type, style, processing, and volume requirements for the upcoming season’s crop to help us determine our farmer contracting and grower input needs in our origins. We work with our farmers and customers continually throughout the crop season. As crops progress through the growing season, customers will inspect the crop, and a customer’s early indications may be refined based upon emerging crop qualities and quantities and market pricing expectations. Ultimately, purchase agreements specifying quantity, quality, grade and price are executed, leading to inventory allocations of harvested green or processed leaf that we have acquired.
In the majority of the countries where we operate, we contract directly with tobacco farmers or tobacco farmer cooperatives. In most countries outside the United States, we advance seed or seedlings, fertilizer, and other agricultural inputs to farmers. These advances are repaid by farmers with the tobacco they produce. We are dedicated to promoting a sustainable farmer base and provide our farmers with agronomy support. Our Good Agricultural Practices programs educate farmers in such matters as the reduction of non-tobacco related materials, product traceability, environmental sustainability, agricultural labor standards, and social responsibility.
Our foreign operations are subject to international business risks, including unsettled political conditions, expropriation, import and export restrictions, exchange controls, and currency fluctuations. During the tobacco season in many of the countries listed above, we advance funds, guarantee local loans, or do both, each in substantial amounts, for the eventual purchase of tobacco. The majority of these seasonal advances and loan guarantees mature in one year or less upon the farmers’ delivery of contracted tobaccos. Most advances to farmers are denominated in local currency, which is a source of foreign currency exchange rate risk. Most tobacco sales are denominated in U.S. dollars, which reduces our foreign currency exchange risk after the tobacco has been purchased. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors” for more information about our foreign currency exchange and other risks.
For a discussion of recent developments and trends in our business, along with factors that may affect our business, see Item 7, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and Item 1A, “Risk Factors.”
Our operations are seasonal in nature. Tobacco in Brazil is usually purchased from January through July, while buying in Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and other African countries typically begins around March and continues through November. Farmers begin to sell U.S. flue-cured tobacco in late July, and the marketing season lasts for approximately four months.
We normally operate each of our processing plants for seven to nine months of the year. During this period for each region, inventories of green tobacco, inventories of processed tobacco, and trade accounts receivable normally reach peak levels in succession. We normally finance this expansion of current assets with cash, short-term borrowings from banks, and customer advances, and these funding sources normally reach their peak usage in each region during its respective purchasing or processing period. Our balance sheet at our fiscal year end reflects seasonal expansions in working capital in South America and Central America. Our financial performance is also impacted by the seasonality of our business. Due to global tobacco growing cycles, as well as customer shipment preferences, we typically ship a larger portion of our volumes in the second half of our fiscal year. Changes in customer shipment schedules or changes in crop timing in a season can shift recognition of revenue in a given fiscal year or between fiscal years.
A material part of our business is dependent upon a few customers. Our six largest customers are Altria Group Inc., British American Tobacco plc, China Tobacco International, Inc., Imperial Brands plc, Japan Tobacco, Inc., and Philip Morris International, Inc. In the aggregate, these customers have accounted for more than two-thirds of our consolidated revenues for each of the past three fiscal years. For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, each of British American Tobacco plc, Imperial Brands plc, and Philip Morris International, Inc., including their respective affiliates, accounted for 10% or more of our revenues. The loss of, or substantial
reduction in business from, any of these customers could have a material adverse effect on our results. We have longstanding relationships with all of these customers.
We had commitments from customers for approximately $502 million of the tobacco in our inventories at March 31, 2019. Based upon historical experience, we expect that at least 90% of such orders will be delivered during fiscal year 2020. Most of our products require shipment via trucks and oceangoing vessels to reach customer destinations. Delays in the delivery of orders can result from such factors as truck and container availability, port access and capacity, vessel scheduling, and changing customer requirements for shipment.
As more fully described in Note 1 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report, we recognize revenue from the sale of tobacco when we complete our contractual performance obligation for the transfer of the tobacco, which is generally when title and risk of loss is transferred to our customer. Individual shipments may be large, and since the customer typically specifies shipping dates, our financial results may vary significantly between reporting periods due to timing of sales. In some markets, including Brazil, Italy, Poland, Tanzania, and the United States, we process tobacco that is owned by our customers, and we recognize the revenue for that service when the processing is completed.
Competition among leaf tobacco suppliers is based on the ability to meet customer specifications in the growing, buying, processing, and financing of tobacco, and on the prices charged for products and services. Competition varies depending on the market or country involved. The number of competitors varies from country to country, but there is competition in most areas to buy and sell the available tobacco. Our principal competitor is Pyxus International, Inc. (“Pyxus”) (formerly Alliance One International, Inc.). Pyxus operates in many of the countries where we operate. However, we are the only global leaf tobacco supplier in Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Mozambique, the Philippines, and Poland. We also have reconstituted tobacco sheet facilities and operations that handle dark air-cured tobacco. We consider ourselves and Pyxus to be the only global leaf suppliers based on our worldwide scope of operations. Most of our major customers are partially vertically integrated, and thus also compete with us for the purchase of leaf tobacco in several of the major markets.
In most major markets, smaller competitors are very active. These competitors typically have lower overhead requirements and provide less support to customers and farmers. Due to their lower cost structures, they can often offer a price on products that is lower than our price. However, we believe that we provide quality controls and farm programs that add value for our customers in an increasingly regulated world and make our products highly desirable. Our Good Agricultural Practices support an approach to farming that is focused on sustainability, employing sound field production and labor management practices that meet our customers’ needs, promote farmer profitability, and reflect environmental sensitivity. We provide comprehensive training, technical support in the field, and crop analytics through ongoing research and development. We believe that our major customers increasingly require these services and that our programs increase the quality and value of the products and services we offer. We also believe that our customers value the security of supply that we are able to provide due to our strong relationships with our farmer base and our global footprint.
We evaluate the performance of our leaf tobacco business by geographic region, although the dark air-cured and oriental tobacco businesses are each evaluated on the basis of their worldwide operations. Performance of the oriental tobacco operations is evaluated based on our equity in the pretax earnings of our affiliate. Under this structure, we have the following primary operating segments: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Dark Air-Cured, Oriental, and Special Services. North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia are primarily involved in flue-cured and burley leaf tobacco operations for supply to cigarette manufacturers. Our Dark Air-Cured group supplies dark air-cured tobacco principally to manufacturers of cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco products, and our Oriental business supplies oriental tobacco to cigarette manufacturers. Our Special Services group provides laboratory services, including physical and chemical product testing, electronic nicotine delivery system and e-liquid testing, and smoke testing for customers. Our liquid nicotine and our fruit and vegetable ingredients businesses are also included in the Special Services group.
The five regional operating segments serving our cigarette manufacturer customers share similar characteristics in the nature of their products and services, production processes, class of customer, product distribution methods, and regulatory environment. Based on the applicable accounting guidance, four of the regions – South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia – are aggregated into a single reporting segment, Other Regions, because they have similar economic characteristics. North America is reported as an individual operating segment, because its economic characteristics differ from the other regions, generally because its operations require lower working capital investments for crop financing and inventory. The Dark Air-Cured, Oriental, and Special Services segments, which have differing characteristics in some of the categories mentioned above, are reported together as Other Tobacco Operations, because each is below the measurement threshold for separate reporting.
We employed approximately 28,000 employees throughout the world during the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019. We estimated this figure because the majority of our personnel are seasonal employees.
Research and Development
We did not expend material amounts for research and development during the fiscal years ended March 31, 2019, 2018, or 2017.
We hold no material patents, licenses, franchises, or concessions.
Government Regulation, Environmental Matters, and Other Matters
Our business is subject to general governmental regulation in the United States and in foreign jurisdictions where we conduct business. Such regulation includes, but is not limited to, matters relating to environmental protection. To date, governmental provisions regulating the discharge of material into the environment have not had a material effect upon our capital expenditures, earnings, or competitive position. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors” for a discussion of government regulations and other factors that may affect our business.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
The risks and uncertainties described below are those that we currently believe could materially adversely affect us. Other risks and uncertainties that we do not presently consider to be material or of which we are not presently aware may become important factors that affect us in the future. If any of the risks discussed below actually occur, our business, financial condition, operating results or cash flows could be materially adversely affected. Accordingly, you should carefully consider the following risk factors, as well as other information contained in or incorporated by reference in this Annual Report.
In areas where we purchase leaf tobacco directly from farmers, we bear the risk that the tobacco we receive will not meet quality and quantity requirements.
When we contract directly with tobacco farmers or tobacco farmer cooperatives, which is the method we use to purchase tobacco in most countries, we bear the risk that the tobacco delivered may not meet customer quality and quantity requirements. If the tobacco does not meet such market requirements, we may not be able to fill all of our customers’ orders, and such failure would have an adverse effect on profitability and results of operations. In a contract market our obligation is to purchase the entire tobacco plant, which encompasses many leaf styles, therefore, we also have a risk that not all of that production will be readily marketable at prices that support acceptable margins. In addition, in many foreign countries where we purchase tobacco directly from farmers, we provide them with financing. Unless we receive marketable tobacco that meets the quality and quantity specifications of our customers, we bear the risk that we will not be able to fully recover our crop advances or recover them in a reasonable period of time.
The leaf tobacco industry is competitive, and we are heavily reliant on a few large customers.
We are one of two major independent global competitors in the leaf tobacco industry, both of whom are reliant upon a few large customers. The loss of one of those large customers or a significant decrease in their demand for our products or services could significantly decrease our sales of products or services, which would have a material adverse effect on our results of operations. The competition among leaf tobacco suppliers and dealers is based on the ability to meet customer requirements in the buying, processing, and financing of tobacco, and on the price charged for products and services. We believe that we consistently meet our customers’ requirements and charge competitive prices. Since we rely upon a few significant customers, the consolidation or failure of any of these large customers, or a significant increase in their vertical integration, could contribute to a significant decrease in our sales of products and services.
We compete for both the purchase and sale of leaf with smaller leaf tobacco suppliers in some of the markets where we conduct business. Some of these smaller leaf tobacco suppliers operate in more than one country. Since they typically provide little or no support to farmers, these leaf tobacco suppliers typically have lower overhead requirements than we do. Due to their lower cost structures, they often can offer prices on products and services that are lower than our prices. Our customers also directly source leaf tobacco from farmers to meet some of their raw material needs. Direct sourcing provides our customers with some qualities and quantities of leaf tobacco that they prefer not to use in their existing blends and that may be offered for sale. This competition for both the sale and purchase of leaf, both with smaller leaf tobacco suppliers and direct sourcing, could reduce the volume of the leaf we handle and could negatively impact our financial results.
Our financial results can be significantly affected by changes in the balance of supply and demand for leaf tobacco.
As a leaf tobacco supplier, our financial results can be significantly affected by changes in the overall balance of worldwide supply and demand for leaf tobacco. The demand for leaf tobacco, which is based upon customers’ expectations of their future requirements, can change from time to time depending upon factors affecting the demand for their products. Our customers’ expectations and their demand for leaf tobacco are influenced by a number of factors, including:
trends in the global consumption of cigarettes,
trends in consumption of cigars and other tobacco products,
trends in consumption of alternative tobacco products, such as electronic nicotine delivery systems and non-combustible products,
levels of competition among our customers, and
regulatory and governmental factors.
The world supply of leaf tobacco at any given time is a function of current tobacco production, inventories held by manufacturers, and the stocks of leaf tobacco held by leaf tobacco suppliers. Production of tobacco in a given year may be significantly affected by such factors as:
demographic shifts that change the number of farmers or the amount of land available to grow tobacco,
decisions by farmers to grow crops other than leaf tobacco,
volume of annual tobacco plantings and yields realized by farmers,
availability of crop inputs,
weather and natural disasters, including any adverse weather conditions that may result from climate change, and
crop infestation and disease.
Any significant change in these factors could cause a material imbalance in the supply of and demand for tobacco, which would affect our results of operations.
Our financial results will vary according to tobacco growing conditions, customer requirements, and other factors. These factors may also limit the ability to accurately forecast our future performance and increase the risk of an investment in our common stock or other securities.
Our financial results, particularly our year-over-year quarterly comparisons, may be significantly affected by variations in tobacco growing seasons and fluctuations in crop sizes. The timing of the cultivation and delivery of tobacco is dependent upon a number of factors, including weather and other natural events, and our processing schedules and results of operations can be significantly altered by these factors. In addition, the potential impact of climate change is uncertain and may vary by geographic region. The possible effects, as described in various public accounts, could include changes in rainfall patterns, water shortages, changing storm patterns and intensities, and changing temperature levels that could adversely impact our costs and business operations and the supply and demand for leaf tobacco. Our operations also rely on dependable and efficient transportation services. A disruption in transportation services, as a result of climate change or otherwise, may also significantly impact our results of operations.
Further, the timing of customer orders and shipments may vary and may require us to keep tobacco in inventory and may also result in variations in quarterly and annual financial results. We base sales recognition on meeting our performance obligation under our contract with the customer, which generally occurs with the passage of ownership of the tobacco. Since individual shipments may represent significant amounts of revenue, our quarterly and annual financial results may vary significantly depending on the timing of needs and shipping instructions of our customers and the availability of transportation services. These fluctuations result in varying volumes and sales in given periods, which also reduce the comparability of financial results.
Major shifts in customer requirements for tobacco supply may significantly affect our operating results.
If our customers significantly alter their requirements for tobacco volumes from certain regions, we may have to change our production facilities and alter our fixed asset base in certain origins. Permanent or long-term reduction in demand for tobacco from origins where we have operations may trigger restructuring and impairment charges. We may also need to make significant capital investments in other regions to develop the needed infrastructure to meet customer supply requirements.
Weather and other conditions can affect the marketability of our products.
Tobacco crops are subject to vagaries of weather and the environment that can, in some cases, change the quality or size of the crops. If a weather event is particularly severe, such as a major drought or hurricane, the affected crop could be destroyed or damaged to an extent that it would be less desirable to manufacturers, which would result in a reduction in revenues. If such an event is also widespread, it could affect our ability to acquire the quantity of tobacco required by our customers. In addition, other factors can affect the marketability of tobacco, including, among other things, the presence of excess residues of crop protection agents or non-tobacco related materials. A significant event impacting the condition or quality of a large amount of any of the crops that we buy could make it difficult for us to sell these products or to fill customers’ orders.
Our food ingredient business is subject to industry-specific risks which could adversely affect our operating results.
Our food ingredients business is subject to risks posed by food spoilage or food contamination; shifting consumer preferences; federal, state, and local food processing regulations; product tampering; and product liability claims. If one or more of these risks were to materialize, our revenues and operating results could be adversely affected, and our Company’s reputation might be damaged.
We may be adversely impacted if our information technology systems fail to perform adequately, including with respect to cybersecurity issues.
The efficient operation of our business depends on our information technology systems. We rely on our information technology systems to effectively manage our business data, communications, supply chain, order entry and fulfillment, and other business processes. The failure of our information technology systems (including those provided to us by third parties) to perform as we anticipate could disrupt our business and affect our results of operations.
In addition, our information technology systems may be vulnerable to damage or interruption from circumstances beyond our control, including fire, natural disasters, systems failures, security breaches or intrusions (including theft of confidential data), and viruses. If we are unable to prevent physical and electronic break-ins, cyber-attacks and other information security breaches, we may suffer financial and reputational damage, be subject to litigation, or incur remediation costs or penalties because of the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information belonging to us or to our partners, customers, suppliers, or employees.
Regulatory and Governmental Factors
Government efforts to regulate the production and consumption of tobacco products could have a significant impact on the businesses of our customers, which would, in turn, affect our results of operations.
Less than 5% of cigarettes manufactured worldwide are consumed in the United States. Nationally, the U.S. federal government and certain state and local governments have taken or proposed actions that may have the effect of reducing U.S. consumption of tobacco products and indirectly reducing demand for our products and services. These activities have included:
restrictions on the use of tobacco products in public places and places of employment,
legislation authorizing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of all tobacco products,
increases in the federal, state, and local excise taxes on cigarettes and other "deemed" tobacco products, and
the policy of the U.S. government to link certain federal grants to the enforcement of state laws restricting the sale of tobacco products.
Numerous other legislative and regulatory anti-smoking measures have been proposed at the federal, state, and local levels.
Globally, a number of foreign governments and non-government organizations continue to take or propose steps to restrict or prohibit tobacco product advertising and promotion, to increase taxes on tobacco products, to indirectly limit the use of certain types of tobacco, and to discourage tobacco product consumption. A number of such measures, including plain packaging, are included in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (“FCTC”), which was negotiated and promoted globally under the auspices of the World Health Organization (“WHO”). We cannot predict the extent or speed at which the efforts of governments or non-governmental agencies to reduce tobacco consumption might affect the business of our primary customers. However, a significant decrease in worldwide tobacco consumption brought about by existing or future governmental laws and regulations would reduce demand for tobacco products and services and could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Government actions can have a significant effect on the sourcing of tobacco. If some of the current efforts are successful, we could have difficulty obtaining sufficient tobacco to meet our customers’ requirements, which could have an adverse effect on our performance and results of operations.
Acting upon the advice of a working group established in 2008, the WHO, through the FCTC, issued policy options and recommendations to promote crop diversification initiatives and alternatives to growing leaf tobacco in countries whose economies depend upon tobacco production. If certain countries were to follow these policy options and recommendations and seek to eliminate or significantly reduce leaf tobacco production, we could encounter difficulty in sourcing leaf tobacco to fill customer requirements, which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
Certain recommendations by the WHO, through the FCTC, may cause shifts in customer usage of certain styles of tobacco. As seen in countries like Canada and Brazil and in the European Union, efforts have been taken to eliminate ingredients from the manufacturing process for tobacco products. Recently, the FCTC and the FDA have discussed formulating a nicotine strategy (limitations on the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco and tobacco smoke). Such decisions could cause a change in requirements for certain styles of tobacco in particular countries. Shifts in customer demand from one type of tobacco to another could create sourcing challenges as requirements move from one origin to another.
Trade proposals have included provisions that could effectively allow governments to regulate tobacco products differently than other products. These “carve outs” could negatively impact the industry and reduce requirements for leaf tobacco.
In addition, continued government and public emphasis on environmental issues, including climate change, conservation, and natural resource management, could result in new or more stringent forms of regulatory oversight of industry activities, which may lead to increased levels of expenditures for environmental controls, land use restrictions affecting us or our suppliers, and other conditions that could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and results of operations. For example, certain aspects of our business generate carbon emissions. Regulatory restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions have been proposed. These may include limitations on such emissions, taxes or emission allowance fees on such emissions, various restrictions on industrial operations, and other measures that could affect land-use decisions, the cost of agricultural production, and the cost and means of processing and transporting our products. These actions could adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.
Because we conduct a significant portion of our operations internationally, political and economic uncertainties in certain countries could have an adverse effect on our performance and results of operations.
Our international operations are subject to uncertainties and risks relating to the political stability of certain foreign governments, principally in developing countries and emerging markets, and also to the effects of changes in the trade policies and economic regulations of foreign governments. These uncertainties and risks, which include undeveloped or antiquated commercial law, the expropriation, indigenization, or nationalization of assets, and the authority to revoke or refuse to renew business licenses and work permits, may adversely impact our ability to effectively manage our operations in those countries. We have substantial capital investments in South America and Africa, and the performance of our operations in those regions can materially affect our earnings. If the political situation in any of the countries where we conduct business were to deteriorate significantly, our ability to recover assets located there could be impaired. To the extent that we do not replace any lost volumes of tobacco with tobacco from other sources, or we incur increased costs related to such replacement, our financial condition or results of operations, or both, would suffer.
In addition, the current administration has called for substantial changes to U.S. foreign trade policy, including the possibility of imposing greater restrictions on international trade and significant tariffs on goods imported into the United States. An escalation of protectionist trade measures by the United States or other countries, such as taxes, tariffs, increased customs duties or other measures, could have a materially adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Due to broad uncertainty regarding the timing, content and extent of any regulatory changes in the United States or abroad, we cannot predict the impact, if any, that these changes could have to our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Changes in tax laws in the countries where we do business may adversely affect our results of operations.
Through our subsidiaries, we are subject to the tax laws of many jurisdictions. Changes in tax laws or the interpretation of tax laws can affect our earnings, as can the resolution of various pending and contested tax issues. In most jurisdictions, we regularly have audits and examinations by the designated tax authorities, and additional tax assessments are common. We believe that we comply with applicable tax laws in the jurisdictions where we operate, and we vigorously contest all significant tax assessments where we believe we are in compliance with the tax laws.
Failure of our customers or suppliers to repay extensions of credit could materially impact our results of operations.
We extend credit to both suppliers and customers. A significant bad debt provision related to amounts due could adversely affect our results of operations. In addition, crop advances to farmers are generally secured by the farmers’ agreement to deliver green tobacco. In the event of crop failure, delivery failure, or permanent reductions in crop sizes, full recovery of advances may never be realized, or otherwise could be delayed until future crops are delivered. See Notes 1 and 14 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 for more information on these extensions of credit.
Fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates may affect our results of operations.
We account for most of our tobacco operations using the U.S. dollar as the functional currency. The international tobacco trade generally is conducted in U.S. dollars, and we finance most of our tobacco operations in U.S. dollars. Although this generally limits foreign exchange risk to the economic risk that is related to leaf purchase and production costs, overhead, and income taxes in the source country, significant currency movements could materially impact our results of operations. Changes in exchange rates can make a particular crop more or less expensive in U.S. dollar terms. If a particular crop is viewed as expensive in U.S. dollar terms, it may be less attractive in the world market. This could negatively affect the profitability of that crop and our results of operations. In tobacco markets that are primarily domestic, such as Hungary, Poland, and the Philippines, the local currency is the functional currency. In addition, the local currency is the functional currency in other markets, such as Western Europe, where export sales have been denominated primarily in local currencies. In these markets, reported earnings are affected by the translation of the local currency into the U.S. dollar. See Item 7A, “Qualitative and Quantitative Disclosure About Market Risk” for additional discussion related to foreign currency exchange risk.
Our purchases of tobacco are generally made in local currency, and we also provide farmer advances that are denominated in the local currency. We account for currency remeasurement gains or losses on those advances as period costs, and they are usually accompanied by offsetting increases or decreases in the purchase cost of tobacco, which is priced in the local currency. The effect of differences in the cost of tobacco is generally not realized in our earnings until the tobacco is sold, which often occurs in a quarter or fiscal year subsequent to the recognition of the related remeasurement gains or losses. The difference in timing could affect our profitability in a given quarter or fiscal year.
We have used currency hedging strategies to reduce our foreign currency exchange rate risks in some markets. In addition, where we source tobacco in countries with illiquid or nonexistent forward foreign exchange markets, we often manage our foreign exchange risk by matching funding for inventory purchases with the currency of sale and by minimizing our net investment in these countries. To the extent that we have net monetary assets or liabilities in local currency, and those balances are not hedged, we may have currency remeasurement gains or losses that will affect our results of operations.
Changes in interest rates may affect our results of operations.
We generally use both fixed and floating interest rate debt to finance our operations. Changes in market interest rates expose us to changes in cash flows for floating rate instruments and to changes in fair value for fixed rate instruments. We normally maintain a proportion of our debt in both variable and fixed interest rates to manage this exposure, and from time to time we may enter hedge agreements to swap the interest rates. In addition, our customers may pay market rates of interest for inventory purchased on order, which could mitigate a portion of the floating interest rate exposure on short-term borrowings. To the extent we are unable to match these interest rates, a decrease in interest rates could increase our net financing costs. We also periodically have large cash balances and may receive deposits from customers, both of which we use to fund seasonal purchases of tobacco, reducing our financing needs. Decreases in short-term interest rates could reduce the income we derive from those investments. Changes in interest rates also affect expense related to our defined benefit pension plan, as described below.
Low investment performance by our defined benefit pension plan assets and changes in pension plan valuation assumptions may increase our pension expense and may require us to fund a larger portion of our pension obligations, thus diverting funds from other potential uses.
We sponsor domestic defined benefit pension plans that cover certain eligible employees. Our results of operations may be positively or negatively affected by the amount of expense we record for these plans. U.S. generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”) require that we calculate expense for the plans using actuarial valuations. These valuations reflect assumptions about financial market and other economic conditions that may change based on changes in key economic indicators. The most significant year-end assumptions we used to estimate pension expense for fiscal year 2019 were the discount rate, the expected long-term rate of return on plan assets, and the mortality rates. In addition, we are required to make an annual measurement of plan assets and liabilities, which may result in a significant change to shareholders’ equity through a reduction or increase to the “Pension and other postretirement benefit plans” component of Accumulated Other Comprehensive Loss. At the end of fiscal year 2019, the projected benefit obligation of our qualified U.S. pension plan was $233 million and plan assets were $231 million. For a discussion regarding how our financial statements can be affected by pension plan valuation assumptions, see “Critical Accounting Estimates – Pension and Other Postretirement Benefit Plans” in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in Item 7 and in Note 11 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8. Although GAAP expense and pension funding contributions are not directly related, key economic factors that affect GAAP expense can also affect the amount of cash we are required to contribute to our pension plans under requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Failure to achieve expected returns on plan assets could also result in an increase to the amount of cash we would be required to contribute to our pension plans. In order to maintain or improve the funded status of our plans, we may also choose to contribute more cash to our plans than required by ERISA regulations.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Item 2. Properties
We own the following significant properties (greater than 500,000 square feet):
Flue-Cured and Burley Leaf Tobacco Operations:
Nash County, North Carolina
Factory and storages
Factory and storages
Factory and storages
Factory and storages
Agoo, La Union
Factory and storages
Factory and storages
Factory and storages
Other Tobacco Operations:
Factory and storages
Owned by an unconsolidated subsidiary.
We lease headquarters office space of about 50,000 square feet at 9201 Forest Hill Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, which we believe is adequate for our current needs.
Our business involves, among other things, storing and processing green tobacco and storing processed tobacco. We operate processing facilities in major tobacco growing areas. In addition, we require tobacco storage facilities that are in close proximity to the processing facilities. We own most of the tobacco storage facilities, but we lease additional space as needs arise. We believe that the properties currently utilized in our tobacco operations are maintained in good operating condition and are suitable and adequate for our purposes at our current volumes.
In addition to our significant properties listed above, we own other processing facilities in the following countries: Germany, Guatemala, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States. In addition, we have an ownership interest in a processing plant in Mexico and have access to processing facilities in other areas, such as India, the People’s Republic of China, and South Africa. Socotab L.L.C., an oriental tobacco joint venture in which we own a noncontrolling interest, owns tobacco processing plants in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Turkey.
Except for the Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility, the facilities described above are engaged primarily in processing tobaccos used by manufacturers in the production of cigarettes. The Lancaster facility, as well as facilities in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, and Paraguay, process tobaccos used in making cigar, pipe, and smokeless products, as well as components of certain “roll-your-own” products.
As discussed in Note 3 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8, due to changes that have affected the Company's operations in Tanzania, an impairment charge was recorded during the third quarter of fiscal year 2019 to reduce the carrying values of the factory and storages in Morogoro, Tanzania to their estimated fair values.
Item 3. Legal Proceedings
Tanzania Fair Competition Commission Proceeding
In June 2012, our Tanzanian subsidiary, Tanzania Leaf Tobacco Company Ltd. (“TLTC”), entered into a two crop-year supply agreement for unprocessed “green” tobacco with a newly-formed Tanzanian subsidiary of one of our major customers. The agreement involved green tobacco purchases from four of the approximately 400 grower cooperatives in Tanzania, which allowed the customer and its Tanzanian subsidiary on a small test basis to evaluate whether it would be a viable alternative for the customer to establish its own vertically integrated supply operations in that market. Prior to that time, the customer’s subsidiary did not exist, and it only purchased processed Tanzanian tobacco from tobacco dealers in specified amounts and only for certain grades and stalk positions. In contrast, the agreement with TLTC required the customer’s subsidiary to purchase green tobacco on a “run of crop” basis. “Run of crop” requires the purchase of all green tobacco produced on the tobacco plant, regardless of grade or stalk position. The agreement, therefore, enabled the customer’s subsidiary on a small test basis to evaluate the quality of green tobacco purchased on a “run of crop” basis and to assess how such tobacco would be suited to the customer's tobacco requirements. The customer unilaterally elected to establish its own vertically integrated supply operations in Tanzania after the expiration of the agreement, and its subsidiary began purchasing green tobacco directly from Tanzanian grower cooperatives during the second crop year thereafter.
Despite the pro-competitive object and effect of the agreement between TLTC and the customer’s subsidiary, in October 2016, the Tanzania Fair Competition Commission (“FCC”) notified TLTC and the customer’s subsidiary that it reviewed the agreement and provisionally concluded that it infringed Tanzania antitrust law by having the object and effect of preventing competition in the purchase of unprocessed green tobacco in the area in which the four grower cooperatives were located. The FCC also provisionally concluded that our U.S. subsidiary, Universal Leaf Tobacco Company, Inc. (“ULT”), and additional subsidiaries of the customer, were jointly and severally liable for the actions of TLTC and the customer’s Tanzanian subsidiary, respectively. TLTC and ULT submitted a written response contesting the FCC’s allegations, and on February 27, 2018, the FCC issued its decision to TLTC and ULT which confirmed its initial conclusion that the agreement infringed Tanzanian antitrust law. In its decision, the FCC concluded incorrectly that the parties to the agreement unfairly benefited in the amount of $105 thousand. The FCC arbitrarily assessed a fine jointly against TLTC and ULT of approximately $197 million and a fine jointly against the customer’s Tanzanian subsidiary and another subsidiary of the customer exceeding $1 billion.
TLTC and ULT have worked closely with expert legal advisors and economists on this matter. Based on these engagements and consultations, we firmly believe the FCC’s allegations are frivolous and clearly without merit or support from the facts, law or economic analysis. We further believe the FCC’s proceedings were rife with irregularities and did not comply with applicable legal and regulatory procedures with respect to this matter, including failing to establish jurisdiction over ULT or to offer a legal justification for including ULT in the proceeding. To the contrary, we believe the facts, law and economic analysis clearly support the legality and pro-competitive nature of the agreement and support a proper conclusion that there was no infringement of Tanzania antitrust law, and the agreement had no negative impact on the Tanzania tobacco market. We further believe the FCC’s proposed fine is ludicrous, unwarranted and contrary to Tanzania law. TLTC and ULT immediately appealed the FCC findings to the Tanzania Fair Competition Tribunal, which immediately stayed the execution of any FCC fines. We are unable to predict how long the appeal process will take; however, we believe it could last several years. At this time, we believe that the likelihood of incurring any material liability in this matter is remote, and no amount has been recorded.
Other Contingent Liabilities
In addition, some of our subsidiaries are involved in other litigation or legal matters incidental to their business activities. While the outcome of these matters cannot be predicted with certainty, we are vigorously defending the matters and do not currently expect that any of them will have a material adverse effect on our business or financial position. However, should one or more of these matters be resolved in a manner adverse to our current expectation, the effect on our results of operations for a particular fiscal reporting period could be material.
Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures
Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Our common stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”) under the symbol “UVV.” The following table sets forth the high and low sales prices per share of the common stock on the NYSE Composite Tape, based upon published financial sources, and the dividends declared on each share of common stock for the quarter indicated.
Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2019
Cash dividends declared
Market price range:
Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2018
Cash dividends declared
Market price range:
Our current dividend policy anticipates the payment of quarterly dividends in the future. However, the declaration and payment of dividends to holders of common stock is at the discretion of the Board of Directors and will be dependent upon our future earnings, financial condition, and capital requirements. Under certain of our credit facilities, we must meet financial covenants relating to minimum tangible net worth and maximum levels of debt. If we were not in compliance with them, these financial covenants could restrict our ability to pay dividends. We were in compliance with all such covenants at March 31, 2019. At May 20, 2019, there were 1,034 holders of record of our common stock. See Notes 6 and 12 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 for more information on debt covenants and equity securities.
Purchases of Equity Securities
As indicated in the following table, we did not repurchase shares of our common stock during the three-month period ended March 31, 2019.
Total Number of Shares Repurchased
Average Price Paid Per Share (2)
Total Number of Shares Repurchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs (3)
Dollar Value of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs (3)
January 1-31, 2019
February 1-28, 2019
March 1-31, 2019
Repurchases are based on the date the shares were traded. This presentation differs from the consolidated statement of cash flows, where the cost of share repurchases is based on the date the transactions were settled.
Amounts listed for average price paid per share include broker commissions paid in the transactions.
A stock repurchase plan, which was authorized by our Board of Directors, became effective and was publicly announced on November 7, 2017. This stock repurchase plan authorized the purchase of up to $100 million in common and/or preferred stock in open market or privately negotiated transactions, subject to market conditions and other factors. This stock repurchase program will expire on the earlier of November 15, 2019, or when we have exhausted the funds authorized for the program.
Item 6. Selected Financial Data
Fiscal Year Ended March 31,
(in thousands, except share and per share data, ratios, and number of shareholders)
Summary of Operations
Sales and other operating revenues
Segment operating income (1)
Net income attributable to Universal Corporation (2)
Earnings available to Universal Corporation common shareholders
Return on beginning common shareholders’ equity
Earnings per share attributable to
Universal Corporation common shareholders:
Financial Position at Year End
Total Universal Corporation shareholders’ equity
Number of common shareholders
Weighted average common shares outstanding:
Dividends per share of convertible perpetual preferred stock (annual)(3)
Dividends per share of common stock (annual)
Book value per common share
(1) We evaluate the performance of our segments based on segment operating income, which is operating income after allocated overhead expenses (excluding significant non-recurring charges or credits), plus equity in the pretax earnings of unconsolidated affiliates. Segment operating income is a non-GAAP measure. See Note 15 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report for information on reportable operating segments.
(2) We hold less than a 100% financial interest in certain consolidated subsidiaries, and a portion of net income is attributable to the noncontrolling interests in those subsidiaries.
(3) In December 2016 and January 2017, all outstanding shares of the Company's Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock were converted for common stock or for cash, and none were outstanding during fiscal year 2019. See Note 12 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report.
Significant items included in the operating results in the above table are as follows:
Fiscal Year 2019 – $20.3 million of restructuring and impairment costs, primarily related to our operations in Tanzania. The restructuring and impairment costs included employee termination benefits, as well as impairment charges related to certain property, plant, equipment, and goodwill. The restructuring and impairment costs reduced net income by $16.5 million, or $0.64 per diluted share. In addition, we benefited from a $7.8 million reduction in income tax expense for the reversal of amounts previously recorded for dividend withholding taxes on distributed and undistributed retained earnings of a foreign subsidiary following the resolution of uncertainties with the local country taxing authorities with respect to the inclusion of the tax under a tax holiday applicable to the subsidiary. The reduction of income tax expense increased diluted earnings per share by $0.30. On a combined basis, the net effect of these items decreased net income by $8.7 million, or $0.34 per diluted share.
Fiscal Year 2018 – a $4.5 million reduction of income tax expense from the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017. The reduction in income tax expense increased diluted earnings per share by $0.18.
Fiscal Year 2017 – $4.4 million of restructuring and impairment costs, primarily related to our decision to close our tobacco processing facility in Hungary. We are now processing tobaccos sourced from Hungary in our facilities in Italy. The restructuring and impairment costs reduced net income by $2.8 million, or $0.10 per diluted share. In addition, all 218,490 outstanding shares of our Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock were converted during the third and fourth quarters. Of the total shares converted, 107,418 shares were converted for cash, resulting in a reduction of retained earnings of approximately $74.4 million for the excess of the conversion cost over the carrying value of the shares. The reduction in retained earnings resulted in a corresponding one-time reduction of earnings available to common shareholders for purposes of determining the amounts reported for basic and diluted earnings per share for the year. The reduction in earnings available to common shareholders decreased diluted earnings per share by $2.99.
Fiscal Year 2016 – a $3.4 million pretax gain arising from the acquisition of a joint venture partner's 50% ownership interest in a tobacco processing entity in Guatemala. The transaction increased our ownership interest in the entity to 100%, requiring us to consolidate the financial statements of the entity and to remeasure our original 50% ownership interest to fair value, resulting in the gain. In addition, we recorded restructuring and impairment costs of $2.4 million related to a decision to significantly scale back our operations in Zambia. The net effect of the gain and the restructuring and impairment costs increased pretax income by $1.0 million and net income by $0.7 million, or $0.02 per diluted share.
Fiscal Year 2015 – a $12.7 million benefit to pretax earnings from the reversal of a valuation allowance on the remaining unused balance of the excise tax credits realized from the favorable outcome of litigation by our subsidiary in Brazil in fiscal year 2014. In addition, we recorded a consolidated income tax benefit of $8.0 million arising from the ability of our subsidiary, Deltafina S.p.A. ("Deltafina"), to pay a significant portion of the European Commission fine and related interest charges settled during the first quarter following the unsuccessful appeal of the case related to tobacco buying practices in Italy. The effect of those items was partially offset by restructuring costs of $4.9 million, primarily related to downsizing certain functions at our operations in Brazil and the decision to suspend our operations in Argentina. On a combined basis, the net effect of these items increased pretax income by $7.8 million and net income by $13.1 million, or $0.46 per diluted share.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
The following discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations is provided to enhance the understanding of, and should be read in conjunction with, Part I, Item 1, “Business” and Item 8, “Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.” For information on risks and uncertainties related to our business that may make past performance not indicative of future results, or cause actual results to differ materially from any forward-looking statements, see “General,” and Part I, Item 1A, “Risk Factors.”
We are the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. We derive most of our revenues from sales of processed tobacco to manufacturers of tobacco products throughout the world and from fees and commissions for specific services. We hold a strategic position in the world leaf markets where we work closely with both our customers and farmers to ensure that we deliver a compliant product that meets our customers' needs while promoting a strong supplier base. We adapt to meet changes in customer requirements as well as broader changes in the leaf markets, while continuing to provide the stability of supply and high level of service that distinguishes us in the marketplace. We believe that we have successfully met the needs of both our customers and suppliers while adapting to changes in leaf markets. Over the last three fiscal years, we have generated almost $500 million in net cash flow from operations, invested over $100 million in our businesses, settled the mandatory conversion of our Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock for about $178 million in cash, and returned over $200 million to our shareholders through a combination of dividends and share repurchases.
We delivered solid results in fiscal year 2017 despite supply headwinds, most notably from the weather-reduced crop sizes in Brazil and ongoing challenging market conditions in Tanzania. Although we had anticipated ending fiscal year 2017 with slightly lower volumes, earlier shipment timing as well as attractive green prices in some origins resulting in some additional purchases by our customers boosted shipments later in our fiscal year, allowing us to improve our market share and achieve lamina sales volumes that were slightly above those of fiscal year 2016. Our segment operating income for the 2017 fiscal year was also improved, primarily attributable to a reduction in selling, general, and administrative costs and earlier receipt of distributions from unconsolidated subsidiaries.
We were pleased with our good results for fiscal year 2018 as net income remained steady at about $106 million, despite modestly lower lamina volumes. We also continued to grow our market share and expand the services we provide our customers, including gaining new multi-year processing commitments in Brazil. In addition, we rewarded our shareholders by increasing our dividend rate and returning almost $55 million through dividends and repurchasing about $22 million, or 2%, of our outstanding common stock. Fiscal year 2018 was not without its challenges as fewer carryover crop sales and shipment delays in North America, African burley crop sizes that were down more than 40% over the prior year, and a $10 million reduction in income from the timing of receipt of distributions of unconsolidated subsidiaries compared to fiscal year 2017, negatively impacted our results. However, we did benefit from a return to normal crop volumes in Brazil, and the resultant gains from higher volumes and lower factory unit costs there.
Fiscal year 2019 was another strong year for Universal. We increased our tobacco volumes handled, earned additional business with our customers by expanding the services we provide, and have continued to improve our market share. During fiscal year 2019, we benefited from the recovery of African burley production, strong carryover volumes in the first half of the year, and robust demand for wrapper tobacco. Our revenues were up about 10% on those higher volumes, compared to fiscal year 2018. Our gross margin percentage remained flat, even though our product mix was less favorable as we handled a higher percentage of by-products this year. In addition, results in our North America segment were negatively impacted by weather damage to tobacco crops in the United States, which reduced yields and third party processing volumes.
We remain committed to maintaining our position as the leading global leaf supplier and believe that opportunities exist to expand our business to help mitigate the impact of consumption declines. In fiscal year 2019, we increased leaf purchasing, processing, and grower support services we provide in the Philippines through a new leaf supply arrangement with one of our major customers, who had previously purchased and processed its own tobacco there. This arrangement not only increases our business footprint in that origin, but we believe strengthens and improves the efficiency of the supply chain there by providing procurement synergies and economies of scale.
In keeping with our capital allocation strategy announced in fiscal year 2018, we continue to explore growth opportunities outside of leaf tobacco in adjacent industries and markets that we believe will utilize our assets and capabilities and deliver value to our shareholders. During fiscal year 2019, we hired a dedicated business development officer, developed an investment pipeline, and have been actively engaged in assessing numerous private and public targeted opportunities in a variety of agribusiness arenas around the world. Our approach remains the same, and we are progressing in a thoughtful and prudent manner to ensure that we make investments that are financially sound, fit well with our organization, and will deliver value to our shareholders.
As we move into fiscal year 2020, we are forecasting larger flue-cured and burley tobacco global crop production than those grown in our fiscal year 2019, and believe that both flue-cured and burley tobacco may be in slight oversupply positions compared with anticipated market demand. It is still early in the fiscal year 2020 crop cycle, but we are expecting lower carryover crop volumes and reduced North American volumes.
We have entered fiscal year 2020 with a strong balance sheet in part from the cash flow generated in fiscal year 2019. We are well positioned financially to fund upcoming working capital needs and to take advantage of investment opportunities. We also remain committed to our industry leadership and continuing to deliver value to our shareholders as evidenced by the announcement of our 49th annual dividend increase on May 22, 2019.
RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
Amounts described as net income and earnings per diluted share in the following discussion are attributable to Universal Corporation and exclude earnings related to non-controlling interests in subsidiaries. The total for segment operating income referred to in the discussion below is a non-GAAP financial measure. This measure is not a financial measure calculated in accordance with GAAP and should not be considered as a substitute for net income, operating income, cash flows from operating activities or any other operating performance measure calculated in accordance with GAAP, and it may not be comparable to similarly titled measures reported by other companies. We have provided a reconciliation of the total for segment operating income to consolidated operating income in Note 15. "Operating Segments" to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8. We evaluate our segment performance excluding certain significant charges or credits. We believe this measure, which excludes these items that we believe are not indicative of our core operating results, provides investors with important information that is useful in understanding our business results and trends.
Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2019, Compared to the Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2018
Net income for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, was $104.1 million, or $4.11 per diluted share, compared with $105.7 million, or $4.14 per diluted share, for the prior fiscal year. Those results included certain non-recurring items, detailed in Other Items below, which decreased diluted earnings per share by $0.34 and increased diluted earnings per share by $0.18 for the fiscal years ended March 31, 2019 and March 31, 2018, respectively. Excluding those non-recurring items, net income and earnings per share increased by $11.7 million and $0.49, respectively, for fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2018. Operating income of $161.2 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, which included restructuring and impairment charges of $20.3 million detailed in Other Items below, decreased by $9.7 million, compared to operating income of $170.8 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018. Segment operating income was $186.8 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, an increase of $6.8 million, compared to segment operating income of $180.0 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018. Results reflected earnings improvements in the Other Regions and Other Tobacco Operations segments and flat results for the North America segment for fiscal year 2019. Consolidated revenues increased by $193.2 million to $2.2 billion for the fiscal year 2019, compared to the prior fiscal year, primarily due to higher sales and processing volumes.
Flue-cured and Burley Leaf Tobacco Operations
Operating income for the Other Regions segment increased by $4.8 million to $151.5 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared with fiscal year 2018, on stronger sales and processing volumes partially offset by higher selling, general and administrative costs. In fiscal year 2019, volumes increased in Africa, mainly from higher burley production volumes and carryover crop sales. In South America, volumes also increased, but the product mix was less favorable. Results for Asia reflected lower sales and trading volumes for fiscal year 2019, while Europe saw improvements in processing volumes. Selling, general, and administrative costs were higher for fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2018, primarily from negative foreign currency remeasurement and exchange variances, higher compensation and incentive accruals, and higher customer claim costs, partially offset by higher net recoveries on advances to suppliers. Revenues for the Other Regions segment of $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2019, were up $87.6 million compared to fiscal year 2018, on higher volumes and processing revenues, offset in part by lower sales prices and a less favorable product mix.
Operating income for the North America segment of $23.1 million for year ended March 31, 2019, was flat, compared to the prior fiscal year. Results for fiscal year 2019 reflected higher carryover crop sales volumes on shipments delayed from the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2018 due to reduced transportation availability in the United States, offset by lower U.S. current crop sales and processing volumes largely due to weather-affected crops. Results for fiscal year 2019 also included higher shipment volumes from Guatemala and Mexico, compared to fiscal year 2018. Selling, general, and administrative costs for the North America segment for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, were modestly lower and declined as a percentage of sales, compared to the prior fiscal year. Revenues for this segment increased by $73.9 million to $382.6 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared to the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, on the higher sales volumes, partly offset by lower processing revenues.
Other Tobacco Operations
The Other Tobacco Operations segment operating income increased by $2.1 million to $12.2 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared with the prior fiscal year. Results for the dark tobacco operations reflected higher sales of wrapper tobacco and stronger processing and other revenues for fiscal year 2019, compared to fiscal year 2018. Those improvements were partly offset by declines in the oriental joint venture. Lower sales volumes in the fiscal year 2019 and the absence of gain on the sale of idle assets in the prior fiscal year for the oriental joint venture were offset in part by favorable currency remeasurement variances, compared to fiscal year 2018. Selling, general, and administrative costs for the segment were up for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared with the prior fiscal year, as higher value-added tax charges and higher compensation and incentive accruals were only partly offset by favorable currency remeasurement comparisons. Revenues for the segment increased by $31.7 million to $274.8 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared to the prior fiscal year, largely as a result of the higher wrapper tobacco sales volumes and increased processing and other revenues, partly offset by lower oriental tobacco volumes shipped into the United States.
Cost of goods sold increased by 10% to $1.8 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared with the prior fiscal year, and consistent with similar percentage changes in revenues. Selling, general, and administrative costs for fiscal year 2019, increased by $24.0 million to $225.1 million, mainly driven by higher compensation and incentive accruals, higher customer claims and allowance costs, negative foreign currency remeasurement and exchange variances, and higher value-added tax charges, partly offset by higher net recoveries on advances to suppliers, compared with fiscal year 2018. Selling, general, and administrative costs were flat as a percentage of sales for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, compared to the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018.
For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, the Company’s consolidated effective income tax rate on pretax earnings was 27%. Income tax expense for fiscal year 2019 included a $7.8 million ($0.30 per diluted share) benefit from reversing a portion of a liability previously recorded for dividend withholding taxes on the cumulative retained earnings of a foreign subsidiary. Without the dividend withholding tax reversal, the consolidated effective income tax rate for fiscal year 2019 would have been 33%. The effective tax rate included the benefit of various tax planning opportunities, as well as the effects of exchange rate changes on local earnings and taxes of foreign subsidiaries. For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, the Company’s consolidated effective income tax rate was 30%. Income tax expense for fiscal year 2018 included a one-time adjustment amounting to a reduction of $4.5 million ($0.18 per diluted share) for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, from the enactment of major changes to U.S. corporate income tax law in December 2017. Excluding those items, the effective tax rate for fiscal year 2018, would have been 33%.
Results for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, included restructuring and impairment charges of $20.3 million ($0.64 per diluted share), primarily recorded to reflect the cost of workforce reductions and impairment in the carrying value of property, plant, and equipment assets as a result of changes in the Company’s business in Tanzania. For more details, see Note 5 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report.
Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2018, Compared to the Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2017
Net income for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, was $105.7 million, or $4.14 per diluted share, compared with $106.3 million, or $0.88 per diluted share for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017. The fiscal year 2017 results included a one-time reduction of earnings available to common shareholders of $74.4 million, or $2.99 per diluted share, from the conversion for cash of the remaining outstanding shares of our Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock under the mandatory conversion in January 2017. That reduction, the effect of a reduction in income tax expense from the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, and certain other non-recurring items are detailed in Other Items below. Excluding those items, diluted earnings per share for fiscal year 2018 of $3.96 decreased by $0.01 compared to the same period of fiscal year 2017. Operating income of $171.5 million for the year ended March 31, 2018, decreased by $6.9 million compared to the year ended March 31, 2017. Segment operating income was $180.6 million for the year ended March 31, 2018, a decrease of $7.9 million, compared to the year ended March 31, 2017, as improved results in our Other Regions and Other Tobacco Operations segments were offset by declines in our North America segment. Revenues of $2.0 billion for fiscal year 2018 were down only 1.8% compared to fiscal year 2017, as lower volumes, primarily in Africa, were largely offset by higher sales prices and processing revenues.
Flue-cured and Burley Leaf Tobacco Operations
Operating income for the Other Regions segment improved by $3.9 million to $147.3 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, compared to the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017. The improvement was driven by lower selling, general, and administrative expenses and higher processing revenues, largely offset by lower sales volumes and other revenues from the receipt of distributions from unconsolidated affiliates. In South America, total lamina sales volumes were up for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, on higher current crop sales partly offset by reduced carryover crop sales. The higher current year crop volumes also increased processing revenues and improved margins from reduced factory unit costs there. Results for the Africa region for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, compared to the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, were down due to lower African burley production levels in fiscal year 2018. Earnings improved for the Asia region primarily on stronger sales and for the Europe region on stronger sales and favorable exchange rates. Selling, general, and administrative costs for the segment were lower for fiscal year 2018, mostly from net foreign currency remeasurement gains compared with losses in fiscal year 2017, partially offset by an unfavorable comparison due to the reversal of value-added tax reserves in the second quarter of fiscal year 2017. Revenues for the Other Regions segment for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, were up $59.2 million to $1.5 billion compared to the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, as higher sales prices and processing revenues as well as a better product mix offset lower sales volumes and other revenues from the receipt of distributions from unconsolidated affiliates.
North America segment operating income of $23.2 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, was down by $11.9 million, compared with fiscal year ended March 31, 2017. The decline was driven by lower sales volumes. In the United States, volumes were down primarily due to large prior crop carryover sales in fiscal year 2017 and some delayed customer shipments in the quarter ended March 31, 2018, due to reduced transportation availability, while results for Guatemala and Mexico were affected by lower volumes and less favorable margins. Selling, general and administrative costs were lower compared with fiscal year 2017, on reduced compensation costs and lower customer claims. Segment revenues were down by $107.7 million to $308.7 million for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, compared with the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, on the lower volumes.
Other Tobacco Operations
The Other Tobacco Operations segment operating income increased by $0.1 million to $10.1 million for the year ended March 31, 2018, compared with the year ended March 31, 2017. For fiscal year 2018, earnings were lower for the dark tobacco operations, compared to fiscal year 2017, mostly driven by lower sales in Indonesia on the lack of wrapper tobacco availability from the weather damaged crop. Indonesian wrapper volumes and quality recovered in the subsequent crop, which was available for sale in fiscal year 2019. Earnings for the oriental joint venture increased for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, largely on higher sales volumes. Results for the joint venture for fiscal year 2018 also included gains on the sale of idle assets offset by higher currency remeasurement losses from the devaluation of the Turkish lira. Operating results for the Special Services group were up slightly for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, compared with the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017. Selling, general, and administrative costs for the segment were up modestly for fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2017 on higher currency remeasurement losses. Revenues for the Other Tobacco Operations segment increased by $11.3 million to $243.1 million for the year ended March 31, 2018, compared to fiscal year 2017, mainly on higher sales prices in our dark tobacco operations.
Cost of goods sold declined by about 1% to $1.7 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2018, compared with fiscal year 2017. The decrease was in line with similar percentage decline in revenues. Selling, general, and administrative costs decreased by $11.5 million to $200.5 million for the year ended March 31, 2018, compared to the year ended March 31, 2017. The decrease in fiscal year 2018 was largely on net foreign currency remeasurement gains compared with losses in fiscal year 2017, mainly in Africa, partly offset by an unfavorable comparison due to the reversal of value-added tax reserves in the second quarter of fiscal year 2017.
The consolidated effective income tax rate for the year ended March 31, 2018, was approximately 30%. The rate included the effect of the changes in U.S. corporate income tax law under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that were recorded under the SEC’s “provisional” classification upon enactment of the new law in the third fiscal quarter ended December 31, 2017, as well as adjustments made to the “provisional” accounting in the quarter ended March 31, 2018, due to the collection and analysis of additional information for certain foreign subsidiaries, as well as additional clarifying guidance issued with respect to the new law. The effect of the new law mainly represents changes to deferred tax assets and liabilities, as well as the reduction of the U.S. tax liability on undistributed foreign earnings. As a result of the adjustments to the earlier provisional accounting, our earnings for the year ended March 31, 2018, included a $4.5 million ($0.18 per share) net reduction of income tax expense from the new law after those adjustments. The consolidated effective income tax rate for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, was approximately 34%. Income taxes for that period were lower than the 35% federal statutory rate at that time, due to a combination of lower net effective tax rates on income from certain foreign subsidiaries, and effects of changes in local currency exchange rates on deferred income tax balances. For more details, see Note 5 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report.
In December 2016, 111,072 shares of the Series B 6.75% Convertible Perpetual Preferred Stock were converted into approximately 2.5 million shares of the Company's common stock. In January 2017, the Company completed a mandatory cash conversion of the remaining 107,418 outstanding shares of the preferred stock in accordance with the original terms of the preferred shares. Although the conversions of the preferred stock did not impact the Company’s net income, the cash conversions in January 2017 resulted in a one-time reduction of retained earnings of approximately $74.4 million during the fourth quarter ended March 31, 2017, and a corresponding one-time reduction of earnings available to common shareholders for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017 for purposes of determining the amounts reported for basic and diluted earnings per share. The effect of the conversions on diluted earnings per share for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2017, was ($2.99).
Results for the year ended March 31, 2017, included restructuring and impairment costs of $4.4 million ($0.10 per diluted share).
See "Accounting Pronouncements" in Note 1 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 of this Annual Report for a discussion of recent accounting pronouncements issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board ("FASB") that will become effective and be adopted by the Company in future reporting periods.
LIQUIDITY AND CAPITAL RESOURCES
Our working capital requirements during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2019 were higher than those in fiscal year 2018 mainly due to the recovery of burley production volumes in Africa and higher dark tobacco wrapper inventories. However, in the quarter ended March 31, 2019, working capital requirements declined significantly as cash balances increased and inventory balances decreased due to strong shipments compared to the quarter ended March 31, 2018, when some shipments were delayed. We ended fiscal year 2019 with lower working capital usage for the year than in fiscal year 2018. In fiscal year 2019, we also generated $164.5 million in cash flows from our operating activities, and our liquidity was sufficient to meet our needs. We continued our conservative financial policies, maintained our discipline on using our free cash flow, and returned funds to shareholders.
Our liquidity and capital resource requirements are predominately short-term in nature and primarily relate to working capital for tobacco crop purchases. Working capital needs are seasonal within each geographic region. The geographic dispersion and the timing of working capital needs permit us to predict our general level of cash requirements, although crop size, prices paid to farmers, shipment and delivery timing, and currency fluctuations affect requirements each year. Peak working capital requirements are generally reached during the first and second fiscal quarters. Each geographic area follows a cycle of buying, processing, and shipping tobacco, and in many regions we also provide agricultural materials to farmers during the growing season. The timing of the elements of each cycle is influenced by such factors as local weather conditions and individual customer shipping requirements, which may change the level or the duration of crop financing. Despite a predominance of short-term needs, we maintain a portion of our total debt as long-term to reduce liquidity risk. We also periodically have large cash balances that we utilize to meet our working capital requirements.
We believe that our financial resources are adequate to support our capital needs for at least the next twelve months. Our seasonal borrowing requirements primarily relate to purchasing crops in South America and Africa and can increase from March to September by more than $300 million. The funding required can vary significantly depending upon such factors as crop sizes, the price of leaf, the relative strength of the U.S. dollar, and the timing of shipments and customer payments. We deal with this uncertainty by maintaining substantial credit lines and cash balances. In addition to our operating requirements for working capital, we expect to spend around $30 to $40 million during fiscal year 2020 for capital expenditures to maintain our facilities and invest in opportunities to grow and improve our businesses. We also expect to provide about $2 million in funding to our pension plans. We have no long-term debt maturing until fiscal year 2024.
Our operations generated about $164.5 million in operating cash flows in fiscal year 2019. That amount was about $83.3 million higher than the $81.2 million we generated in fiscal year 2018, largely due to lower working capital requirements in fiscal year 2019. During the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019, we spent $38.8 million on capital projects and returned $71.3 million to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. At March 31, 2019, cash balances totaled $297.6 million.
Working capital at March 31, 2019, was about $1.3 billion, flat with last fiscal year's level. Tobacco inventories of $629.6 million at March 31, 2019, were down $49.8 million compared to inventory levels at the end of the prior fiscal year, largely on lower North American burley tobacco purchases this fiscal year and delayed North American shipments in fiscal year 2018. We usually finance inventory with a mix of cash, notes payable, and customer deposits, depending on our borrowing capabilities, interest rates, and exchange rates, as well as those of our customers. We generally do not purchase material quantities of tobacco on a speculative basis. However, when we contract directly with farmers, we are obligated to buy all stalk positions, which may contain less marketable leaf styles. Our uncommitted tobacco inventories increased by approximately $20.9 million to $128.0 million, or about 20% of tobacco inventory, at March 31, 2019. Uncommitted inventories at March 31, 2018, were $107.2 million, which represented 16% of tobacco inventory. The level of these uncommitted inventories is influenced by timing of farmer deliveries of new crops, as well as the receipt of customer orders.
Our capital allocation strategy focuses on four strategic priorities:
Strengthening and investing for growth in our leaf tobacco business;
Increasing our strong dividend;
Exploring growth opportunities in adjacent industries and markets that utilize our assets and capabilities; and
Returning excess capital through share repurchases.
Our mission is to remain the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. By continuing to make disciplined investments within our leaf business and taking advantage of growth opportunities in tobacco as well as in adjacent industries and markets that utilize our assets and capabilities. Through these actions, we believe that will be able to deliver enhanced value for all shareholders through earnings growth and the generation of free cash flow despite operating in a mature industry.
As we look ahead, we will continually evaluate opportunities to return capital to shareholders on an ongoing basis. At the same time, we remain committed to maintaining our investment grade credit rating and extending our 49-year history of dividend increases.
Our Board of Directors approved our current share repurchase program in November 2017. The program expires in November 2019 and authorizes the purchase of up to $100 million of our common stock. Under the current authorization, we may purchase shares from time to time on the open market or in privately negotiated transactions at prices not exceeding prevailing market rates. Repurchases of shares under the repurchase program may vary based on management discretion, as well as changes in cash flow generation and availability. During fiscal year 2019, we purchased 30,777 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $1.4 million (average price per share of $46.87). At March 31, 2019, our available authorization under our current share repurchase program was approximately $90 million, and approximately 25.0 million common shares were outstanding.
Our capital expenditures are generally limited to those that add value, replace or maintain equipment, increase efficiency, or position us for future growth. In deciding where to invest capital resources, we look for opportunities where we believe we can earn an adequate return, leverage our assets and expertise, and enhance our farmer base. During fiscal years 2019 and 2018, we invested $38.8 million and $34.0 million, respectively, in our property, plant, and equipment. Depreciation expense was approximately $37.1 million and $34.8 million, respectively, in fiscal years 2019 and 2018. Generally, our capital spending on maintenance projects is at a level below depreciation expense in order to maintain strong cash flow. In addition, from time to time, we undertake projects that require capital expenditures when we identify opportunities to improve efficiencies, add value for our customers, and position ourselves for future growth. We currently plan to spend approximately $30 to $40 million in fiscal year 2020 on capital projects for maintenance of our facilities and other investments to grow and improve our businesses. We expect that about 25% of those capital expenditures will be for non-maintenance investments in our businesses.
Outstanding Debt and Other Financing Arrangements
We consider the sum of notes payable and overdrafts, long-term debt (including any current portion), and customer advances and deposits, less cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments on our balance sheet to be our net debt. We also consider our net debt plus shareholders' equity to be our net capitalization. Net debt decreased by $40.8 million to $146.6 million during the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019. The decrease primarily reflects higher cash balances. Net debt as a percentage of net capitalization was approximately 10% at March 31, 2019, down from 12% at March 31, 2018.
On December 20, 2018, we entered into a new bank credit agreement that replaced our existing bank credit agreement dated December 30, 2014. The terms of the new agreement are substantially similar to the terms of the prior agreement, and like the prior agreement, the new agreement established a five-year committed revolving credit facility of $430 million, a funded $150 million five-year term loan, and a funded $220 million seven-year term loan. The new revolving credit facility replaced a $430 million revolving credit facility that would have matured in December 2019 and a $150 million five-year term loan and a $220 million seven-year term loan that would have matured in December 2019 and December 2021, respectively. The financial covenants under the new revolving credit facility are substantially similar to those of the previous facility and require us to maintain certain levels of tangible net worth and leverage. Under applicable accounting guidance, a significant portion of the replacement of the term loans was accounted for as a debt modification rather than a debt extinguishment.
As of March 31, 2019, we had $430 million available under a committed revolving credit facility that will mature in December 2023, and we, together with our consolidated affiliates, had approximately $253 million in uncommitted lines of credit, of which approximately $198 million were unused and available to support seasonal working capital needs. The financial covenants under our committed revolving credit facility require us to maintain certain levels of tangible net worth and observe restrictions on debt levels. As of March 31, 2019, we were in compliance with all covenants of our debt agreements. We also have an active, undenominated universal shelf registration filed with the SEC in November 2017 that provides for future issuance of additional debt or equity securities. We have no long-term debt maturing in fiscal year 2020.
From time to time, we use interest rate swap agreements to manage our exposure to changes in interest rates. In February 2019, we entered into interest rate swap agreements that convert the variable benchmark LIBOR rate on the new term loans entered into in December 2018 to a fixed rate. With the swap agreements in place, the effective interest rates on the $150 million five-year term loan and the $220 million seven-year term loan were 3.94% and 4.26%, respectively, as of March 31, 2019. These agreements were entered into to eliminate the variability of cash flows in the interest payments on our variable rate five- and seven-year term loans and are accounted for as cash flow hedges. Under the swap agreements, we receive variable rate interest and pay fixed rate interest. At March 31, 2019, the fair value of our open interest rate hedge swaps was a net liability of approximately $6 million. Upon issuance of the new interest rate swap agreements in February 2019, we terminated approximately $370 million notional amount of outstanding swap agreements. The fair value of these terminated swap agreements was approximately $5 million.
We also enter forward contracts from time to time to hedge certain foreign currency exposures, primarily related to forecast purchases of tobacco and related processing costs in Brazil, as well as our net monetary asset exposure in local currency there. We generally account for our hedges of forecast tobacco purchases as cash flow hedges. At March 31, 2019, the fair value of those open contracts was an immaterial net asset. We also had other forward contracts outstanding that were not designated as hedges, and the fair value of those contracts was an immaterial net liability at March 31, 2019. For additional information, see Note 9 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8.
Funds supporting our ERISA-regulated U.S. defined benefit pension plan increased by $16 million during fiscal year 2019 to $231 million, as contributions and asset returns exceeded benefit payments. The accumulated benefit obligation (“ABO”) and the projected benefit obligation (“PBO”) were both approximately $233 million as of March 31, 2019. The ABO and PBO are calculated on the basis of certain assumptions that are outlined in Note 11 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8. We expect to make contributions of about $2 million to our pension plans during the next year. It is our policy to regularly monitor the performance of the funds and to review the adequacy of our funding and plan contributions.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements
We do not have any off balance sheet arrangements that have or are reasonably likely to have a current or future effect on our financial condition, changes in financial condition, revenues or expenses, results of operations, liquidity, capital expenditures or capital resources.
Our contractual obligations as of March 31, 2019, were as follows:
(in thousands of dollars)
Notes payable and long-term debt (1)
Operating lease obligations
Inventory purchase obligations:
Other purchase obligations
Includes interest payments. Interest payments on $54.0 million of variable rate debt were estimated based on rates as of March 31, 2019. We have entered into interest rate swaps that effectively convert the interest payments on the $370.0 million outstanding balance of our two bank term loans from variable to fixed. The fixed rate has been used to determine the contractual interest payments for all periods.
In addition to principal and interest payments on notes payable and long-term debt, our contractual obligations include operating lease payments, inventory purchase commitments, and capital expenditure commitments. Operating lease obligations represent minimum payments due under leases for various production, storage, distribution, and other facilities, as well as vehicles and equipment. Tobacco inventory purchase obligations primarily represent contracts to purchase tobacco from farmers. The amounts shown above are estimates since actual quantities purchased will depend on crop yield, and prices will depend on the quality of the tobacco delivered. We have partially funded our tobacco purchases in some origins with short-term advances to farmers and other suppliers, which totaled approximately $107 million, net of allowances, at March 31, 2019. In addition, we have guaranteed bank loans to farmers in Brazil that relate to a portion of our tobacco purchase obligations there. At March 31, 2019, we were contingently liable under those guarantees for outstanding balances of approximately $17 million (including accrued interest), and we had recorded a liability of approximately $1 million for the fair value of those guarantees. As tobacco is purchased and the related bank loans are repaid, our contingent liability is reduced.
CRITICAL ACCOUNTING ESTIMATES AND ASSUMPTIONS
In preparing the financial statements in accordance with GAAP, we are required to make estimates and assumptions that have an impact on the assets, liabilities, revenue, and expense amounts reported. These estimates can also affect our supplemental information disclosures, including information about contingencies, risks, and financial condition. We believe, given current facts and circumstances, that our estimates and assumptions are reasonable, adhere to GAAP, and are consistently applied. However, changes in the assumptions used could result in a material adjustment to the financial statements. Our critical accounting estimates and assumptions are in the following areas:
Inventories of tobacco are valued at the lower of cost or net realizable value with cost determined under the specific cost method. Raw materials are clearly identified at the time of purchase. We track the costs associated with raw materials in the final product lots, and maintain this identification through the time of sale. We also capitalize direct and indirect costs related to processing raw materials. This method of cost accounting is referred to as the specific cost or specific identification method. We write down inventory for changes in net realizable value based upon assumptions related to future demand and market conditions if the indicated value is below cost. Future demand assumptions can be impacted by changes in customer sales, changes in customers’ inventory positions and policies, competitors’ pricing policies and inventory positions, and varying crop sizes and qualities. Market conditions that differ significantly from those assumed by management could result in additional write-downs. We experience inventory write-downs routinely. Inventory write-downs in fiscal years 2019, 2018, and 2017 were $4.0 million, $7.7 million, and $10.9 million, respectively.
Advances to Suppliers and Guarantees of Bank Loans to Suppliers
In many sourcing origins, we provide tobacco growers with agronomy services and seasonal crop advances of, or for, seed, fertilizer, and other supplies. These advances are short term in nature and are customarily repaid upon delivery of tobacco to us. In several origins, we have also made long-term advances to tobacco farmers to finance curing barns and other farm infrastructure. In Brazil, we also guarantee bank loans made to farmers for seasonal crop financing. In some years, due to low crop yields and other factors, individual farmers may not deliver sufficient volumes of tobacco to repay maturing advances. In those cases, we may extend repayment of the advances into the following crop year or satisfy the guarantee by acquiring the loan from the bank. In either situation, we will incur losses whenever we are unable to recover the full amount of the loans and advances. At each reporting period, we must make estimates and assumptions in determining the valuation allowance for advances to farmers and the liability to accrue for our obligations under bank loan guarantees. At March 31, 2019, the gross balance of advances to suppliers totaled approximately $129 million, and the related valuation allowance totaled approximately $18 million. The fair value of the loan guarantees for farmers in Brazil was a liability of approximately $1 million at March 31, 2019.
Recoverable Value-Added Tax Credits
In many foreign countries, we pay significant amounts of value-added tax (“VAT”) on purchases of unprocessed and processed tobacco, crop inputs, packing materials, and various other goods and services. In some countries, VAT is a national tax, and in other countries it is assessed at the state level. Items subject to VAT vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as do the rates at which the tax is assessed. When we sell tobacco to customers in the country of origin, we generally collect VAT on those sales. We are normally permitted to offset our VAT payments against those collections and remit only the incremental VAT collections to the tax authorities. When tobacco is sold for export, VAT is normally not assessed. In countries where our tobacco sales are predominately for export markets, we often do not generate enough VAT collections on downstream sales to fully offset our VAT payments. In those situations, we can accumulate unused VAT credits. Some jurisdictions have procedures that allow companies to apply for refunds of unused VAT credits from the tax authorities, but the refund process often takes an extended period of time and it is not uncommon for refund applications to be challenged or rejected in part on technical grounds. Other jurisdictions may permit companies to sell or transfer unused VAT credits to third parties in private transactions, although approval for such transactions must normally be obtained from the tax authorities, limits on the amounts that can be transferred may be imposed, and the proceeds realized may be heavily discounted from the face value of the credits. Due to these factors, in some countries we can accumulate significant balances of VAT credits over time. We review these balances on a regular basis, and we record valuation allowances on the credits to reflect amounts that we do not expect to recover, as well as discounts anticipated on credits we expect to sell or transfer. In determining the appropriate valuation allowance to record in a given jurisdiction, we must make various estimates and assumptions about factors affecting the ultimate recovery of the VAT credits. At March 31, 2019, the gross balance of recoverable tax credits (primarily VAT) totaled approximately $53 million, and the related valuation allowance totaled approximately $17 million.
We review the carrying value of goodwill for potential impairment on an annual basis and at any time that events or business conditions indicate that it may be impaired. As permitted under Accounting Standards Codification Topic 350 (“ASC 350”), at March 31, 2019 and 2018, we elected to base our initial assessment of potential impairment on qualitative factors. Those factors did not indicate any impairment of our recorded goodwill at those dates. However, during fiscal year 2019, based on business changes that have affected our operations in Tanzania, we recorded a charge of approximately $0.9 million for the full impairment of goodwill attributable to that reporting unit. In fiscal years prior to basing our initial assessment on qualitative factors, we followed the quantitative approach in ASC 350 in assessing the fair value of our goodwill, which involved the use of discounted cash flow models (Level 3 of the fair value hierarchy under GAAP). Under our current qualitative assessment, we would also use those discounted cash flow models to measure any expected impairment indicated by the assessment. The calculations in these models are not based on observable market data from independent sources and therefore require significant management judgment with respect to operating earnings growth rates and the selection of an appropriate discount rate. Significant adverse changes in our operations or our estimates of future cash flows for a reporting unit with recorded goodwill, such as those caused by unforeseen events or changes in market conditions, could result in an impairment charge. Over 90% of our goodwill balance relates to our reporting unit in Brazil.
Fair Value Measurements
We hold various financial assets and financial liabilities that are required to be measured and reported at fair value in our financial statements, including money market funds, trading securities associated with deferred compensation plans, interest rate swaps, forward foreign currency exchange contracts, and guarantees of bank loans to tobacco growers. We follow the relevant accounting guidance in determining the fair values of these financial assets and liabilities. Money market funds are valued based on net asset value (“NAV”), which is used as a practical expedient to measure the fair value of those funds (not classified within the fair value hierarchy). Quoted market prices (Level 1 of the fair value hierarchy) are used in most cases to determine the fair values of trading securities. Interest rate swaps and forward foreign currency exchange contracts are valued based on dealer quotes using discounted cash flow models matched to the contractual terms of each instrument (Level 2 of the fair value hierarchy). The fair value of the guarantees of bank loans to tobacco growers, which was approximately $1 million at March 31, 2019, is derived using an internally-developed discounted cash flow model. The model requires various inputs, including historical loss percentages for comparable loans and a risk-adjusted interest rate. Because significant management judgment is required in determining and applying these inputs to the valuation model, our process for determining the fair value of these guarantees is classified as Level 3 of the fair value hierarchy. At March 31, 2019, a 1% increase in the expected loss percentage for all guaranteed farmer loans would not have had a material effect on the fair value of the guarantee obligation. In addition, a 1% change in the risk-adjusted interest rate would not have had a material effect on the fair value of the guarantee obligation. We incorporate credit risk in determining the fair values of our financial assets and financial liabilities, but that risk did not materially affect the fair values of any of those assets or liabilities at March 31, 2019.
Our consolidated effective income tax rate is based on our expected taxable income, tax laws and statutory tax rates, prevailing foreign currency exchange rates, and tax planning opportunities in the various jurisdictions in which we operate. Significant judgment is required in determining the effective tax rate and evaluating our tax position. We are subject to the tax laws of many jurisdictions, and could be subject to a tax audit in each of these jurisdictions, which could result in adjustments to tax expense in future periods. In the event that there is a significant, unusual, or one-time item recognized in our results, the tax attributed to that discrete item would be recorded at the same time as the item.
With the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, and the corresponding move of the United States system of corporate taxation for multinational companies from the taxation of worldwide income to a system that is more territorial-based, our consolidated income tax expense and effective tax rate is more heavily dependent on the tax rates of the individual countries in which we operate, the mix of our pretax earnings from those countries, and the prevailing rates of exchange of their local currencies with the U.S. dollar. The mix of pretax earnings and local currency exchange rates in particular can change significantly between annual and quarterly reporting periods based on crop sizes, market conditions, and economic factors. We expect these changes will make our effective tax rate more volatile from year-to-year and from quarter-to-quarter than it was under the prior tax law.
We have no undistributed earnings of consolidated foreign subsidiaries that are classified as permanently or indefinitely reinvested. We assume that all undistributed earnings of our foreign subsidiaries will be repatriated back to their parent entities in the U.S. where the funds are best placed to meet our cash flow requirements. In addition, we strive to mitigate economic, political, and currency risk by following a disciplined annual approach to the distribution of excess capital back to the U.S. Based on these assumptions, in our income tax expense for each reporting period we fully provide for all applicable foreign country withholding taxes that are expected to be due on these distributions.
Our accounting for uncertain tax positions requires that we review all significant tax positions taken, or expected to be taken, in income tax returns for all jurisdictions in which we operate. In this review, we must assume that all tax positions will ultimately be audited, and either accepted or rejected based on the applicable tax regulations by the tax authorities for those jurisdictions. We must recognize in our financial statements only the tax benefits associated with tax positions that are “more likely than not” to be accepted upon audit, at the greatest amount that is considered “more likely than not” to be accepted. These determinations require significant management judgment, and changes in any given quarterly or annual reporting period could affect our consolidated income tax rate.
Tax regulations require items to be included in taxable income in the tax return at different times, and in some cases in different amounts, than the items are reflected in the financial statements. As a result, our effective tax rate reflected in the financial statements is different than that reported in our tax returns. Some of these differences are permanent, such as expenses that are not tax deductible, while others are related to timing issues, such as differences in depreciation methods. Timing differences create deferred tax assets and liabilities. Deferred tax liabilities generally represent tax expense recognized in our financial statements for which payment has been deferred or income taxes related to expenses that have not yet been recognized in the financial statements, but have been deducted in our tax return. Deferred tax assets generally represent items that can be used as a tax deduction or credit in future tax returns for which we have already recorded the tax benefit in our financial statements. We record valuation allowances for deferred tax assets when the amount of estimated future taxable income is not likely to support the use of the deduction or credit. Determining the amount of such valuation allowances requires significant management judgment, including estimates of future taxable income in multiple tax jurisdictions where we operate. Based on our periodic earnings forecasts, we project the upcoming year’s taxable income to help us evaluate our ability to realize deferred tax assets.
For additional disclosures on income taxes, see Notes 1 and 5 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8.
Pension and Other Postretirement Benefit Plans
The measurement of our pension and other postretirement benefit obligations and costs at the end of each fiscal year requires that we make various assumptions that are used by our outside actuaries in estimating the present value of projected future benefit payments to all plan participants. Those assumptions take into consideration the likelihood of potential future events such as salary increases and demographic experience. The assumptions we use may have an effect on the amount and timing of future contributions to our plans. The plan trustee conducts an independent valuation of the fair value of pension plan assets. The significant assumptions used in the calculation of our pension and other postretirement benefit obligations are:
Discount rate – The discount rate is based on investment yields on a hypothetical portfolio of actual long-term corporate bonds rated AA that align with the cash flows for our benefit obligations.
Salary scale – The salary scale assumption is based on our long-term actual experience for salary increases, the near-term outlook, and expected inflation.
Expected long-term return on plan assets – The expected long-term return on plan assets reflects asset allocations and investment strategy adopted by the Finance and Pension Investment Committee of the Board of Directors.
Retirement and mortality rates – Retirement rates are based on actual plan experience along with our near-term outlook. Early retirement assumptions are based on our actual experience. Mortality rates are based on standard industry group annuity mortality tables which are updated to reflect projected improvements in life expectancy.
Healthcare cost trend rates – For postretirement medical plan obligations and costs, we make assumptions on future inflationary increases in medical costs. These assumptions are based on our actual experience, along with third-party forecasts of long-term medical cost trends.
From one fiscal year to the next, the rates we use for each of the above assumptions may change based on market developments and other factors. The discount rate reflects prevailing market interest rates at the end of the fiscal year when the benefit obligations are actuarially measured and will increase or decrease based on market patterns. The expected long-term return on plan assets may change based on changes in investment strategy for plan assets or changes in indicated longer-term yields on specific classes of plan assets. In addition to the changes in actuarial assumptions from year to year, actual plan experience affecting our net benefit obligations, such as actual returns on plan assets and actual mortality experience, will differ from the assumptions used to measure the obligations. The effects of these changes and differences increase or decrease the obligation we record for our pension and other postretirement benefit plans, and they also create gains and losses that are accumulated and amortized over future periods, thus affecting the expense we recognize for these plans over those periods. Changes in the discount rate from year to year generally have the largest impact on our projected benefit obligation and annual expense, and the effects may be significant, particularly over successive years where the discount rate moves in the same direction.
As of March 31, 2019, the effect of the indicated increase or decrease in the selected pension and other postretirement benefit valuation assumptions is shown below. The effect assumes no change in benefit levels.
(in thousands of dollars)
2020 Annual Expense
Changes in Assumptions for Pension Benefits
Expected Long-Term Return on Plan Assets:
Changes in Assumptions for Other Postretirement Benefits
Healthcare Cost Trend Rate:
A 1% increase or decrease in the salary scale assumption would not have a material effect on the projected benefit obligation or on annual expense for the Company's pension benefits. See Note 11 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 for additional information on pension and other postretirement benefit plans.
Other Estimates and Assumptions
Other management estimates and assumptions are routinely required in preparing our financial statements, including the determination of valuation allowances on accounts receivable and the fair value of long-lived assets. Changes in market and economic conditions, local tax laws, and other related factors are considered each reporting period, and adjustments to the accounts are made based on management’s best judgment.
OTHER INFORMATION REGARDING TRENDS
AND MANAGEMENT’S ACTIONS
Our financial performance depends on our ability to obtain an appropriate price for our products and services, to secure the tobacco volumes and quality desired by our customers, and to maintain efficient, competitive operations. We continually monitor issues and opportunities that may impact the supply of and demand for leaf tobacco, the volumes of leaf tobacco that we handle, and the services we provide.
We believe that a key factor to perform successfully in this industry is our ability to provide customers with the quality of leaf and the level of service they desire on a global basis at competitive prices, while maintaining stability of supply. As the leading global leaf tobacco supplier, we add significant value to the supply chain, providing expertise in dealing with large numbers of farmers, efficiently selling various qualities of leaf produced in each crop to a broad global customer base, and delivering products and services produced in a sustainable manner that meet stringent quality and regulatory specifications. We also help stabilize the tobacco markets and influence crop development at the farm level. As part of our commitment to our customers, we adapt our business model to meet their evolving needs and monitor new product developments in the industry to identify areas where we can provide additional value to them.
Current Industry Trends
Mature Leaf Tobacco Markets
Leaf tobacco is sourced directly by product manufacturers, by global leaf suppliers such as ourselves, and by other smaller, mostly regional or local, leaf suppliers. We estimate that, of the flue-cured and burley tobacco grown outside of China in countries that are key export markets for tobacco, a little over a third is purchased directly by major manufacturers. Global leaf suppliers also purchase a little over a third of the tobacco, and the remainder is sourced by the smaller regional or local suppliers. Some of the tobacco purchased directly by manufacturers is processed by the global leaf suppliers. Although we operate in a mature industry, where demand for the end products has been declining at a compound annual rate of about 2% over the last five years, our mission is to remain the leading global leaf tobacco supplier. In recent years, we have been and believe that we will continue to be able to grow our business, and maintain steady performance despite declines in demand for leaf tobacco from product manufacturers. We have done this by continuing to increase our delivery of services, driving supply chain efficiencies, enhancing the range of services we provide to certain customers, including direct buying, agronomic support, and specialized processing services, and improving our market share. We intend to continue to work to expand our business while at the same time maintaining an appropriate return for the services we provide and believe that there are several longer term trends in the industry that could provide additional opportunities for us both to offer additional services to our customers and to increase our market share.
We continually explore options to capitalize on the strengths of our core competencies and seek growth opportunities related to leaf tobacco and our operations around the world. For example, we have expanded our leaf purchasing, processing, and grower support services in the Philippines, as part of a new leaf supply arrangement with one of our major customers who had previously purchased and processed its own tobacco there, which increased the efficiency of the supply chain by providing procurement synergies and economies of scale. We have increased our product offerings to meet demand for shisha (water pipe) style leaf tobacco for customers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and natural wrappers in the United States and Europe. We also continue to explore and have developed a pipeline for growth opportunities outside of leaf tobacco in adjacent industries and markets that we believe will utilize our assets and capabilities and deliver value to our shareholders. We consider adjacencies to be industries and markets where we can leverage our strengths such as country knowledge, agricultural expertise, and complex grower management and logistic network management. A potential investment might involve high-value, non-commodity, or crop-based agricultural products requiring value-added handling or processing. By making disciplined investments within our leaf tobacco business as well as in adjacent industries and markets that utilize our assets and capabilities, we are confident that we can deliver enhanced value for all shareholders through earnings growth and the generation of free cash flow. As we look to adjacent industries and explore new growth opportunities within tobacco, Universal is dedicated to remaining the leading global leaf tobacco supplier and building on our strong history.
Focus on Cost Management
Manufacturers naturally seek to mitigate raw materials cost increases, and they are placing increased emphasis on cost containment as they address declining demand. While this is not a new trend, it continues to offer opportunities to us as we bring supply chain efficiencies to the leaf markets. We believe that global leaf suppliers add efficiencies to the markets through economies of scale, as well as through the vital role played in finding buyers for all styles and qualities of leaf tobacco, which achieves overall cost reductions. To understand our business, it is important to note that tobacco is not a commodity product. Flavor and smoking characteristics of tobacco vary based on the type of tobacco, the region where the tobacco is grown, and the position of the leaf on the stalk of the plant. Many different styles and grades of tobacco may be produced in a single tobacco crop. A particular manufacturer may only want and have use for certain leaves of a plant. The leaf tobacco supplier plays a vital role in the industry by finding buyers for all of the leaf grades and styles of tobacco produced in a farmer’s crop. This role helps to improve leaf utilization.
In addition to bringing supply chain efficiencies to the leaf tobacco markets, we bring operational efficiencies to the industry, which in turn help reduce costs. These efficiencies include economical utilization of processing capacity, an established and scalable global network of agronomists and technicians helping to maintain a stable, productive, and sustainable farmer base, as well as agronomic and production improvements to optimize leaf yields and qualities. In addition, we are able to offer manufacturers a complete range of services from the field to the delivery of the packed product that benefit from our efficiencies. These services include such things as buying station optimization, processing to specific customer specifications or needs, storage of green or packed leaf tobacco, and logistical services. In recent years, there has been an increase in the level of direct purchasing, processing, and other supply chain services that we provide our customers, notably in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. We believe this increase acknowledges the efficiencies and services that we bring to the entire supply chain.
We have also seen some reductions in sourcing from lower-volume tobacco growing origins by both global leaf suppliers and major manufacturers. Flue-cured tobacco is produced in over 70 countries around the world, and burley tobacco is grown in over 45 countries. However, over 80% of both the flue-cured tobacco grown outside of China and the worldwide burley tobacco production is sourced from the top ten growing areas for each type of tobacco. We believe that these moves to reduce sourcing areas and concentrate on major tobacco export markets are another way for the industry to increase efficiency and to reduce costs. In recent years we have contributed to cost reduction and elimination of excess capacity in the supply chain through the closure or realignment of programs in Argentina, Canada, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Tanzania, and Zambia. We maintain a strong presence in all of the major tobacco sourcing areas and believe that any growth in these areas would favor global leaf suppliers such as ourselves. In the future, we expect that increased regulations requiring stringent monitoring and testing of leaf chemistry and compliant sourcing documentation will place greater emphasis on major sourcing areas.
Importance of Compliant Leaf
As we have said for a number of years, the production of compliant leaf for the tobacco industry continues to grow in importance. To be considered compliant, leaf tobacco must be grown in a traceable, sustainable manner utilizing Good Agricultural Practices (“GAP”). We have long invested significant resources in the programs and infrastructure needed to work with growers to produce compliant leaf and continue to enhance our ability to monitor and demonstrate this compliance for customers. Our Good Agricultural Practices focus on implementing international principles of sustainability by encouraging and training our farmers to employ sound field production and labor management practices that promote farmer profitability and minimal environmental impact. To assist farmers, Universal provides comprehensive training, technical support in the field, and crop analytics through ongoing research and development. Our commitment to compliance is reinforced through MobilLeaf™, our proprietary mobile device platform, that captures and shares data in real-time, embedding sustainability throughout our supply chain and providing monitoring of GAP efforts, compliance with labor standards, and opportunities to enhance efficiencies. We believe that compliant leaf will continue to grow in importance to our customers and, as a result, will favor the two global suppliers who are able to deliver this product.
Growth of Alternative Tobacco Products
Most of the major tobacco product manufacturers have been developing next generation and modified risk products. These include electronic nicotine delivery systems (“ENDS”), liquid vaporizers, and heated tobacco products. ENDS and liquid vaporizers use liquid nicotine, which is predominately derived from leaf tobacco, and heated tobacco products use leaf tobacco. At this time it is unclear how these new products will affect demand for leaf tobacco. However, as our customers have been developing these products, we have been working with them to make sure we are able to meet their needs for both their traditional and new products. This is consistent with our commitment to efficiently and effectively adapt our business model to meet our customers’ evolving needs. Specifically, we have expertise in tobacco seed development, crop production methods, crop sourcing, processing, and manufacturing of reconstituted sheet tobacco, which is beneficial to our customers as they continue to develop alternative tobacco products. We also are able to provide high quality liquid nicotine through our subsidiary, AmeriNic. We continue to monitor industry developments regarding next generation products, including consumer acceptance and regulation, and will adapt accordingly.
Flue-cured tobacco crops grown outside of China decreased in fiscal year 2019 by about 4% to 1.9 billion kilos, mainly due to smaller crops in the United States caused by adverse weather conditions and smaller crop volumes in Brazil. Global burley tobacco production increased by about 15% to about 590 million kilos in fiscal year 2019, due to larger crops in Africa. Less African burley leaf was grown in fiscal year 2018 as a result of unfavorable weather conditions. Flue-cured tobacco crops grown outside of China are projected to increase to about 2.0 billion kilos in fiscal year 2020 and total flue-cured production is expected to be in line with amounts grown in fiscal year 2018. Burley volumes are also forecast to increase slightly to about 595 million kilos in fiscal year 2020. We estimate that as of March 31, 2019, industry uncommitted flue-cured and burley inventories, excluding China, totaled about 108 million kilos, an increase of about 25% from March 31, 2018 levels. At this time, we believe that both flue-cured and burley tobacco may be in slight oversupply positions compared with anticipated demand.
We also forecast that oriental tobacco production will decrease by about 12%, and dark air-cured production will increase by about 2% in fiscal year 2020. Over the long term, we believe that global tobacco production will continue to decline slightly in line with slightly declining total demand. South America, Asia, Africa, and North America will remain key sourcing regions for flue-cured and burley tobaccos.
China is a significant cigarette market. However, most of the cigarettes consumed in China and the leaf tobacco used in those cigarettes are produced domestically. Therefore, we normally view the Chinese market independently when evaluating worldwide leaf tobacco supply and demand. In the past few years, China’s domestic leaf production has exceeded their domestic needs for the local cigarette market, and there has been a build-up of domestic leaf inventory there. China is continuing to demonstrate efforts to re-align their domestic leaf production and inventories to balance their needs, and these efforts could influence global supply/demand in the short term.
Factors that affect green tobacco prices include global supply and demand, market conditions, production costs, foreign exchange rates, and competition from other crops. We work with farmers to maintain tobacco production and to secure product at price levels that are attractive to both the farmers and our customers. Our objective is to secure compliant tobacco that is produced in a cost-effective manner under a sustainable business model with the desired quality for our customers. In some areas, tobacco competes with agricultural commodity products for farmer production. If prices for soybeans, wheat, rice, and seed oils rise in certain origins, green tobacco prices may have to rise to maintain tobacco production levels. In the past, leaf shortages in specific markets or on a worldwide basis have also led to green tobacco price increases.
Industry data shows that over the past five years, total world consumption of cigarettes fell at a compound annual rate of about 2%. We believe that growth in world consumption of cigarettes peaked several years ago and is declining. As a result, we expect that near term global demand for leaf tobacco will continue to slowly decline in line with declining global cigarette consumption.
Our sales consist primarily of flue-cured and burley tobaccos. Those types of tobacco, along with oriental tobaccos, are used in American-blend cigarettes which are primarily smoked in Western Europe and the United States. English-blend cigarettes which use flue-cured tobacco are mainly smoked in the United Kingdom and Asia and other emerging markets. Industry data shows that consumption of American-blend cigarettes has declined at a compound annual rate of about 2% for the five years ended in 2018. If demand for American-blend cigarettes declines at a higher rate than reductions in demand for English-blend cigarettes, there may be less demand for burley and oriental tobaccos and more demand for flue-cured tobacco. However, demand is affected by many factors, including regulation, product taxation, illicit trade, alternative tobacco products, and Chinese imports. To the extent that domestic leaf production and inventory durations in China do not meet requirements for Chinese cigarette blends, that tobacco could be sourced from other origins where we have major market positions. On a year-to-year basis, we are also susceptible to fluctuations in leaf supply due to crop sizes and leaf demand as manufacturers adjust inventories or respond to changes in cigarette markets. We currently expect that supply of flue-cured and burley tobaccos slightly exceed anticipated demand. However, inventories held by our customers may affect their near-term demand for leaf tobacco. We also sell oriental tobacco, which is used in American-blend cigarettes, and dark tobacco, which is used in cigars and other smokeless products. While we expect demand for oriental tobacco and dark tobacco used in cigar filler to be generally in line with supply, we are seeing strong demand for wrapper tobacco used for mass-market cigars.
Regulation and Product Taxation
Decreased social acceptance of smoking and increased pressure from anti-smoking groups have had an ongoing adverse effect on the percentage of the population using tobacco products, particularly in the United States and Western Europe. Many governments have additionally taken or proposed steps to restrict or prohibit tobacco product advertising and promotion, to increase taxes on such products, to prohibit smoking in public areas, and to discourage tobacco product consumption. A number of such measures are included in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (“FCTC”), which was negotiated under the auspices of the WHO and offers guidelines for discouraging or controlling tobacco use. The 180 countries that are signatories to the FCTC may choose how to fulfill their obligations in implementing the articles in a manner that is most suitable with their approach to tobacco control. For example, in recent years China imposed a ban on smoking in public places, while in the United Kingdom and Australia, laws have been passed mandating plain packaging, the removal of branding on cigarette packages. We cannot predict the extent to which government efforts to reduce tobacco consumption might affect the business of our primary customers. However, a significant decrease in worldwide tobacco consumption, as well as shifts to modified risk tobacco products brought about by existing or future governmental laws and regulations, could reduce demand for leaf tobacco and services and have a material adverse effect on our business.
In addition, certain recommendations by the WHO, through the FCTC, may cause shifts in customer usage of certain types and styles of tobacco. As seen in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and the European Union, efforts have been taken to eliminate flavorings from tobacco products. Additionally, discussions are intensifying about the possibility of reducing nicotine content in certain tobacco products to less than addictive levels. Such decisions could cause a change in requirements for certain leaf tobaccos in particular countries. Shifts in customer demand from one type of leaf tobacco to another could create sourcing issues as requirements move from one origin to another. Furthermore, instruction at the farm level may be required to produce the changing styles of leaf tobacco needed by tobacco product manufacturers. Given our strong global footprint and our well-developed programs and networks at the farm level worldwide, we remain particularly well positioned to meet manufacturer requirements.
In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (“the Act”). This legislation authorizes the FDA to regulate the manufacturing and marketing of all tobacco products. The FDA has banned flavored cigarettes, restricted youth access to tobacco products, banned advertising claims regarding certain tobacco products, established new smokeless tobacco warnings, and issued new cigarette health warnings. In addition, the FDA established the Center for Tobacco Products (“CTP”). Over the past decade, the CTP has focused on establishing the scientific foundation and regulatory framework for regulating tobacco products in the United States. On May 10, 2016, the FDA released “deeming” regulations that extend FDA oversight to all tobacco products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems, cigars, hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco, dissolvables, and “novel and future products.” The regulations require that tobacco product manufacturers register tobacco products that existed on February 15, 2007, and to seek FDA authorization to sell any products modified or introduced after such date. All such submissions require manufacturers to list ingredients in their products. On July 28, 2017, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a new regulatory approach for the regulation of combustible and non-combustible products focusing on nicotine reduction and the continuum of risk. The agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making (“ANPRM”) with the intention of developing a nicotine product standard for cigarettes that reduces the level of nicotine to below-addictive levels. Additional ANPRMs were issued: 1) to explore the science behind exempting premium cigars from premarket authorization requirements and 2) to address menthol in cigarettes, flavors in vapor and other ENDS products, and the future ENDS and vapor product standards. Furthermore, as part of the comprehensive plan, the FDA approved the first “heat-not-burn” premarket tobacco application to permit the product’s sale in the United States.
In 2019, an uptick in youth use of ENDS products as reported in the National Youth Tobacco Study prompted the FDA to revisit its compliance policy regarding certain flavored ENDS products and flavored cigars. Public comment ended on April 30, 2019, and these products could face restrictions should FDA finalize this revised compliance policy. In March 2019, Scott Gottlieb announced his resignation as FDA Commissioner, and Ned Sharpless, the Director of the National Cancer Institute, was named Acting Commissioner. Public statements by Sharpless and HHS Secretary Azar have indicated the tobacco regulatory approach will remain consistent.
Regulations impacting our customer base that change the requirements for leaf tobacco or restrict their ability to sell their products will inherently impact our business. As discussed, we have established programs that begin at the farm level to assist our customers with raw material information to support leaf traceability and customer testing requirements, including the detection of nicotine levels. Additionally, given our global presence, we also have the ability to source different types and styles of tobacco for our customers should their needs change due to regulation. A number of governments, particularly federal and local governments in the United States and the European Union, impose excise or similar taxes on tobacco products. There has been, and will likely continue to be, new legislation proposing new or increased taxes on tobacco products. In some cases, proposed legislation seeks to significantly increase existing taxes on tobacco products, or impose new taxes on products that to date have not been subject to tax. Increases in product taxation may reduce the affordability of, and demand for, cigarettes, which will affect requirements for leaf tobacco by tobacco product manufacturers.
Illicit trade is another factor which influences demand for leaf tobacco. Industry estimates of the illegal, unregulated black market for cigarettes are approximately 10% to 12% of global stick consumption, representing $40 to $50 billion in lost tax revenue globally. We support governmental and industry efforts to eradicate illicit trade.
Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk
Interest Rate Risk
We generally use both fixed and floating interest rate debt to finance our operations. Changes in market interest rates expose us to changes in cash flows for floating rate instruments and to changes in fair value for fixed-rate instruments. We normally maintain a proportion of our debt in both variable and fixed interest rates to manage this exposure, and from time to time we may enter hedge agreements to swap the interest rates. In addition, our customers may pay market rates of interest for inventory purchased on order, which could mitigate a portion of the floating interest rate exposure. We also periodically have large cash balances and may receive deposits from customers, both of which we use to fund seasonal purchases of tobacco, reducing our financing needs. Excluding our bank term loans, which have been converted to fixed-rate borrowings with interest rate swaps, debt carried at variable interest rates was approximately $54 million at March 31, 2019. Although a hypothetical 1% change in short-term interest rates would result in a change in annual interest expense of approximately $0.5 million, that amount would be at least partially mitigated by changes in charges to customers.
In addition, changes in interest rates affect the calculation of our pension plan liabilities. As rates decrease, the liability for the present value of amounts expected to be paid under the plans increases. Rate changes also affect expense. As of the March 31, 2019 measurement date, a 1% decrease in the discount rate would have increased the projected benefit obligation (“PBO”) for pensions by $36 million and increased annual pension expense by $3 million. Conversely, a 1% increase in the discount rate would have reduced the PBO by $29 million and reduced annual pension expense by $2 million.
The international leaf tobacco trade generally is conducted in U.S. dollars, thereby limiting foreign exchange risk to that which is related to leaf purchase and production costs, overhead, and income taxes in the source country. We also provide farmer advances that are directly related to leaf purchases and are denominated in the local currency. Any currency gains or losses on those advances are usually offset by increases or decreases in the cost of tobacco, which is priced in the local currency. However, the effect of the offset may not occur until a subsequent quarter or fiscal year. Most of our tobacco operations are accounted for using the U.S. dollar as the functional currency. Because there are no forward foreign exchange markets in many of our major countries of tobacco origin, we often manage our foreign exchange risk by matching funding for inventory purchases with the currency of sale, which is usually the U.S. dollar, and by minimizing our net local currency monetary position in individual countries. We are vulnerable to currency remeasurement gains and losses to the extent that monetary assets and liabilities denominated in local currency do not offset each other. We recognized $1.8 million in net remeasurement gains in fiscal year 2019, compared to $0.2 million in net remeasurement losses in fiscal year 2018, and $9.3 million in net remeasurement losses in fiscal year 2017. We recognized $4.3 million in net foreign currency transaction losses in fiscal year 2019, compared to net transaction losses of $0.1 million in fiscal year 2018, and net transaction losses of $1.3 million in fiscal year 2017. In addition to foreign exchange gains and losses, we are exposed to changes in the cost of tobacco due to changes in the value of the local currency in relation to the U.S. dollar. We have entered forward currency exchange contracts to hedge against the effects of currency movements on purchases of tobacco to reduce the volatility of costs. In addition, we periodically enter into forward contracts to hedge balance sheet exposures. See Note 9 to the consolidated financial statements in Item 8 for additional information about our hedging activities.
In certain tobacco markets that are primarily domestic, we use the local currency as the functional currency. Examples of these markets are Poland and the Philippines. In other markets, such as Western Europe, where export sales are primarily in local currencies, we also use the local currency as the functional currency. In each case, reported earnings are affected by the translation of the local currency into the U.S. dollar.
Hedging interest rate exposure using swaps and hedging foreign currency exchange rate exposure using forward contracts are specifically contemplated to manage risk in keeping with management's policies. We may use derivative instruments, such as swaps, forwards, or futures, which are based directly or indirectly upon interest rates and currencies to manage and reduce the risks inherent in interest rate and currency fluctuations. When we use foreign currency derivatives to mitigate our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations, we may choose not to designate them as hedges for accounting purposes, which may result in the effects of the derivatives being recognized in our earnings in periods different from the items that created the exposure.
We do not utilize derivatives for speculative purposes, and we do not enter into market risk-sensitive instruments for trading purposes. Derivatives are transaction-specific so that a specific debt instrument, forecast purchase, contract, or invoice determines the amount, maturity, and other specifics of the hedge. We routinely review counterparty risk as part of our derivative program.
Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data
CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF INCOME
Fiscal Year Ended March 31,
(in thousands of dollars, except share and per share data)
Sales and other operating revenues
Costs and expenses
Cost of goods sold
Selling, general and administrative expenses
Restructuring and impairment costs
Equity in pretax earnings of unconsolidated affiliates
Other non-operating income (expense)
Income before income taxes
Less: net income attributable to noncontrolling interests in subsidiaries
Net income attributable to Universal Corporation
Dividends on Universal Corporation convertible perpetual preferred stock
Cost in excess of carrying value on conversion/repurchase of convertible perpetual preferred stock
Earnings available to Universal Corporation common shareholders
Earnings per share attributable to Universal Corporation common shareholders:
Weighted average common shares outstanding:
See accompanying notes.
CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF COMPREHENSIVE INCOME
Fiscal Year Ended March 31,
(in thousands of dollars)
Other comprehensive income (loss):
Foreign currency translation, net of income taxes
Foreign currency hedge, net of income taxes
Interest rate hedge, net of income taxes
Pension and other postretirement benefit plans, net of income taxes
Total other comprehensive income (loss), net of income taxes
Total comprehensive income
Less: comprehensive income attributable to noncontrolling interests
Comprehensive income attributable to Universal Corporation
See accompanying notes.
CONSOLIDATED BALANCE SHEETS
(in thousands of dollars)
Cash and cash equivalents
Accounts receivable, net
Advances to suppliers, net
Accounts receivable—unconsolidated affiliates
Inventories—at lower of cost or net realizable value:
Prepaid income taxes
Other current assets
Total current assets
Property, plant and equipment
Machinery and equipment
Less accumulated depreciation
Goodwill and other intangibles
Investments in unconsolidated affiliates
Deferred income taxes
Other noncurrent assets
CONSOLIDATED BALANCE SHEETS—(Continued)
(in thousands of dollars)
LIABILITIES AND SHAREHOLDERS’ EQUITY
Notes payable and overdrafts
Accounts payable and accrued expenses
Accounts payable—unconsolidated affiliates
Customer advances and deposits
Income taxes payable
Current portion of long-term debt
Total current liabilities
Pensions and other postretirement benefits
Other long-term liabilities
Deferred income taxes