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ITT Inc. (NYSE:ITT)
Q4 2019 Earnings Call
Feb 21, 2020, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to ITT's 2019 Fourth Quarter Conference Call. Today is Friday, February 21, 2020. Today's call is being recorded and will be available for replay, beginning at 12:00 PM Eastern Time.

[Operator Instructions]

It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Emmanuel Caprais, Vice President of Finance, FP&A and Investor Relations, you may begin.

Emmanuel Caprais -- Vice President of Finance, FP&A and Investor Relations

Good morning, and thank you, Laurie.

Welcome to ITT's fourth quarter 2019 earnings and 2020 guidance call. This is Emmanuel, and with me today are Luca Savi, Chief Executive Officer and President, and Tom Scalera, Chief Financial Officer. I'd like to highlight that today's presentation, press release and reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures to the most comparable GAAP measure can be found on our website at itt.com/investors.

Our adjusted non-GAAP results exclude certain non-operating and non-recurring items, including but not limited to asbestos restructuring, acquisition-related items, and certain tax items. All adjustments in the quarter are detailed in a reconciliation. Before we begin, I'd like to provide a brief overview of our Q4 and full-year GAAP results.

Q4 total revenue increased 6% to $719 million; segment operating income increased 13% to $107 million and EPS of $0.75 was 32% higher than the prior year. Full-year total revenue increased 4% to $2.85 billion; segment operating income increased 5% to $430 million and EPS of $3.65 was down 3% compared to the prior year.

Please note that our remaining discussion this morning will exclusively focus on non-GAAP or adjusted measures, unless otherwise indicated.

Today's call will contain forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual results may vary materially. All such statements should be evaluated together with the Safe Harbor disclosures and the other risks and uncertainties that affect our business, including those disclosed in our SEC filing.

With that, let me now turn the call over to Luca.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thanks, Emmanual, and hello everyone. Thank you for joining us today to discuss another quarter and year of strong results at ITT.

This time last year, I said actions speak louder than words. In 2019, ITTers around the world, worked hard, delivered outstanding results, enhanced the resilience of our company and their actions were loud. Because of our ITTers, this is the 10th straight quarter that we delivered year-over-year organic revenue growth, segment operating income growth, margin expansion, and double-digit EPS growth.

We prioritized on operational excellence, customer centricity and effective capital deployment. And because of this, we further accelerated the pace of our improvement in 2019. Moving forward, we will continue to both drive our strategic priorities and execute on our significant war chest of self-help opportunities to further enhance our performance.

I'd like to share with you some 2019 highlights. At Motion Technologies, Friction OEM outgrew global auto markets by more than 1,100 basis points. This level of performance demonstrates, both, our ability to outgrow our end markets and our resilience, even during periods of volatility. Friction Mexico continued to deliver outstanding performance, as margins grew both year-over-year and sequentially every quarter. Our rail business grew 18% on the back of share gains in passenger trains, driven by improved operational performance and cost competitiveness actions. Finally, Axtone, our most recent rail acquisition, expanded margins 390 basis points. Overall, MT dropped[Phonetic] 70 basis points of margin expansion in 2019.

At Industrial Process, in 2019, we delivered 10% organic revenue growth, as we continued to improve our project management execution and drove operational performance across our factories, including our largest plant in Seneca Falls, New York. As a result of our focus on operational excellence at IP, we improved on-time delivery to customers across the board and expanded margins by 160 basis points in 2019. We also increased our design and development efforts, including several of the VA/VE initiatives to enhance our product competitiveness. I'm particularly happy with the work of Paul Behnke and his team on the redesign of our BB2 pumps that we launched earlier this year for the oil and gas and petrochem markets. This is the beginning of a larger wave of product redesign. Finally, IP's operating margin of 12.7% for the full year of 2019 and 14.2% in Q4 is well on track to achieve our long-term margin goal of 15%-plus.

At CCT, the team delivered 2% organic revenue growth in 2019, powered by strong aerospace aftermarket and composite growth. This reinforces our long-term aerospace composite strategy and the recent Matrix acquisition. This growth was partially offset by significant headwinds from large prior-year defense programs and late 2019 short-cycle weakness. CCT flawlessly executed 14 product line transfers to Shenzhen and Nogales and in-sourced critical plating processes to enhance our competitiveness. In total, CCT expanded margins by 130 basis points to 17.3% in 2019. Thanks to productivity and cost actions.

And at ITT level, we funded $16 million of incremental strategic investments to drive future growth across ITT, while reducing our corporate costs by 24% for the full year.

Now, let's go to our full-year strategic highlights on Slide 3. We grew revenue 4.5% organically to $2.85 billion. We grew segment operating income margins to a record 16%. We grew operating income margins 140 basis points to a record 14.8%. We grew EPS 18%, or 22%, excluding foreign exchange, to a record $3.81. We generated $319 million of free cash flow, representing a 95% conversion. All of this is the result of the hard work of ITTers from Dammam, Saudi Arabia to Wuxi, China, from Nogales, and Silao in Mexico to Seneca Falls in New York and Teramo in Italy. Our people came together executed on our strategic priorities, and built a more resilient company, able to deliver strong sustainable results even in uncertain environments.

Let me share some examples of how we are working hard to execute on our strategic priorities of operational excellence, customer centricity and effective capital deployment.

Beginning with operational excellence. In 2019, we delivered 90 basis points segment operating income growth, with strong contribution from all three segments. IP delivered a 12.7% operating margin, which represents a 160 basis points expansion. This is particularly strong, considering the 35% increase in project revenue and a 40 basis points of dilution from the Rheinhutte Pumpen acquisition. In 2019, IP not only improved margins year-over-year every quarter, but they also expanded margins sequentially throughout the year. IP continues to improve shop floor management. Thanks to the use of gemba walk, which tracked all the project pumps going through our plants.

I'm particularly happy with the work done in IP South Korea and IP Saudi Arabia. These plants achieved perfect on-time performance with our customers in 2019, a remarkable accomplishment. And in Seneca Falls, our ANSI baseline pump assembly line continues to perform at a high level and maintain industry-leading on-time delivery performance above 90%. Across the plant, we continued to target production bottlenecks and increased critical equipment efficiency. This performance led to the strategic decision to in-source additional manufacturing processes to further reduce lead times and increase competitiveness. IP is also investing in innovation by redesigning our products to make them more competitive. We are working on VA/VE activities for three different pump platforms and we clinched a strategic order for our new and improved BB2 pump. And we are advancing new state-of-the-art pump efficiency innovations and a activity engaged in field testing to drive future differentiation and value to our customers. Well done, George and IP team.

Now, moving on to CCT. We expanded margin by 130 basis points. Thanks to a strong connector performance. As already mentioned, the team at CCT, worked hard to fulfill product line transfer from high-cost regions to our facilities in Nogales, Mexico and Shenzhen, China. And we are planning more product line transfers for 2020, based on the solid execution we saw in 2019.

Our new plating line in Nogales continued to ramp up in Q4 and we expect significant full-year benefits in 2020. We initiated other in-sourcing projects of machining operations that will go live in 2020 as well. The Matrix, aerospace composite acquisition is performing well and in line with expectations. And the team expanded customer diversification to ensure continued future growth.

MT continues to demonstrate outstanding execution, as the team delivered 70 basis points of margin improvements in 2019 on significant progress achieved at Friction Mexico. I'm very proud of our Sialo, Mexico plant, that performed extremely well this year and became a leading profit generator, while handling enough standing increasing revenue flawlessly. Axtone rail executed footprint rationalization actions to our low-cost site in Poland, in addition to manufacturing productivity increases. Full-year margins expanded by 390 basis points. Once again, actions speak louder than words as the team at Axtone is progressing nicely toward our mid-teens margin target.

It was a busy year for ITTers. We walk-the-talk and delivered results exceeding our ambitious commitments, and we continue to see opportunities ahead to drive productivity and eliminate wastes, and we wake up every morning determined to up our game.

Now, moving on to customer centricity. In 2019, we delivered solid 4.5% organic revenue growth. Once again, MT executed in a very volatile market condition. And in 2019, Friction outperformed our end markets and continued to gain share in the OEM segment to reach 25% globally. Friction OEM sales outperformed global auto markets by more than 1,100 basis points, outgrowing all three main markets. We continued to drive share gains and long-term visibility. Thanks to all the auto platform awards, we won in 2019.

We increased our platform awards by close to 30% compared to the prior year, as we focus on outstanding quality and delivery performance and emphasized customer engagement. Friction quality record of one PPM is a competitive advantage that drive outperformance in the eyes of our customers. Friction continues to successfully win electric vehicle platforms. I'm happy to report that our team's win rate on EV platforms was higher than on internal combustion engine platforms. We have been winning several high profile EV platforms that will propel our future growth. The KONI/Axtone railway platform delivered 18% organic revenue growth and continues to gain share by focusing on quality, delivery, product performance and customer engagement. Our high-speed train business in China is an example of this success, as we worked hard to develop and homologate our products in a segment, where we did not play three years ago.

IP delivered 10% organic revenue growth, as we executed on our performance commitments to customers, at a renewed project management discipline, drove significant revenue growth and customer satisfaction. For example, we executed a major greenfield refinery project on-time, while improving the project's profitability. I strongly believe performance is the first pillar to build customer loyalty. We are now well-positioned to win follow-on work with this customer and others.

Finally, moving to effective capital deployment. We invested in key organic growth and productivity opportunities such as the in-sourcing of critical plating at CCT, global friction capacity expansion, VA/VE and process modernization at IP. This will support future revenue growth and margin expansion. We deployed $118 million in strategic acquisitions that fit our target of market leader in niche applications. Both Matrix and RPG were accretive to our 2019 EPS results and are progressing well to deliver our long-term strategic expectations. Finally, we have returned $94 million to shareholders in the form of dividends and repurchases, and we announced a new $500 million indefinite-term share repurchase program on the Q3 call. And today, we are announcing our largest-ever dividend increase of 15%.

For me, 2019 was a year of strategic execution. We delivered on our commitments and we built a resilient organization capable of operating in all types of environments. We will continue to execute on our war chest of self-help opportunities and our actions will always speak louder than words.

Let me now turn it over to Tom, who will review our Q4 and full-year results in more detail. Tom?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Luca.

Let's now turn to the Q4 results on Slide 4. Organic revenue grew 4%, once again reflecting share gains and market growth across our major end markets. Transportation grew 5% on 12% growth in Friction OEM, 14% growth in rail and 5% growth in friction aftermarket. These gains were partially offset by lower commercial aerospace and Wolverine. Industrial grew 4%, driven by a 7% increase in chemical and industrial pumps. And oil and gas grew 1% on 17% connectors growth from North America and the Middle East.

Organic orders were flat, as growth in pump projects of 17% was offset by declines of 6% in short-cycle pumps and 10% in industrial connectors. Transportation orders were up 3% from auto, rail, and commercial aerospace strengths, while defense connectors declined double digits on a tough compare with large OE wins in the prior year.

Q4 segment operating income increased 16%, driven by net operating productivity, restructuring benefits and volume leverage. These gains were partially offset by commodity costs, FX and the funding of $5 million of incremental strategic investments. As a result of our focus on our three strategic priorities, we delivered record EPS of $0.99 per share, which represents a 21% improvement. The 16%. segment operating income growth was enhanced by a 19% reduction in corporate costs. And it is worth noting once again, that the 21% fourth quarter EPS growth represents our 10th consecutive quarter of double-digit EPS growth.

Slide 5 summarizes the drivers of our adjusted margin performance in Q4. We expanded margins by 130 basis points to 15.4%. The expansion was primarily driven by 150 basis points of volume and price, and 110 basis points of net operating productivity that was powered by manufacturing efficiency, restructuring benefits, supply chain actions and project execution at IP. The ITT margin expansion also benefited from the continued ramp up at our Friction Mexico plant and significant operational gains at Axtone and connectors. Some partial offsets to the expansion came from higher commodity costs and unfavorable foreign exchange. In addition, our total margin performance was diluted by 70 basis points of strategic investments and 30 basis points from the strategic acquisitions of RPG and Matrix.

In summary, in Q4, we continued to methodically execute on our war chest of self-help opportunities, producing a 10th consecutive quarter of year-over-year margin expansion and setting us up nicely for continued margin expansion in 2020.

Now, let's turn to our segment results, starting with Motion Technologies on Slide 6. Despite challenging auto market conditions, MT organic revenue increased 7%. Friction grew 10%, driven by 12% OEM growth that outperformed the global auto markets by more than 1,600 basis points. This outperformance included 18% growth in China, 10% growth in Europe and 11% growth in North America, despite the impact of the GM strike. In addition, KONI and Axtone grew 8% on global share gains in rail, partially offset by a 7% decline at Wolverine on weak OEM shims demand and a large sealing platform loss. However, it is important to note that Wolverine recently reconquered the sealing platform of approximately $10 million annually and we'll start shipping again in Q4 of 2020.

MT's segment operating income increased 12% to $47 million. Excluding $2 million of unfavorable foreign exchange, MT operating income grew 16%. Performance at MT was driven by operating efficiencies and productivity, as well as restructuring actions that more than offset higher commodity costs and tariffs, and funded $3 million of strategic investments. MT margins expanded 90 basis points to 15.4%, due to Axtone execution, and volume and efficiency benefits at MT Friction Mexico. In addition, MT funded 100 basis points of incremental strategic investments.

Now let's turn to Industrial Process on Slide 7. In Q4, IP delivered organic revenue growth of 4% on a 13% increase in projects, combined with a 1% increase in short-cycle activity. The project strength was driven by chemical and general industry deliveries. The 1% short-cycle was driven by 25% service and 2% baseline pump growth, partially offset by valves and parts weakness. Total IP orders increased 3%, including the benefit from the RPG acquisition. Organic orders decreased 2%, due to a 6% decline in short-cycle pumps. Project orders rebounded nicely in Q4 and grew 17%, driven by general industrial markets. IP segment operating income increased 32% to $36 million and margins improved 220 basis points to 14.2%. Excluding the impact of the RPG acquisition, IP margins grew 280 basis points. The operating income growth was driven by project and short-cycle volume, improved project execution, price realization and restructuring savings from Q3 actions.

CCT's Q4 revenue and adjusted income results are detailed on Slide 8. CCT organic revenue declined 2% on flat connectors and a 5% decline in components. From an end market perspective, commercial aerospace, defense and industrial all declined 3%. Commercial aerospace was down, due to rotorcraft end market weakness and de-stocking actions at a key customer. Defense declined in a difficult component missile program compares in the prior year. Industrial was soft. Softness was driven by short-cycle slowdown in North America, partially offset by connector strength in Europe. And lastly, oil and gas connectors grew 17% on North American share gains.

CCT's Q4 organic orders declined 8%, despite a 6% increase in commercial aerospace and an 8% increase in oil and gas connectors. These gains were more than offset by difficult defense program compares, order timing and short-cycle industrial weakness. But despite these pressures, the organic year-to-date book-to-bill ratio is 1.02, driving a 7% increase in total CCT backlog. CCT delivered 6% segment operating income growth to $28 million on benefits from productivity, including supply chain and completed line transfers, partially offset by increased material costs and investments. Segment operating income expanded 70 basis points to 17.1%.

Now, let's turn to Slide 10 for the details of our adjusted 2020 guidance. So, based on the impacts of the coronavirus on our guidance, let me start here with some background information on ITT's presence in China.

In 2019, ITT generated about $230 million in sales, and we operated five production facilities, but none were located in the Hubei province. Our five facilities are now up and are ramping production back to normal capacity levels at varying rates. For example, despite passing government audits, our Shenzhen connector site is currently the most impacted with only 30% of our employees back in the plant. We are monitoring this fluid situation daily, staying very connected to our 1,177 employees and we are doing everything possible to protect them and to serve our customers. This includes closely managing demand and materials planning to mitigate disruption.

Prior to the emergence of coronavirus, when we first built our guidance in early 2020, we expected total revenue to be in the range of down 2% to up 2%. We expected to expand our segment operating margins by 70 basis points to 150 basis points and we expected to grow EPS by 5% at the $4.00 midpoint of our guidance range. However, as you know, since January, the economic environment has been severely impacted by the coronavirus.

As a result, we included the estimated Q1 impact of the coronavirus on our preliminary operational guidance. The current estimate of the Q1 coronavirus impacts are as follows: $20 million to $30 million of revenue; $12 million to $16 million of operating income and about $0.13 of EPS. So, as a result of these impacts, our 2020 guidance now includes a total revenue range of down 3% to up 1% and segment operating margin expansion of 80 basis points, driven by strong productivity in all three value centers. And we expect to grow 2020 EPS by 2% at the $3.87 midpoint. As a result of the coronavirus uncertainty, we also widened our EPS range around the $3.87 midpoint to $3.72 per share to $4.02 per share. In addition, we expect to continue to drive strong free cash flow performance with a targeted 2020 free cash flow conversion that exceeds 95%.

So, now let's turn to Slide 11, where you will see the key performance drivers and assumptions, supporting our 2% EPS growth, including the coronavirus impacts. On the tailwinds front, we will outperform the global OE markets by at least 700 basis points, as a result of our exceptional global share gains in automotive. We will generate a full year of incremental benefits from our strategic 2019 acquisitions. We will benefit from 2019 restructuring carryover and additional structural actions in 2020. We will benefit from lower commodity costs and intensified supply chain actions. We will continue to expand product margins at IP. We will fully leverage recent production line transfers to low-cost regions and the in-sourcing of key production activities. We will implement additional tariff mitigation actions, and we will generate incremental productivity and continued operational improvements all across ITT from the war chest of opportunities, we've amassed. And in addition, we will continue to invest $0.16 in strategic initiatives to accelerate the commercialization of market-leading technologies and to expand our manufacturing capabilities and productivity.

The underlying 2020 headwinds, we are offsetting with our war chest of opportunities, include Boeing 737 production challenges and rotorcraft demand weakness at CCT; lower project volumes at IP, reflecting our recent selectivity; contractual auto price decreases at MT and the Q1 coronavirus impacts discussed previously.

On Slide 12, we provide an overview of the solid 50 basis points to 100 basis points of margin expansion. The expansion will be driven by strong operational execution, partially offset by strategic investments of 60 basis points. Price is expected to be neutral, as IP and CCT actions will offset MT. We expect operational margins, before investments, acquisitions and foreign exchange, to expand 110 basis points to 170 basis points. IP and MT are both expected to deliver solid margin growth in 2020, while CCT's margins will be flattish, despite high-single-digit revenue decline.

At the ITT level, we expect to show margin expansion over the prior year in every quarter, except Q1, due to the coronavirus impacts. And next, I'd like to provide some perspectives on Q1. In Q1, we are projecting organic top-line declines of high-single digits, excluding unfavorable foreign exchange impacts. The Q1 top-line organic decline will be driven by the coronavirus outbreak, mainly at CCT and MT, and lower project shipments at IP. Lastly, in Q1, we project a margin decline of approximately 120 basis points and a low-teens EPS decline, primarily due to the coronavirus impacts.

So, with that, let me now kick it back to Luca for a wrap up.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thanks, Tom.

So, 2019 has been the third year in the ITT transformation journey, a transformation that we started in 2017 and that elevated a strategic standing of execution. This year, you have seen our ITTers hard at work and delivering particularly strong results. We have executed on our war chest of self-help opportunities and delivered on our commitments. Looking at 2020, we are cognizant that we are in an extremely challenging environment, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. We are executing our countermeasure playbook to restore normal operating conditions as quickly as possible. We continue to drive our priorities, and our execution and actions will continue to enhance ITT's competitive advantages.

With that, let me now turn it back to Laurie to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. The floor is now opened for questions at this time.

[Operator Instructions]

Our first question comes from the line of Joe Ritchie of Goldman Sachs.

Joseph Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs & Co. -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning everyone.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Joe.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Hi, Joe.

Joseph Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs & Co. -- Analyst

So, Tom, maybe just starting on the coronavirus impact. Really appreciated all the color that you gave us on Q1 and for the rest of the year. I'm just curious like how do we think about the range of outcomes? I know that you've given kind of like an $0.08 to $0.18 range for 1Q, but how do you think about this, as the year progresses, in your ability to get some of that lost revenue, some of that lost profit back? And could this extend into Q2 and beyond?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Thanks, Joe. And I'll let Luca add some commentary as well.

Just from a numbers perspective, I think the way that we've looked at it is as we assess to what was happening in Q1, our known production levels, we're hearing from our customers and try to reflect that in the guidance that we provided. We didn't want to look too far beyond what we can currently assess. We haven't assumed any kind of recovery of the volume. We haven't been able to project what could happen next, from this point. But we really tried to model out what we're seeing in Q1. And hopefully the range that we provided will both cover some expansion of the virus, if that were to be the case, and also could provide for recovery to the upside, if that were to play out. But we didn't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we thought that it was important to reflect what we currently are seeing through the early part of the year so far.

Joseph Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs & Co. -- Analyst

Got it. That makes sense. And I guess, maybe just my follow-on question here is, look, if you take a look at the composition of your guidance, and excluding the coronavirus impact, you were looking at basically flattish type organic growth, but margin expansion of north of 100 basis points. You highlighted a variety of things across your portfolio, where there is a lot of self-help opportunity, I guess. I guess, maybe just provide a little bit more insight how much of the self-help is within your control? What are the, like, maybe two or three specific self-help initiatives that you think is going to be drive, like, a disproportionate amount of that margin expansion in 2020? And I'll get back in queue.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

All right. Thanks, Joe. So, I think our self-help story for 2020 is a reflection of a lot of the work that we started up in 2019. So, we have a high degree of, what I would call, carryover benefits from things like the 2019 restructuring actions, the 14 line transfers that we did at varying times throughout the year in 2019; we will get a full year benefit of those transfers, primarily at CCT. We'll get a full year benefit of the in-sourcing that we started in Q4 of 2019, where we made the investments. And now, we have the full year of production. So, I think is --- we'll also get a full year of the benefit from the acquisitions that we put online in 2019. And some of the tariff actions, that we've already implemented to mitigate the tariff impacts, will again get a full year benefit. So, it's really solid.

And this is, I think, the way we're operating ITT these days is to keep replenishing the next set of opportunities. We'll get a nice tailwind from the 2019. We're going to actions that I just listed and we'll augment a bunch of those with additional actions that we bring online in 2020.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Damian Karas of UBS.

Damian Karas -- UBS -- Analyst

Hi, good morning everyone.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Damian.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Hi, Damian.

Damian Karas -- UBS -- Analyst

So, just wanted to ask you about the, sort of, the growth outperformance that you saw in the fourth quarter. I think you guys had, if you went back, few months, you guys were looking at kind of low-single digit. I think it's what you were expecting. Could you maybe discuss what specific areas drove you to the 4%, where you were sort of outperforming your expectation?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Damian. I think the two areas that rise to the surface from our internal view is the deliveries of projects at IP. And I think, IP continues to leverage this new project execution model that we've put in place. It is not only driving great margin performance on the projects, but it's improving our deliveries. And I think, we had a strong finish to the year on the project side of the business in IP. And our sales there were good -- strong, 13% in Q4.

I would say the other area that just continues to gain momentum for us is the outperformance we're generating on the OE front in Motion Tech automotive and rail, two big areas. And maybe the third piece, I would mention is, good aftermarket strength in MT Friction as well. So, we did see some of those areas gain momentum as the quarter went on. I would say, the other side of the coin was CCT is feeling the short-cycle pressures in their markets and we're facing more of those headwinds as the market went on.

Damian Karas -- UBS -- Analyst

Okay, got it. And I guess, while you're speaking of short-cycle in Industrial Process, it seems to still be holding up fairly well, up a point, certainly better than what we're seeing, I guess, in the broader short-cycle market out there. But you have been seeing, I guess, the order rates running pretty soft, the last three quarters. Just wondering, if you could kind of maybe reconcile the difference between the short-cycle orders and that rather resilient revenue growth?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

So, Damian, Luca speaking. When we look at Q4, we saw the growth on the project orders by 17% and short-cycle pump is down 6%. Now, having said that, when we are talking to our distributors, and [0:37:24.4], which is our distribution network, they are optimistic about all the level of quotation activity that they see and that they do have. And they are positive about the second half of 2020. Now, if I add another dot to this information, what we can share is that what we have seen in the first seven weeks of 2020 is actually a very good order rate, both on our baseline as well as in our parts. We are growing year-over-year compared to 2019. And just to remind you guys, that 2019 was already 6% growth in Q1 year-over-year; was already a good growth. So, the size that we have seen in January and in February are actually good on the short-cycle.

Damian Karas -- UBS -- Analyst

Okay. That's really helpful color. Thank you.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Damian.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mike Halloran of Baird.

Mike Halloran -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Mike.

Mike Halloran -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

So, the IP margins, very healthy here. And obviously, the mix was against you in the quarter. I know the margins on the project activity are a lot better, given the selectivity; but that outpacing the short-cycle and still putting the margins up is notable. So, maybe a little thought is, as we work through the year, how do you think the margins progress? Obviously, some impact in the first quarter that you mentioned in the prepared remarks, Tom. But maybe, talk about sustainability, how do you think this mix kind of normalizes out through the year? And then, obviously, how you're thinking about the productivity side in that segment as well?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Mike. I do think the mix, as time goes on, is going to be beneficial to IP in two ways. One is just the project waiting, we're being -- as we've talked about selective and making sure that we go after the projects that are in our core space, where we can execute and perform well. But we're also raising the margin profile of those projects. So, last year we probably indicated that we were up 100 basis points to 200 basis points in our project margin performance, relative to 2018, and we expect to continue to drive project margin improvement in 2020, compared to 2019, looking at anywhere for another 100 basis points to 200 basis points of project margin improvement. So, I think, mix is a part of the story, and that we're going to have a good balance of short-cycle and projects, but the profitability in this project mix will continue to improve. There is good runway there.

And we would expect to see the margins. Once we clear Q1, we would expect the margins to generally improve as the year goes on at IP. And we generally are expecting to beat every one of the quarters of 2019, Q2, Q3 and Q4. We expect to be better than what we saw last year. So, good progression again in 2020.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

And if I can add a couple of data points, Mike, on this one. We see continuous improvement in all the different sites. When I was in Saudi, few weeks back, few weeks back, the way that they're managing their shop floor assembly and their gemba walks, that was outstanding. Our ANSI line, that now has delivered more than 90% on-time delivery for now more than three months on a continuous basis. And we have also decided to in-source some machining activities, just to improve our lead times, but also our competitiveness. So, I think that our war chest of opportunities is there for IP. The example that we gave you in terms of project, where we delivered on-time and we improved the productivity of the project, was one example, but was not the only one. So, we will continue to improve our margins in IP. Just to remind you, the IP, in the last three years, improved 120 basis points, 220 basis points and 160 basis points, each, for the last three years.

Mike Halloran -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Yeah, very impressive. Thanks for the color there.

And then, on CCT, the connectors growth in a tough environment; there is variability; the strength in the North America oil and gas is notable, given what that end market looks like. Orders are still good there with some short-cycle softness, which is not a surprise at all. Maybe just a little bit more context around how you think that plays out drivers of the pockets of strength you're seeing. And are you seeing any kind of signs of stability emerging in any of those core pieces that are seeing a little more softness?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

So, when we look at the connector business, Mike, our revenue grew 3% full year. And it's true that growth was actually very much in the first half, because the Q3 and Q4 were flat, which is reflecting a little bit of the problem, in terms of orders, that we saw with the short-cycle. Now, when we look at the connectors, positive on the oil and gas, and this was related to the market share gains that we had in North America. And then, when you look at the other side of the connectors, the area where we suffered the most was actually on the OEM side, which represent roughly 60% of our connectors business. And this was where we had, also, some tough compares. But our funnel of opportunities, what we are quoting with OEM on connectors has actually increased compared to the previous quarter by 7%.

On the distribution side, what we had at Q4 was actually, orders were growing 3% year-over-year. So, while we had the Q1 and Q2 and Q3 on the negative side, Q4 distribution connectors was positive. To be completely fair, it's also probably easier compare because the de-stocking started really in Q4 of 2018. But, this is really the color around connectors.

Mike Halloran -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Great. I appreciate the time. Thank you.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Mike.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thanks, Mike.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Brett Linzey of Vertical Research Partners.

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Hi, good morning all.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hi, Brett.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Hi, Brett.

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Hey, just want to come back to the OE Friction backlog. Was hoping we could just get an update on the size at the end of the year for those award backlog there. I think you mentioned it, up 30%, but where does it[Phonetic] put the ending dollar number at? And then, clearly, you're seeing some good momentum in EV versus combustion. Are you able to give us a sense as to how that backlog weights between EV and combustion today?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. So, Brett. When we're talking about the awards, it has been a very successful year in terms of the awards. It was a record award in terms of pad, was a record award in China, and was also a good conquer rate, which is really feeding the future market share gains. Giving you a little bit more information in terms of some of these awards, we continued to win nicely in the electric vehicles. We also won part of a high-profile electric pick-up truck. We had a nice win with a major OEM in India, an Indian OEM. And also, we had a very good conquer win in the light commercial vehicle. The light commercial vehicle is an area, where our market share is lower than in passengers vehicles. So, it's an area where we can grow nicely and is also very strategic for us. Because light commercial vehicle represents quite a good business on the OES side. So, because of this 30% increase, in terms of the awards and some of the color I just shared with you, our backlog independently from the production rate has actually been increasing.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And when we kind of put all that together, Brett, as we mentioned, we are looking at a another year of solid outperformance against the global market, at least 700 basis points is what we're targeting for 2020. So, you can see that continued outperformance is built-in and a lot of that outperformance, particularly for 2020, is for programs and platforms that are ramping-up, programs that we started last year that were new to us, some in late last year that are going to be ramping up volumes. So, that's going to give us some good visibility into the outperformance levels that we're targeting for 2020 with the caveat of watching any additional impacts from the virus that are beyond our vision right now.

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Yeah, that's great. That's impressive. And that's despite the Q1 impact in China, that 700 basis points?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

That's correct.

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Okay. And then, just shifting back to productivity. Obviously, you guys are showing pretty good progress, congratulations on that. I was wondering, of the 130 basis points of net operating productivity, how much is really cash restructuring dropthrough from '19 actions or actions this year versus just ongoing productivity from supply chain and other shop floor improvements?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Was that question, Brett, related to Q4 specifically or how we're thinking...[Speech Overlap]

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

No. Within the 2020 guide, I think you have 130 basis points of operating productivity. I'm just wondering how that parses out between restructuring savings versus just ongoing productivity?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Sure. So, the two biggest buckets for us, driving the productivity, will certainly be productivity actions that we've been talking about line move transfers, waste elimination and efficiency, followed by supply chain. The restructuring benefits, the ones that we're planning for 2020, and the ones that are rolling-over from 2019, are probably going to give us anywhere from 50 basis points to 70 basis points of margin expansion in 2020.

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Very helpful. Thanks a lot.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Brett.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thanks, Brett.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Matt Summerville of DA Davidson.

Matt Summerville -- DA Davidson -- Analyst

Thanks. A couple of questions. First, just on the MT Friction, on the aftermarket. Specifically, the aftermarket side of the business has seen some inflection to the positive, I think, mid-single-digit organic growth in the fourth quarter. That comes on the heels of a couple of more challenging quarters for that business.

And I guess, I'm curious, is aftermarket, for you guys, sort of back on track, if you will? Are we back in sort of a sustainable growth trajectory there?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. So, when we look at the aftermarket, Matt, is a tale of two cities. You have the OES business and the independent aftermarket. So, when you look at the independent aftermarket, for the full year, we were up 5%. And when you look at the OES, we were down 5%. So, the independent aftermarket is also, you should not look at on a quarter-over-quarter basis, because sometimes the customer is really changing their phasing. But this is a business that's been solid, that's been growing for the last few years, and we will still keep seeing it growing. On the OES, we had a couple of strategic issues, in terms of some of --- we didn't have their right product. I think some of our customers went with a strategy that penalized their own business. Now, we have put the some strategies in place. And I am encouraged by what I see on the OES front today, despite these results, because, I gave you the example of the light commercial vehicle OE platform is a good win from OE side, is a good market share gain, but is also part of our OES strategy because the light commercial vehicles tend to generate a very good OES business. So, I start seeing good signs and I'm encouraged from what I'm seeing, the team is doing on the OES front.

Matt Summerville -- DA Davidson -- Analyst

Great. And then just as my follow-up, when you look at kind of -- sticking with the aftermarket for a moment, how you would sort of characterize the go-forward opportunity for you guys in both China and North America. And then lastly, with your OE share coming in at about 25%, you mentioned, I believe, in your prepared remarks, where do you think that goes over the next two years to three years.?Thank you.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. Thanks, Matt. So, when we look at the aftermarket, in the aftermarket, we are really playing in the European side and at the top end in terms of positioning the aftermarket. As of today, we have decided not to enter the aftermarket in North America. It's a strategic decision that we reevaluate all the time and we can go deeper later in questions, announce[Phonetic] that why that is the case. And in China, we are exploring different alternatives. The aftermarket in North America is mainly an independent aftermarket and is not an OES, it's roughly 80/20, whereas in Europe, it's 50/50 between OES and independent aftermarket. China will be something in the middle and we are evaluating options there and do different trials to see how we can better win in China. That is for the China in the aftermarket.

Now, when you look at the market share gains in the different regions, what we see in the next few years is that we will continue to outperform the market, besides 2020 is going to be at least 700 basis points. I think that this story will continue, if we continue to win the awards in the way that we have done for the last nine years. So, I expect this market share to continue to grow, particularly in North America and China, where our market share is more modest.

Matt Summerville -- DA Davidson -- Analyst

Thank you, Luca.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Matt.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Bryan Blair of Oppenheimer.

Bryan Blair -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone. Strong finish to 2019.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Bryan.

Bryan Blair -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Circling back to Friction profitability, look, you seemed very pleased with the progression in Friction Mexico. And I think, you called out, previously that you expect that to be your highest-margin plants over time. Is that -- and I guess, question is twofold. What was Friction Mexico's profitability in 2019, and then, is it fair to expect that North America generates your highest margin in 2020?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. So, Bryan, Mexico's team achievement is simply outstanding, as they were able to outgrow the market, grow tremendously, install new lines, execute flawlessly with an on-time delivery of 100%. And they became the top performer plant in Motion Technologies in terms of profitability. So, I mentioned previously, in previous calls, that they were on the way to become the best profitable plant in 2020, 2021, and they proved me wrong. So, well done Mexico and the team. They are the top ones today.

Bryan Blair -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

That's great to hear. Any quick update on your M&A pipeline changes, entering 2020? And if you were to find the right opportunities, how should we think about your near-term capacity?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Bryan, so, I think what you're seeing in the M&A pipeline is just a continuation of the type of transactions that we were able to successfully execute in 2019, close to core, acquisitions that give us geographic reach, in the case of RPG, or additional technology like our Matrix Composites acquisition. So, the pipeline looks a lot like what we did in 2019 and that will continue to, I think, be the nature going forward. Clearly, our balance sheet is strong. We have capacity for clearly funding organic initiatives and continuing to pursue these close-to-core inorganic targets that are out there. But in this environment, we'll watch to see valuations line up. And if any of these heavily cultivated transactions become actionable, I think one of the other things that we've been doing very aggressively over the last two years, three years is a deep cultivation. So, the pipeline is not only close to core and strategic, but I would say it's more heavily cultivated. And if the opportunity presents itself, we certainly have the capacity to go out and do some more deals like what we did in 2019.

Bryan Blair -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Yeah. I appreciate the color. Thanks.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Bryan.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Jeff Hammond of KeyBanc.

Jeff Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hey, good morning guys.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Jeff.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Hi, Jeff.

Jeff Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

I think, you mentioned $17 million of incremental investments, can you just talk about kind of where that's falling out between the businesses? And maybe if anything kind of jumps out, the year is very exciting, and just maybe within that, talk about the Czech investment in MT, that seems like a newer a newer initiative.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

So, Jeff. Let me answer about the Czech investment in MT because we do not talk about our plant in Ostrava in the Czech Republic, very, very often. But this is another gem in the ITT portfolio. Ostrava is usually producing aftermarket pads. And because of their good performance, we have been expanding their capabilities and install lines that are going to make also OE pad. So, what you see in the Czech Republic is investment for the market share gains that we had in Europe on the OE side. So, it's capacity expansion, really.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And then, I would say, Jeff, as far as the other initiatives that we're driving, so, some of the key initiatives that have been under way are going to continue to gain momentum. So, we're taking, for example, Smart Pad and we're looking at aftermarket opportunities to broaden the reach of the ITT Smart Pad within Motion Technologies. We've had some good early success with our VA/VE initiatives. And IP has done a great job of bringing those newly designed products to market. And I think, we're going to -- we will continue to invest in more of those designs.

There are some state of the art innovations that we're investing in as well, that really drive some new pump efficiency. And we're pretty far along in developing those and testing those with customers. So, in addition to kind of building out our capabilities driving productivity, we do have some of these nice new top-line growth drivers that we're backing and planning to invest in, in 2020.

Jeff Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay. And then, I don't know if I missed this, did you quantify the 737 MAX headwind and what are your kind of underlying assumptions for when that returns to production?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

So, Jeff, when when it comes to the Boeing 737 MAX, we are completely aligned with Boeing, in terms of production. And so, with some of the components, we have been able to maintain some production month-after-month, but that is the minority, I would say. And when you look at the top line, we're looking at something like between $15 million and $20 million of top-line hit year-over-year, related to the Boeing 737 MAX.

Jeff Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay, thanks a lot guys.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thank you.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Jeff.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Joe Giordano of Cowen.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Hey, good morning guys.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Joe.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

So, curious just on finer point on the China assumption in 2020 MT, within the context of that plus-700 basis points[Phonetic], like where are you pegging China, like if that's shut down for a longer like how do you have that model ramping up? And are you still filling that -- still planning from Wuxi or you're having a ship zone from borders[Phonetic], something like that?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. So, just to give you an idea, when we look at our Wuxi facility, let me give you some color here. While everybody was leaving China, Danilo, our Operations Manager, fought his back in China, and he managed to get our plant up and running in Wuxi on February 10, which was the very first day available for operations legally. He managed to go through all the audits together with a dream team, we have in China, pass all the audits, the government audits, held again all the licenses to produce, and we started producing in February 10 -- on February 10. None of our competitors were able to do that. As of today, we are running two shifts at 12 hours, but not all our people have actually returned to work. So, we have indirect people in the shop floor helping in making our parts. And we have the plant running at roughly 70% of capacity. There are more people returning every day, as they are exiting the quarantine.

So, we are in constant contact with them on a daily basis. This morning, I was talking to Ryan, there are 50 more people returning to Wuxi, during the weekend. And the operations will keep on ramping up. As you do that -- you took care of the people, you took care of -- the business continued, today, their plant operations, and we are working also with the supply chain. And we have some key suppliers, where we've worked together with them, accessed our consignment inventory. And the challenges are more sometimes on the logistics because you need to move some of these parts from region to region, and therefore you need special permits. But, I would say, as of today, the operation is running at 70% and running well.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

And then, on IP, you had some pretty tough revenue comps for the year. And what's, your kind of, embedded in the guidance? What's your expectation for orders in IP and revenue for that business for the year? Comps, there, is still pretty tough all year.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

One thing, before we answer that, Joe, I realized that I probably didn't answer your question in terms of expectation of the China market for the full year. And our expectation for the China market is negative high-single digits. This is what we built in our plan.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

That's the market assumption.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

That's the market assumption that we will outperform.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Great.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Okay, Joe. And then, going back to the question on how do we see the orders progressing in IP and how does the year kind of play out. I think clearly, we're watching how uncertainty may play through the market. As Luca indicated the early signs for 2020: on the short-cycle, order intakes were positive. We've seen a few projects start to shake free as well. So, we've also had some decent early project indication, as we kind of project out through the end of the month. What we've seen, kind of, in recent quarters and recent months, in particular, is the advancing of engineering orders. And those are usually good indications that projects are going to advance and that we're in a good position to capture those projects. So, this is the typical evolution through the cycle, where you may see engineering orders as a precursor to the project moving forward. So, those signs have been positive. And, I would say, probably the most important data point that we're watching, we've been talking about this going back a couple of quarters, is we have seen the funnel of projects start to get bigger within the IP business. It's up about 35% year-over-year. So, the project funnel is solid right now. And I think we're looking at some good opportunities there, but clearly we're hesitant to get ahead of the market. But what indicators we see at this point, activities through the end of February this year, the funnel, are all indicating some opportunities for us to grab some order opportunities as we go. But it will be lumpy, it will be spotty, but I think those are decent signs early on.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Does the order performance of 2019, kind of, put pressure for revenue in 2020, toward maybe the bottom end of your consolidated revenue expectation?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, we definitely know that the project backlog is down year-over-year and we are focusing on the right projects for us. So, again, it's a margin expansion story for IP in 2020. But I think, that's starting to get baked into kind of a core mix of this business, if you will and I think one of the big stories in 2019 were all the chemical projects that were orders in 2018, revenue in 2019. So one of the areas that we are looking at is will chemical projects pick back up from an order perspective in 2020. But I would say that we are getting kind of rebase lined a little bit and how this business looks from the top line perspective in total and we will just keep driving margin expansion to make sure we are on the right projects.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Great. Thanks, Tom.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Thanks, Joe.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thanks, Joe.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Ivana Delevska of Gordon Haskett.

Ivana Delevska -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Good morning, guys. So I just wanted to ask about -- good morning. So, just wanted to ask about the higher commodity cost in MT, I believe you have cited this for several quarters now. Are these expected to reverse in 2020? And how significant could this be?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Yes. Ivana, what -- when you look at the commodities cost, in 2019, it was a headwind of roughly $7 million and those headwinds came mainly from what we call an indirect commodities raisings or something like that.

Now, when you look at 2020, this is going to be a tailwind for us and the tailwind is mainly coming from steel. It was steel and tin was -- were going to be tailwinds. Now, with the coronavirus situation, the situation might change also on the copper side, but this is -- we will see. So tailwind for 2020, roughly $3 million.

Ivana Delevska -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Thank you. And then just one follow-up, for the strategic investments you talked about, what kind of payback do you guys expect and over what timeframe?

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

So, I think, generally speaking, Ivana, when you look at our strategic investments, a good chunk of those are productivity and investments in the Czech Republic capabilities investments and our capabilities in Mexico and in China.

So, I would say that a good half of those investments are quick payback in the year. I'd say the other half are a little longer term commercialization of innovation and other opportunities, but generally speaking, when we make these internal organic investments, our average IRR that we have been kind of seeing across this portfolio of opportunities for us has been around 25%. Certainly, a higher return on the productivity, but on balance, a pretty good healthy set of opportunities for the future.

Ivana Delevska -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Thank you, Ivana.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Andrew Obin of Bank of America.

Emily Xu -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning. This is Emily Xu on for Andrew Obin.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hi, Emily.

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Hi, Emily.

Emily Xu -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Hey. So a quick question on the coronavirus. How has the virus impacted your expectation for your market outlook in the China OEM business since the beginning of the year?

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Okay. So as of today, what we have at China is that the negative high-single-digit and when we were looking probably a few months ago, we had China at roughly negative low single-digit. So, probably roughly 5 percentage points, that would be the impact that we put it in our estimate.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

A lot of outperformance has stayed consistent with what we initially planned, just to recalibrate it around the market as well. So, one of the other dynamics in the market that we are watching, and it's way too early to project, but there is talk about how the government will react, and will there be stimulus in the auto market.

There are a lot of variables and dynamics still to be played out, but our outperformance level I think is going to remain constant through those different elements, but we will wait and see how that plays out.

Emily Xu -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Okay. Great. Thanks for the color. And then my last question is, are there any unusual puts and takes to free cash flow in 2020 that we should know about, for instance, do you expect capex levels to be down from the prior year? Thanks.

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I would say, Emily, nothing unique, I would say, capex will -- we have some investments queued up. You could drift up a little bit from maybe it's going to look more like what we have been doing over the last two years, I think, 2019, the timing of it was a little lighter than what we typically see, but in that 3% to 3.5% of revenue was generally where our capex falls out. So, I would say normal variation on the capex front.

We are going to drive working capital improvements. We made some good progress and receivable collections, particularly at the end of the year and our project execution is lending itself to better realization on the receivable front. We have had good execution on inventory from a project perspective but we have more work to do across the Board on inventory management and some of our tariff mitigation strategies that hurt our inventory working capital. In 2019, we expect those to dissipate and have less of an impact in 2020.

And lastly, our goal is to drive the acquisitions to improve working capital. We kind of put all that together and was still targeting around the 95% free cash flow conversion, but generally speaking, no major unique changes year-over-year.

Emily Xu -- Bank of America -- Analyst

Perfect. Thank you so much.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 70 minutes

Call participants:

Emmanuel Caprais -- Vice President of Finance, FP&A and Investor Relations

Luca Savi -- Chief Executive Officer and President

Tom Scalera -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Joseph Ritchie -- Goldman Sachs & Co. -- Analyst

Damian Karas -- UBS -- Analyst

Mike Halloran -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Brett Linzey -- Vertical Research Partners -- Analyst

Matt Summerville -- DA Davidson -- Analyst

Bryan Blair -- Oppenheimer & Co. -- Analyst

Jeff Hammond -- KeyBanc Capital Markets -- Analyst

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Ivana Delevska -- Gordon Haskett -- Analyst

Emily Xu -- Bank of America -- Analyst

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