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Edited Transcript of ZBRA earnings conference call or presentation 14-Feb-19 1:30pm GMT

Q4 2018 Zebra Technologies Corp Earnings Call

LINCOLNSHIRE Mar 1, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Zebra Technologies Corp earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, February 14, 2019 at 1:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Anders Gustafsson

Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director

* Joachim Heel

Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales

* Michael A. Steele

Zebra Technologies Corporation - VP of IR

* Olivier C. Leonetti

Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Brian Paul Drab

William Blair & Company L.L.C., Research Division - Partner & Analyst

* James Andrew Ricchiuti

Needham & Company, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst

* James Eugene Faucette

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director

* Jason Andrew Rodgers

Great Lakes Review - VP

* Keith Michael Housum

Northcoast Research Partners, LLC - MD & Equity Research Analyst

* Paul Coster

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst, Alternative Energy & Applied and Emerging Technologies

* Richard Charles Eastman

Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst

* Saliq Jamil Khan

Imperial Capital, LLC, Research Division - VP

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, and welcome to the Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018 Zebra Technologies Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) Please note this event is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mike Steele, Vice President of Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

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Michael A. Steele, Zebra Technologies Corporation - VP of IR [2]

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Good morning. Thank you for joining us today. Before we begin, I need to inform you that certain statements made on this call are forward-looking and subject to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are based on current expectations and assumptions and are subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual results could differ materially due to factors discussed in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During this call, we will make reference to non-GAAP financial measures as we describe our business performance. You can find reconciliations of our GAAP to non-GAAP results in today's earnings press release and at the end of this slide presentation.

This presentation will include prepared remarks from Anders Gustafsson, our Chief Executive Officer; and Olivier Leonetti, our Chief Financial Officer. Anders will begin by discussing our fourth quarter and full year highlights. Olivier will then provide more detail on the financials and discuss our 2019 outlook. Anders will conclude with progress made on Zebra's strategic priorities.

Following the prepared remarks, Joe Heel, our Senior Vice President of Global Sales, will join us as we take your questions.

Also, throughout this presentation, unless otherwise indicated, our references to sales growth are year-over-year, on a constant currency basis and exclude results from the recently acquired Xplore Technologies business.

This presentation is being simulcast on our website at investors.zebra.com and will be archived there for at least 1 year.

Now I'll turn the call over to Anders.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [3]

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Thank you, Mike. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. Our team delivered exceptional fourth quarter results. We executed well, driving strong profitable growth across the business and extended our lead in the market. Sales, EBITDA margin and earnings per share all exceeded our outlook.

As you can see on Slide 4, we are pleased to report net sales growth of nearly 11% or 9% on an organic basis; an adjusted EBITDA margin of 21.1%, a 120 basis point year-over-year improvement; non-GAAP diluted EPS of $3.10, a 33% increase from the prior year; and free cash flow of $309 million.

We achieved strong performance across our business, including double-digit sales growth in North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America. We grew each of our major product and service categories, including mobile computing, data capture, specialty printing, supplies and support services. Demand was solid through the channel and from our direct customers.

We saw particular strength in health care, manufacturing and retail and e-commerce. Our record Q4 results capped an outstanding full year financial performance of 11% organic sales growth, 20.7% adjusted EBITDA margin and $721 million of free cash flow.

We continue to build on our industry-leading offerings by investing in our people, operations and technology to drive sustainable growth. We have strong momentum entering 2019, supported by our order backlog and pipeline of opportunities.

With that, I will now turn the call over to Olivier to review our financial results and to discuss our 2019 outlook.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [4]

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Thank you, Anders. Let us begin with a walk through the P&L. As you can see on Slide 6, net sales grew 10.8% in the fourth quarter, which translated to 9.1% on an organic basis before the impacts of currencies and acquisitions. We saw solid growth in each of our reporting segments and across all regions.

Enterprise Visibility & Mobility segment sales increased 11.6%, led by especially strong demand in data capture and mobile computing products. Asset Intelligence and Tracking segment sales increased 4.3%.

Turning to our regions. North America sales grew 11%, driven by double-digit growth across our mobile computing, data capture and printing categories. We saw particular strength in health care, retail and e-commerce and manufacturing. Sales growth to small and midsized accounts was exceptional.

EMEA sales increased 6% with relative strength in data capture, mobile computing and printing supplies.

Sales in our Asia Pacific region were up 12% with strength across major product and service categories. Our China business grew mid-single digits, and most countries grew double digits.

Latin America sales increased 10% as economic and political conditions stabilized. We saw particular strength in printing solutions. All subregions grew, including Brazil.

Adjusted gross profit increased $72 million or 15%. Adjusted gross margin increased 190 basis point, primarily driven by continued improvement in our go-to-market execution, favorable business mix shift in the EVM segment and favorable foreign currency exchange impacts.

Adjusted operating expenses as a percentage of net sales increased 10 basis points from the prior period, reflecting higher incentive compensation expense due to improved business performance. Fourth quarter 2018 adjusted EBITDA margin was 21.1%, a 120 basis point increase from the prior year period.

In addition to EBITDA margin expansion, a decreased tax rate and lower interest cost from our debt restructurings drove non-GAAP earnings per diluted share to $3.10, a 33% year-over-year increase.

Turning now to the balance sheet and cash flow highlights on Slide 7. In 2018, we paid down $657 million of debt principal, supported by strong free cash flow of $721 million. The $293 million increase in free cash flow as compared to 2017 was primarily driven by increased operating profitability, lower acquisition and integration cost and exceptional working capital management. We ended this year with $1.6 billion of debt on the balance sheet.

Slide 8 shows the path to our 1.8x net debt-to-adjusted EBITDA ratio as of year-end. We reduced the leverage ratio by approximately 1.4 turns in the past year, leaving us well positioned to continue to invest in the business. We have updated our target range for net debt leverage to be between 1.5 to 2.5x. This expands the lower end of the range by a half turn to allow for additional flexibility in our capital structure.

Let us turn to our outlook on Slide 9. We entered 2019 with a solid order backlog and strong end-market demand for our leading portfolio of solutions. We expect Q1 2019 net sales growth to be between 6% and 9%, which assumes an approximately 1.5 to 2 percentage point positive impact from the acquisition of Xplore Technologies and approximately 1 percentage point negative impact from foreign currency changes.

We believe Q1 2019 adjusted EBITDA margin would be approximately 21%, which assumes operating expense leverage, offset by lower gross margin as compared to the especially favorable gross margin in the prior year period. Non-GAAP diluted EPS is expected to be in a range of $2.75 to $2.95.

We expect full year 2019 net sales growth to be between 4% and 7%, which assumes an approximately 1 percentage point positive impact from the acquisition of Xplore and approximately 50 basis point negative impact from foreign currency changes. Full year 2019 adjusted EBITDA margin is expected to be slightly higher than 21%, an improvement from 2018 as we continue to drive operating leverage in the business.

We believe that full year 2019 free cash flow will exceed $625 million. We expect to drive higher EBITDA than 2018. And unlike 2018, we are assuming that working capital will be a [use of] cash in 2019. Also note that our 2019 outlook assumes a modest level of tariff on certain products, accessories and components that we source from China. It's a [frayed] situation and our teams have been working diligently to address the tariffs that have been enacted to date.

You can see other full year 2019 modeling assumptions on Slide 9.

Note that our 2019 outlook does not include any projected results from the acquisition of Temptime Corporation, a recently announced transaction that we expect to complete soon this quarter. Temptime's annualized sales exceeded $40 million. The acquisition is expected to generate approximately $0.15 to $0.20 of annualized adjusted EPS accretion. Anders will discuss the acquisition in a few moments.

With that, I will turn the call back to Anders to discuss progress on our strategic priorities.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [5]

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Thank you, Olivier. We are very pleased with the progress we made in 2018. Slide 11 shows our key strategic areas of focus. Successful execution on these priorities drives our industry leadership and value for all stakeholders.

First, we continue to drive market share gains through our innovation, unmatched scale and strong relationships with customers and partners. We saw exceptionally strong broad-based demand for our products and solutions in 2018. We are capitalizing on technology trends in the industry, including the transition to the Android operating system in mobile computing and ongoing transitions in data capture to 2D and RFID.

We are also addressing underpenetrated market segments and geographies. We had a record number of launches across our product and solutions categories in 2018. Our mobile computer, data capture and printing portfolios have never been stronger. This investment will continue to benefit us in 2019 and beyond.

Second, we are focused on driving growth in attractive markets where we can leverage our competitive advantages. We plan to scale existing categories where we are underpenetrated and enter new markets that advance us as a solutions provider. We expect to gain traction in these markets through both organic and inorganic investments. This includes highly selective acquisitions that will accelerate our strategy to advance our Enterprise Asset Intelligence vision.

We target high-growth near adjacencies where we have a right to play, seeking businesses with a differentiated value proposition, which can transform workflows. As a proof point, on January 28, we announced our intention to acquire Temptime Corporation. Temptime is the leader in designing and manufacturing a time-temperature monitoring portfolio that meets the strict specifications of the largest global health organizations' vaccination programs.

This acquisition is a great fit and will advance the integration of smart supplies into our Enterprise Asset Intelligence vision as we incorporate these new capabilities. We have the unique ability to scale this technology deeper into the health care industry as well as drive it into other key opportunities, such as food safety, that can benefit from increased asset visibility.

Third, we are advancing our Enterprise Asset Intelligence vision to enable every frontline asset and worker to be visible, connected and optimally utilized. Our expertise in workflow solutions across our primary vertical markets enables us to continue to strengthen and expand relationships with our customers and partners. I will elaborate further in a minute.

Lastly, we have enhanced Zebra's financial strength and flexibility by increasing cash flow and optimizing our capital structure. Our financial flexibility remains a key priority as we invest in the business to accelerate our traction in high-growth adjacent areas.

Now turning to Slide 12. Zebra provides a digital view of the entire enterprise to enable Enterprise Asset Intelligence. Our products and smart infrastructures sends information about assets, products and processes. The information, including status, location and condition, is then analyzed in real-time to determine the best possible operational action. The result is reduced friction in workflows, improved productivity and greater insight into business operations.

I'd like to spend a minute on how hardware, software and the cloud are essential to our solutions. Our products are ultra-rugged and reliable with purpose-driven designs that are tailor-made for the frontline and its workflows. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every device specification is designed to maximize productivity and safety for a particular use case.

In addition to the hardware, software is a critical differentiator for us. Our products include software that make them easy to integrate and intuitive to manage. We call this our DNA software layer, which is integrated across our mobile computing, data capture and printing portfolios.

Additionally, we have been developing new software applications and tools that improve automated data collection and analysis, maximize device security and enhance ease of use, all of which are increasingly critical to our enterprise and government customers.

The innovation starts with our team. Nearly 2/3 of our engineers specialize in software, systems and user interface development. Our growing team continually works to enrich our portfolio of smart products and solutions.

Another integral part of our solutions ecosystem is Savanna, which is our intelligent edge platform that powers our cloud-based data-driven solutions such as MotionWorks, SmartPack Trailer and Workforce Connect with real-time data. We have been collaborating with an increasing number of our independent software vendor partners to accelerate the use of Savanna to deploy new solutions that solve problems for our customers and improve their performance edge.

As a thought leader in our industry, we are at the forefront of this opportunity, just as we have been with other key transitions including enterprise, Android adoption, cloud-based printing, RFID and 2D barcode scanning.

We are seeing evidence of our EAI vision as we help businesses across many industries digitize their operations. We are a driving force in advancing key technology mega trends including cloud computing, mobility, automation and the proliferation of smart devices, each of which are critical components to this transformation.

Slide 13 highlights the primary vertical markets that we serve: manufacturing, health care, transportation and logistics as well as retail and e-commerce, which all grew double digits in 2018. We are leveraging our strong commitment to innovation and deep industry expertise to deliver innovative end-to-end solutions for our customers to compete effectively in an evolving marketplace.

In manufacturing, our customers need to know where their equipment, material and people are in real time across their supply chain. They are looking for trusted partners who can increase their operational visibility while reducing cost and complexity.

Recently, a global automotive manufacturer purchased a wide variety of our latest generation mobile computers and tablets for their assembly line, warehouse and quality control processes. Data security and product life cycle management where the customers are the key considerations as they transition to an all-Android enterprise operating system environment. Our ability to facilitate seamless system integration and guarantee operating system upgrades and security patches for the life of our products were differentiators that helped us win this business.

In health care, our solutions track essential clinical equipment and enable care providers to monitor patients while being mobile, which translates into increased patient safety and reduced cost. We recently received our largest health care order ever from one of the most prominent health care organizations in the world. This customer will be using our purpose-built TC51 mobile computer to consolidate various communications tools to streamline collaboration and provide an improved level of patient care.

In the transportation and logistics business, our offerings provide real-time visibility of assets at every point in their supply chain, including the loading dock, warehouse and point of delivery. The increasingly on-demand economy and shortage of labor has pressured enterprises to invest in innovative solutions to drive productivity.

We recently expanded our relationship with a long-time global customer by implementing a locationing solution that complements their existing SmartPack installation. The total solution assesses real-time aircraft container utilization and facilitates more efficient staging and loading of shipments.

In retail and e-commerce, we have been driving transformative solutions to address increasingly complex challenges. Last month, at the National Retail Federation Expo, we showcased 20 innovative solutions that help retailers execute on omni-channel fulfillment, sales floor effectiveness and elevate the overall in-store experience.

Walgreens had a prominent presence at our booth this year as they are in the process of rolling out our ET50 tablets and TC51 mobile computers to all of their U.S. stores. This initiative complements their existing ecosystem of Zebra scanners and printers. At our booth, Walgreens demonstrated how its assisted selling and inventory management applications run on Zebra's products to boost productivity and improve the customer experience while connecting its associates and customers nationwide. We are seeing a trend at Walgreens and many other retailers to equip all of their associates with mobile tools that empower collaboration and -- with coworkers and customers.

In summary, we are helping enterprise customers to successfully address their increasingly complex business challenges.

Now I'll hand the call back over to Mike.

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Michael A. Steele, Zebra Technologies Corporation - VP of IR [6]

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Thanks, Anders. We'll now open the call to Q&A. (Operator Instructions)

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) And our first question comes from Jason Rodgers of Great Lakes Review.

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Jason Andrew Rodgers, Great Lakes Review - VP [2]

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Wanted to ask a question about the EBITDA margin guidance. You beat last year's guidance by over 1 point, and your initial guidance for this year is actually targeting less margin improvement than you were forecasting a year earlier. So I wonder if you could discuss why that is and factors that could lead to similar outperformance in the margin for 2019?

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [3]

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So we are planning indeed to have, for the full year, a higher EBITDA margin, slightly higher EBITDA margin. And we're guiding Q1 at about 21%. You have some mixed elements, which could impact one performance in a particular quarter. But as we have demonstrated over now a number of quarters, we believe we have the ability in the year to leverage OpEx, but also to leverage gross margin. But you could have an anomaly in 1 quarter or another. So nothing specific in terms of trend, Jason.

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Jason Andrew Rodgers, Great Lakes Review - VP [4]

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And then just looking at the top line. As far as your guidance, you have the first quarter there but you'll be facing increasingly difficult comps as the year progresses. Do you think you can continue at that mid- to high single-digit organic growth rate as you look past the first quarter?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [5]

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We feel good about the business. We have been driving profitable growth for a long time now and our solutions have moved from being more viewed as tactical productivity tools by our customers to more enablers of our customers' strategies. So I think we're moving up into kind of hierarchy of importance with our customers.

We have a strong track record of execution and I think the outlook is prudent. So we feel that we have -- we are well positioned for 2019. We entered the year with good momentum, a solid portfolio of products and solutions. It's the most competitive portfolio, I think, we've ever had. And we continue to gain share in the market, so we feel pretty good about where we are.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [6]

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And let me give you a bit of additional colors on the year. So we have, obviously, a strong Q1 guide. We have more visibility for Q1. We are well -- within the quarter, we entered the quarter with a solid backlog.

And regarding the full year, we would consider this guide as actually being prudent based upon the visibility we have regarding our business. And an important point, Jason, this is no different than another year. And we're still confident about our end markets and our ability to compete.

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Jason Andrew Rodgers, Great Lakes Review - VP [7]

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And if I could just squeeze one more in. Just the outlook for the large deals on the mobile computing side and your latest estimate for how many devices are still left in the field that need to convert.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [8]

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Yes. We still see approximately 10 million legacy Android devices to be -- in the field today waiting to be refreshed and upgraded to Android. Last several years, we have had a strong performance of our larger deals. But if you look at 2018, I'd say we had a balanced portfolio there.

We saw good growth from our larger deals, but we also saw good growth from our channel. And we saw also good growth from our small and medium businesses now. So we certainly have many different avenues to pursue in order to drive that growth. Joe, any [assumptions]?

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [9]

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Yes. I would add, especially in the visibility towards large deals, you're right, we had a substantial number of large deals, in particular in the retail space in 2018. But we do, in those 10 million legacy devices that are still out there, we see opportunity for continuing momentum in areas such as logistics and warehouse coming up in the next months and year.

As well as new use cases that our customers are beginning to realize can be deployed on our devices such as consolidating multiple technologies they have today onto our device or expanding use cases from the handheld form factor to other form factors like tablets and larger screens. So we see continued opportunity for large deals, Jason.

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Operator [10]

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Our next question comes from Jim Ricchiuti of Needham & Company.

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James Andrew Ricchiuti, Needham & Company, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [11]

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Looking at your R&D spend the last couple of quarters, we're seeing a little bit of a bump up in that area. And I wonder if you could comment on that as it relates to new product development, if we're going to be seeing a faster pace in terms of product introductions.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [12]

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Let me take the first part and then Anders and Joe will take the other one. So indeed, we have increased the level of spending in R&D and the composition of the R&D spend is -- has changed some. We are investing more, if you were to look into the details, into also future capabilities. And we believe that this investment has paid off for the company. And part of the gaining shares, top line performance is a result of this investment.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [13]

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Yes. I think that we certainly feel that we have made very productive investments in R&D. Our product portfolios, our solution portfolios are the most competitive they've ever been. We launched more new products in 2018 than we've done in any other year in the history of the company. So I think we feel very confident that the investments we made in R&D are delivering a solid ROI. It has been supporting our growth. It's been supporting our market share gains.

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James Andrew Ricchiuti, Needham & Company, LLC, Research Division - Senior Analyst [14]

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And my follow-up question just relates to EMEA. It appears that you're seeing some moderation in the growth rate there. And I'm wondering, is that a case of just tougher comps, tougher comparisons? Or are you seeing any signs of slowing, which some companies have alluded to?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [15]

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So first, starting a little bit broader, so we had a strong broad-based strength across all our product segments, regions, vertical markets in 2000 -- in Q4. Asia Pac, North America, Latin America were each up double digits in Q4. But all regions, including Europe, was up double digits for the full year.

We saw all major product categories were up: health care, retail, manufacturing. They were all up double digits. And all 4 vertical markets were up double digits for '18. So I think a very broad-based performance there.

In Q4, we continued to execute very well. And we -- from everything we've seen, we believe we continue to extend the lead in the market that we have. And our competitive position is strong and getting, I would say, stronger based on the strength of our portfolio. And end markets were strong, both channel and direct for -- and on the back of our value proposition, which resonates with our customers.

Specifically to Europe, I think we had -- we would consider it to be solid growth. It had moderated a little bit from earlier part of 2018. But it was still good growth. And we see that momentum carrying on into 2019. We saw particular strength in Europe on our scanning portfolio and mobile computing as well as supplies. And retail continues to be the strongest vertical for us in Europe and our personal shopping solutions are a big driver for that.

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Operator [16]

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Our next question comes from Brian Drab of William Blair.

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Brian Paul Drab, William Blair & Company L.L.C., Research Division - Partner & Analyst [17]

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Maybe this will be a waste of a question, but I'm just thinking about the 10 million figure, and the last 3 quarters, you've said it's been about 10 million. But I was wondering if you could just give us some insight or maybe a more specific estimate there as to how many devices are selling annually in the marketplace across the industry? And how -- what percentage of those roughly are Android? And shouldn't we be getting kind of a -- somewhat below 10 million at this point?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [18]

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So I think a few years back, we started to talk about, I think it was 17 million. I'm going off memory now, 17 million devices. So we've obviously been able to convert a number of those. But the reason it's not going down faster is that on the one hand, we are shipping a lot of Android devices. The vast majority of our devices are now Android. But still, a meaningful amount of Microsoft devices that we are shipping too, but are -- I say most other industry players are still predominantly shipping Microsoft devices.

So while we kind of eat into the 10 million from one end, it's getting replenished on the other end from other players. So it's not going down as fast as you might perceive it should do based on the volume of devices we ship, but it's still a good amount of devices to go after here. And we expect that by -- the vast majority of these devices will be upgraded to Android by 2020 or late 2020.

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Brian Paul Drab, William Blair & Company L.L.C., Research Division - Partner & Analyst [19]

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Okay. I'll follow up more later on that one. And then for my second question, maybe I'll make it a 2-part question, if I could. So with respect to your guidance, could you possibly rank order how you're thinking about end markets in terms of contribution to the growth rate in 2019, retail, manufacturing, health care, transport?

And then maybe the second part of the question, could you do the same, take a stab at rank ordering where you're expecting the most growth out of the product lines in terms of data capture, mobile computing, printers?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [20]

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It's real hard to rank order each of these, but I can give you some indications of where we see particular strength or if there's any one we feel would be maybe lagging here. So on the vertical markets, which was, I think, your first question, health care grew the fastest for us in Q4. I would expect health care to be over not just 2019 but over the next several years the fastest-growing vertical market. But we do see fairly similar growth rates across the -- our 4 verticals.

If you look in 2018, we had double-digit growth in all 4 of our verticals. So we don't expect that any one of them will kind of stand out and carry the load for the company. A few years back, retail was maybe more pronounced as the driver but now we see it more balanced. Manufacturing was a little weaker earlier, but we see the Android adoption to kind of pick up in manufacturing this coming year, particularly around the warehouse.

And from a regions perspective, again, we had double-digit growth in all 4 regions this past year. So we see them all performing well. Asia Pacific will be the one we would expect to grow the fastest over the kind of the foreseeable future, not just the next quarter or couple of quarters, but over longer term, can be a bit variability within quarters. But North America has performed very well, too. Europe was a little weaker than the average in Q4, but we still see good growth for Europe as we go into 2019. I hope that helps.

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Operator [21]

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Our next question comes from Richard Eastman of Robert W. Baird.

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Richard Charles Eastman, Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [22]

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Just a quick question. First question is around gross margins. I mean, again, if you look certainly in the quarter and for the full year, both the AIT and EVM segments saw 100-plus basis points of gross margin improvement for the year and I'm curious how you view that.

How structural is that, do the gross margins here in both segments? Is it -- are you thinking that is somewhat of a baseline here moving forward? And maybe you could just give a little bit of color around both pieces as to how and -- you delivered that gross margin because it's quite impressive.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [23]

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So we have been increasing gross margin significantly, as you said, year-on-year by about 1 point. We have been highly focused as a team on gross margin. Every element of the value chain had a role: manufacturing, procurement, product design, go-to-market. And we believe that that would keep being the case going forward.

We believe we have the ability to increase gross margin as a business. And we actually don't think we play -- we're playing our best game today. And we think that the 2 main segments should follow directionally the same pattern and have the ability to expand gross margin rate.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [24]

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As Olivier said, this is a company-wide activity. I think if there's one number or ratio that's deeply ingrained in our culture, it's -- or 2, it would be growth and gross margins. So it's something that is -- that the entire company is paying attention to and working on.

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Richard Charles Eastman, Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [25]

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Is price -- did price play a significant factor in either of the 2 segments?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [26]

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Yes. I would say our commercial discipline has improved. We are paying more attention to what appropriate commercial terms would be. So I think we're a little bit more scientific in how we go about doing that.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [27]

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Mix is a play. Mix -- sorry to interrupt, Richard. Mix would be a play. And also, us being able to add solutions to our offering is also a driver of enhanced gross margin performance.

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Richard Charles Eastman, Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division - Senior Research Analyst [28]

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Awesome. And then just a quick question as a follow-up. My follow-up is just as it relates to the EBITDA improvement that you're kind of forecasting for '19, I think indifference to the first question, again, it appears as though maybe you're looking for 50 basis points of adjusted EBITDA improvement.

So putting that together in the same equation with the gross margin, maybe plus 100 bps. Is the thought here that we drive gross margin up and redeploy into R&D and maybe feet on the street or the channel? And are we kind of settling into the -- Zebra's business model maybe being a 50-point -- 50 basis point a year type of target for EBITDA margin improvement?

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [29]

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No, no, indeed. So again, Richard, ability to improve both gross margin rate and OpEx, including, by the way, as we invest dollar in R&D, we believe we are going to be able to scale R&D dollars as a proportion of revenue dollars. We are prudent as a company. And the improvement we have in terms of EBITDA rate in the year, we believe, is in the category of being balanced and prudent. I'm not too sure I would necessarily agree with the flows and so on you are mentioning, but yes.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [30]

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I think one of the -- as Olivier mentioned earlier, having leverage across the P&L is a key part of our philosophy of how we manage it. So we want to drive improvements in gross profit. We want to see leverage in the OpEx side and certainly want to see that translate into higher EBITDA margins.

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Operator [31]

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Our next question comes from Paul Coster of JPMorgan.

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Paul Coster, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst, Alternative Energy & Applied and Emerging Technologies [32]

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So backlogs are up, pipeline is up as well. Can you give us some sense of how much visibility the backlog gives you, either in terms of the quarter or even the year? And as for the overall backlog plus pipeline, what's in the mix there that points to trends in your business?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [33]

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Yes. So the pipeline that we have as we enter a quarter is -- gives us, obviously, better -- much better visibility into the quarter. It doesn't necessarily tell us much about the second half of the year. But having a bigger backlog as we go into a quarter gives us a lot more confidence, obviously, about the outlook.

The pipeline is more of what drives the longer-term outlook, and we have a very diligent and disciplined process to work with our sales teams and our direct customers, our channel partners to develop pipelines for all the direct customers but also for different segments and do it bottom-up and top-down and triangulate in a variety of ways. So that's what gives us more of the visibility for the, say, the second half or the outquarters. And maybe Joe Heel will want to add something?

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [34]

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Yes. Both our backlogs, which we have continuously [been] building and have contributed significantly to the success we had in 2018 as well as the pipelines are geared towards the visibility of about 2 quarters at a very granular level.

Now to give us visibility beyond that, we have expanded, for our largest customers and for our large deals in particular, a visibility to 3 years where we look at how we expect our business with individual customers to evolve over a 3-year time period. So that gives us a longer term although it's more of a qualitative view of where things are evolving.

If you look at trends that we can see in that, one of the trends that we already talked about earlier is the fact that of those remaining 10 million devices that we see out there, a significant portion of them are in the logistics, warehouse and manufacturing space. We also see, in terms of trend opportunities in areas that we called adjacencies in the earlier comments, things like tablets and RFID are showing up quite prominently in that visibility we're getting from that pipeline discipline.

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Paul Coster, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst, Alternative Energy & Applied and Emerging Technologies [35]

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Excellent. The other question I have is that it sounds like the small to medium-sized customers are even stronger in North America than the enterprise customers. Can you comment upon that, why that might be?

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [36]

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The -- a similar trend that we just talked about in terms of manufacturing and T&L, there's a correlation between these, is that the first adopters of the Android solutions that we put out were large customers. And now medium-sized and smaller customers are adopting those solutions as well. Now Android is only one example in the area where this takes place. This is also true for some of the other innovations that we've brought to market, some of the solutions we've brought to market.

And I think we're seeing now that some of these solutions are well established in the market that are SMB customers, supported by our channel partners and our channel ecosystem, are now gaining the confidence to also adopt those solutions, which is giving us a second wave of growth for many of those.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [37]

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And I would just emphasize that the strength in the SMB market didn't just happen to us. That's a concerted effort. We have developed a number of initiatives to help boost our business at the lower end of our market to help penetrate that more deeply because -- as that was an area that we felt we were not as well penetrated as we were in some of the higher-end markets.

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Operator [38]

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Our next question comes from Keith Housum of Northcoast Research.

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Keith Michael Housum, Northcoast Research Partners, LLC - MD & Equity Research Analyst [39]

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Congratulations on the quarter and the year. Guys, is it possible to prioritize, I guess, some of the growth drivers are for not necessarily the mobile computer business but data capture and the printing business? I think you guys covered a lot of the growth drivers of the mobile computers. But want to understand how the other 2 segments are still growing very strong as well.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [40]

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Yes. There's a number of -- so I'll start by there's some strong secular growth trends that are driving growth across all our product lines. The e-commerce is one. The omni-channel piece, the on-demand economy. Those are all broader secular trends that are requiring more track-and-trace type technologies. So it helps us on the mobile computing side, but it also helps us on printing, on scanning, supplies. So all of those areas.

Then we see, when we get into these, say, newer areas, that once we deploy our first rollout, your customer sees the flexibility of many of our new products by being so much more connected. So if that's a mobile computer or a printer, they can do a lot more with it. So they see more and more new use cases that they can apply.

If I go back again to the old Microsoft days, I think then an average mobile computer will probably run a couple, 2, 3 applications. Today, we routinely see customers running 30 applications on one of our devices. So those are great drivers for it.

And I will say the competitiveness of our portfolio is very strong today. We launched more new products in 2018 than we've done in the history of the company. And they're all ramping up nicely and helping us to extend our lead in the market and driving growth.

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Keith Michael Housum, Northcoast Research Partners, LLC - MD & Equity Research Analyst [41]

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Great. As my follow-up, Olivier, can you just kind of share some of your logic in terms of expanding the range for your leverage target from 2 to 2.5 down to 1.5 to 2.5?

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [42]

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We want to have flexibility to manage our cash. We want to invest in priority in the business, either organically. We mentioned R&D. Go-to-market would be another one or through M&A. And we are in the process of finalizing a new acquisition with Temptime after Xplore. Another one, we discussed key theme in prior calls. Once we reach the bottom of our range, we believe that share buyback would become a consideration. So that's a bit of a rationale for the range as it is set up now.

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Operator [43]

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Our next question comes from James Faucette of Morgan Stanley.

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James Eugene Faucette, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [44]

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I wanted to dig in really quickly a little more on pipeline and visibility. How would you compare the visibility and pipeline that you have today versus, say, a year ago, both in terms of REIT but also in terms of makeup? It seems like there's been a lot of conversation about more small- and medium-sized businesses. Are they also making up a greater proportion of your pipeline and visibility? And just trying to get a little color on how it may vary today versus a year ago.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [45]

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So I'll start, and then I'll have Joe provide some more detail. But I'd say the overall visibility from our pipeline is probably similar to what it was a year ago, maybe a little bit better. But it's more balanced will probably be the biggest change.

We were -- going into 2018 I'd say our mobile computing and retail segments were -- we were more dependent on those pipeline -- pipelines to support kind of the growth. Today, the -- it's much more balanced. We expect our scanning portfolio to have a very good year, printing to have a very good year as well. Not that it didn't have it last year but we have a stronger pipeline for those areas.

Similarly across the vertical markets, we have -- we ended up with a very balanced growth in 2018. And we see health care, T&L, manufacturing, driving more growth this year. And equally on the geographic side, we're very diversified and we have a good pipeline for each of our geographies that supports the outlook. Maybe, Joe?

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [46]

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Yes. I would say from a sales perspective, increasing pipeline visibility is an ongoing quest and one that we've invested in quite significantly in the last year to improve our capabilities on a number of dimensions. One dimension is to improve visibility in particular in the printing and scanning areas where the deals are smaller, to get that visibility sooner and at a more granular level.

Second would be to get more visibility out to longer term, right? With a growing importance of large deals in our business mix, having visibility to those is extremely important for both our planning purposes, internal as well as guidance we give and other things like that. So we have invested in both of those and it is helping us.

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [47]

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I mean, James, an additional color, if I may. We have been very intentional over the last more than 2 years to really diversify the business. And you see this diversification being reflected in the financial performance of the company and in the guide as well.

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James Eugene Faucette, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Executive Director [48]

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Great. I appreciate that, Olivier. And then just a follow-up question for you, Olivier. When you look at -- I appreciate -- and I think we all appreciate the clarity as to the type of headwind you're expecting from FX. But can you give us a little bit of insight into how you formulate that, kind of what the exposures are, and then what you're using as reference points to come up with your expected headwind for this year?

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Olivier C. Leonetti, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CFO [49]

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So FX in the second half of '18 started to be neutral to the financial performance of the company. It will be a slight headwind in '19. The reason for this is that we're hedging against the euro, which is the only currency, really, against which we have some exposure. But we have many levers to manage our P&L. FX is one of them. And we believe that we have enough levers to be able to adjust to a different FX and still deliver a good financial performance.

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Operator [50]

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And our last question will come from Saliq Khan of Imperial Capital.

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Saliq Jamil Khan, Imperial Capital, LLC, Research Division - VP [51]

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Two quick questions on our end, the first one being here is that what did you hear at the NRF conference that gives you a bit more confidence that many of these retailers are willing to open up their wallets, invest in new retail technologies? Are you seeing improved purchasing decisions on their part as well?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [52]

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Yes. I think we saw -- first, I think NRF was a great show for us this year. We had a very exciting booth, and we had record traffic through the booth. We had record number of meetings with customers. And the feedback we got was very, very good. So we certainly felt that was a great show and it helped to give us some confidence for the year.

I'd say the larger retailers, particularly, say, in the U.S., have largely been committed to an omni-channel e-commerce type strategy for the last couple of years and we've seen quite a few orders from that. But what we're seeing is the -- that trend is moving kind of further down into Tier 2, Tier 3 retailers. So we see more customers, more retailers wanting to make this kind of similar type of investments in new solutions to enable them to execute in an omni-channel strategy and compete against e-tailers.

So -- and the -- I think our types of technologies are essential to their thinking. We -- they see us as a partner who can help enable them to pursue those strategies and help them realize those strategies. So it was a great show from all aspects for us. And Joe?

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [53]

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Yes. I might add, some of the things we mentioned earlier were very prominent at NRF and did give us a lot of confidence. For example, what we talked about already with the new use cases that we're seeing, retailers are embracing those. For example, voice collaboration between their associates is one of those, giving a device to every one of their workers, not just a few selected that are involved in inventory management. Those types of trends give us confidence.

And another very important trend that we see support for is that the first wave of adopters who went into deploying mobile computing solutions on an Android operating system are early on, for example, with our MC40 device, are thinking of refreshing those at this point. So that means there's longevity and continued opportunity in the retail space.

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Saliq Jamil Khan, Imperial Capital, LLC, Research Division - VP [54]

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Got it, guys. And just as my follow-up to that. What did you change over the past year within your -- either your sales or your channel strategy to start seeing this type of growth rate? Are you seeing a faster service in software versus hardware sales as well within that vertical?

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [55]

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So generally speaking, we saw faster service and software revenue growth in Q4 than we've done before. That was a very -- we're very pleased with the performance we saw there. Generally, the software content in our solution is going up and up and up.

We've -- if you think of the history of the company, we started off with, say, relatively dumb devices that could read a barcode and transfer that information to another system that would do something with it to, say, our Android devices where you read it, you can manipulate the data, you can gain actions from it.

You can do a lot with that to next step now is to have much more smart infrastructure. So things that can automate the data capture, that can automate the dispensing of actions, too. So software is becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we do and how we develop new solutions that add more and more value to our customers.

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Joachim Heel, Zebra Technologies Corporation - SVP of Global Sales [56]

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A few additions to things we've changed and done in our sales and channel strategy over the course of the last year. One is we have invested some of the improvements that we've had in our economics. We have reinvested those into go-to-market resources, both internally as well as with our channel partners.

Our commitment to our channel has continued to expand and the importance of our channel program has only increased as we have expanded the benefits and membership in that program. The membership in our program has grown quite significantly over the last year.

We've also invested structurally in the organization in sales and go-to-market in a dedicated solutions group, sellers that are specialized and focused on selling the solutions that make up the core of our intelligent edge to realize our EAI strategy. So we have a dedicated group of that now in every one of our regions. So those are some of the highlights of changes.

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Operator [57]

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This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back to Mr. Gustafsson for any closing remarks.

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Anders Gustafsson, Zebra Technologies Corporation - CEO & Director [58]

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Thank you. Yes. As we wrap up, I want to thank the Zebra team and our partners for another great quarter and an exceptional 2018. We are off to a strong start to 2019 and see a solid year ahead. We look forward to welcoming the Temptime team once we close the transaction. Have a great day, everyone.

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Operator [59]

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The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.