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Regal Beloit Corp  (NYSE:RBC)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 05, 2019, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day and welcome to the Regal Beloit Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call and Webcast. All participants will be in listen-only mode. (Operator Instructions) Please note this event is being recorded.

I'd now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Rob Cherry, Vice President of Business Development and Investor Relations, Mr. Cherry. The floor is yours, Sir.

Rob Cherry -- Vice President of Business Development

Thank you, operator. Good morning and welcome to Regal Beloit's fourth Quarter 2018 earnings conference call. Joining me today are Mark Gliebe, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer; Jon Schlemmer, our Chief Operating Officer, and Rob Rehard, our Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Before turning the call over to Mark, I would like to remind you that the statements made in this conference call that are not historical in nature are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees since there are inherent difficulties in predicting future results and actual results could differ materially from those expressed or implied in forward-looking statements. For a list of factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results, please refer to today's earnings release and our SEC filings.

On Slide 3, we state that we are presenting certain non-GAAP financial measures in this presentation. We believe that these are useful financial measures to provide you with additional insight into our operating performance and for helping investors understand and compare our operating results across accounting periods and in the same manner as management. Please read this slide for information regarding these non-GAAP financial measures and please see the appendix for reconciliations of these measures to the most comparable measures in accordance with GAAP.

Now, I will turn the call over to Mark.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Rob. Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining our fourth quarter call and thank you for your interest in Regal. We'll follow our normal agenda. I'll make a few opening comments. Rob Rehard will provide a financial update. Jon Schlemmer will provide color on markets, operations and the performance of our three segments. After that I'll reflect on our total year 2018 performance highlights and then we'll move to Q&A.

Regal delivered another solid performance in the fourth quarter with organic sales up 5.2%, adjusted operating margin up 80 basis points and adjusted earnings per share up 23%. At a segment level, in Commercial and Industrial, organic sales were up 1.3% with strength in a number of end markets including power generation, oil and gas and commercial HVAC, offsetting weakness in Asia, particularly China.

In the Climate segment, organic sales were up a strong 9.4% with strength in North American residential HVAC, both OEM and aftermarket, as well as commercial refrigeration, partially offset by weakness in international market. Finally in the PTS segment, organic sales were up a strong 9% for the quarter with robust growth in distribution and oil and gas.

From an operating profit perspective, the adjusted operating margin improved 80 basis points year-over-year. The operating margin benefited from volume, incremental price and variable cost productivity, but was held back by commodity inflation and tariffs. The resulted adjusted earnings per share was up 23% and was based on strong operational performance with no benefit coming from the 2018 tax reform.

For the quarter, free cash flow to net income was 169%. In the quarter, we repurchased $49.5 million of our shares. The fourth quarter was the sixth quarter out of the last seven that we have repurchased shares. Additionally, we also announced the divestiture of non-core, engineered drives business, which we closed down in January. Overall, it was a strong close to a record year with strong organic sales growth and further progress on our march to improve operating margins.

Looking forward as we enter the new year, overall, we expect continued growth in 2019, despite the tougher year-over-year comparisons. For 2019, our guidance assumes total year organic growth to be up low-to-mid single digits. We expect to carry the price benefits from our 2018 increases into 2019. We expect our top line to benefit from continued growth in residential and light commercial HVAC end markets and we expect to benefit from the upcoming FER Energy Efficiency regulation.

We are planning for modest growth in North American commercial and industrial markets and we are planning for market headwinds in China and Europe. And margin performance, our manufacturing facilities are performing well and we continue to realize the benefits of our simplification initiative.

Further, we are making the needed investments in our tariff mitigation programs to help offset the impact of tariffs. With these mitigation programs and the benefits of the pricing carryover, we expect to continue to offset tariffs and commodity inflation in 2019.

Our total year adjusted earnings per share guidance for 2019 has been set at $6.15 to $6.55 up 6% at the midpoint of our guidance. When you account for the impact of our recent divestitures and exits, our earnings per share guidance for our ongoing business would result in a 10% increase in adjusted earnings per share at the midpoint.

I will now turn it over to Rob.

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Mark, and good morning, everyone. Sales in the fourth quarter 2018 were $881.7 million, up 7.4% from the prior year. Acquisitions contributed 3.9%. The business to be exited was a negative 0.4% and foreign currency was a negative 1.4% in the quarter. Therefore, organic sales increased a solid 5.2% from the prior year with all three segments contributing.

Our adjusted operating margin in the fourth quarter was 10.7%. Our margin was up 80 basis points compared to the prior year. Margins benefited from both volume growth and productivity improvements. Price cost was slightly positive in the quarter. Additionally, we incurred $10.8 million in LIFO expense, which impacted all three segments.

For your reference, I've included a table at the bottom of the slide showing the LIFO expense or benefit by segment for the fourth quarter 2018 and the fourth quarter 2017. Overall, it was a solid quarter with strong organic sales growth and continued operating margin improvement.

Our fourth quarter 2018 earnings per share reported on a GAAP basis were $1.28. There were a number of adjustments to GAAP EPS in the fourth quarter. The first adjustment was restructuring and related costs of $2.2 million or $0.04 per share. The second adjustment was a gain on the sale of assets of $2.2 million or $0.04 per share. The third adjustment was related to the business to be exited of $800,000 or $0.01 per share.

The fourth adjustment was related to CEO transition cost of $3.8 million or $0.07 per share. And the final adjustment was related to the impact of the new US tax legislation of $3 million or $0.07 per share. Net of these adjustments, the adjusted earnings per share for the fourth quarter were $1.41 representing a 22.6% increase from the prior year.

Now, I will summarize a few key financial metrics. Our capital expenditures were $18.4 million in the fourth quarter. Capital expenditures were $77.6 million for the full year 2018. Our simplification activities resulted in $2.2 million of restructuring and related costs in the fourth quarter. Restructuring and related costs were $7.7 million for the full year 2018.

In the upper right quadrant, we show our effective tax rate information. The adjusted ETR in the fourth quarter was 21%. We're adjusting the ETR for the effect of the impact of the new US tax legislation I mentioned on the prior slide. We've provided a table in the appendix of this presentation to reconcile the GAAP ETR to the adjusted ETR. Our adjusted ETR was 20.8% for the full year 2018.

In the lower left quadrant, we present information on our fourth quarter 2018 balance sheet. Our total debt was $1,307 million and our net debt was $1,059 million. We finished the year with a net debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio of 2.0.

In the lower right quadrant, we present information on our free cash flow. We generated $94 million of free cash flow in the fourth quarter, representing 169% of net income for the quarter. And lastly, we repurchased just over 645,000 of our shares for $49.5 million in the fourth quarter. Throughout 2018, we repurchased over 1.6 million of our shares for $127.8 million.

Before I cover 2019 guidance, I would like to spend some time talking about a number of businesses we either have or will be divesting or exiting. You may have seen this referenced in yesterday's earnings release. On the top half of this page, I have provided the five different non-core businesses that have been or expect to be divested or exited.

The first is the residential Hermetic Motor Parts business, we disclosed in the second quarter of 2018. The second business is the Engineered Drives and Controls business we announced at the end of 2018 and divested at the beginning of 2019. The final three businesses are other small, non-core businesses that we have already or will be divesting or exiting early in 2019. On the bottom half of this page, I have provided a summary of the impact of these businesses to be divested and exited by segment.

The results of these businesses are not included in our 2019 guidance. I would like to point out to all of our investors that additional details related to these divestitures and exits are included in the appendix of this presentation. In these tables, we've included net sales and adjusted income from operations for each segment by quarter and for the full year, as well as the impact on adjusted diluted earnings per share for the year. So you can clearly see the impact of these divestitures and exits on our ongoing business. Divesting or exiting non-core businesses is consistent with one of the key elements of our enterprise strategy, which is focusing on the core.

Now, I will provide information on our full year guidance for 2019. Our guidance assumes low to mid single digit organic sales growth for the full year. We are expected -- expecting continued improvement in our adjusted operating margin for the full year 2019, making this the third consecutive year of improvement.

We are expecting to see improvements in all three segments from volume leverage, continued simplification efforts and price. We are expecting free cash flow to exceed net income for the full year. Our full year 2019 GAAP EPS guidance is $6.59 to $6.99. On an adjusted EPS basis, our full year 2019 guidance is $6.15 to $6.55.

The expected adjustments to convert the GAAP EPS to the adjusted EPS total of $0.44 per share. The adjustments are restructuring and related costs of $10 million or $0.18 per share, a gain on the sale of assets related to the recent divestiture of the Engineered Drives and Controls business of $40 million or $0.70 per share and CEO transition costs of $4.5 million or $0.08 per share.

Also shown on this slide for your reference, are some key assumptions included in our 2019 guidance. In summary at the midpoint of our guidance, our full year adjusted EPS is expected to be up 6% over the prior year or 10% on a comparable basis after accounting for the impact of the divestitures and exits included in the appendix of this presentation.

Now, I will turn the call over to Jon.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Thanks, Rob. Good morning, everyone. Before I cover the normal updates on the segments, I'd like to talk about the recent AHR Expo in Atlanta and the upcoming FER Regulation. At the trade show, we had the opportunity to highlight our latest HVAC and refrigeration technologies to both our existing customers and potential new customers.

Consistent with our enterprise strategy, there were three key innovation themes to our booth. The first theme of energy efficiency is all about the new products we have introduced to help our customers meet upcoming regulations. The most significant is the upcoming FER Regulation for gas furnaces, which goes into effect in July of this year. We showcased an entire lineup of new products, developed to help our customers meet the new rule.

We continue to expect $40 million in annual incremental sales in our Climate Solutions segment as a result of the FER Regulation. We're forecasting a meaningful impact in the second half of 2019. By 2020, we would expect to see the full impact of the incremental sales.

The second theme is around IoT capabilities of our new products. We had many examples in our booth to show our customers. A great example is the insight motor and control, our entry-level product targeted for FER. This new product features near-field communication, which allows our OEM customers to easily program the product on their production lines, reducing inventory and improving productivity. We also believe that this IoT feature can simplify the commissioning and troubleshooting of HVAC systems.

We were excited that our new insight motor and control was recognized at the show by receiving the 2019 AHR Innovation Award. And finally, the third theme was all about our Disruptive Axial Technology. This technology delivers improvements and reduced size, weight, noise and increased energy efficiency. Many of the new products displayed in our booth are utilizing axial technology. Last year, we experienced solid growth across the HVAC markets and we're excited about the growth our innovation efforts will deliver in 2019.

Now, I'll walk through each of the segments and give more details on organic sales and operating margin performance. In Commercial & Industrial Systems, sales were $437 million with organic sales increasing 1.3% from prior year. We were facing a relatively difficult comparison in C&I, as organic sales were up 8.8% in the fourth quarter of 2017.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, we experienced sales strength in oil and gas, power generation and commercial HVAC. Sales and distribution were relatively flat to the prior year. This strength was partially offset by weakness across Asia, particularly in China. Price improved sequentially and was up over prior year. Price cost continue to be slightly favorable in the fourth quarter, similar to our performance in the second and third quarter.

We were pleased with the favorable price cost performance given additional cost headwinds, we experienced from the tariffs and LIFO expense. Adjusted operating margin was 7.8% of sales, up 170 basis points from prior year. Productivity from our simplification programs and price had a positive impact on our margins.

LIFO expense was a drag to margin in the quarter, but did help the year-over-year comparison. Inflation and tariff expense were headwinds. For the full year, organic sales grew 4.7% in our C&I segment and adjusted operating margin increased 80 basis points over prior year. Our margin improvement efforts for the C&I segment are on track and we expect to deliver another year of meaningful margin improvement in 2019.

In Climate Solutions, adjusted sales were $223 million with organic sales increasing a strong 9.4% from prior year. In North America, sales in residential HVAC were up low double digit to prior year with strength with both our OEM and distribution customers. We also experienced sales strength in commercial refrigeration and water heating.

Sales in Europe were up slightly over the prior year. The strength in North America was partially offset by headwinds in Asia and the Middle East. Price improved sequentially and was up over prior year. Price cost continue to be slightly favorable in the fourth quarter, similar to our performance in the second and third quarter.

Adjusted operating margin was 15% of adjusted sales, down 30 basis points from prior year. Volume, productivity in our manufacturing operations, mix and price, all had a positive impact on margins. The LIFO expense in the quarter compared with the large LIFO benefit in the prior year was a margin headwind and offset these benefits.

For the full year in the Climate segment, organic sales grew by 4.6% and in spite of the year-over-year increase in LIFO expense, adjusted operating margin was a strong 15.5%. We entered 2019 encouraged by the overall end market demand and our ability to drive organic sales growth with our innovation efforts.

Sales in Power Transmission Solutions were $213 million with organic sales increasing a strong 9% from prior year. In the quarter, we experienced strength across a number of end markets, including distribution, oil and gas, marine and commercial HVAC. Similar to the third quarter, we saw weaker demand in agriculture.

Price improved sequentially and was up over prior year. Price cost was favorable in the quarter. Adjusted operating margin was 11.9% of sales, down 30 basis points from the prior year. The higher volume, price and productivity in our manufacturing operations had a positive impact on margins and similar to our Climate business, the LIFO expense in the quarter compared with the large LIFO benefit in the prior year was a margin headwind and offset these benefits.

For the full year, organic sales grew by 9.1% in the PTS segment and adjusted operating margin was 12.6%, up 120 basis points from the prior year. It was great progress in 2018 and we're expecting another year of sales growth and margin improvement in our PTS business in 2019.

Before I turn the call back over to Mark, I'd like to reflect on the three year financial commitments that we made at our Investor Day Meeting in March of 2017. The metrics in purple are the targets that we committed to deliver by 2019. In green, we show the progress that we have made through the first two years of 2017 and 2018. In the first two years, we've delivered an organic sales, compound annual growth rate of 5.2% higher than our target. We've experienced strength in many of the end markets and the investments we're making to grow organic sales are paying off.

Over the past two years, we've increased adjusted operating margin by 130 basis points and return on invested capital by 180 basis points. During this time period, we were faced with significant inflation from both the commodities and freight and we also had to deal with the increased tariff expenses in 2018. We were able to overcome these headwinds and deliver meaningful improvement and profitability.

And finally, free cash flow to net income exceeded 100% in each of the past two years, coming in at a 112% through the two-year period. We've made significant progress on all four metrics through the first two years. We expect further progress in 2019 and the targets remain in sight. We're confident that the three elements of our Enterprise Strategy are key to delivering these results. Focus on the core, innovate to grow and simplification.

I'll now turn the call back over to Mark.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Jon. Before we go to Q&A, I would like to briefly reflect on our 2018 total year results. 2018 was a record year in both sales and adjusted earnings. Organic sales were up 5.7% and adjusted operating margins increased 60 basis points versus the prior year, in spite of the significant commodity and tariff headwinds.

Adjusted earnings per share increased 23% with most of the benefit coming from operations versus tax reform and for the eighth consecutive year, we finished with free cash flow to net income greater than 100%. This year's free cash flow to net income was 116%.

In 2018, we made the strategic acquisition of Nicotra Gebhardt to strengthen our position in the commercial air moving space. We repurchased roughly $128 million of our shares and we reduced our net debt to adjusted EBITDA to 2.0. Over the last six months, we have put plans in place to exit or divested five non-core businesses with annual revenues totaling roughly $200 million. This will allow our management team to focus on and reinvest back in our core operations.

Further, we have a healthy pipeline of potential core-related acquisition targets. Finally Jon laid out the three year performance targets we communicated at the March 2017 Investor Day; organic growth, operating margin, return on invested capital and free cash flow to net income. We are pleased that in both 2017 and 2018, we made meaningful progress on all four metrics, and we believe that with our expected 2019 performance, the target range is still in sight.

As we close 2018, we expect that the 2018 momentum will continue into 2019. Our 2019 guidance reflects low-to-mid single digits organic growth, our third consecutive year of margin improvement and a resulting 6% increase in adjusted earnings per share at the center point of our guidance. When you account for the impact of our recent divestitures and exits, our EPS guidance for our ongoing business would result in a 10% increase in adjusted earnings per share at the midpoint.

To cap off a great year, Regal recently published its first ever Sustainability Report. You can find it on our website. A few years ago, we restated our Regal purpose to read, we create a better tomorrow by efficiently converting power into motion. Today our Regal employees live this purpose and our Sustainability Report tells our story.

We talk about our Regal handprint, which represents the products we make and the positive impact they have on our environment by saving enormous amounts of energy. And we talk about the Regal footprint, which represents our efforts to reduce the waste we leave behind as well as the natural resources we consume to produce our products. Every year, we strive to increase the impact of our handprint and decrease the impact of our footprint.

From the products we make to the way we make them, our purpose is to create a better tomorrow for everyone. We believe sustainability is yet another element of the long-term value we deliver to shareholders.

And finally before we go to Q&A, I would like to briefly update you on our CEO transition. Our original transition plan remains intact. I will be retiring and stepping down as Regal's CEO once the new CEO is on Board. A committee comprised of Members of Regal's Board of Directors is leading the search and we expect the new CEO to be in place sometime in the second quarter. I will continue to lead the company until that time and I will remain as an Advisor for a short period after the new CEO is in place to assure an orderly transition. The Regal Organization has responded very well through this transition and all of our energy is focused on delivering for our stakeholders.

We will now take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you, sir. We will now begin the question-and-answers session. (Operator Instructions) The first question we have will come from Joe Ritchie of Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Ashay Gupta -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hi, good morning guys. This is Ashay Gupta on for Joe.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Ashay Gupta -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

So, nice quarter and your guidance seems by these numbers. I guess just to start off, could you maybe talk about the differences in outlook between the three segments as we head into 2019? And maybe specifically also address the performance in climate in the quarter and whether that was some like pre-buy associated with the regulation change?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Okay, I'll take a pass at those questions and I'm sure Jon will jump in. In terms of our guidance between the three quarters, I mean between the three segments, when we -- when we think about the commercial and industrial segment and the PTS segment, kind of serving many of the same end markets and we are expecting low-to-mid single digit growth across those markets.

The Commercial & Industrial business, will have more of a headwind out of China and out of Europe and then when it comes to our Climate segment as we commented we are expecting some lift in the back half of the year as a result of the FER law. As that law changes over, we expect some improvement there. And then relative to whether or not we saw any lift in the quarter as a result of FER, I think that was your second question, we don't believe there was any impact from FER as a pre-build in the fourth quarter. Jon did I miss anything?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

No. I would just add though, that while we don't think there was an impact in the fourth quarter from FER, our customers are actively now talking about their needs for any potential pre-build. We're still pulling that altogether. Our current assumption is that there will be a nominal pre-build in 2019 impacting the first half by -- in the range of $3 million to $5 million and that's been factored into our guide.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Top line $3 million to $5 million on the top line.

Ashay Gupta -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. And maybe as a follow-up, I noticed that your guidance for 2019 doesn't include any impact of buyback. So, just curious on how you're thinking about capital allocation next year, given the strong free cash and the cash that you'll get from the asset sales?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Joe. Yes, you're right. We do not include any buyback assumption in our 2019 guidance. As we think about capital allocation, we will continue to have a balanced approach. Looking at buybacks as an alternative, obviously M&A as I mentioned, we do have a healthy pipeline of targets that we're considering and we'll also look at debt payment -- debt pay down.

Ashay Gupta -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks guys. Congrats on a good quarter.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Next we have Scott Graham of BMO Capital Markets.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yes, hi, good morning and very nice quarter, gents.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Thank you.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

The couple questions I have were really very end market specific as I know for example, you have a lot of your oil and gas in the upstream and I'm just kind of wondering what you're hearing, seeing order rate wise in that market, given some of the disruptive forces on the price of oil and some of these large upstream guys cutting back a little bit in 2019? Can you just sketch that for us a little bit?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Sure, Scott. This is Jon. I'll add some comments there. So, we did see, we called out, we did see sales strength in the fourth quarter from oil and gas in both the PTS segment and the C&I segment. We had overall good orders performance in 2018 in oil and gas and you're right, more of our exposure is upstream. I'll comment that we probably saw, in the fourth quarter, we saw a little bit more choppiness in the order rates in oil and gas, but we were coming off some pretty strong orders in the first half of 2018.

Coming into 2019, we still see order strength in oil and gas, but we're now coming up on some pretty difficult comparisons as we look at the orders there. Also, I would say that, overall for the company about 5% of our sales are in oil and gas. We have exposure in both upstream and midstream and the divestiture of our Engineered Drives and Control business will reduce this exposure a little bit, especially in the upstream demand.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

By about 80 basis points or so.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Correct.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. And then on your HVAC markets, what are your OE customers saying, both the resi and commercial sides for what they're expecting in 2019 and maybe specify if you're going to respond in sales dollars or sales volumes?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

So, we are, I think what we would say, we're hearing from most of our customers for 2019 demand in HVAC is in the range of the low to mid single digit is the expectation. That's pretty much was built into our guidance. We'll have a little bit of this dynamic of this nominal prebuilt we talked about in our first half performance that will come out of the second half. And that will then of course, have a little bit of a delay in the timing of the FBR transition, just because of the prebuilt that will be in the channel, but we don't think that will be a large amount.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Jon, are you saying low-to-mid single across both resi and commercial?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Yeah, I would say that's fair assessment of what we've built into our guidance this year.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. And then my last question is about distribution, where C&I looked flat, whereas I think PTS you said was strong. Could you kind of connect those dots for us?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Yeah. We had, so you're right, C&I was more flattish in the fourth quarter. PTS was strong and Climate was also strong in distribution in the fourth quarter. We think that for distribution in C&I, we had pretty healthy demand in distribution. But, we had some pretty difficult comparisons in the C&I segment to prior year. Fourth quarter prior year was a strong quarter for C&I and in particular distribution contributed nicely to that performance. So, we think it was a bit more of a comparison issue in the fourth quarter for C&I.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

So, nothing changed the tone there. We had a couple distributors saying that because of the timing of the holidays, there was a little disruption. But overall, you would say that your distribution channel remains healthy for you.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Yeah, I think that's how we would characterize it, Scott. And, similar to the other comments on organic sales, we're going to have more difficult comparisons in 2019, but we still feel good about the performance of the market.

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you. Good job.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Scott.

Operator

And next we have Mike Halloran of Baird.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Hey, good morning everyone. So, just kind of following up on that last point there, maybe just talk a little bit about the underlying trajectory and core industrial businesses as you look through the fourth quarter. Any real change in the trajectory from normal seasonality or from customer cadence that they talk about and any change to start 2019 so far?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

I would say that, we are not seeing any big change related to those kinds of dynamics. I would say that from an inventory standpoint, we would say that there is probably a slight increase in both industrial and HVAC in the distribution channels. But, it's kind of difficult to understand what the difference is there or what the impact is, given the variables on tariffs and price increase and whether this is kind of a little bit of a normal inventory build or just some buying ahead of the tariffs. So, that's a little bit of noise that would be in the inventory numbers right now.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Makes sense and obviously some moving pieces on the price cost side with the 2A pricing formulas, the changes in commodity pricing and some of the price actions you had last year. Maybe just help a little bit, how you think price cost cadence as we work through the year, slightly positive, pretty ubiquitously through the year or there is some variances that we should look for?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

I think I'll comment and then Mark can add anything he'd like to add. So I'll go back to 2018, we felt good about the performance in 2018 on price cost. We turned neutral in the first quarter and then we remained slightly favorable for the second, third and fourth quarter on price cost. We exited the year with a number of price increases that we implemented across all three segments, either in the late third quarter or early to mid fourth quarter.

So, we are expecting the carryover from those price actions to carry over into 2019. That's what's in our guidance and our assumption around price cost. I think our expectation is that we will remain neutral to slightly favorable on price cost throughout the year.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

I'll just also add copper started to turn somewhat deflationary around the June timeframe and then it's enough that we are seeing some of our 2-way material price formulas cause a price reduction. Now that's still -- it's still positive for us on a year-over-year basis, but it was enough to flip to a few of those formulas over in the first quarter.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Correct.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

I appreciate the color. Thank you.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mike.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Thank you.

Operator

The next question we have will come from Julian Mitchell of Barclays. Please go ahead.

Julian Mitchell -- Barclays -- Analyst

Hi, good morning.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Julian.

Julian Mitchell -- Barclays -- Analyst

Good morning. Maybe a first question and maybe I've missed it, but it sounded like you talked about pretty healthy margin expansion at C&I and power transmission this year in 2019. I just wondered in Climate Solutions, what the expectations on margins is relative to that 15.5% base figure and what are sort of some of the main moving parts within that?

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Julian, you're right. We in 2018, we had nice margin expansion in both our PTS and our C&I segments on the full year. And in Climate, we finished the year at 15.5% and I mentioned in my comments that the year-over-year change in LIFO expense, the LIFO expense versus the LIFO benefit in 2017 was the headwind to margin expansion in our Climate business for 2018.

We are expecting margin expansion in Climate in 2019. Our expectation would be that we'll see margin expansion in all three segments. Climate will contribute in 2019. I would say the key points there will be leverage on volume. Some of the same themes we talked about 2018 benefits from productivity and our simplification efforts, neutral to slightly favorable price cost and then we'll see a positive impact from mix, especially with the high efficiency products in 2019.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

I'll just comment there to add in that we could -- if there is a pull ahead that's meaningful beyond what Jon already commented on, there could be a negative impact to mix in the front half of the year and then a flip to a more positive impact to mix in the back half of the year.

Julian Mitchell -- Barclays -- Analyst

Thanks. And then maybe just my follow-up question around Commercial and Industrial Systems, are you expecting the first quarter growth rate to be roughly similar to what you saw in Q4. Given what you talked about in terms of flattish distribution and Asia weakness or do we see a bit of a pickup, just because of the easier comp and maybe some of that inventory being flushed through?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

I think we would be looking at a quarter that's probably more similar to the fourth quarter of 2018 Julian as we look to the first quarter here.

Julian Mitchell -- Barclays -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Thanks Julian.

Operator

Next we have Robert McCarthy of Stephens.

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Good morning. Can you hear me?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning. How are you doing, Rob?

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Good. Doing well. Mark, congratulations on a great run.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Yeah, so you know what the next question is. So I guess I won't be impolitic in terms of the first question and it's not my intention to be, but in the context of this external CEO search right, you have a very strong and talented deep management team, but going external seems to send a signal that there must be some concern among the Board around the portfolio or the position, not in terms of the cost position because you guys do a great job in it in terms of that and managing it, but in terms of maybe the strategic vision of the businesses you need to be in, can you expand upon what the Board is looking for in that CEO and what that could mean for your portfolio to the extent you can?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

I understand your question. I'd say we have great alignment between the management team and the Board around our strategy of -- kind of price strategy as we laid it out in 2017. And Jon talked about it today focus, innovate, simplify. It's working for us. No question, you're always looking at the portfolio. Obviously we commented on that back in 2017 when we said we divest roughly $200 million, which we did in that timeframe and while we're not ready to set a new target, certainly, you're always looking at the portfolio in terms of things that no longer are core or things that you'd like to add that our core. So that's the headset that both management and the board is looking at the business.

Okay. And then, thank you for taking my question by the way and then I guess a couple follow-ups have been, I guess in terms of thinking about the environment, it looks like definitely from what you're seeing now pretty decent environment. But if you do see pricings under further pressure, volumes decelerate or we go into a bit of a slowdown here, remind us the counter-cyclical nature of the free cash flow, net income conversion and what we should see given history and what you could maintain in terms of free cash flow to net income conversion, if we go into a bit of a meaningful downturn here?

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

I can take that one. So Rob, this is Rob Rehard. So I think you would expect to see free cash flow conversion through the quarters to be somewhat consistent with our historical trend in terms of how it trends relative to prior quarters. We do start out a little slower and then ramp up as we go through the year.

I'll remind you, we do have eight years over 100% on free cash flow conversion. In a downturn, we would still expect to see strong free cash flow conversion as we did during the downturn a few years back, where we still converted over 100% despite the downturn and a lot of that came through trade working capital improvements as we moved through the year. So I think that would be how you would look at it.

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

I guess the final question would be just around price cost and obviously tariffs and I apologize, I did have to miss a little bit of this call in the beginning. So I might have missed some of your commentary. So I apologize for that. But just talk about kind of ring-fencing the risks around I mean you already alluded to the price cost being neutral to positive, right. But around the tariffs and how you're going to manage that impact and could that drive you to the low end of your guidance? How do we think about aside from revenue what drives you to the low-end and to your guidance range in terms of your cost structure and the pricing environment?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Rob, this is Jon. I will talk about the tariffs. So we in the fourth quarter we commented that price cost remained slightly favorable and that included the expense of the -- the additional expense of the tariffs. So we were pleased with the price cost performance given those additional expenses. If you recall in our third quarter call, I talked about the two main actions we're taking to deal with the tariffs. The first is around our footprint, leveraging our global footprint and a number of product moves that we either have made or are making that will help us mitigate the impact of the tariff.

And then for the remaining products where we either don't have those options or it's not cost justified to do that, we have and will look at raising price. So we've been able to offset the tariff. Our expectation in 2019 is that we'll continue to offset the tariffs?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

I'll just add, you had asked Robert, what would take us to the low end guidance? We're assuming low to mid single-digit growth rates, a chunk of that coming from the markets we participate in. So certainly that could be a driver. Now I also remind you that we talked about $10 million of restructuring for the year. So we're continuing our self-help efforts to get at margin improvement or offset a down -- the impact of a downturn.

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks for your time.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

And next we have Jeffrey Hammond of KeyBanc.

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, guys.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Jeff.

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

So just, just on long targets -- long-term targets or I guess going into '19, it looks like revenues running ahead, do you think you can get into that zip code of 200 basis points to 250 basis points or is that a stretch at this point, just given the last year.

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

No, I think there is still, we still have our eyes set on those targets on the low end obviously, on the low end of the target, but we still think there is a shot there. A lot has to go our way, but it's still in sight.

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. And then any update on timing for the CEO search announcement?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, as I commented, we still believe as -- it will be sometime in the second quarter.

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. And then just on the M&A side, can you just update us on the Nicotra integration? How it's going? And if you're seeing any change in valuation with some of the -- some of the choppiness and macro worries? Thanks.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

So first on Nicotra the business is performing kind of the way we had thought it would when we acquired it. From an integration perspective, it just confirms that the business integrating into the company. I would declare victory there. We feel good about the integration. Still work to do on our synergies and there's still more to get there. So that will take us another couple years and that's included in our guidance.

So -- but we feel good overall about what that business has brought for the company in the air moving space and then finally and valuations, we would say that there's probably been a full turn down in valuations and targets so -- and we see that both on what we're selling and what we're considering as potential targets.

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay, thanks a lot.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jeff.

Operator

The next question we have comes Chris Dankert of Longbow Research.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Hey. Morning, guys.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Morning, Chris .

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Forgive me if I missed it, but any update as far as some of the manufacturing transition out of China into other lower production cost regions, just kind of any progress there?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

So, Chris, this is Jon. We didn't really talk about specifically, but we feel good about the progress we're making. I had -- we had commented on the third quarter call about one example of product that we were transitioning from one of our facilities in China to one of our existing facilities in Mexico. That transition has gone well.

We are in production today on that product in Mexico and serving our customers in the US. So we feel good about that particular example. There's a couple others that we are working on implementing in the first half of 2019. It's very similar to the one in Mexico utilizing either existing footprint in Asia outside of China or footprint that we have in Mexico. So good progress and we feel good about the positive impact that can have to mitigate the tariff expense, a portion of the tariff expense.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Got it. Got it. That's helpful. And I guess I assume a lot of your customers are trying to look at similar moves. Has that proven to be a net benefit for you guys or kind of a net neutral overall?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

I would say today it's a net neutral. However, we have commented and we continue to believe that over time we would see this as an as slightly net positive for the company. We still feel that way today.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Got it. Got it. And one last one if I could quick, just any comment on labor cost into '19, is just similar growth from what we've seen, just any kind of reminders on variable comp, any kind of impact that might be out of the norm?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Are you talking about for our production workforce or is that what you are referring to, Chris.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Yeah, exactly. Overall and then for 2019 for guidance. Sorry.

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. So I would say that in 2018 with pretty much a strong demand in the markets labor availability and labor inflation has been and will continue to be an impact on the business. However in 2018, I would say we didn't see necessarily any meaningful increase in inflation, kind of the normal inflationary pressures that we see in the business. Going into 2019 one change that we are dealing with, it's in our guidance, but one change we are dealing with is the doubling of the minimum wage in Mexico in the cities along the border.

So that's been a change that's implement -- that has been implemented in January, is impacting us and anyone else manufacturing in that region. And we're looking at a number of actions to mitigate that, but that's some additional inflation that we're going to have to deal with in 2019.

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks so much and congrats on the results, guys.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Chris.

Operator

And the next question we have will come from Walter Liptak of Seaport Global. Please go ahead.

Walter Liptak -- Seaport Global -- Analyst

Hi, thanks and congratulations on the quarter guys.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Walt.

Walter Liptak -- Seaport Global -- Analyst

Wanted to ask about the C&I business in Asia and just maybe you can refresh us on the percentage of revenue for C&I that's Asia, how much of that is China and then you provide us with any other color, just kind of the tone of the market, pricing etcetera, maybe how it trended during the quarter?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

So I'll start off and then Jon can jump in. So revenue overall for Asia is probably I am going to say 10% to 12% of total revenue and then the C&I piece of that is probably three quarters of that 10% to 12% is in the C&I -- in the C&I segment. So yes, it is, there is some headwind there in -- particularly in the China area. We are seeing nice growth, continued growth in India. But China, Middle East, Europe are headwinds for us. And then, the second part of your question Walt.

Walter Liptak -- Seaport Global -- Analyst

Just how, how it's trending? I mean is it, do they come down and then stabilize what are you hearing from your customers? I guess what are you expecting for 2019?

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

I think Walt, when we look at our China demand what we saw in the second half of 2018 was a step down in demand. If you look at our order rates, we had pretty strong orders in the first half. We saw a decrease in demand in the second half and it's been stable at that lower level. So if you looked at order since that drop in demand, it's been pretty stable. So we're going to see a difficult comparison in the first half of '19 and then we'll see a little bit of -- certainly in the orders, we'll see a better comparison in the second half, because we really haven't seen any further deterioration, but there was a step down in demand.

Walter Liptak -- Seaport Global -- Analyst

Okay. Good. That helps. And then just going back to the capital allocation question and M&A with potentially a new CEO coming in, you're a little bit more careful about M&A and maybe size of the M&A or number of deals and then you mentioned there's no buyback that's in your -- in your guidance. I wonder if you could refresh us on how much share repurchase authorization you have left, the timeframe remaining on it and buyback versus M&A, given the upcoming CEO change.

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Walt. We'll have Rob Rehard address the buyback first.

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Yes. So what we have about $200 million on our buyback authorized on authorization at this time. So that's what was remaining. We had -- we had a new authorization in place in 2018. That $250 million we moved that down to about $200 million at the end of the year.

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

In terms of any M&A transactions we've, as you know over the years, this organization has companies done a lot of M&A and there is a core group of people here that know how to do it. So, that wouldn't be the reason we wouldn't do M&A just because of the CEO transition. So we're operating like there's just every other day. So hope that answers your question Walt.

Operator

Well, thank you, Sir. At this time, we'll go ahead and conclude our question-and-answer session. I would now like to turn the conference call back over to Mr. Mark Gliebe, CEO for any closing remarks, Sir?

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Michael. Just one last quick comment from me, in the event this turns out to be my last earnings call, it's been my honor to serve as Regal's Chairman and CEO, and I appreciate the confidence and support of our investors, analysts. I've got to know many of you personally and I've enjoyed working with you and learning from you and I wish you all the best. Thank you for your questions and for your interest in Regal. Have a great day.

Operator

Thank you, sir also for your time and to the rest of the management team. Again, the conference call has now ended. We thank you all for your participation. At this time, you may disconnect your lines. Thank you. Take care. And have a great day, everyone.

Duration: 57 minutes

Call participants:

Rob Cherry -- Vice President of Business Development

Mark Gliebe -- Chief Executive Officer

Rob Rehard -- Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Jon Avampato -- Vice President, Chief Information Officer

Ashay Gupta -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Scott Graham -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Julian Mitchell -- Barclays -- Analyst

Robert McCarthy -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Jeffrey Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Chris Dankert -- Longbow Research -- Analyst

Walter Liptak -- Seaport Global -- Analyst

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