Categories Earnings Call Transcripts, Other Industries

GrafTech International Ltd (EAF) Q1 2022 Earnings Call Transcript

EAF Earnings Call - Final Transcript

GrafTech International Ltd (NYSE: EAF) Q1 2022 earnings call dated May. 06, 2022

Corporate Participants:

Michael DillonVice President, Investor Relations & Communications

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Jeremy S. HalfordExecutive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Analaysts:

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to GrafTech First Quarter 2022 Earnings Conference Call and Webcast. [Operator Instructions]

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Mr. Mike Dillon, Vice President of Investor Relations. Thank you. Please go ahead, sir.

Michael DillonVice President, Investor Relations & Communications

Thank you. Good morning, and welcome to GrafTech International’s First Quarter 2022 Earnings Call.

With me today are Dave Rintoul, GrafTech’s Chief Executive Officer; Tim Flanagan, Chief Financial Officer; Jeremy Halford, Chief Operating Officer; and Quinn Coburn, Senior Vice President. Dave will begin with a review of our safety performance, current industry conditions and demand for our products. Jeremy will discuss our sales, production and operational matters as well as give an update on our sustainability initiatives. Tim will cover financial details, and Dave will close with final remarks, after which we will open the call to questions.

Turning to our first slide. As a reminder, some of the matters discussed on this call may include forward-looking statements regarding, among other things, results, performance, trends and strategies. These statements are based on current expectations and are subject to risks and uncertainties. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated by forward-looking statements are shown here.

We will also discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures, and these slides include the relevant non-GAAP reconciliations. You can find these slides in the Investor Relations section of our website at www.graftech.com. A replay of the call will also be available on our website.

I’ll now turn the call over to Dave.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thanks, Mike. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining our first quarter earnings call. I hope you, your families and your colleagues are all well.

We begin, as we always do, with safety. Health and safety excellence is a core value of GrafTech and is fundamental to everything we do. People are our most important asset and getting health and safety right leads us to doing business right. We are encouraged that our performance in this area continues to place us among the best operators in the manufacturing industry. As we continue our journey to achieve our ultimate goal, which is 0 injuries, we will remain steadfast in our efforts that we send every employee home safely every day.

Now turning to an industry update on Slide 4. While the near-term operating environment for all businesses remains dynamic, we are encouraged by the ongoing trends in the graphite electrode market. Continued strong demand has led to increased electrode pricing. Longer term, we expect demand trends to remain positive as electric arc furnace steelmaking, which is advantaged in terms of its variable cost structure, operational flexibility, and lower environmental footprint continues to increase its share of crude steel production relative to integrated steelmaking. We also anticipate the demand for petroleum needle coke, a key raw material used to produce graphite electrodes, will continue to expand in the coming years. This reflects increased needs for higher electrode demand given the strength of the electric arc furnace steel industry.

In addition, needle coke is used in the anodes for lithium-ion batteries for the fast-growing electric vehicle industry. We view the growing demand for petroleum needle coke as another positive long-term trend for our business as higher demand will result in continued elevated pricing for needle coke and ultimately support higher sustained electrode pricing. For these reasons, GrafTech’s substantial vertical integration into petroleum needle coke represents a unique competitive advantage.

Turning more broadly to the current steel industry trends, the overall fundamentals remain generally solid. First quarter global steel production, excluding China, was essentially flat year-over-year. Capacity utilization rates continue to be healthy, particularly in North America. In addition, steel prices remain well above historic levels, which will serve to further encourage the industry to maintain high utilization rates.

Turning to Slide 5 and more specifics on our business. Demand for our electrodes remains good, and we remain committed to providing our customers with high quality products to meet their needs. As I mentioned, our vertical integration is a key component of our strength and being a reliable supplier and a dependable business partner. This demand for graphite electrodes has led to higher pricing for our products. Our average non-LTA price rose 19% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the fourth quarter of 2021, in line with our expectations. This was on top of a 10% sequential increase in the fourth quarter. We expect our average non-LTA pricing for the second quarter to be consistent with our first quarter average.

Turning to our LTAs. We have updated our estimates for graphite electrodes volume and revenue under our LTAs to reflect a timing shift between periods resulting from the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. We have provided force majeure notices with respect to certain LTA serving customers in Russia. As a result, we expect the contracted volume under the impact of LTAs to shift out of 2022 and into the 2023 through 2024 period. We expect to offset the majority of the resulting lower LTA volume in 2022 with higher non-LTA sales reflecting the ongoing demand in the industry. As we progress through 2022, our commercial team will be focused on leveraging our vertical integrated position, which makes us a key top-tier electrode producer that can provide our customers with security of supply.

Now Jeremy will walk us through Slide 6.

Jeremy S. HalfordExecutive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

Thanks, Dave.

We’re pleased with the strong sales results that we generated in the first quarter, which were achieved despite a modest volume impact from the situation with Ukraine and Russia that Dave just discussed. We sold 43,000 metric tons of electrodes in the quarter, which represents a 16% increase over the prior year. Our first quarter shipments were comprised of 25,000 metric tons of graphite electrodes under our LTAs at an average price of nearly $9,600 per metric ton and 18,000 metric tons of non-LTA sales at an average price of just over $6,000 per metric ton.

Net sales in the first quarter increased 20% compared to the first quarter of 2021, reflecting the higher volume and improved pricing. Our production reached 46,000 metric tons for the second consecutive quarter, an increase of 28% year-over-year as our plants continue to operate at high capacity utilization levels. All of our manufacturing sites continue to be focused on further improving efficiencies and maximizing production given the robust demand for our graphite electrodes.

As the industry moves towards more EAF-based steel production, we continue to invest to meet the growing demands that this shift creates. For example, our recent investment in the automated pin line at St. Mary’s continues to progress and helps to derisk our pin production capacity. In addition, we’re targeting select capital projects to support operational improvements at our plants to extract as much capacity as possible from our manufacturing network, prioritizing capital expenditures with the highest return on investment.

So now turning to Slide 7. Electric arc furnaces play a critical role in helping the steel industry reduce its impact on the environment. And as graphite electrodes are indispensable to the operation of electric arc furnaces, we’re proud to be a key part of the solution. EAF steelmaking produces 75% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to integrated steelmakers. In addition, our business in the EAF industry contributes to a circular economy as electrodes facilitate the recycling of steel, as EAFs are the largest steel recyclers in the world. For these reasons, Green Steel as a critical element to the green economy can only be achieved through the ongoing shift to EAF steelmaking, which requires a reliable supply of graphite electrodes. As a leader in the electrode industry, these dynamics support our positive long-term outlook on our business. We take great pride in being a key contributor to the decarbonization of steel.

In addition to these broader contributions to the steel industry, we also continue to make good progress on our own key sustainability initiatives. Most recently, we’ve established environmental goals, which will be highlighted in our next annual sustainability report. These include a commitment for a meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. To support this objective, we continue to invest in capital projects that will further improve our environmental impact.

So now I’ll turn it over to Tim to discuss our first quarter financial results on Slide 8.

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Thanks, Jeremy.

We are pleased with another strong financial performance in the first quarter with year-over-year growth in sales and profitability. Net income totaled $124 million or $0.47 of GAAP earnings per share or $0.48 per share on an adjusted basis. First quarter adjusted EBITDA of $170 million was $15 million higher than the first quarter of 2021 and resulted in an adjusted EBITDA margin of 46%.

Cash flow continued to be strong in the first quarter, as we generated $146 million of operating cash flow and $130 million of adjusted free cash flow, a year-over-year increase of 20% for both metrics. Like nearly all other industries, we continue to experience inflationary pressures on certain aspects of our business. Consistent with our expectations provided on our most recent earnings call, cost inflation during the first quarter resulted in an approximate 9% increase in recognized cost per metric ton as compared to the fourth quarter. We do not expect sequential cost increase as the same magnitude as we proceed through the balance of 2022. We are well positioned to effectively manage to this environment, reflecting our strong relationships with key third-party suppliers. In addition, GrafTech’s substantial vertical integration allows us to manufacture a significant portion of our key raw materials, petroleum needle coke at a relatively stable price, which is a major competitive advantage compared to our peers.

Turning to Slide 9. We further strengthened our balance sheet with a $70 million reduction in our term loan during the first quarter, building upon the $400 million reduction during 2021 and improving our debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio to 1.4 times as of March 31 compared to 1.6 times at the end of 2021. We ended the first quarter with total liquidity of approximately $331 million, consisting of $85 million of cash and $246 million available under our revolving credit facility.

Turning to Slide 10. We anticipate solid operating and free cash flow for the balance of 2022 and remain committed to delivering value to our stockholders through a disciplined capital allocation strategy. This includes continuing to reduce debt to further strengthen our balance sheet and support our strategic flexibility, while also returning capital to our stockholders and investing in our business. During the first quarter, we repurchased $30 million of our common stock and have $129 million available to us under our stock repurchase program. In addition, we expect our 2022 capital expenditures to remain in the previously provided range of $70 million to $80 million. As Jeremy indicated, we will use these funds to support our high-quality, low-cost global operating assets and to target high return on operational improvements.

Now with that, I’ll hand it back to Dave on Slide 11.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thanks, Tim.

In summary, we are pleased to have reported strong first quarter results, reflecting solid execution by the team. As you have heard, we continue to be encouraged by the demand and pricing trends in the graphite electrode industry driven by the strength in global electric arc furnace steelmaking, and we are seeing the impact of our reported results through higher pricing and higher quality earnings. Over the long term, we expect electric arc furnaces will continue to grow their share of the global steel market as EAFs are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly process representing an effective way to decarbonize the steel industry. As one of the largest producers of ultra-high-power graphite electrodes in the world, we believe that GrafTech continues to be well positioned to capitalize on this trend and achieve solid long-term growth.

We have a sustainable and long-term competitive advantage from our low-cost structure and vertical integration into our key raw material petroleum needle coke. We have a proven track record of generating high-quality earnings and efficiently converting our earnings to strong cash flow. We are committed to a disciplined capital allocation strategy that enhances stockholder value, while also improving GrafTech’s financial profile, thereby giving us flexibility to successfully operate through industry cycles. With the commitment of our people and our significant competitive advantages, we continue to strongly believe GrafTech is well positioned to deliver results and stockholder value today and over the long term.

That concludes our prepared remarks. We will now open the call up for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from David Gagliano with BMO Capital Markets. Your line is open.

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks for taking my questions. First of all, just on the near term, pricing flat quarter-over-quarter in the second quarter, just based on the comments in recent quarters, I think that’s based on kind of quote-unquote spot sales that were done a few months ago that are now flowing through results. I was wondering if you could comment on the current pricing environment for spot sales, directionally spot prices for sales that are being concluded now for delivery during the second half of 2022. That’s my first question.

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Good morning, Dave. Thanks for your question. I think as you’ll recall, in the past, we’ve indicated that we don’t provide guidance on pricing beyond the next quarter and has been consistent since the time of the IPO. So we’ve provided what we think is going to happen in Q2, and your thoughts around that are, I think, correct. But we’ll refrain from providing guidance beyond and into the second half of the year.

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, understood. Let me just try it a different way then. In the past, we’ve seen slowdowns and when we see a slowdown in EAF-based steel making, in the past, that has resulted in fairly meaningful inventory build in graphite electrodes globally. We have seen lately large shutdowns of EAFs in Europe. And I’m just wondering, are you seeing evidence of inventory build now?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

You’re correct in that there is a regional aspect to the world as we know it right now. Fortunately, the American market is still running quite hard. So therefore, at a global level, I would say that it’s a little early yet to point to evidence of significant inventory builds on a global basis.

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. All right, I’ll switch gears here. Just not too long ago, actually, you flagged that GrafTech is now considering potentially expanding its petroleum Unicode production to sell directly to the — into the EV market. And I was wondering if you could just give us an update on that process and any additional details that you have at this point?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Yeah, Dave. I think what we commented on is that we were actively studying options around that part of the business world and whether it made sense for us to explore that. And we continue to do that. That work is ongoing. And beyond that, I can’t report anything further, but yes, the study efforts around that kind of thought process continue.

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. Just last quick question for me. Can you split out the LTAs, the 2023 and 2024 volumes are lumped together, given that we’re getting pretty close to 2023 here, can you split between ’23 and ’24 in terms of how much is sold under LTAs at this point?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

So the change in the table was to reflect the movement of some materials, some LTA material out of the current year and into that ’23, ’24 time period. At this point in time, no, I don’t think we can distinguish between those 2 years.

David GaglianoBMO Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. Thanks very much.

Operator

And your next question comes from Curt Woodworth with Credit Suisse. Your line is now open.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Yeah, thanks. Good morning, Dave and Tim.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Good morning.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

First question is just with respect to kind of what you’re seeing in Europe from sort of supply/demand and your exposure into Russia. It seems like you did take some volume maybe out of the LTAs for some of the business into Russia. But Russia, I know an ENERGOPROM is a fairly large producer. And I think there’s some — we heard some machining of Chinese capacity in Ukraine. So just curious, how do you see the European market kind of developing? And have you kind of changed your strategy with respect to how you’re going to market given some of the issues in Russia and Ukraine?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Well, first of all, I would say that we continue to obviously monitor that situation, the sanctions, et cetera and the customers that are impacted by it. With respect to the European situation, I don’t think the environment today is — we’re not conducting ourselves different than we have in the past. We, over time, allocate volumes based upon regional strengths and pricing opportunities. And we continue to do that today. The American market is running pretty well. So yes, we are selling more into that market, but continue to balance our commercial portfolio based upon where the best opportunities are.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Okay. And then on the needle coke side, can you talk a little bit more about demand uptake from the EV end market? Obviously, PSX announced their deal with Novantas and then there’s been some discussion around British folks in the UK, taking more needle coke as well from PSX. So do you have any data? Or can you quantify kind of what you think the opportunity set is in terms of how much needle coke could be going into the end market in the next couple of years? And with respect to your study at CDRFT, what’s the timing around that? Would you expect that by the end of the year, we’d have an update on that?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

So as I mentioned to Dave on the earlier question he had, we do believe that there’s a reason to look at that market, and we are doing — putting a fair amount of effort and energy into evaluating the opportunity. It would be premature for me on this call to quote any other statistics and the outcome of that, what we’re finding so far other than to say that we’re continuing to study based upon what we have looked at heretofore. So we’re continuing to move forward with the evaluation and we’ll be discussing those opportunities with our Board. And depending upon those outcomes, then we’ll report back on these calls in the future as appropriate. I think it’s reasonable to expect that there’ll be more to say one way or the other by the time we get to the end of the year, certainly.

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Curt, I would just add on the needle coke side as well as you think about what we’re seeing in the market today from a pricing perspective versus what we talked about in Q1 in our conference call earlier in the first quarter for Q4. You’re seeing a couple of hundred dollar increase in prices based on import data. So you’re in that $1,900 to $2,500 range on average. So you’re seeing a little bit of price appreciation on the needle coke side. Now, it’s hard to say how much of that is really related to EV demand. But I think if you look at kind of the broader statistics outside of kind of what Dave was speaking to, I think the overall expectation for EV demand on needle coke over the next couple of years could come in line or parallel what graphite electrode demand is. So somewhere in that 700,000 to 750,000 ton range. So we still think there’s a pretty substantial amount of opportunity out there from a needle coke perspective in terms of EV demand.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Okay. And then maybe just on the pricing outlook. I understand that there’s — you don’t want to comment maybe specifically for competitive reasons, but typically, I think a lot of the spot book is more sold on sort of 6-month type contracts. So I would assume that you have a decent amount of your volumes for the back half of the year somewhat settled at this point. So I mean, directionally, should we expect that your non-LTA pricing will continue to trend higher in the back half of the year relative to the first half. Is that fair?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

I think it’s fair to expect it will trend higher. However, I would be remiss if I or incorrect if I try to quantify that for you.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Okay. Thanks very much.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

But directionally, you’re correct.

Curt WoodworthCredit Suisse — Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your next question is from Arun Viswanathan with RBC Capital Markets. Your line is open.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Great. Thanks for taking my questions. Hope you’re well. So I guess, first off, just on the electrode pricing, so it looks like you have 40,000 to 50,000 tons for the out years still on LTA. You’ve noted that the market in America is relatively robust. I guess, could you elaborate on that? Are your customers coming to you with any kind of desire to extend the contract terms or secure a little bit more electrode volume? What specifically leads you to believe that the market is robust?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

So thanks for your question, Arun. As I’ve indicated in previous calls, our expectation around the applications of LTAs for 2023 and beyond, those discussions would typically begin early in the third quarter of this year. And that’s kind of been — that’s been our position for some time now, and we don’t see anything or any evidence that that’s going to change. Certainly, we’ve had a few people talk about it, but we do not expect nor did we expect any serious discussions to commence until early third quarter of this year.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. But — and then so I guess, maybe said differently, you provided a steel utilization rate globally at 72%. Obviously, rates are higher in the Americas. But what are some trends, maybe some drivers that lead you to believe that those will continue at higher than global rates in the Americas, I guess? And are you kind of excited about or encouraged by the infrastructure bill potential? Are you seeing it because automotive, obviously, is a little bit challenged with some supply chain issues? But I guess maybe if you could just help us with some of the end markets as you see it, I’m sure you do track some of these things. So yeah, I mean do you expect utilization rates to kind of remain, say, mid-80s in the Americas? Or what are you kind of hearing from your customers?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

So to answer your question is that, yeah, we do believe that the American utilization rates will remain at solid levels. I don’t think we’re going to be brave enough on this call to spell at an exact number. But certainly, over the last year, they’ve been at pretty healthy numbers. And we think that, yes, the infrastructure bill and the movement of the administration to require the steel that’s used in the infrastructure projects that should be American-made is helpful to continue that work. And those are the kind of things along with the announcements of additional electric arc furnaces being built across the North American geography is encouraging.

Clearly, those folks that are building these furnaces and adding electric arc force capacity have a belief that, as we do, that the steel demand will be such that, that demand from those new furnaces is required. And we expect to supply to those customers because literally all of them are current customers. So that bodes well for our demand in that respect. And then on a more few years out on the requirement in Europe to move towards a more green footprint, we’ll inevitably see more EAFs built and a number have been announced as part of the green projects, and we expect that will continue.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay. And then I did have a couple of questions around China. So a number of companies have indicated that with some of these Chinese lockdowns, China is seeing a little bit lower domestic demand for certain products and so that is forcing exports out of China and into other markets like Europe and Latin America. Have you seen that within the electrode space? I imagine that maybe some of the smaller Chinese electrode producers are exporting electrodes. Is that a fair statement?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Look, I think it’s a little early on that front to see it in the import statistics because those statistics are usually a couple of months lagging when they’re reported. In terms of the market itself, I think we’re not seeing a — certainly a big change yet. I would suggest that while the lockdowns affect certainly the steel industry, they also affect the suppliers to the steel industry. And so the graphite electrode industry within China is no doubt affected by the same lockdowns. So we’re not seeing any meaningful shift at this point.

Jeremy S. HalfordExecutive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer

And maybe the 2 things I would add just with respect to the Chinese one, don’t forget that the markets that we predominantly sell to, in North America and Europe, will have protected measures in place. Europe just renewed their antidumping measures against Chinese electrodes as well as there were some announcements, at least some news articles anecdotally last week around infrastructure projects and an infrastructure package that the Chinese government announced again to ensure that their economy keeps humming along at the pace that it has over the last few years. So I agree with everything that Dave said, but just add those 2 points.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, thanks for that. And then back to the pricing discussion. So needle coke, I know, has moved up, I think a year ago in Q1, you were at the $1,300 per ton level. It looks like you’re seeing some pricing in the $1,900 to $2,000 level. And so spot electrodes, I guess, are at that 3 times range, let’s say, $6,000 a ton. I know you don’t want to speculate on future movement, but are those the right ranges that you’re seeing right now? And then along with that, hot-rolled has kind of moved off the peaks of $2,000, but it’s seemingly settling in the $1,400 per ton range. What do you expect, I guess, for hot rolled, if you can comment on that? I know it’s volatile, but do you expect hot-rolled prices to kind of remain in these elevated areas? Or do they revert back to kind of historical norms in the $400 to $1,000 per ton range as the new capacity comes on?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Well, Arun, I don’t think that I’m going to take a run at projecting what’s going to happen to overall prices other than to point out that even in their current form, which is still at historic highs, the margin over scrap is still pretty darn healthy and explains why people like Nucor and SDI are doing quite well. And we think that in the current environment as we see it encourages them to run at good operating levels and why we see high utilization rates. And I think it’s more importantly about, again, the margin that they’re getting. So even if there’s some adjustment, I would expect then there would be an adjustment to scrap and margins would be still pretty healthy. So that’s why we’re still optimistic.

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Yeah. And just to clarify one point, I think you said $1,900 to $2,000 on needle coke. It’s actually $1,900 on the low end, depending on the grade and up to $2,500. And again, that’s based on import statistics that are probably about a month dated at this point in time. But you’re seeing some upward movement compared to what we talked about a quarter ago.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, that’s helpful. Thanks for that. And then just a couple of questions, I guess, around the balance sheet and cash flow. So again, robust cash flow — free cash flow in the quarter. It looks like you’re calling for capex of only $70 million to $80 million this year. So you’re going to have significant amounts of free cash flow, probably — definitely north of $400 million, maybe $500 million, $600 million in that range. The leverage really isn’t that stretched. You’ve done some work to bring that down. Maybe there’s a little bit more liquidity out there now with Brookfield’s position being lower. But how do you plan to kind of spend that free cash flow? And is bringing the leverage down really the optimal use of it if you consider that, again, you’re not really as high as you used to be on your leverage levels?

Timothy K. FlanaganChief Financial Officer, Vice President, Finance & Treasurer

Sure, Arun. Thanks. I’ll take that. Yeah, again, as I said in our prepared remarks, we’re committed to delivering value to our stockholders through a disciplined strategy, and it’s something that we discuss with the Board on a regular basis. I think we said in the fourth quarter as well that we had some work to do on the balance sheet despite repaying $400 million of debt in 2021. We took another chunk down in Q1 of this year, $70 million, but we’ll continue to focus on maintaining a strong balance sheet because I think that not only is that prudent for our industry. But I also think that it’s in the good interest or the best interest for our shareholders and stockholders alike.

I think it gives us a lot of flexibility as well strategically as we think about what opportunities lie in front of us as a business. So it’s an enabler for us to grow the business and think forward. That being said, we continue to evaluate what’s the best use of our capital. Again, that being the mix of internal spending on operational projects and capex as well as returning capital to stockholders as we did in the first quarter with the $30 million of buyback that we did. So we’ll continue to evaluate it, but yeah, those are a few thoughts for now.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

And then just on that deployment of capital. So are you also looking at inorganic growth? I mean is there opportunities to consolidate within electrodes? Is there opportunities to expand inorganically on the needle coke side? Would any of those kind of options make sense as well?

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Look, we’ve done a good job, I think, in positioning the balance sheet now to a place where should an inorganic opportunity present itself, we could seriously evaluate it. And like any other company, we’ll continue to do those things and keep our ears to the ground. And we’ll see what unfolds with that in combination with our organic opportunities.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

And just last question was, Dave, I think you’re going to be retiring soon. So is there any update you can provide on the search for a successor and what’s the Board kind of considering? And what’s the timing we should kind of keep in mind? Thanks.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Sure. Well, look, as we noted when we announced my retirement, the Board is conducting a global search for the new CEO. And when the process is concluded, then we’ll make an announcement as that timing is appropriate. That’s really all I can say about it today.

Arun ViswanathanRBC Capital Markets — Analyst

Okay, thanks.

Operator

I am showing no further questions at this time. I would now like to turn the conference back to Mr. David Rintoul for closing. Thank you.

David J. RintoulPresident, Chief Executive Officer & Director

Thank you, Katrina. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone on this call health and safety in the coming months. Thank you for your interest in GrafTech, and we look forward to speaking with you in the next quarter. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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