Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Ecolab Inc (ECL) Q1 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

By Motley Fool Transcribers - Apr 27, 2021 at 7:30PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

ECL earnings call for the period ending March 31, 2021.

Logo of jester cap with thought bubble.

Image source: The Motley Fool.

Ecolab Inc (ECL -1.72%)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
Apr 27, 2021, 1:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings, and welcome to the Ecolab First Quarter 2021 Earnings Release Conference Call. [Operator Instructions]

It is now my pleasure to introduce your host, Mike Monahan, Senior Vice President, External Relations. Thank you, Mr. Monahan. You may now begin.

Michael Manohan -- Senior Vice President, External Relations

Thank you. Hello, everyone, and welcome to Ecolab's first quarter conference call. With me today are Christophe Beck, Ecolab's CEO; and Dan Schmechel, our CFO. A discussion of our results, along with our earnings release and the slides referencing the quarter's result are available on Ecolab's website at ecolab.com/investor.

Please take a moment to read the cautionary statements in these materials, which state that this teleconference and the associated supplemental materials include estimates of future performance. These are forward-looking statements and actual results could differ materially from those projected. Factors that could cause actual results to differ are described under the Risk Factors section in our most recent Form 10-K and in our posted materials. We also refer you to the supplemental diluted earnings per share information in the release.

Starting with a brief overview, the first quarter showed continued sequential business improvement that was offset by the Texas freeze. Adjusted EPS were $0.81. That EPS included the impact of short-term supply chain and customer disruption from the freeze that were estimated to be $0.10 per share. Healthcare and Life Sciences segment showed further strong sales growth. The Industrial segment experienced a modest sales decline as its growth was offset by the freeze impact. The Other segment significantly narrowed its sales decline from the fourth quarter and the Institutional & Specialty segment sales decline narrowed slightly from the fourth quarter, as sales trends within our U.S. institutional business improved through the end of the first quarter.

Our markets are broadly improving and increasing rate of vaccination along with the easing of social restrictions provides further support for the global economic recovery. We expect that broad improvement leveraged by our investments and the work we have done to further our critical innovation, service and digital business drivers as well as our cost efficiency measures will help drive strong comparison against 2020 results over the balance of the year and result in 2021 adjusted earnings per share that exceed 2019 adjusted earnings per share from continuing operations, excluding the estimated $0.15 per share impact from the Texas freeze.

Over the past year, we've seen the value of Ecolab's premium product and service expertise once again underscored through continued strong new business growth as well as our strengthened customer relationship, despite the difficult market conditions. Our position as a leader in food safety, clean water and healthy environments has become even more important, we believe this position along with our strong, long-term growth opportunities remain robust, driven by our huge remaining market opportunity, our leading global market position, our focus on providing our strong customer base with improved results while lowering their water, energy, and other operating costs and through that our ability to help them meet their growing ESG ambition. We believe the sustainable long-term business drivers will continue to yield superior long-term performance for Ecolab and our investors.

And now here's Christophe Beck with his comments.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you so much, Mike, and good afternoon, everyone. I'm very pleased with our first quarter, which was right in line with our expectations. Excluding the Texas freeze which we discussed earlier, our business continue to show solid fundamental improvement that gives us confidence in our full year outlook. Our underlying business momentum as well as margin development kept improving across the board, leading to strong results in the first quarter. Excluding the short-term impact of the Texas freeze, our Q1 adjusted EPS showed a significantly narrowing decline versus the prior year, continuing our improving quarterly trends.

It's also ahead of what we delivered in Q1 2019, which is a good indication for our expected full year delivery. We did all this while continuing to invest in our major growth initiatives and in our global team capabilities to leverage our position as the markets reopen. Excluding the freeze, all segments stayed strong or showed continued sequential improvement. Our fundamental business strengths kept gaining momentum, especially in our Institutional division, which saw a definitive pickup as we exited March. Our Industrial segment, which was most impacted by the Texas freeze delivered improved underlying growth trends versus the fourth quarter of 2020 and continue to further strengthen its margin.

Healthcare & Life Sciences maintained their strong double-digit growth and solid margin improvement. This good start strengthens our confidence for the full year and beyond. Our general market outlook remains largely unchanged versus what we said in previous calls. North America and China are moving ahead of our previous expectations, while Europe and several emerging markets remain behind as they recover from extended lockdowns and are still impacted by a rather slow pace of vaccination.

So while the exact timing of the global reopenings might shift a few months, which might also shift some of the recovery into Q3, we expect strong growth in the second quarter driven by improving end markets and accelerated underlying growth momentum. We expect these trends to continue in the second half of the year.

Our objective has been to start the year in a position of strength and Q1 shows we clearly achieved this. Our net new business pipeline increased to a record high and our global market shares are strengthening. Our differentiated innovations are continuing to help our customers protect their consumers and our world-class programs help them preserve vital natural resources, while generating very attractive financial returns. And with our new Ecolab Science Certified assurance program we have become the brands that reaasures customers and consumers in times they needed the most. All this underscores our confidence that we are on a path to deliver full-year '21 adjusted EPS ahead of 2019 EPS, excluding the estimated $0.15 impact of the Texas freeze.

Looking beyond the pandemic, our longer term position is better than ever. In a world where hygiene standards are rising, where food safety and infection risk awareness has reached new levels, where the expected gap between water supply and water demand is wider than ever, our differentiated value proposition as the global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention services and technologies positions us uniquely to capture this accelerating growth trend. The combination of these unmatched value proposition and the breadth of our comprehensive offering makes us the obvious partner for global companies to help them deliver on their most ambitious sustainability commitment.

Our ability to serve customers at 3 million locations in 170 [Phonetic] countries with 25,000 dedicated on the ground experts in 40 industries allows us to deliver the same standards of quality and performance anywhere around the world. And our new business pipeline breakthrough innovation, unmatched digital footprint, world-class scientific expertise and passion for exceptional execution will continue to lead to sustained growth momentum and continued double-digit earnings growth for the years to come.

I look forward to your question. So, Mike, back to you.

Michael Manohan -- Senior Vice President, External Relations

Thank you. That concludes our formal remarks. As a final note, before we begin Q&A, we plan to hold our 2021 Investor Day on Thursday, September 16, in St. Paul.

Operator, would you please begin the question-and-answer period?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question will be coming from the line of Tim Mulrooney with William Blair. Please proceed with your question.

Tim Mulrooney -- William Blair -- Analyst

Good afternoon.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon, Tim.

Tim Mulrooney -- William Blair -- Analyst

Hi, Christophe. I know everyone is expecting a strong recovery in the Institutional segment in the second quarter, and particularly given the easy comparison that you have with last year, but I'm curious if you could maybe talk about how the recovery in that segment is unfolding on a global basis? How is U.S. Institutional performing recently relative to some of your other major global markets and how do you see that playing out through the second quarter?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Tim. So on Institutional, net-net it's happening as expected. We had the U.S. and China that are ahead of our expectations as we can read as well in the news. And on the other hand, so we have Europe and a few emerging markets that are behind, as we can see with restrictions, with lockdowns, with the slow pace of vaccinations, especially in Europe as well. So that's the balance that we are trying to manage.

When I think about how Institutional did during the first quarter, we saw a nice pick-up in March. It's been confirmed in April right now, in the second quarter. So net-net Q2 should be more or less as expected. If there is one caveat might be so the timing of reopening in Europe and some of the emerging markets that might shift some of that growth in Q3, but for the full year, I confirm the outlook, the way we described it in the previous call.

Tim Mulrooney -- William Blair -- Analyst

Okay, that's great, thanks. And as my follow-up, can you just talk about within the Institutional segment, how your customers that are open, how they're spending? I know this has been a common theme that folks have asked on a conference call, but curious on your updated thoughts. Are customers spending more than they were relative to pre-COVID levels on things like hard and soft surface cleaners, where I know that there is maybe some elevated demand. And do you think eventually that demand returns to pre-COVID levels or do you think that it settle somewhere above pre-COVID levels given the emphasis on virus protection and the like. Thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good question, Tim. So our focus, as you know is on our corporate account, so those are chain customers, regional or global customers, those are the ones who have weathered the pandemic better than others as well most of them are investing in new units or in the refreshing of current units as well, which bodes very well. So for our business for today and for tomorrow.

To your question on the hygiene products, basically the way we think about it is that, it's going to be a bit less than during the pandemic, where the measures obviously are going to be a little bit less strong than what we've experienced over the past 15 months, but it's going to be higher than what we've experienced so pre-pandemic as well. So net-net, we think that our position in Institutional has strengthened and the customers that we serve are going to be in a better position as well.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Manav Patnaik with Barclays. Please proceed with your question.

Manav Patnail -- Barclays -- Analyst

Yeah. Thank you. Good afternoon. I just wanted to touch on the -- on your comments around Europe, if you could just elaborate a bit more in terms of -- I know pre-pandemic it was structurally I guess just a lower growth area and there was some competitive dynamic. So I was just curious if you see any of that changing once we do get this rebound or reopening?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Manav. So to your question on Europe. So Europe had a good year last year. So in 2020 we had flat sales overall. We had -- our profit margins that went up as well. So overall, I was very pleased with the business development that we saw in that critical region, so for us. and if I look at '21, it's kind of an on-off approach that they are having. So first, I'd like to put on the side to the U.K., which has partly reopen as we know so way ahead in terms of vaccinations versus Continental Europe. So U.K., we saw good development over there. Continental Europe, so most of the countries are in complete lockdown, so most of the large countries had curfews even as well that's true for Germany and for France for instance as well.

So most, if not all of the restaurants and hotels are for the most closed, which is something that's going to change hopefully before the summer. They're all talking about reopening in order to protect the summer season. I hope that that's going to be true, it's going to be a bit later than what I had expected ultimately here, but then it's going to drive a rebound, which is going to be positive in Q3. So, as mentioned before, we might have some of the growth, we were expecting in Q2 shifting into Q3. But all-in-all, so for the full year, it's going to be similar than what we had thought.

Manav Patnail -- Barclays -- Analyst

Okay, got it. And then the other question I just had for Christophe is on water, I know it was 3% growth backing out the Texas freeze, but just given just the water scarcity issues out there, I was just curious what -- can water grow just like Life Sciences and Healthcare is growing, just given the need out there or are there any limitations there to get to that kind of growth rate?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes for water. So you mentioned it's 3% ex. the Texas freeze. It's important as well to keep in mind that within water you have light industries, heavy industries, both are growing ex-Texas are in mid single plus, which is very good. In Q1 and you have mining, which is still in the negative territory since we exited some of our coal business, but even mining is going to come back in a nice way I think in the next few quarters and years for sure. And to your point on water scarcity, we see always more customers are coming to us and asking us how to help them reach their net zero objective that they have for 2030 year or for 2050, which is right in-line with our ESG promise as a company and offerings of our customers and that's going to feed as well I think the momentum so for water in the years to come.

Manav Patnail -- Barclays -- Analyst

All right, thank you very much.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Manav.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is from the line of David Begleiter with Deutsche Bank. Please proceed with your questions.

David Begleiter -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Thank you. Christophe, can you discuss the pressure from raws you're seeing and the pricing you need right now to offset that and when that might equalize prices versus raws?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, hi, David. On the raws, it was pretty benign in Q1 as we've shared. But if we look at the full year, if we look at the indices that you read too, it's obviously much more than what we had expected initially. But when I step back and look at the overall picture, it's roughly, kind of a mid-single growth in terms of cost for our overall raw spend, which is more than what we had expected, but something that we had experienced in the past as well we know and we had the capabilities to price for that in a good way. You know that we price to our customers based on value that we create as well, so for them, which means that we do that as well over time, it's not so rapid shift over a month, take it some time.

And just as a reminder, we tried to get the dollar value. So within 12 months back and the margin in percent in 24 months so the second year. So, the way we look at it today, for '21 might be a slight net negative, but I'm not even sure about that. Our teams are good in doing it and what we're seeing right now is nothing exceptional versus what we've experienced in the past.

David Begleiter -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Very good. And can you just discuss the competitive intensity in the marketplace. You have a -- one of your competitors is now public, talking about your share gains you saw in Q1 and what you expect as you go through the year versus perhaps to do a more public profile to competitor?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So I'm really happy with the share gains that we are having in most if not all businesses actually where we're tracking the number of units that we are serving, the number of solutions that we serving to existing units as well. And we've talked about that over the past few quarters. That was an objective for the whole team during the pandemic to gain share that when it reopens we can leverage obviously that that pick up and that's happening as we expected, which is really good and you're right. So one of our competitors has become public over the past few weeks. We're very familiar with them, we've been competing with them for many, many years. We respect them a lot as well.

And I would say they make us better because we need to be better than them and when you think about it. So we overlap in less than a third of our end markets, we're 5 times larger, we invest 10 times more in R&D and digital than they do as well. So I feel really good about what we can do for our customers and how we're gaining shares versus them on the marketplace.

David Begleiter -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Rosemarie Morbelli with G Research. Please proceed with your question.

Rosemarie Morbelli -- G Research -- Analyst

Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good afternoon, Rosemarie.

Rosemarie Morbelli -- G Research -- Analyst

So Christophe if -- what would be the likelihood that you could be close to the 2019 level of 5-12 including the hit from the freeze and outside of Europe recovering or do you need Europe to open its doors to all Americans vaccinated. And we are all going there in order to help you guys, what do you need in order to do better than what you are looking at currently?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So right now I feel very good about delivering this 2019 adjusted EPS, excluding the Texas freeze as you mentioned. The Q1 delivery saw has increased our confidence to deliver that. As mentioned before, there might be some shift between Q2 and Q3, because of the timing of reopening in Europe, as you mentioned. But overall with everything I know right now, I think that the delivery as we described it is the right target. If things improve in Europe better than we all think, well, we will definitely try to gain more momentum, but for now, I think that the 2019 EPS delivery would be a good target excluding Texas.

Rosemarie Morbelli -- G Research -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. And then looking at F&B, could you talk a little bit in more details of the different segments areas in that particular segment?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So F&B we had a good year last year. It's one of our best businesses, as you know. So good growth, good margin, good margin improvement at the whole Industrial and segment obviously did as well. F&B had a strong start in 2020 when the pantry loading was happening in the first quarter and a little bit beyond as well, so we have some comparison challenges right now, but underlying, I feel good about where F&B is going. It's a little bit different by end market.

So we had the milk products that were impacted for a while because of schools being closed. That's improving progressively, which is good. We see beverage and brews, beers improving in some places, especially in the U.S., but we're very strong in Latin America where everything is closed. So that's going to be good for the future. That's a little bit less good right now, and in the Food segment that's where we have strong comparisons versus the previous year where it pressures a little bit of the year-on-year comparison. But net-net, Q1 so it feels a bit softer because of the comparison, but underlying and especially when I look at the new business being generated in F&B the next few quarters are going to show some good delivery as it used to be as well in the past.

Rosemarie Morbelli -- G Research -- Analyst

All right, thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Rosemarie.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Gary Bisbee of Bank of America. Please proceed with your question.

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Good afternoon. I guess, the first question, can you just give us an update on where we are with the cost savings program, sort of, what have you achieved to-date, what's likely to be achieved in 2021 and then how much savings are left from those big programs for beyond 2021? Thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Gary, I'll pass it to Dan, who has the details, but generally likes of the progress that we've made in our cost savings program, which are all meant to strengthen our performance post pandemic as well. So if anything things have progressed better than we had expected. But with that, Dan, maybe some more details.

Daniel J. Schmechel -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Gary. Thank you. Just for common reference may be, it' probably helpful again to build up the pieces of our cost savings program, which you'll recall was originally announced far back in 2018 as accelerate 2020. This was the initiative to capture the investments in our digital offering with a $200 million cost savings target. We expanded it. At the time we announced the ChampionX then to cover things like stranded costs and anticipated costs related to ChampionX, we expanded it again to cover some aspects of supply chain Industrial business and most recently to cover some restructuring, really some reshaping maybe of our Institutional business to improve principally field delivery.

So, you add all that up and we have targeted cost savings of about $365 million, some of that is in gross margin, the big bulk of it is in SG&A. Year-on-year, the incremental piece that we expect to capture in 2021 is in the neighborhood. If you look just at the SG&A piece $120 million-ish range, that's a big help in 2021, mind you there is a lot of -- $91 million [Phonetic] I'm sorry. There is a big piece that is after -- but the net of it is that we think that this entire program will essentially be delivered by the end of 2021 and there will be pieces of the Institutional program that's still to 2022, but the bulk of it will be fully accrued and fully delivered by the end of 2021.

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks. And then the follow-up question, just how are you thinking about multi-year growth beyond 2021 as we get more normal performance for the business post pandemic? Historically you'd laid out a number of long-term aspirational target, should we think back to those as appropriate or just can you give us a sense how you're thinking about the multi-year...

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Gary, just to make sure I understand your question. So you mean in terms of sales growth and earnings growth, right?

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

That's right, yeah, yeah. So, I know you got easy comps, and there's a lot of moving parts, but over the two, three, four years are those...

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah.

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Historical target still reasonable? Thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Our ambition, Gary has not changed. It's really -- so the 6% to 8% organic, meets the 13% to 15% EPS, that has been true for many, many years and it's not going to change in the future. If anything, our position has strengthened. Out there, when you think about the rise of hygiene standards, the search for most companies to improve their profile in terms of ESG delivery, net zero in water consumption, so being one of them, the need for digital solutions as well. So those are all things that are improving our position going forward. So no change in terms of growth expectations for the future. If anything, our position has improved.

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Great, thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Gary.

Operator

The next question is coming from the line of John McNulty with BMO Capital Markets. Please proceed with your questions.

John McNulty -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yeah, thanks for taking my question. In the Institutional business, specifically, can you speak to the number of accounts that you served this quarter versus the prior quarter and how that may have changed? And then I guess to that, are you starting to see any early signs of new account or I guess potential customer launches at this point, or is it a little bit early, given where we are in the pandemic kind of stages at this point?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So, good question, John, except that we don't share obviously the exact number of accounts, or solutions per accounts that we're tracking on a monthly basis, for a long time actually, for competitive reasons, so for the most part. But what I can say is that the number of accounts keep going up, which is good, months-after-months, which is giving us confidence, obviously for the growth of our business going forward, because it's hard to grow without having more customers buying program from us.

So more accounts, buying more solutions and one thing I'd like to add as well is the Ecolab Science Certified program that we launched a year plus ago in Institutional requires customers to buy most of our solutions in order to qualify for the certification and this is driving as well, penetration of solutions in a good way and it's helping as well with the retention as well going forward.

So not only we are gaining number of accounts and solutions, but we keeping them as well longer because customers are interested in keeping the certification at the same time.

John McNulty -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Got it. And is there a way to think about on the Ecolab Science Certified program? The difference in total value that you're getting from a specific customer verse first one that's not tied into the program? If there is -- looking at like a like-for-like customer, obviously.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So it depends, obviously, where they're starting from. If they just bought one solution, the gap is way bigger or the opportunity is much bigger. In some cases with some of our long-term customers, well, they're buying everything from us everywhere around the world, in that case the opportunity is much smaller. But when I think about it Ecolab Science Certified was a program we did not plan to launch pre-pandemic. That came as an outcome of the pandemic where we really recognize that our customers needed some help in order to make sure they could protect their guests and at the same time guests coming in a hotel or in a restaurant all looking for more reassurance and that's going to be true for the quarters to come.

So we measuring as well the number of locations that are certified by Ecolab Science Certified. It's pretty large, actually. We are not disclosing that number, but it's by far the number 1 program in the U.S., right now. It's generating incremental sales, which is pretty significant as well at the same time and as you know, we supporting that as well as the brand in the media, which gets always more recognized by consumers or guests, as we call them in that industry.

So all-in-all, this is really good to grow our market share in Institutional.

John McNulty -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks very much for the color.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, John.

Operator

The next question comes from the line of John Roberts with UBS. Please proceed with your question.

John Roberts -- UBS -- Analyst

Thank you. Does it matter that COVID isn't significantly transmitted on surfaces or it doesn't matter, because cleaning in theater is more important?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Infections can be transmitted, John, in so many different ways. As we know, can be the air, it can be what you, it can be what you touch, it can be what your drink, the hands that you're shaking, obviously. So it's true that COVID is mostly transferred through the air, but many other illnesses are transmitted through surfaces or human contact as such. And when I think about infection prevention, while short-term we all think COVID-19, but mid to longer term, we think about any infection that could happen out there and surfaces like human contact are a big vector as we know. One example is that in hospitals, the number one vector of infection is through the hands as well, not for COVID, but for many other infections as well. So overall, making sure that you reduce the number of infection in a public setting done, well you need to have surfaces as disinfected as you can.

John Roberts -- UBS -- Analyst

Okay. Good answer. And Healthcare was 5% excluding one-time sales and 12% including, could you talk about that difference?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

The main difference -- first of all, I'd like to say Healthcare used to have underlying sales of 3%, 4%, so pre-pandemic getting toward this underlying 5% plus is a good step up and you've seen the margins went up as well in a good way, which is all very encouraging for this business. Now the difference between the 5% and the 12% is solely driven by significant deals that we've made with some governments around the world during the pandemic to address obviously the infection risks in the U.K., in Germany, in Australia, in New Zealand in many countries around the world. This is COVID-19 related, so it's tapering off right now. So you start to compare as well against very high growth last year, and that business is going to be reduced, we knew that and then we will get back to the underlying growth of this 5% as you said.

John Roberts -- UBS -- Analyst

Great, thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, John.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Vincent Andrews with Morgan Stanley. Please proceed with your question.

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you. Dan, can I just ask you about the working capital and how you're thinking about free cash flow this year. Just noticing inventory was up about $100 million, $120 million in the quarter versus last year even though sales were down. I think you mentioned in the prepared remarks that you're building inventory ahead of the recovery, but just how should we expect working capital to trend overall and then ultimately when that's going to translate into free cash.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Vincent. Yeah, I'll pass it to Dan just in a second. You've mentioned in right. So on one hand very happy with the cash flow delivery in the first quarter. And on the working capital piece, it's really -- so for us, we want to make sure that we can produce enough product for the reopening that's happening in the various states and markets around the world and that has an impact obviously on working capital. But with that, Dan, would you add some comments on that?

Daniel J. Schmechel -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Christophe. And that might be the answer to the core of your question. So inventory look internally, we've been very clear that mistake that we are not going to make is not going to have product, the right product in the right place to serve our customers as their path reopening accelerates. Okay. So you're right, we built significant inventory versus the same time last year also versus year-end 2020 and my guess is that we will continue to, because we'll have the right stuff where we and our customers both need it.

If you think about the recovery of the business generally rebuilding the balance sheet means that there will be some pull on inventory, accounts receivables too, which are in very good shape from a payment perspective, but as people buy more stuff we'll have more on the balance sheet and accounts receivable. We'll continue to manage our vendors and what we purchase with appropriate discipline. But there'll be an investment in working capital as the business rebuilds, which is to be expected and completely appropriate.

The net though of our cash flow delivery through the full year, even including the higher level of capex that we will continue to invest in the business in 2021. Our cash flow will continue to be bigger and also it will be, if you think about the metric that matters most to me in terms of conversion, it will continue to be in the mid 90% range, which I think is a very good number for the company and for the model. Okay?

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay, thank you. And maybe Christophe, any comments on where you are with sort of the bolt-on M&A pipeline?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

For the M&A pipeline that's always a difficult question. Obviously, we have a very rich pipeline, we've been working quite a debt during COVID, we've done less transactions for the obvious reasons, but we've done a lot of strategic work, we have built a lot of relationships with targets we have out there. So, I feel good about the pipeline we have. I want to absolutely invest in places that are driving higher growth and higher margins and making sure that we can do that at valuations that are good for us and for our shareholders. So, I feel good with what's to come.

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks very much.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Vincent.

Operator

The next question is from the line of Scott Schneeberger with Oppenheimer. Please proceed with your question.

Scott Schneeberger -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks very much. Good afternoon. On -- just with regard to the Texas freeze, it looks like that lost revenue came at a higher decremental margin if my numbers are correct. Could you please elaborate on just how that impacted? And now that we're near the end of April, have you seen the full $0.15 impact or is this going to drag on through -- the follow on through the second quarter, possibly third, just curious, what type of lag there is occurring? Thanks.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Scott. So the Texas freeze, we expected this $0.15, which seems to be the right number as we speak, $0.10 had impacted Q1 as we communicated and we expect the remaining $0.05 to impact Q2. We see things really moving behind us. It's not a perfect sign. As you can imagine what froze, what was closed, when it reopens. This is something that we can't control as such, but what I like is that things are really back in operations. That's true for our customers, it's true for us and our suppliers as well. The only issue we had was impacting mostly March and April, which was obviously across two quarters, but $0.15 the total number, $0.10 in Q1, $0.05 in Q2 and it's happening as expected.

Scott Schneeberger -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks, Christophe. And the peers of ours in the Industrial segment where if I back that out, the weather impact very elevated margins, just curious what incremental upside do you see in the segment going forward? It looks very strong since the onset of the pandemic and strengthening. Thanks.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

You're right that the margin work in Industrial has been remarkable. Over the past few years, it was over 300 basis points in 2020, while sales were slightly declining. As you know, in Q1, ex-Texas that will also a double-digit operating increase, which was good as well. And going forward, I believe that that's a winning business. There will be times with raw materials and pricing were up quarter-over-quarter, things might lag a little bit, but generally margins will continue to improve in Industrial, especially because the value that we provide to our customers is unmatched.

As mentioned before, most of the customers are coming to us, especially in our water business is to help them reach the ESG commitments that they've made for 2030 or 2050, while there is no one else that can truly help them as we can. This is something that is driving growth and it's driving margins as well for us, because they need better technology, which is where we invest most in research as well. That's where we had the highest margin. So it's good growth driven by good natural impact, which is driving, as well our margin. So the short answer to your question, margins in Industrial are going to keep improving.

Scott Schneeberger -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Thanks very much.

Operator

Our next question is coming from the line of Laurence Alexander with Jefferies. Please proceed with your question.

Laurence Alexander -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Good afternoon. Just following up on the margin discussion and the price versus raws as you look at 2022-2023, should margins be for the entire firm be hitting a new high?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's a great question. So it's hard for us to know exactly how it's going to be in '21. So knowing '22 and '23, so will be even a harder. The way we drive pricing is really driven by the value that we create for our customers. In other words, how much savings we help them deliver on a year they invest 10% in our services and they get 20% or plus back as a return. This is the way we price, it's basically sharing value we create of our customers.

Obviously, when there are raw material increases like we are, and will be experiencing in the next quarters and probably years to come. Well, we add that to the equation. We've been quite successful over the past few years in doing that, that's been one of the reasons why margins have improved so well over the past few years and especially as well last year. So I don't know how raws are going to be in '22 and '23, but I know that our pricing is going to keep being in the 1% to 2% plus range depending on how the raw materials market are, but it's never going to go down. So all-all it's going to be up in price and it's going to be driving margins up as well over the long-term.

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

And then are there any end markets where you have been surprised at the elasticity of demand and where you're seeing a clear trade-off between pricing and organic growth?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

You mean in a negative manner?

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Just -- I mean, has anything changed in your framework over the course of the COVID related disruptions? Have you learned anything new about kind of the end market behavior, where you're like, OK, that was not expected.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No, if anything, it's more interest on one hand driven by this increased trend of ESG, of sustainability commitments. So what we do for customers becomes even more critical, and customers are ready to invest more in order to get more return from a financial perspective, but also from a image perspective because they make commitments as well out there. But on the other hand, it's also in times where performance -- cost performance becomes more important. Think about some of the end markets are economically challenged right now. Well, our solutions usually are very handy for those customers because it helps them improve their cost competitiveness, because you can do the same work, the same outcome, a better outcome with much less labor or creating less waste or using less natural resources as well. So it's a good financial deal.

So on both sides for customers in most segments while they need more of what we do in order to reduce the impact on the environment. And while they do so, they reduce their cost as well, which is even more important in difficult economic times in some of the specific end markets. In both cases, this is a good story for us.

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Andrew Wittmann with Robert W. Baird. Please proceed with your questions.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Great, thanks for taking my questions. You've had a couple of questions on margins, I wanted to -- if you do another one, you had the one on the Industrial segment, you had the consolidated margin question, but I had a kind of a two-part question, here. On the Healthcare segment to start out with, obviously, you talked about some of the large governmental orders and other things that probably helps your fixed cost leverage in that segment over the past 12 months. I was just wondering, as those comparisons are now stiffer and the business starts to normalize above historical levels, but starts to normalize from last year, at least, if you think that some of the fixed cost leverage goes away. If that's the appropriate way of thinking about that segment's margins in the 12 months ahead.

And then secondarily, just maybe a little bit more detail on the Institutional segment margins. Obviously, the volume declines were significant, and that all make sense what happened to the margin so far, but on the way back up with the cost reductions and programs that you've put in place, do you think that when the revenue level back -- gets back to 2019 levels, is there any reason to think that the margins would be any different in that business than they were pre-COVID? Just recognizing that the customer base is probably going to be somewhat changed, maybe not yours so much to the national accounts, but a lot of changes to hospitality and food service. So, wanted to get your thoughts on that. Sorry for the long question.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No, that's good. Thank you, Andy. Maybe starting with Healthcare. Very different dynamic, obviously, than in Institutional. So, in Healthcare, first of all, very pleased with the underlying growth performance moving toward this 5%, which was an objective for a long time. It's taken us many years to get there and COVID has helped because the infection prevention awareness of customers and patients in that case, well, has gone up very clearly during COVID-19, which is good. So, underlying growth solid in Healthcare and that's here to stay.

Second on margins, very good improvement last year. In some cases helped partly with the one-off those government deals that we talked about earlier. But I feel really good that margins is going to keep improving in '21 and in the future as well. So this is here to stay. So a good story in Healthcare and for me that's not the end of the story. It's clearly up to us to improve it further. That's on Healthcare.

Institutional, very different story, especially coming out of 2020 which is the business that's been impacted the most in our company, 90% plus of the COVID impact at Ecolab was on Institutional division as we all know, which is 20% of our overall company as such. So when I think about the margins, I'd say two things, Andy. The first one is, every quarter it's going to improve and we're going to get a lot back from what we lost in 2020 and we'll get close to where we were in 2019 pre-pandemic. So probably not at the end of this year, but early in 2022.

And the second part of your question, so post pandemic, if I can call it that way, well, we've invested in our organizational development/restructure, we've invested as well in field technology that's going to help as well, the performance. So if anything the margins of Institutional over the mid-term should improve versus what we have seen pre-pandemic.

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Thank you very much. Have a good day.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. You too, Andrew.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question is coming from the line of Shlomo Rosenbaum with Stifel. Please proceed with your question. Mr. Rosenbaum, your line is live. You may proceed with your question.

Shlomo Rosenbaum. -- Stifel -- Analyst

Oh, sorry. Christophe, maybe you could talk a little bit about -- the discussion used to be before the pandemic, a lot more about the investments that were being made in digital solutions. I know the company didn't want to pull back on investments through the pandemic. Can you talk about what has happened over the last year? Where there have been areas of adoption that have been accelerated because of the pandemic and where there might be areas of lag?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good question. Thank you, Shlomo. Digital has been an important priority for us for many, many years, it started 30 years ago, actually. Was called differently obviously back then that was true when we did remote monitoring of pools and spa in Institutional and that was especially true, which really trace our industrial water business as well. And if I fast forward, ultimately for 2020 things have accelerated because in many instances, we could not go to customer locations for obvious reasons related to COVID so customers and our teams have embraced digital solutions even more than before. Keep in mind as well that we've invested over the past five years over $150 million a year in digital. So we were ready for that moment during the pandemic that was more luck than genius, obviously as such, but it came very handy, as well as such.

So when I think about the three main drivers for us in digital at Ecolab, the first one is to drive customer value. So its subscriptions. It's lead general prevention programs for instance as well. They're all driven by digital technology. We sell that technology. This is growing very nicely. The second one is our field solutions. In order to improve the productivity and the value created by our 25,000 people around the world, Institutional has rolled out everywhere around the world their new platform during COVID and that's going to help us as well. So for post-pandemic, that's what I just answered as well before, which is one of the reasons why our performance in Institutional will improve.

And the last pillar is the customer experience e-commerce for instance that has gaining -- that has gained traction in 2020, also because of the remote nature of the customer relationship that we had during the pandemic. So on all three fronts, good progress in 2020 and when I look at the progress we're making in digital in 2021, our digital enabled sales are roughly $1.5 billion and growing double-digit as we speak. So, a very good story all-in-all.

Shlomo Rosenbaum. -- Stifel -- Analyst

Okay, great. If I could follow-up, is there any progress to note in when the new verticals is going to be kind of the data center area. Is there anything to report on that over the last year or quarters?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, it's been a great story because we've all ended up working remotely on whatever is your system or preference, WebEx, Teams, Zoom and so on remote monitoring of applications as well or plants. It's an industry that has been booming. As you can see as well from the numbers from the tech industry that we serve. Early last year which was also pre-pandemic, we created our global data centers as a dedicated business, which came luckily enough so very handy for the pandemic, and since then, this business has been growing strong double-digit, operating income improvement, very strong as well. And interestingly enough, so the customers that we serve, which are the tech companies, the ones are owning those data centers operations at the same time have made big commitments in terms of water and carbon savings.

Well, this is the work we do for them because that's ultimately where they use the water or emit CO2 because of the energy that they need to use for the computers as such, which has brought them back to us. You've heard from Microsoft as well. They've shared it openly publicly. So it's not a secret that they've committed for the net zero water by 2030 and that's a plan that we've developed with them. That's all driving the growth in that new vertical, which is very promising.

Shlomo Rosenbaum. -- Stifel -- Analyst

Thank you so much.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Shlomo.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Jeff Zajkowski with JPMorgan. Please proceed with your questions.

Jeff Zajkowski -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Thanks very much. When you think about the restaurant and hotel business going forward is the restaurant of the future going to be different than the restaurant of the past and the hotel of the future that is there may be distancing rules, there may be other factors? Does the Ecolab institutional business go back to where it was in 2019 in a normal environment or does it go to a different place, is it better, is it worse?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It is a great question and a fundamental question and it's not going to go back to where it was in 2019. I think it's going to be better if I think about our end markets, it's not going to be true for everyone. For the independents, it's going to be -- it's been difficult obviously for individual restaurants during the pandemic financially so to survive. Those once had a more hardship than the chain customers, which is the vast majority of our business. So corporate account customers as we call them or the chains are the ones who have well survived, the ones who have invested in the operations, and the one who are expanding as well in terms of units. This is all we serve first and foremost. So that's a good situation to be in for us.

Then your question on the restaurant or the hotel of the future, don't know exactly how it's going to be. It is hard to tell. But a few things we know, on one hand, so the hygiene standards expected by the guests will be up versus 2019. It's going to be a little bit lower than during the pandemic, thank God, but it's going to be higher than 2019. That's pretty sure and we are asking guests or consumers all the time in order to understand what's happening in their mind and they are clearly telling us that they're expecting higher hygiene standards, more theater up clean. They want to see cleaning action in order to feel safe, which is good.

Second, the labor shortage is going to become a bigger issue. It was an issue pre-pandemic. It's going to be even more so going forward as we read in the newspaper. Well, our solutions are helping them deliver more with less labor, which is good as well. And the last thing, which is harder to grasp completely is how much the take out, the delivery is going to grow. It's going to keep growing for sure, and those are new opportunities for us, because those are new businesses as well. We haven't figured it out completely, but I see that as upside. So net-net for our customers, the chain customers it's going to be different than 2019. But it's going to be better for us as a company going forward.

Jeff Zajkowski -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Okay, thank you for that. And what percentage of raw -- of cost of goods sold raw materials for you?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

It's roughly 45%, but obviously depends a lot by business. Pest elimination is much lower as you can imagine and in some industrial businesses, it might be higher but in average it's 45% for the company.

Jeff Zajkowski -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Thank you so much.

Operator

Our next question is coming from the line of Mike Harris with Goldman Sachs. Please proceed with your questions.

Mike Harris -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good afternoon and thanks for taking my question. Just a quick follow-up for Christophe. Earlier you mentioned that the first quarter results gave you confidence that you could surpass the 2019 earnings level. I was just curious what happened in the quarter that was I guess a positive surprise to your internal expectations that kind of boosted your confidence?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, thank you, Mike. The bigger question for us for Q1 was when especially in the U.S., the states would reopen. And as you remember, in Q4 the lockdown went backwards in Q4 versus Q3. Well, that was not exactly a great thing and still we improved our performance in Q4 versus Q3. So the question was, how is it going to continue in Q1 and that we didn't know obviously. So as we started our year '21. So we are hoping that things would be improving and ultimately they did, but they did not in January or February, they did in March. So we were thinking Q1 would be a difficult quarter compared versus Q4, so modest improvement ultimately ex-Taxes it was better than what we felt in Q1. So if I look at that the reopening in the U.S. states is a good news, obviously, so for us going forward, China has been good since the beginning of the year. So those two markets are really on the positive side of the ledger.

On the other hand, so you have Europe and some emerging markets like Brazil or India that are in a more difficult situation. So net-net it's basically as expected. And the last thing that I would say is that because of the timing of the reopening in Europe that's going to happen. So toward the end of Q2, some of the growth that we had expected in Q2 might shift in Q3, but all-in-all I feel that net-net, the trends are as expected, our cost structure is expected. The timing might be a little bit different than what we had in mind initially, but at the end of the year it ends up this full year delivery that's ahead of the EPS '19, excluding this Texas impact.

Mike Harris -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay, thanks for that color.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question is from the line of Eric Petrie with Citi. Please proceed with your question.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, Christophe.

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Eric.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

How much of your overall sales are to infection prevention, and if you could give a breakdown between the Institutional and Healthcare?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

So it's roughly 10% for the company, what we call sanitizing product. As such, it had very good growth last year that was especially true in Healthcare, which has a higher percentage as you would expect obviously disinfection is a bigger part of what we do in hospitals than what we do in hotels or restaurants as you can imagine. But in both segments, it grew double digit, and we expect the growth that we delivered in 2021 overall to maintain the overall number that we got in '21, which is a combination of more customers buying more of the sanitation product, but at the same time, with a little bit lower consumption. So much higher than what we had pre-pandemic, close to what we had in 2020, and close to the 10% for the overall sales.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Helpful. And then as a follow on, how much of your infection prevention chemistries or sanitizing products are based on chlorine, alcohol or peroxide? And have you seen any attrition to accelerated hydrogen peroxide?

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. It's one of the applications that we have. So, we don't disclose too much obviously the formula that we are using as such. If you think about the 15 seconds of COVID kill, that we launched in the market as well last year. This is an absolutely unique differentiated application. No one kills COVID-19 in 15 seconds or less than us. So that's been very unique and patented, obviously on the market, but what you mentioned with the accelerated hydrogen peroxide, that's one of the solutions, we like it as well, we use it as well. But for us, we're going beyond that as well.

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. At this time, we've reached end of our question-and-answer session. I'll hand the floor back to management for further remarks.

Michael Manohan -- Senior Vice President, External Relations

Thank you. That wraps up our first quarter conference call. This conference call and associated discussion slides will be available for replay on our website. Thank you for your time and participation and best wishes for the rest of the day.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 0 minutes

Call participants:

Michael Manohan -- Senior Vice President, External Relations

Christophe Beck -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Daniel J. Schmechel -- Chief Financial Officer

Tim Mulrooney -- William Blair -- Analyst

Manav Patnail -- Barclays -- Analyst

David Begleiter -- Deutsche Bank -- Analyst

Rosemarie Morbelli -- G Research -- Analyst

Gary Bisbee -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

John McNulty -- BMO Capital Markets -- Analyst

John Roberts -- UBS -- Analyst

Vincent Andrews -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Scott Schneeberger -- Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. -- Analyst

Laurence Alexander -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Andrew Wittmann -- Robert W. Baird -- Analyst

Shlomo Rosenbaum. -- Stifel -- Analyst

Jeff Zajkowski -- JP Morgan -- Analyst

Mike Harris -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Eric Petrie -- Citi -- Analyst

More ECL analysis

All earnings call transcripts

AlphaStreet Logo

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Ecolab Inc. Stock Quote
Ecolab Inc.
ECL
$156.91 (-1.72%) $-2.74

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
336%
 
S&P 500 Returns
115%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/27/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.