Equinix, inc (EQIX) FY 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

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Equinix, inc (NASDAQ: EQIX)
FY 2021 Earnings Call
Nov 30, 2021, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Well, good morning, everybody, and good afternoon to those of you in Europe. Welcome to the NASDAQ Investor Conference. I’m Simon Flannery, the Comm Infrastructure and Telecom Services Analyst at Morgan Stanley. It’s my great pleasure to be joined again by Keith Taylor, Equinix’s CFO. Welcome, Keith.

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Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Hey, Simon. Nice to see you again, and thanks for having me — having me today, and it’s great to be here with everybody on the call.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Great. Looking forward to our discussion. Before we get started, for important disclosures, please see the Morgan Stanley research disclosure website at www.morganstanley.comresearchdisclosures. If you have any questions, please reach out to your Morgan Stanley sales rep.

So it’s been another good year for Equinix. You put out some constructive medium-term guidance at your Analyst Day back in the summer. Perhaps you could start, Keith, by talking about the priorities for 2022. What are the key areas of focus that we should be aware of?

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Yes. Thank you for reminding me to do my forward-looking statement. We will be making some forward-looking statements, so please refer to our SEC documents. And yes, going back to the Analyst Day this past June, we certainly — I think we sort of said that what I think is the foundation for the business for the next five years and — and presumably some of the people on the call were on our — on our — in our meetings over the last two hours. And so, it was exciting to sort of talk a little bit about our business.

First and foremost, I think we have a vision of where we can take the business. And when you think about priorities, which priorities today are the same priorities tomorrow, which is next year, is really about protecting our go-to-market motions, working on our digital services business, expanding our xScale and running the business more efficiently.

And part of my — part of the comments is, look I — I get really excited about what I think the business can do and we’ve come off some really good quarters this year. And Q2 to me was — I mean it was just — it was — Q2 and Q3 were just phenomenal quarters. I mean — and I look back into last year, and I go, when I think about the volume of activity and the way we measure the health of the business is about the amount of gross activity, this is off the charts for us. And so, that’s great. Pipeline is deep. I think we have a good vision of what we need to focus on. But it’s really is the — it’s the combination of, we see a market that is thriving, we think we’re well positioned, we believe we’re well positioned as a business. We’re investing in places that we need to, including sort of attaching in a more meaningful way to digital services because we think that will be a very relevant aspect for our future.

And also, we give you guidance on what we think revenues can do over the next five years. But I would like to think we could do better than that if digital services are as good as they could be, quite open. So a part of that is premised on our ability to invest. It’s also thinking about our go-to-market engine. The motion that we have today inside the core business is slightly different than what the motion would be outside in the digital world and sometimes you got to figure out how to make all of that work. And so, part of our decisioning over the last quarters and years has been, how do we invest in our growth and scale, how do we focus in digital, our go-to-market, because it’s really a combination of all of those things that will make the, what we guided to on the Analyst Day in June, a reality. And I mean, our goals are always to do better than that. That gives you at least the goal posts at least to sort of guide the business in the modeling exercises.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Great. Thank you. So, you mentioned Q2 and Q3 and very strong bookings trends. I think one thing that we really saw coming through in ’21 was enterprise demand, and that really seem to pick up. Can you just talk about what’s happening on the enterprise side and what has changed with COVID and acceleration of digital transformation and the opportunities from AI and AR/VR, some of the things that really you’re most excited about there?

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Yes. I — it’s — I’m going to make a general statement, Simon, because it — you’ve known us for such a long time and I think most of the people on — on this live stream understand, like I’ve been with the Company from the beginning. And so, see the evolutions and the changes in what goes on in the space has been substantial. But it is also being consistent with what we otherwise would have expected. And this evolution and where we are today, all things feeling more digital.

I just feel we’re better positioned than ever before as a company, largely because digital traverses through network. And we have 1,800 networks reside in our facilities where we live in a sort of a hybrid multi-cloud environment. We have access to all those cloud and IT services companies. We have all those on ramps, we’re focused on cable landing stations. And so whether it’s AR/VR, whether it’s in artificial intelligence, whether it’s in cryptocurrency, and I’m not talking about the mining aspect, but I’m talking about the exchange part of it, which is more akin to our financial services.

I should think we’re at — we’re at the crossroads of a great opportunity. By building and growing and scaling the business globally and continue to focus on that operational reliability, focusing on the sustainable and the — and the environmental aspect. All of this I think bodes really well into what our customers are looking for and you throw on — throw on the side of that, the digital services, which gets them access to our footprint on a global basis, because we sell as a platform.

And so, when you ask me what’s driving, I think it’s all things digital. But I think we’re also very well positioned because of our model. And it sits on the foundation of something we created 23 years ago, and we haven’t evolved from that and nor should we. I think it is — it is one of the competitive advantages that we have that is very difficult to displace, if at all.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Great. I mean you talked about your global scale. Perhaps, you could just give us a quick tour around the regions and where are you most excited about at the moment.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Well, it’s hard not to actually get excited by the U.S. a little bit. Even what’s the more mature market or the most mature market, we’re going to — I’m going to — let’s put xScale aside for a little bit. We can talk about that maybe separately. But I think just fundamentally in the U.S. business and understanding what we’re doing, understanding the services we provide, where we’re investing our dollars, I mean — I just — I feel really good about the U.S. business, and it goes back to your comment earlier on about, we’re winning a lot of the enterprises, we’re winning companies that are moving in some ways because of COVID, but the reality is, things were going to move this way anyway to become more digital. It — the U.S. seems to — I feel we are on a different trajectory right now and yes, you know I — I foresaw some of this because like anything, you saw a churn starting to dissipate not entirely, but you saw the Verizon churn start to dissipate. So that we knew that was going to be good for us.

But that’s only part of it, but the healthy part is, we’ve seen more bookings and gross bookings and volume than we’ve ever seen before, ever seen before in the Americas business, and we have had three record quarters in a row. And the numbers are phenomenal. And so, that’s — so Number 1, that’s what I get mostly excited about that. I think Jon Lin, Arquelle Shaw and all the others who work on out of the — out of the U.S. franchise have done just an excellent job of repositioning the business. But it’s also — it’s a function of time as well. We’ve invested heavily over the coming years, past years and I should have said and I think we’re seeing that the — all the, again, the green shoots of all that — all that investment.

And then Europe, I always feel Europe is a great — a great market for us. One, it’s extremely diverse and we’re just well positioned across all these countries that we operate in. And we’re investing. Our — when you go through the expansion tracking sheet and go wow look at the investments we’re making across the European theater and recognizing when the flat markets but even more so where we will extend it out to the emerging markets, the global — we call them the GEMS, global emerging markets. And it is nice to see the momentum we see in Spain, in Italy, in Ireland, you can go through the sort of walk around the different parts. And so, it’s just great to see, but I feel we’re well positioned as well. So that will continue, as I said, because of last year and some of the adjustments we made and then the pricing, I think you will see probably a more appropriate growth rate in Q4 for the European theater.

And Asia is always intriguing to me. Singapore has been phenomenal. Sydney has been — Sydney and Melbourne and some of our other Australian assets have performed very well. Tokyo, very, very attractive. Question mark on China. Question mark on Hong Kong. And I just — I feel good about our overall business.

But you take sort of that and see well look, the three regions that I feel — overall there’s going to be good markets, bad markets, that’s just the nature of our business [Phonetic], we’re in 66 markets. That is where we have been investing. So we’re going deeper into Turkey. We brought into India, as you know. We bought into Mexico. We want to do more in the Indian market. We’re already looking at what the next opportunity set is, vis-a-vis markets. We’re in Mumbai, but how do we get to Chennai, Bangalore and others. We’re buying land, we’re getting — procuring land in India.

You then think about well, what about Africa, we’re not there yet. We’ve telegraphed it. We want to be in Africa, we want to get to Africa, that opportunity set. Mexico bought Axtel, we’re seeing momentum there and now you’re seeing all the project starting to stack up in the Mexican market.

What about other parts of South America, what about Southeast Asia, Singapore has got some restrictions, I think as many of you know. So we’re also going to find our growth. We’re going to go at it. So if you think about Singapore, naturally, you go — naturally you probably think about Hong Kong, but Hong Kong feels like a place that is going to struggle for a period of time. We did find last quarter, but overall, it’s a nice market for us, but I’m not sure that’s where we want to make our next investment dollar or where our customers want to make their next infrastructure decision and maybe on the margin we’ll a [Phonetic] little bit, but not the big decision.

So we think about, well, what about Sydney, what about Tokyo, what about India, what about other Southeast Asian markets in Jakarta — in Jakarta, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. So I’m excited about what we’re doing as a business. We’re just expanding our platform broader and wider than it’s ever was anticipated. And I think that bodes really well because when you attach — attach the digital services to it, that means you’re — you as a customer can be instantly global by coming to Equinix.

We have the physical assets, we have the digital services to connect you to wherever you need to be in the world. And if you don’t want to deploy your own infrastructure, we have Metal. That feels like — that feels like a winning — winning solution. So I will tell you Metal is hard, it’s hard right now with the enterprise, so — because you got it, it’s like anything, you make these decisions and obviously we’re seeing good quarter-over-quarter growth. But it’s have we seen the lift off that we need yet and that’s — that’s still I think hands on to comment. Metal was not a big part of our business, thankfully, but we want it to be a bigger part of our business for sure, on a go-forward basis.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

That makes sense. Coming back to the digital services, I mean, one of the areas we get a lot of questions on is MRR trends over time. And it relates a little bit to pricing power and we’re obviously in this inflationary environment, there’s a focus on ability to have pricing power. So perhaps just talk us through what you’re seeing on pricing, on renewals and remind us of your kind of annual escalators in your contract base, et cetera.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Yes. Well, there’s a lot in there. I think one of the things I said on a prior call this morning, I think one of the advantages that we have is that we are a destination, we are a platform, we have an ecosystem and with that has come higher pricing. So when you look at our price points, remember I — I — we share with you every quarter what our prior average comps of prices, it’s a composite, things are going to move around a little bit depends on timing of installations and all of that and as we get bigger and bigger, then there’ll be less volatility in that number.

But you can see the bias has always been up into the right and we talk about firm pricing. And so, as the U.S. dollar number and as you increase your pricing on cross connects, so if you sell more incremental services, that price point moves up on an ARPU basis. But I think the more fundamental question is, what is the spot price and I would say that we — we get a price point that very few get. We look for 20% to 30% return on our money before you put debt on the business.

We’ve been enjoying that for a period of time. We’ve got the lowest cost of capital on the business. And see — so even on the margin, again markets will be different. Tokyo is going to be a different returning market than say a Singapore. But when you look at our cost of capital, we don’t arb over cost to capital. We expect to return on the — when that team looks for — for us to make an investment decision, we’re going to measure them against everybody else, and say, well I can get 20% over here or 30% over here, why would I do something at 15% or 11%.

And so, we’re very disciplined number one at that, so getting the right return profile. But it’s because we also know what the empirical data is, what is the price point in the marketplace, what is the fuel rates, what are we assuming for large footprint and it’s all of that that comes together allows us to enjoy what I think is the pricing environment for us, that — that is much more predictable. And we enjoy that because we live in an ecosystem, we have an asset I think is — we have assets they look good, feel good, that are in the right markets, they are high — we operate with high reliability, but they also sit on top of our bedrock, our networks, our cloud and IT services company, so pricing overall, I feel very, very good, good about.

And you’ve seen us in select cases move pricing up, cross connects in Europe. We knew that where we want it to be as a company and the value we’re bringing to the table, we felt that it wasn’t reflected in the price points and that was because of market conditions and how the market evolves in Europe relative to the other regions of the world. So feel good about that.

I think about churn, churn is largely because of Verizon, less big deals in our system today. Churns feels good, it feels it’s going to be in the lower end of the range as we said. And that feels good, and we have churn because we have a ecosystem in a thriving market, customers can come and go, and the customer typically doesn’t leave, but they — their deployments change and evolve and so we always measure gross activity. Yes, we report to you net activity, because ultimately that’s over represent itself in our financial results. But the health of the system is based on the amount of gross activity because we want customers to come in and try and buy and change and move to different markets and all that.

And so, the — I mean the last part, which is really about inflation. So what’s the environment like today. I think you’re hearing from many a company, there is an upward bias on price, because we are in a period that I think requires a price adjustment, is reflective — should be reflective of market conditions and yes, we still get — we’re still going to get nice returns in our business. But I also think that you’ve got a higher utility costs, higher labor costs, higher material costs and at some point you’ve got to get a return on that investment. And the market expects it.

It’s like, you know you’re going to pay more for your milk, it is, if you’re a consumer. You know you’re going to pay more for your fuel, and you just go to the gas pumps today and you feel it. Well, I mentioned that translates into what happens in the commercial world and — and if you will, in the corporate world and so people who will have to pay more for their services over time because their costs are going up and we can’t eat them all, some we eat and some we don’t eat. So I think the industry as a whole will have to adjust accordingly.

If I — again, I mentioned on one of the earlier calls today, I said one, if you think about the floor, I think the hyperscalers are a perfect example. They say look, I know what you — I know what it’s going to cost me to build. I’m going to let you build that for me, I’ll sign long-term contract and so you price to return. So they said, I know what you corresponding that, we’ll disaggregate it, we’ll put it back to you and so this is what your return and we’ve always said 8% to 12%. Our cost of capital is the lowest in the industry. And we’ve been driving our cost of capital. We don’t arb over our cost of funds as you know, as I said.

And so, if that’s the floor, even if we just played in the xScale game which would be highly consumptive of our balance sheet, it’s still going to get a — it’s a good returning business relative to your cost. That’s not what we want to play. We want to play in the stuff that’s the high value stuff and that returns of 20% to 30% that I referred to allows us to make the investments we need to scale the business to where we want it to be.

And as a company, I think we’re just being very disciplined about investing today for tomorrow’s opportunity, because we can’t — you can’t get there without investing today. Because you can’t wait to be a $10 billion company to invest in $10 billion infrastructure. You’ll crush under the weight as I said. So that — so hopefully, that gives you a sort of a broad set of just the things that we’re thinking about and the escalators are everyone’s negotiated differently. It depends on the customer and the contract, but overall, we’re looking at 3% to 5% is typical, sometimes it’s 2%. It just depends on who the customer is and what they negotiated and the point that they started from.

And again, it’s not a loss to new signing that we always talk about net pricing actions and if it’s net positive, that tells you and the bias has always been net positive probably for the last 10 years — 10 or 15 years and you can tell that where the price decreases are being absorbed by the price increases and then we get more and that’s always very accretive to our MRR per cabinet metric and reflective to the overall value of the business.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Great. And how does this all flow through to your margin? A lot of your energy costs are passed through or hedged and you certainly talked about the margin opportunity at the Analyst Day over the medium to long term.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Yes. Well, again, the discussions we’ve had today already and certainly ones I had post earnings call, the discussion around power consumption and utility rates certainly is the forefront of everybody’s mind. So what I would tell you is two things. Number 1, we’re not gearing away from what our commitments are, 3% — 7% to 10% AFFO per share growth and margins of…

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Through ’25 [Phonetic].

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Through ’25. And what — that explain that to me, I said well look, I can’t get to 7% to 10% growth, if I don’t grow my margin. We’ve — if you will, we’ve already found efficiency on the below the line activity. Our tax rate is — tax rate is going to go up. We’re a U.S. REIT, so we don’t pay tax in the U.S., but we are — we are a tax payer in all of the markets outside the U.S. and tax rates are going up and we’re going to earn more profits in foreign [Phonetic] jurisdictions and so, our taxes will be going up.

So in order to get that number, we got to run the business more efficiently and we got to drive the margin into the business. And so, that’s why I’m confident that where we solve the problems that are thrown at us and this isn’t the first rodeo that we’ve been at. I’ve been in the business, as I said for 23 years, working for this company, a lot of us have been here long time, we’ve seen a lot of these things come and go.

And the reality is, the utility issue, three things are going to happen. Some of it we’re going to absorb, some of it we’re going to pass through to the customer and some of it is going to be metered and so how do we run the business to drive efficiency and that’s to offset some of the challenges if we’ve got a rising price environment and so you can raise macro pricing across the board to be reflective of in the global environment. But if you’re dealing just specifically with the utility price, then that’s how it’s going to happen, it will be metered, it will be passed through metered price increase on a targeted basis in the markets that are affected or we’ll absorb some of it, because that’s what we’ve done in the past. We don’t necessarily — as a company, we absorb both the good and the bad. And — but if it’s an outsized move, then we’ll deal with it with our customers.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Right. I’d be interested to get your thoughts on the recent industry consolidation. It’s been a remarkable kind of pace of deal making and good to see, you’re so trading as a public company for investors to invest in, but one feature we saw recently was American Tower for CoreSite theme, this sort of convergence theme where we see different elements of communications infrastructure coming together and it plays into edge compute and things like that. So if a private equity continuing to invest more money in this space, so how does — how does that strike you in terms of the implications for the industry going forward?

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Yes. I have many a thoughts, some I don’t want to say — say on this live stream.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Just you and I.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Okay. It — let me start off by saying, it doesn’t surprise me that QTS, CoreSite and CyrusOne are all being consumed by somebody else. Just doesn’t surprise me and largely because if you recall some of the comments I made particularly around CyrusOne and QTS as they were — they had a lot of leverage on their books as a public company. So a lot of leverage on their books, they’re doing the way that they were getting their growth in scale was really through large footprint deals and those — those are certainly they are out there, but you can’t live and die by the quarter of the year based on these big deals and they were very disruptive to balance sheets. And hence why we talked about xScale for that comment — that discussion a little later.

So Number 1, I thought I mean, eventually they’re going to have to be bought or they’re going to have to do something. So that’s playing in a space that I again we dabble in it with xScale. We’ve got $7.5 billion of capital committed to 35 projects and when I say dabble, I mean it’s a big dabble, but it’ll add — it will be 3% to 5% additive to our AFFO per share at maturity and obviously as we continue to scale that, that adds real value to the business.

So I think about that — I think about CoreSite, CoreSite for a lot of reasons again, the asset — the stock has traded well. They just haven’t been growing, so it wasn’t investing in its future. And its dividend payout ratio was so high that it really had to think about its capital structure. And so, when AMT has agreed to buy it, that didn’t really surprise me as well, but it surprised me. It’s one of those things, but that’s not a surprise, but it’s a surprise, in that you understand the Tower stocks are starting to think about other ways to integrate their businesses. And I think if this current castling of — they’ve got the fiber assets, the AMT has been dabbling into data center assets, I think it was current castle, maybe I’m wrong.

So you see this verticalization taking place. But I’m not convinced yet, why, because the questions get asked, how do you feel about the edge. And they go, well the far edge, I’m not sure that’s a place that we want to play. When we bought Switch and Data’s assets in 2010, we dispensed off a number of the smaller tier markets and we focused on the bigger markets generally and we will be in other bigger markets around the world.

And I think we’re — if you really believe in the digital world, a lot of that capacity is going to get consumed where the eyeballs are, where people consume and people distribute and that’s in the major metros and so deploying capital that will be against like sub-scale or you want enjoy the economies of scale like you do when you build a big data center and it’s always been a little bit of a head scratcher for us.

Yes, we’re watching. Yes, I guess we’re focusing, but I don’t think we need to make that bet and so others will make that bet and have made that bet, but I’m not convinced that makes a difference today and to a extend it does, then we’ll react. But we want to deploy the capital, one of the things I said earlier on, is our best returning capital is putting it back into the ground, that’s the best return. So if I can get 20% to 30% unlevered, you want us to keep on doing that, investing and growing the business, driving our margins up and I just think that’s much more attractive model than worrying about what’s happening at the edge right now and because we have digital services, we are — we’re a global company. Enterprises want to come to us.

This new digital world that we live in, as I said before, you can be instantly global with Equinix. And one — effectively one vendor who can manage it all for you and some of it’s not easy, I directly admit that and we’re working hard on some things, but overall, I just think we’re a better place to be and so dabbling at the base of the cell tower at the micro edge or far edge, just doesn’t feel like we need to be there yet.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Yes. Alright. Well, unfortunately we’re starting to come up on time here, Keith, but an area where Equinix has been one of the leaders has been on ESG and you’ve done a number of green financings and what I’d be really interested in is, what are you hearing from customers, what are they demanding, what are you positioning your organization to kind of be receptive to their needs? And in terms of data center builds and other areas and then also that question around municipalities, because they’re obviously looking at energy requirements, data centers and water requirements and it’d be great to get your perspective there.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Well, looking the, if you will, the E and the S, we’ll leave the G on the side for a moment. Environment is critically important for all of us for obvious reasons, it’s the forefront of all the news, the news reels and people care. It’s not just whether our customers care, our communities care, our employees care, certainly our investors care, but actually our customers care now for all those reasons that their communities and their employees care.

And so being a core component of critical infrastructure, we got to respond to that and we’re taking a very broad stance. We’re at the forefront as you would expect, we’re the leader in the industry. We’re also the leader in our views on environmental and we’re going to work exceedingly hard to get to 100% renewable. Now some of it you got to do indirect. I can’t do it at the data center level. I can’t do it in Singapore and Hong Kong or other markets. So you got to find indirect ways to compensate for your consumption.

But the other thing we need to do is, we got to operate more efficiently. We have to look at new technologies. We have made commitments to science-based targets. We made commitments to carbon neutrality. We’re making commitments to all sorts of other initiatives that support the social framework, around electric vehicles and car allowances and there’s things that we will do as a company that will surprise you, but it’s all in — it’s all for the betterment for — of the environment and I think for the industry. But I also think for us.

We’ll put ourselves in a competitive advantage if we make these investments and they are investments by the way. Don’t necessarily get paid for them, but they are investments. We’ll also enter into more indirect power arrangements. As it relates to the social side, we’re investing heavily in that and I got to applaud my man Charles for that. Charles when he took over the CEO role, he pushed — he really pushed hard in our company and our view on diversity, inclusion and belonging and you see that at the Board level already. You certainly are starting to see it inside the organization. I think our social commitments are real. And again, we want to be careful how far we go and the positions we take, but the reality is between ES and hopefully G, we want to be an industry leader, we want the others to chase, because we think there will be an advantage to us.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Great. Well, that’s a great overview, Keith. We really appreciate your time today, and thanks everybody for joining us and…

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Good luck with the rest of the day.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Good we’re [Phonetic] live Simon or we’re live with everybody. But all stay healthy. Have a super holiday, happy holidays and I hope to see you all live in 2022, that is my wish.

Simon FlanneryAnalyst

Thank you.

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Okay. Take care.

Questions and Answers:

Duration: 31 minutes

Call participants:

Keith D. TaylorChief Financial Officer

Simon FlanneryMorgan Stanley — Analyst

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