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Itron Inc (ITRI) Q4 2020 Earnings Call Transcript

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ITRI earnings call for the period ending December 31, 2020.

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Itron Inc (ITRI 2.23%)
Q4 2020 Earnings Call
Feb 24, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, everyone, and welcome to the Itron Incorporated Q4 2020 Earnings Conference. [Operator Instructions]

And now for opening remarks and introductions I'd like to turn the call over to Ken Gianella. Please go ahead.

Kenneth Gianella -- Vice President, Investor Relations and Strategy

Thank you, operator. Good morning, and welcome to Itron's fourth quarter 2020 earnings conference call. We issued a press release earlier today announcing our results. The press release includes replay information about today's call. A presentation to accompany our remarks on this call is also available through the webcast and on our corporate website under the Investor Relations tab.

On the call today we have Tom Dietrich, Itron's President and Chief Executive Officer and Joan Hooper, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Following our prepared remarks, we will open the call to take questions using process the operator the described.

Before I turn the call over to Tom, please let me remind you of our non-GAAP financial presentation and our safe harbor statement. Our earnings release and financial presentation include non-GAAP financial information that we believe enhances the overall understanding of our current and future performance. Reconciliations of differences between GAAP and non-GAAP financial measures are available in our earnings release and on our Investor Relations' website.

We will be making statements during this call that are forward-looking. These statements are based on current expectations and assumptions that are subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual results could differ materially from these expectations because of factors that we presented in today's earnings release, and the comments made during this conference call, and in the Risk Factors section of our Form 10-K and other reports and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition, due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, Company estimates regarding the impact of COVID-19 on current or forward-looking statements are made in a good-faith attempt to provide appropriate insight to our current and future operating and financial environment. Materials discussed today, February 24, 2021, may materially change and we do not undertake any duty to update any of our forward-looking statements.

Now please turn to Page 4 in the presentation, and I'll turn the call over to our CEO, Tom Dietrich.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Ken. Good morning, and thank you for joining us. Exiting 2020, Itron is stronger and focused on the future and during 2021 we are cautiously optimistic that the near-term pandemic impacts are beginning to ease and we remain bullish on our trajectory. During the fourth quarter, our team continued to focus on the success of our customers and safely delivered results. With the second waves of COVID-19 gaining access in both our European and North American markets, we saw slower book and ship business from our expectations for mid-summer but we were extremely encouraged by closing out the year with very strong bookings in the fourth quarter.

We are entering 2021 with total backlog at record levels. We are pleased with our industry position and direction. You will hear details from Joan shortly but to summarize our fourth quarter performance, revenue was $525 million, adjusted EBITDA was $56 million, non-GAAP earnings per share was $0.65 and free cash flow was $29 million. While these results still reflect the ongoing effects of the pandemic, we see an operating outlook that is weighted toward the second half and should improve in 2021 and beyond.

To add some color on this, let me give a brief update on the customer and operating environment as we see it today. Beginning with our customers, consistent with the last few quarters, we have not seen contract cancellations and collections have continued as expected. We had strong bookings in Q4 that reflects accelerating interest in our Riva distributed intelligence platform, automation solutions, grid resiliency and data analytics. We continue to see robust activity from our customers looking to deploy higher value solutions and applications that increase efficiency and insight into their operations.

Turning to Slide 5. For the year, we achieved a book-to-bill ratio of over 1 to 1 driven by bookings in the fourth quarter of approximately $973 million giving us a record total backlog of approximately $3.3 billion and a 12-month backlog at approximately $1.2 billion. I would highlight that the $1.2 billion 12-month backlog this quarter is approximately $100 million more than the prior quarter however, it is still approximately $300 million less than the view we had pre-pandemic entering 2020.

This data aligns with our prior commentary. The desire for our solutions is increasing and our customers' intent to deploy at rate is improving, but it is also clear some of the pandemic constraints are still present. We continue to see only a modest recovery in deployment pace in 2021 with more projects poised to ramp in the years ahead. Strategically, despite these near-term cross wins we have made solid progress on our company priorities that we laid out a year ago.

During Q4 the cumulative number of distributed intelligence-capable endpoints exceeded $2.7 million as we expanded our footprint with over 24 customers actively deploying our flexible and agile platform with dozens more in the pipeline. By deploying our advanced network, it enhances our ability to expand our value with our Outcomes segment. In 2020, we increased our endpoints under management to over 74 million, which is an increase of 15% from 2019.

This metric is the foundation of our strategy to grow our revenue base beyond one-time sale of the solution and into recurring revenue from data analytics, water and grid management, consumer engagement, smart cities and other applications that increase service resiliency and operational leverage of our utility and municipal customers. To accelerate our vision we have assembled an ecosystem of hundreds of global partners to expand our reach and assist in deploying more advanced applications sufficiently and effectively on our secure multi-purpose, multi-tenant network.

To highlight two examples of our partners' progress in 2020. US3 it was awarded the IoT Evolution Product of the Year for their wastewater detection and management solution seamlessly adding capability to our water endpoints. Another example of our partners in action is New Cosmos. Their methane detection sensors are being deployed on our existing network infrastructure and have deftly sidestepped hundreds of potential safety incidents across gas deployments.

Notably, some of our most forward-thinking investments in 2020 included expanding the offerings on our distributed intelligence platform with several new technology partners that are building a pipeline of new applications that we are on-boarding in 2021 and beyond. As the leader in distributed intelligence for critical infrastructure, our platform including edge computing, downloadable applications, application orchestration and management provides both our customers and partners flexibility that can be deployed today with a path for tomorrow as their needs and wants change over time.

Many of our partners see distributed intelligence as a means of augmenting existing solutions like Volt/VAR Optimization, increased flexibility in thin client prepaid offerings and rapid integration of renewables and distributed energy resources into the grid. Others see it as an opportunity to replace their existing hardware-based solutions or improve capabilities such as low disaggregation and consumer engagement that can be used to detect anomalies in behavior for seniors living on their own.

The most exciting prospect of our DI technology is that we future proof our customers by enabling them to download and enable support for new use cases at a pace not previously seen in our industry. These greenfield opportunities to create new use cases for utility customers are coming from partners that includes large system integrators, consumer technology companies, established utility technology vendors, start-ups and even from the utilities themselves.

For example, we have a utility customer in Australia who is the first to write their own DI application. Our DI platform brings new levels of innovation and agility to the industry. These are just a few examples of the progress and innovation that we have made possible during this past year, and why we remain positive that our efforts will continue to create value for our stakeholders in 2021 and beyond.

With that, let me hand off to Joan to discuss our fourth quarter earnings results.

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Tom. While we faced significant challenges in 2020 due to the pandemic we are beginning to see indications that conditions are improving, and are cautiously optimistic for a return to growth and operational improvement in 2021. First, let me cover Q4 results.

To begin, please turn to Slide 7 for a summary of consolidated GAAP results. Fourth quarter revenue of $525 million decreased 16% from last year or 18% in constant currency. The year-over-year decline was primarily due to the timing of customer projects and continued operating constraints resulting from COVID-19.

Gross margin for the quarter was 28.3%, 10 basis points higher than last year, primarily due to favorable product mix of higher margin software license sales in the Outcomes segments, offsetting increased inventory reserves. The GAAP net income of $22 million or $0.53 per diluted share compares with net income of $15 million or $0.36 per diluted share in the prior year.

Regarding non-GAAP metrics on Slide 8. Non-GAAP operating income was $44 million. Adjusted EBITDA was $56 million or 11% of revenue. Non-GAAP net income for the quarter was $26 million or $0.65 per diluted share.

Looking at revenue by business segment on Slide 9. Device Solutions revenue was $186 million, a $27 million or 13% year-over-year decline on a constant currency basis. The decrease was due to lower customer demand in EMEA, COVID-19-related delays as well as the impact of the Latin America transaction completed in Q2 of 2020. Networked Solutions revenue was $277 million, a $93 million or 25% decrease year-over-year due to the delay of large customer projects caused in part by COVID-19. Revenue in the Outcomes segment was $61 million, a $7 million or 13% increase in constant currency for 2019. The increase was driven by higher software license sales. Lastly, foreign currency changes resulted in $10 million higher revenue versus the prior year.

Moving to the non-GAAP year-over-year EPS bridge on Slide 10. Our Q4 non-GAAP EPS was $0.65 per diluted share, down $0.07 from the prior year. On a year-over-year basis, there were some puts and takes. Net operating performance had a negative $0.03 per share impact versus Q4 2019. The reduction in gross profit was partially offset by lower discretionary spending including variable compensation. Lower interest expense resulted in a $0.03 benefit year-over-year. A higher non-GAAP tax rate decreased EPS by $0.05 versus Q4 2019. The higher year-over-year tax rate was primarily due to a more favorable jurisdictional mix and higher discrete benefits in 2019. And finally, changes in foreign currency and share count resulted in a $0.02 per share decrease year-over-year.

Turning to Slides 11 through 13. I will now discuss the Q4 results by business segment compared with the prior year. Device Solutions revenue was $186 million with gross margin of 12% and operating margin of 7%. Gross margin decreased 280 basis points due to COVID-19-related inefficiencies and increased inventory and special warranty reserves. Operating margin decreased 100 basis points due to the fall through of lower gross margin, partially offset by lower operating expenses.

Networked Solutions revenue was $277 million with gross margin of 36%. Gross margin was up 90 basis points from the prior year due to improved efficiencies in implementation and maintenance services. Operating margin of 25% was below last year due to reduced operating leverage. We anticipate Q4 revenue to be the low point for Networked Solutions.

Outcomes' revenue was $61 million with gross margin of 43%. Gross margin increased 10.7 points from the prior year due to an increase in higher-margin software license sales and a favorable compare due to a one-time customer adjustment recorded in the prior year. Operating margin was 30%, 14.3 points higher than last year due to the fall through of higher gross profit and reduced discretionary spending.

Turning to Slide 14, I'll cover liquidity and debt. Free cash flow was $29 million in the fourth quarter, up 2% from the prior year due to lower capital expenditures. We have tightened the spending for capital projects given the current environment. Cash and equivalents at the end of the fourth quarter were $207 million. Total debt decreased to $936 million and net debt decreased to $729 million. This was due to the $400 million repayment on the revolving credit facility in the fourth quarter. In addition, we prepaid $14 million on the term loan, which fulfills any required debt payments until the second half of 2021. Net leverage was 4.1 times at the end of Q4, down from 4.3 times at the end of Q3.

Now to briefly recap full year 2020 results on Slide 15. Full year results were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with lower revenue, profitability and free cash flow. Revenue of $2.2 billion was down 13% from 2019 due to lower customer demand and operating constraints resulting from COVID-19. Gross margin was 27.7%, 240 basis points lower than 2019. Adjusted EBITDA was $178 million or 8% of revenue compared with $270 million or 11% of revenue in the prior year. Non-GAAP earnings per share was $1.85 compared to $3.32 in 2019. Free cash flow was $63 million, down from $112 million in 2019.

Our team did a good job managing cash in 2020 and we delivered very strong collections performance. During 2020, we continue to execute on ongoing cost reduction initiatives and also introduce our 2020 project to further reduce our fixed costs and improve operational efficiencies. In addition, we took actions to reduce all discretionary spending including eliminating variable compensation for 2020. These actions helped mitigate the impact that the pandemic had on our profitability and cash flow. We anticipate that these temporal reductions taken in 2020 will revert in 2021 but still expect to be at our target operating expense level of 22% to 23% of revenue.

On Slide 16 I'd like to provide some color on our 2021 expectations. We anticipate full year 2021 revenue to be in a range of $2.23 billion to $2.33 billion. We expect revenue to improve in the second half of the year as virus impacts continue to subside. The revenue level for the first half of '21 should be similar to the first half of 2020. At the midpoint, the 2021 annual revenue guidance is approximately 5% year-over-year growth. This is driven by high-single digit growth in Outcomes, low-to-mid-single digit growth in Networked Solutions and with Devices essentially flat year-on-year.

We anticipate full year non-GAAP EPS to be within a range of $2.15 to $2.55 per diluted share. At the midpoint this represents 27% increase over our 2020 performance. We expect the EPS to be even more back-end loaded than revenue due to COVID-related inefficiencies continuing in the first half of the year. Other guidance assumptions are a euro to U.S. dollar foreign currency exchange rate of $1.2, an average non-GAAP effective tax rate of approximately 30%, expected interest expense of approximately $36 million and average shares outstanding for the full year of approximately $41 million.

In summary, we successfully managed through a very challenging 2020, and are cautiously optimistic on the outlook for 2021 and beyond. We will continue to focus on operating initiatives to make us stronger and more agile.

Now I will turn the call back to Tom.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Joan. On a final note, prior to turning to Q&A, while we are excited about the opportunity ahead of us I would like to take a moment to thank all those who brought us to this point. Over the last year Itron's global workforce, partners and customers had put forth a tremendous effort to keep our energy, water and cities' critical infrastructure intact and operational. As a community, we were forced to adapt and overcome. These efforts have collectively made us much more agile and capable for the journey ahead. At Itron, we are emerging stronger with an energized focus on innovation, resiliency and sustainability to better serve our customers and communities. Thank you for joining us today.

Operator, let's open the line for some questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And we'll first hear from Jeff Osborne of Cowen & Company.

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, guys, and great to see the progress there with bookings. I had a couple of questions on my end. On the bookings front, certainly there's been a lot of activity in the Northeast, in the Mid-Atlantic that we've been tracking over the past couple of quarters and years. Some of this had regulatory delays and some that haven't, but I was just wondering is there a way you can give us more detail as to the nature of the bookings? I assume that's domestic but is it gas, electric? Folks like AVANGRID, National Grid, Dominion, etc. all have been pursuing opportunities over the past couple of quarters, it would be great to get some incremental color if you can as to where it's coming from.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Jeff, Tom Deitrich here. I can jump in and take that one. Indeed, we were very pleased with our fourth quarter bookings. We had talked about it during a couple of our earnings calls during 2020, that we expected to have a number of those delayed bookings come in during the fourth quarter and they did. The bookings, as you correctly pointed out, are predominantly North America. They're scattered around different regions from the Northeast to the Midwest and so on.

But one of the bookings that is included in there is AVANGRID. We were very pleased to partner with AVANGRID for their network for both gas and electric AMI endpoints as well as the Meter Data Management System that's underneath that. The deal does include our distributed intelligence platform to give a little bit more flexibility and enhance the performance and the value of the network over time. So that is a meaningful portion of the bookings that you saw during the fourth quarter. Again there are others, but that's one that I think is particularly worthy of calling out.

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

That's excellent. And just, Tom, a clarification on the AVANGRID. Great to hear it's actually a personal utility here in New York, is it for New York or the Connecticut properties or both?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It is both the New York State, so NY, SCE&G as well as the Rochester Gas & Electric. Those are the ones that are in the bookings for Q4.

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Got it.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Obviously, we'll continue to work closely and expand from there.

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Makes sense. And then my last question is on the semiconductor issues that are plaguing auto and some other consumer electronics. You folks had some challenges in May 2018 that caused some obstacles for yourselves and competitors, can you just talk about the current situation as it relates to semiconductor supply chain and sourcing? Is that an issue that we need to monitor closely for you folks like the auto analysts need to for that industry?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. We did see the supply chain in semiconductors tighten up in the second half of last year and indeed you tend to read a lot about it in the press today. To this point we have stayed ahead of it. Some of the lessons learned in 2018 in terms of anticipating orders and building up a little bit of buffer inventory in critical components served us well in the back half of last year.

It is an ongoing situation, so it's one that we'll continue to monitor during 2021 depending on how long that will last. But the sudden change in orders in a number of industries certainly, consumer electronics, PCs and phones were pretty hot during the pandemic, and automotive turned up quite unexpectedly in the latter months of 2020. That's one that has put a strain on the supply chain across the globe and one to monitor. We're not immune to it but we've been pleased with our performance to this point.

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Great to hear. That's all I had. Thank you.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jeff.

Operator

Pavel Molchanov of Raymond James has our next question.

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates -- Analyst

Thanks for taking the question. We all saw what happened in Texas last week and I thought I would ask kind of more broadly, what are the demand response capabilities of Itron? And what slice of the Outcomes segment does the DR business represent?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Very good. Good morning, Pavel. It was some -- most everyone watched, some of us were really live and in the middle of it. We're in gloves during meetings because it was pretty chilly for Texas. But my jokes aside, it certainly was a pretty severe storm and is part of some of the mega trends that we've spoken about in the past where our customers are under pressure for environmental as well as infrastructure and social kinds of considerations overall.

As you correctly pointed out, one of the tools that is indeed possible to combat some of those trends that are out there is a DR, a demand response program. In this particular case, we saw several of our customers triggering DR events to shed load during this period to enhance grid stability. There is obviously a trade-off in doing so, but it is something that our customers did use and is part of our Outcomes offering.

Today that capability is about 15% or thereabouts of our total Outcomes segment in terms of the size, plus or minus. It will vary a little bit quarter-to-quarter depending on how the events trigger all the way through. So it is a meaningful part of our portfolio and one that we look to continue to enhance as we think these types of events unfortunately will continue to plague the globe all around the world, and it's a good part of what our offering would be and how to help our customers cope with the situation.

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates -- Analyst

Got it. Let me follow up on COVID situation in Europe. Of course, a year ago, a lot of manufacturing capacity were shut down, we are seeing some concerning signs in Germany, Italy, Central Europe, Slovakia, talk about your physical presence in Europe specifically on the level of production at your sites there?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So we do have a meaningful presence in France and Germany, specifically. Those are our biggest countries of employment for our European operations, and we do have plenty of essential workers that are going to the plant every day to carry on production. Throughout the pandemic we have put in place all of the appropriate safety procedures and monitor it closely. We did have a way that we could keep production running in a safe way, and the data would suggest that we've done a really good job in terms of maintaining a good balance between supply continuity to our customers as well as safety for our employees. We haven't seen spread inside of our facilities.

That said, your question goes beyond our internal operations and starts to think about the environment that we operate in. We've definitely seen, I'll say, slowdowns in deployments themselves as access to markets and into homes and things of that sort has been pretty limited given that the ongoing situation and things did slow down a little bit in Q4. And I think we referenced that in some of our prepared remarks, that it was part of the revenue story for us in Q4. We'll continue to watch it. We do anticipate that we'll have a path back to more normalized deployment operations as we go through 2021. But it's certainly something that's still with us during this quarter and probably the first half of the year, which is giving you a little bit of insight into the shape of what our revenue profile would look like for the year.

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates -- Analyst

Thanks very much.

Operator

Noah Kaye with Oppenheimer.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning, appreciate taking the questions. Look I think you've given us all the pieces to do this but just so that everybody has our math straight, as we think about bridging about $0.50 EPS growth year-over-year at the midpoint can you kind of give us the pieces of that interest rate, kind of the interest expense, tax rate and then kind of core operating performance?

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Well, I think I gave you the interest dollars and the tax rates. I think you should be able to get that. I have not tried to calculate that in terms of actual EPS improvement but it is driven by roughly at the midpoint 5% revenue growth and the 27% EPS growth is even with the tax rate being higher in 2021 versus 2020. So there is obviously gross margin improvement in there as well.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Right.

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And as I mentioned, we would expect our opex for '21 to be in that range of 22% to 23%. So again, I haven't done a specific bridge to that math, but I think you've got all the numbers you need to be able to do that.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Right. I mean, the point here is that the biggest drivers were the core operating performance and the margin uplift particularly on...

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Correct, correct.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

On the gross margin side. So the follow up question here is really, how much of that improved margin is due to just $100 million of revenue coming back year-over-year versus COVID inefficiencies being ironed out versus something that you mentioned in your prepared remark, which is what I really want to pick up on around structural cost improvements in the business?

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, we have continued to execute on the previous restructuring plans. We had benefits this year that accrued to the P&L. The 2020 plan that we announced in September is really just kicking off. We expect that to have improvements in 2021 and if you recall, most of the improvements from the 2020 plan are in the margin line. So that certainly will help. So we are expecting gross margin to improve in 2021 over 2020. As I mentioned, the earnings linearity is even more back-end loaded than the revenue and that is because some of the COVID stuff Tom just mentioned. We're still seeing inefficiencies of COVID on our operations in the first half and that primarily affects gross margin. So if I think about the full year, I think for the full year we'll be back kind of pre-COVID, kind of like the 2019 level of gross margin, which would be an improvement over 2020.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Yeah, and just so I'm clear the COVID-related inefficiencies, are you primarily describing those and I think is what you're saying, Tom, but this is really due to deployment schedules and the ease of deployments or is it something in your own. In other words, is it sort of like a throughput utilization issue for the business or is there some kind of COVID costs within your own operations that you're still having to deal with?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it is primarily due to our -- I'll say generally the revenue level. Deployments are slower, which means we're putting less product in there, so we're producing less product in the factory and therefore your utilization is a little bit lower. There are some other costs in terms of inefficiencies for safety protocols and such, but those are a much smaller piece. The primary driver is just think of it that as gross revenue level in utilization.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Great. One last question and obviously it has been a crazy and exceptional and hopefully never-to-be-repeated year but sitting here a year later, if you just compare your pipeline of new opportunities to what it was a year ago and given everything that's happened in the past year, both in terms of grid resiliency being tested, more renewables, more EVs, how does the pipeline compare? How are you thinking about bookings levels for 2021, and what should investors be expecting?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

The record backlog level I think is a pretty good cue to take in terms of the level of activity and the size of the pipeline of what's still ahead of us. Customers are indeed somewhat tentative to start new projects, which slows down the revenue in the near term. So that's one dynamic to look at, but the level of market activity that flows through in terms of pipeline, a few future opportunities is very robust.

Our backlog is good and at record levels. In terms of the total backlog we saw sequential improvement in the 12-month backlog. So we've turned the corner, I'll say, within the next year in the backlog sense. So that's a way to think about it and that is a decent way to think about the overall pipeline of opportunity.

Customers have a lot of interest in automating procedures, getting better insight into the grid, adding resiliency into their operations to deal with crazy things like the storm itself, better forecasting tools and better understanding of how to operate in the new world. All of those are good things for our business. The last megatrend that I would mention that I think is very relevant has to do with a much deeper focus in terms of how to handle renewables and distributed energy resources.

So a lot of the push for and the commitments that our customers are making around carbon reduction, carbon neutrality, neutral types of situations flows through, clearly, the generation side but also the portion of their business that we can help them with. And again renewing -- helping them integrate renewables much more seamlessly into the network is an area that we're pretty excited about.

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

All right. Thanks so much for taking the questions.

Operator

Next we'll hear from Ben Kallo of Baird.

Benjamin Kallo -- Robery W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Hey, good morning. Thank you. Nice backlog and nice numbers on Outcomes. Can we talk a little bit about the opex and it seems like there was a big step down. I think you said that reverses next year but how do you control that much from both the SG&A as far as R&D as well?

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I'll take a stab at that. So obviously very early on in the pandemic we put brakes on all discretionary spending. Some was obvious, right, so if you have travel and things of that nature. So we did all of our conferences, etc. were virtual like everybody else, and so there was a significant amount of normal travel that people would have done. Another big item was the variable compensation, so we mentioned it a couple of times in the script. We did not earn any variable compensation, so it is performance based. And given where we started the year with our budget and our commitment to our Board, we weren't able to hit those numbers. And so throughout the year we were accruing some variable compensation.

By the time we get to the end of the year, we made the decision that we were not going to ask for any kind of exception and therefore, all of the variable compensation was reversed and so that's why we mentioned it a couple of times. We are now starting a new year. We have a new budget that our Board has approved and if we hit that budget we would expect to accrue and earn variable compensation. So those are the two biggest levers kind of, discretionary T&E type things. Obviously, investor marketing events as well as variable compensation are the biggest.

Benjamin Kallo -- Robery W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Got it. On Outcomes I think, Tom I heard you say that this is a low point for that. Could you just talk about something that we are all watching keenly going forward as your growth there and the margin expansion there, and it's been a while from our standpoint for it to take hold but I think you said it was a low point. So can you talk about how we should expect that to go forward and to talk into this year and then also maybe the margin trajectory and how that lines up with how you said the EPS is back-end loaded. And I guess the final point on that is in the backlog, how much visibility do you have on the Outcomes side? Thank you, guys.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Very good. A number of things to unpack there. So first, I hope we didn't confuse things but the low point was more on the networks side in Q4 rather than Outcomes. So networks revenue in Q4 was kind of a low point and we would expect it would sequentially grow from there. So that was networks not Outcomes. With respect to Outcomes, we were pleased with the performance. In Q4 you saw that the revenue held up pretty nicely.

If you think about it in a year-over-year sense, our hardware-oriented businesses in networks and in devices was down double-digit percentages. Meanwhile, our Outcomes business was what was up a couple of points, so that recurring revenue and that long-term visibility you get with an Outcomes business model served us well using the pandemic as a quick example overall. The margin for Outcomes in Q4 was benefited with some one-time licensing revenue, which was particularly good margin. So I think the margin was a little higher even in Q4, which again was great to see, but we would still want to make sure that it's clear in people's minds the size of the business isn't quite at scale just yet. So the margin profile might be a little lumpy on an ongoing basis.

So relative to what you should expect going forward. Revenue wise we expect, let's call it, high-single digit growth for Outcomes this year. It will continue to perform nicely for us. Margin will be a little bit lumpy but we certainly think as we continue to scale that business it will lead our three businesses in terms of what the gross margin percentage would be. On the bookings and the backlog side of things, what we saw in Q4, that $970 million of bookings, that's very tilted toward our networks and Outcomes business. So we continue to have a good pipeline and are bullish on where Outcomes will grow going forward.

You noticed, one last thing that I would mention is, we talked about a couple of really interesting guide post metrics that were part of our prepared remarks. So the $2.7 million cumulative DI, distributed intelligence-enabled endpoints are now in the market. So that gives us opportunity with our installed hardware base to add new capability into the marketplace and add applications into there, which is Outcomes revenue and also we are now over 74 million managed endpoints in the marketplace. And again, that's good indication of where the Outcomes business is growing.

Outcomes will grow based on expanding those two numbers, meaning more new endpoints under management, more new endpoints that are highly capable in the field. So a volume expansion, but then an application expansion on each one of those types of endpoints. We can add new capability, which is good for the Outcomes growth. And that's really the thesis for why we think we'll continue to expand that portion of our portfolio.

Benjamin Kallo -- Robery W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

That's great. Maybe I'll slip one more in. The regulatory front was a big topic of 2020, any changes there as far as willingness to approve projects in the U.S. or just be able to meet to get stuff done?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I would say that the regulatory environment certainly, we had anticipated throughout the second half of last year that it would come back into focus and normalize and indeed we saw a lot more decisions being made in Q4, which it really helped that big bookings number that we had. I would say that certainly, it continues to move at pace. The new information or the new things to think about in terms of the regulatory environment, at least for the U.S. certainly would be that the new administration and some of their push or consideration around potential infrastructure spending types of things. And then any lessons learned out of some of the things that happened in Texas over the last couple of weeks. I do think those would be regulatory considerations going forward. But for now, I think it's really started to normalize quite a bit more than what we saw, where things really paused in the first half of last year. We're back to a more normal cadence as of today with those two caveats that I mentioned.

Benjamin Kallo -- Robery W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Perfect. Thank you, Tom, Joan and Ken.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Ben.

Operator

Jed Dorsheimer, Canaccord Genuity.

Jed Dorsheimer -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. -- Analyst

Hi, thanks for taking my question. Two kind of separate, but I guess related topics. I guess first, just tap into the issue of curtailment, which is becoming a more topical, particularly with the advent of renewables and California seems to be a poster child for this, so I was wondering if you could maybe just unpack the value proposition across Outcomes and Networked Solutions in particular in terms of how Itron captures that value, and improves that for the ISOs and the utilities, if you would?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So I think that there's a couple of trends there that are really interesting to us. So I'll start at the last mile and work my way back up the chain. So the more individual residences or individual buildings have their own sources of power, whether it would be PV solar panel on someone's rooftop or a power wall in someone's garage, things of that nature. That's the equivalent of a new source of generation on the grid and the utility needs to have the ability to balance supply and demand with that kind of environment.

Given our position, oftentimes, on the side of someone's house we're in a pretty good spot to help provide insight into what's going on in the grid. So having more view and more capability into what's happening at the last mile is an area that we can really help balance supply and demand. You have programs like demand response where you can shed load again to help in the balancing of supply and demand types of things. If your generation level is a bit more volatile where you're wanting to bring capability up and down, the ability to react quickly on the demand side to balance supply and demand is an area that we also can help our customers deal with.

The third is really around distribution automation. It is giving the utility much better insight into what's happening inside of their grid. So a much more cost effective way to put monitoring points in the network, and again truly understand what's going on with outage or loading levels, whether a transformer is nearing its breaking point or trying to understand what's happening with power quality with Volt/VAR optimization. Our DA distribution automation solutions help with our customers to be able to do that.

All of those types of things really help when you have a bit more variability or volatility in both the demand side as well as the generation side overall. The utilities are definitely up against it and have pressure in terms of being cost effective, so wanting to balance that supply and demand but also having to cope with natural disasters and things of that sort as pressure comes to their grid in a number of different ways. So helping to monitor that, understand it and respond to those quick changes is really what we are in a very good position to help with. And it is a growth area for our business.

Jed Dorsheimer -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. -- Analyst

So -- thank you by the way for kind of going through that and taking the time. It kind of sets up for the next question. I mean, when we look at the forensic analysis that's coming out of Texas, it really objectively is an abject failure of policy and in resiliency for the cost trade off. So as you start to think through the appetite of other utilities around the country as well as foreign too, power providers that aren't going to want to be in that to have a system failure, it could have been avoided.

And looking at what you're demonstrating in terms of that value in the last mile as well as utility scale, particularly in California, I want to bring it back to that 5% growth number. It seems like -- unless there is-- I guess, I'm sort of scratching my head in terms of the set up or whether or not this just isn't baked into that expectation? And then I have one more.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I think there is a time component to it that probably needs to play through. It will take a little bit -- a while to really sort through and learn from and develop proper policy solutions to address some of the issues that were clearly demonstrated in the last couple of weeks, if you use Texas as the example. But policy moves at a certain pace and that's really what's understand -- behind the growth expectations we have for this year.

It's -- in our mind, we think it's absolutely a long-term growth vector for our industry and certainly an area that we're super excited about doing our part to help the grid on a global level where if you look at it through a short-term lens, we still have some deployment challenges and access due to COVID to balance out. And both of those things in the blender is really how to think through what's going on.

If you do look longer term though the growth trend is increasingly behind networks and outcomes. That's absolutely where we intend to grow, where we have invested to grow and prepare solutions to benefit from those tailwinds. And I think some of the pressures that are in the news today are only accelerants to that type of trend and should benefit us given the strategy and the work that we've done to this point.

Jed Dorsheimer -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. -- Analyst

That's helpful. One last one for you. So if I look at how the structure is in terms of -- from a utility and a power provider pulling your solutions into the market, that's going to be price in elastic or not price in elastic but that's going to be interest rate or in elastic to potential inflation or rising interest because it's using the constituent's money to actually pay for your projects. Could you just either confirm or correct me if I'm wrong in that assumption there?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Certainly most of the revenue that we generate today does flow through regulated business and that is things that tend to be capex-oriented and therefore you do get the correlation with the interest rates overall. Certainly we think the interest rate today is pretty favorable and the macro signals would suggest that at least in the short run that's going to continue to be the case. So there is a correlation there.

We do see growth in the ability to include things like software-as-a-service into a rate base. So the -- there's other avenues to grow there that are perhaps a little bit less interest rate correlated and we'll continue to work on that, but there is a major portion of our business, which is well correlated as you correctly pointed out.

Jed Dorsheimer -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. Thank you.

Operator

And next we'll hear from Tom Mall of Stephens.

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Good morning, and thanks for taking my questions.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Tommy.

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

I wanted to start by continuing on the renewables theme. So at the macro level, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, the trend is clearly higher where the contribution from renewables is going higher over time. One of the things I think investors are trying to wrap their minds around is, what does the inflection point look like maybe at a customer level? So if you then go from 30,000 feet down to a single customer, there is a spectrum there where they may have no renewables capacity at one point in time and then as time goes on that contribution grows.

And so at some point maybe there is a tipping point or there is an inflection point where it starts to become a meaningful enough piece of their footprint that they're calling you more, that they're having to invest in some of these capabilities that you outlined earlier, Tom. So I know there's not a specific number you can give us but can you give us any anecdotes or rough timeframes or rough contributions when those conversations with your team really start to accelerate at the customer level?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

I would say that we're well into it already today. Making a plan around how you handle generation on the part of our customers tends to be a multi-year kind of thought process if they're going to build a big wind farm or solar farm or take a coal plant down. Those types of things are things that you plan out well in advance, so making sure that you're handling your transmission and distribution assets in parallel with your generation assets is important. They've got to go hand-in-glove to provide reliable service. So I would say that those conversations are alive and well and have been for some time.

Certainly the push toward more carbon reduction in a social sense has been an accelerant during the last year. There are practical realities that you can't get there overnight and there is a fair amount of carbon-based economy that's still out there. From our standpoint, we want to be able to make that carbon-based solution more efficient and have less waste, should that be something that's part of the customer solution but also seamlessly integrate renewables into the grid.

We've got some nice cases where we've seen customers. This happens to be a U.K. example that I'm talking about here, where one of our U.K. customers said they integrated in some renewable capability into their network about 12 to 18 months faster than they thought they could because of better insight into the distribution side afforded by some of the capabilities that we provide. So having better analytics to truly understand what's happening in their network is a real benefit to them as they continue to work on the generation side.

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Thank you, Tom. That's all very helpful context, and if I can move more to a model question here. On the full-year guidance and the first half, second half insight you've given, thank you. It's all very helpful. I just -- I can't resist asking on the first quarter given that it's right in front of us and I just want to make sure everyone calibrates expectations in a reasonable fashion here. Can you give us even any directional insight on revenue or margin trends or maybe on the bottom line, what kind of contribution from EPS in Q1 versus your full year, even just some rough numbers would be helpful?

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I apologize but we don't even really give first half, second half guidance, so I did give you some color to try to shape the model. The thing I would point out for Q1 that you should keep in mind is the comment I made earlier about variable compensation. So as I mentioned, not only did we not have any variable compensation in all of 2020, we actually reversed some accruals in Q4. So I would definitely expect from an opex perspective that to go up from Q4 to Q1. So that would be the color I would give you on Q1 is that we're going to revert back to kind of the normal percentage of opex and other than that I'm not really prepared to give Q1 guidance.

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Fair enough, and on the full year, one item I should have mentioned a second ago. Just in terms of free cash flow, anything you could do to frame the full-year outlook there maybe in terms of conversion of just the net income or even just the building blocks on capital expenditures or working cap?

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, I would say overall free cash flow I would expect to be approximately $100 million maybe a little bit higher than that, but that's about the forecast for the year.

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. That's all helpful and I'll turn it back.

Operator

Joseph Osha of JMP Securities.

Joseph Osha -- JMP Securities -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. Yeah. Congratulations on getting through a tough year. I have got two questions for you. First, we've talked a little bit about distributed energy and how you benefit from the deployments there. I'm wondering how you think about how you square off against some of the investments being made by companies like Generac, which bought Enbala or what we've seen Stem do with AMS. It sounds like you're beginning to touch on this actual management of distributed energy resources, are those companies frenemies or do you intend to compete directly with them or do you regard yourself sort of as adjacent to the actual management of distributed energy resources? And then I have one other question.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Joe, good morning. I definitely see cases where we cooperate to the benefit of the customer and sometimes we do compete, so it varies a little bit case to case, and depending on various competitive dynamics that are in place or incumbency that's in place. I definitely see it as a net positive no matter which way the model actually goes for us. We definitely, and I might have talked about this in some of our prior discussions, see a real benefit in having a combination of endpoint compute capability as well as analytics capability.

The combination of being able to take measurements on the ground and use that data computing locally and in the cloud really gives you a competitive advantage or a service capability advantage, so the way we go to market and the solution that we bring definitely has edge compute as well as analytics capability to get the best data and the best insight as in case that is needed to serve the customer.

Joseph Osha -- JMP Securities -- Analyst

Yeah. I mean, I look at your business and I wonder why Itron doesn't just buy a company like all AutoGrid. Could we see you look to further build out your skill set in this space?

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It is an area that we continue to invest in and work on, on the Outcomes side. We definitely see good opportunities for microgrid analysis for DERMS, distributed energy resource management DR demand response types of solutions. So I think there's a lot of activity in that space and we've got some nice capabilities there and continue to look for ways to expand and serve our customers better.

Joseph Osha -- JMP Securities -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. And then one other one. I know we're running up on time here. We didn't hear that much today about non-meter endpoints, I'm sure that business has been very disruptive this year, but I'm wondering if you could give us some comments on some of the initiatives we've heard about in the past, like quite street lights and so forth.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Our street light business, while a smaller portion of our total portfolio, continues to grow very nicely. We're -- I don't know that I have the number off the top of my head, but well over 3 million street light endpoints managed. We've seen good growth in methane detection sensing. We've seen good growth in other types of sensing applications with things like gunshot detection or air quality monitoring, parking applications are things that we were -- we continue to be very excited about in the smart city space that we have.

Certainly the city budget is a strained entity at the moment in a generic sense, and it's one that we definitely see opportunities to grow but will also be thoughtful about how to make sure that the business model is good for the city and accrues benefits to that community but also to our business as well.

Joseph Osha -- JMP Securities -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Joe.

Operator

It appears there are no further questions at this time. I'll turn the call back over to Tom Deitrich for any additional or closing comments.

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, operator. Before we leave you I want to mention one final point. Previously, we communicated that we plan to do our Annual Industry event Itron Inspire in October of 2021. I'm pleased to relay to you today that coincident with that industry event, we plan to have our 2021 Investor Day. It will commence on October 5th. It will be hosted both virtually and hopefully if conditions permit, we will do it live. So please mark your calendars. We would love to have everyone participate. We'll provide more details as the event gets closer. So with that, thank you all for joining. Everyone, be well.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 62 minutes

Call participants:

Kenneth Gianella -- Vice President, Investor Relations and Strategy

Tom Deitrich -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Joan Hooper -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Jeffrey Osborne -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates -- Analyst

Noah Kaye -- Oppenheimer & Co., Inc. -- Analyst

Benjamin Kallo -- Robery W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Jed Dorsheimer -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. -- Analyst

Tommy Moll -- Stephens, Inc. -- Analyst

Joseph Osha -- JMP Securities -- Analyst

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