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Xylem Inc  (NYSE:XYL)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Jan. 31, 2019, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to the Xylem Fourth Quarter and Full-Year 2018 Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants have been placed on a listen-only mode and the floor will be open for your questions following the presentation. (Operator Instructions)

I would like to now turn the call over to Matt Latino, Senior Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead, sir.

Matthew Latino -- Senior Director, Investor Relations

Thank you, Tia. Good morning, everyone and welcome to Xylem's fourth quarter and full-year 2018 earnings conference call. With me today are Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Decker, and Chief Financial Officer, Mark Rajkowski. They will provide their perspective on Xylem's fourth quarter and full-year 2018 results and discuss the full-year outlook for 2019.

Following our prepared remarks, we will address questions related to the information covered on the call. I'll ask that you please keep to one question and a follow-up and then return to the queue. As a reminder, this call and our webcast are accompanied by a slide presentation available in the Investors section of our website at www.Xylem.com. A replay of today's call will be available until midnight on February 28. Please note that the replay number is (800) 585-8367, and the confirmation code is 9982239. Additionally, the call will be available for playback via the Investors section of our website under the heading Investor Events.

Please turn to slide number 2. We will make some forward-looking statements on today's call, including references to future events or developments that we anticipate will or may occur in the future. These statements are subject to future risks and uncertainties such as those factors described in Xylem's most recent annual report on Form 10-K and in subsequent reports filed with the SEC.

Please note that the Company undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements publicly to reflect subsequent events or circumstances, and actual events or results could differ materially from those anticipated.

Please turn to slide 3. We have provided you with a summary of our key performance metrics, including both GAAP and non-GAAP metrics. For purposes of today's call, all references will be on an adjusted basis unless otherwise indicated, and non-GAAP financials have been reconciled for you and are included in the Appendix section of the presentation.

Now, please turn to slide 4, and I will turn the call over to our CEO, Patrick Decker.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Matt, and good morning, everyone. We have a lot to cover, so I'm going to hit on a few highlights from our 2018 results. Then I'll turn it over to Mark to provide some additional details. As I reflect on this past year, one of the things that stood out to me is the momentum that we've built on the top line. We delivered our strongest growth to-date as a public company with 8% organic revenue growth. We saw healthy advances in each of our businesses, with a number of important achievements, including several successful new product launches and strategic project wins.

We also saw 9% organic orders growth this past year. Fourth quarter orders were up double-digits and showed strength across all of our businesses. We see continued strength in our bidding pipelines across the entire company. We see strength across our Transport and Applied Water businesses, and it's worth noting that a growing portion of our orders and recent wins are for longer lead time projects in our treatment, Sensus, and AIA businesses. This tells us that our markets appear to be very healthy over the near and long-term, and it further strengthens our conviction around our 2019 and longer-term growth prospects.

For adjusted EBITDA, we saw an improvement of 80 basis points, which was in line with our guidance of 19.5% for the year.

Operating margins were slightly short of our guidance for the year at 13.7%, up 60 basis points, excluding purchase accounting year-over-year. We saw benefits from productivity, volume leverage, and price realization, which accelerated throughout the year. Partially offsetting these gains were inflationary pressures, sales mix and funding our strategic investments.

Much of that investment has been focused on our Measurement & Control Solutions segment. This is aimed at capturing significant revenue opportunities across our businesses. The investment also capitalizes on our first-mover advantage in providing new digital and analytics solutions. We expect this to moderate as we enter the second half of the year.

I'm very pleased with the benefits that we're already realizing from this strategy. Since the Sensus acquisition, we've won more than $100 million in contracts that will provide revenue synergies and we expect to announce another exciting and significant deal this quarter.

Adjusted earnings per share were up 20%. Our full-year free cash flow conversion was below our expectations. We took measures in late Q4 to maintain customer service levels impacted by component shortages by building inventory of critical items and we made strategic purchases to manage tariff impacts.

We remain confident in our ability to deliver free cash flow conversion at or above 100% in 2019 and beyond.

So, in summary, while there are certainly areas for us to work on. I am pleased with our strong momentum as we head into 2019.

Let me now spend a few minutes on the progress we're making on our top strategic priorities that enable us to meet our long-term financial commitments and maintain the company on a path of sustainable growth and margin expansion.

The first is accelerating profitable growth, which encompasses our initiatives to drive commercial excellence, grow in emerging markets, and further strengthen innovation and technology.

First, commercial excellence. I'm encouraged by market share gains across a number of our business lines. I also want to expand upon our team's execution on price. We can attribute about one point of the organic growth we saw this past year to our commercial team's pricing efforts, and we see continuing strength throughout 2019. I'm very proud of what our sales and marketing teams have demonstrated here in terms of commercial leadership. In emerging markets , we delivered 11% revenue growth and orders momentum continued in our key focus markets of China, India and the Middle East.

Advancing innovation is another core element of our longer-term growth strategy. Our team delivered 120 basis point increase in our vitality index to over 25%, and we are pleased by the accretive growth rates and margin profile of these new offerings.

We're also excited about a number of new technologies that we'll bring to market in 2019. These offerings combine our data, analytics, and software capabilities with our installed base, and this is enabling us to bring entirely new solutions to our customers as we aim to help them address their biggest challenges of water scarcity, affordability and resilience.

As I already mentioned, we remain sharply focused on our Continuous Improvement Program. In 2018, we achieved $157 million in savings, a 6% increase in the previous year. We still have plenty of runway on our CI journey and see more efficiency opportunities as we penetrate deeper in the company and across our functions.

To that end, we are now planning the next stage of our business simplification efforts, which we spoke about at our last Investor Day. This is the next progression in our plan, which we have timed to avoid disrupting our focus on growth and the integration of new businesses over the last 18 months.

This work will now further simplify our business structure, eliminate waste and bureaucracy and allow us to move faster and with greater agility to better serve our customers. We will also focus on further manufacturing and supply chain efficiencies from footprint optimization, SKU rationalization, and improvements to our cost of quality.

We expect the execution of the majority of these actions to begin in the second half of 2019. We estimate up to 100 basis points of savings on a run rate basis, with most of the benefit in 2020 and the balance in 2021. This work reinforces our confidence in achieving our 2020 targets, and it positions us to be more efficient and focus for the long-term.

We continue to put our capital to work in smart, disciplined ways. This allows us to develop organically, as well as acquire the solutions we need to best address our customers' challenges. These investments have focused on disruptive technologies and solutions, and we will continue to remain steadfast in our approach in that area.

We continue to return capital to shareholders, today announcing a 14% increase in the dividend, consistent with our commitment to growing our dividend in line with earnings growth.

We are very proud of our talent and we continue to strengthen our team through a number of investments in development programs, strategic hires, and the talent that joins us through acquisitions.

And, finally, we are a purpose-driven company. In 2018, we advanced our commitment to be a company that creates both significant economic and social value. We have achieved our original five-year sustainability goals one year ahead of schedule, and we are set to release ambitious new goals this spring. We are honored to have been recognized by a number of external organizations for these efforts. Yet, we can and we will do more.

In terms of the solutions we provide are social impact in areas like disaster relief and our environmental footprint. Sustainability is increasingly important to our people, our customers, our investors, and the community, and it's a key priority for Xylem.

So, now, let me turn it over to Mark.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Patrick. Please turn to slide 5 and I'll begin with our full-year results. First, I'm very pleased with our top line performance this year, as we beat the high-end of our revenue guidance with 8% organic growth. This reflects strong growth across all of our end markets. We also saw robust organic growth in all major regions with emerging markets in the U.S. leading the way at 11% and 9% growth respectively.

Our revenue performance benefited from solid underlying market growth, but also from the outstanding work of our commercial teams to gain share and ramp-up our price realization.

Operating margins for the year were 13.7%, up 60 basis points from the prior-year excluding purchase accounting impacts. This reflects continued traction in our productivity initiatives, which delivered $157 million in savings, as well as volume leverage and accelerating price realization. Partially offsetting these improvements were higher levels of inflation, higher investments to drive longer-term growth, unfavorable mix and negative currency impacts.

Adjusted EBITDA margin was up 80 basis points to 19.5%. We reported adjusted earnings per share this year of $2.88, an increase of 20%, and at the higher end of our original 2018 guidance.

Our free cash flow conversion finished below our expectations this year, at 64%. Our cash conversion metrics in both 2017 and 2018 were impacted by large non-cash tax items. Excluding these fourth quarter items, our cash conversion was 75% this year, which was below our target. As Patrick mentioned, the primary driver of this miss was our working capital performance.

The timing of our strong sales growth late in the fourth quarter and the impacts of higher raw material inflation and strategic pre-buys of inventory to manage tariffs and component stocks drove working capital higher by $140 million in the quarter. As a result, year-end working capital increased 50 basis points over last year to 19% of sales.

To give you perspective on the impact that the timing of our Q4 sales and strategic inventory build had on our year-end working capital, our 12-month average cash conversion actually improved by over 4 days from December 2017. So, I'm confident in both the improvements we're making to our working capital processes and that working capital improvement will once again become a source of cash for Xylem in 2019.

So, please turn to slide 6 and I'll review the fourth quarter results. We were pleased and a bit surprised by the strength of the acceleration in demand through the fourth quarter, which drove sales above the high end of our outlook. Organic orders were up 10% with high single-digit growth in both Water Infrastructure and Applied Water, and 18% organic growth in Measurement & Control Solutions.

Revenues were up 9% organically in the fourth quarter, which was on top of 7% organic growth in the fourth quarter of 2017. Acquisitions contributed 2% growth and foreign exchange was a 3% headwind.

From an end market perspective, the Utility segment was up 10% organically. This growth reflects strength across nearly all regions and applications globally, and is encouraging, given the tough compare to the double-digit organic growth in last year's fourth quarter.

Industrial markets were up 8% driven by continued strength in North America, Europe and Latin America.

Commercial markets had a very strong quarter, growing 17% with double-digit growth in the US and Asia Pacific regions. Certainly, some of the strong demand in the US was driven by the timing of announced price increases. As a result, we expect to see solid, but moderating demand in our commercial business for Q1.

Our residential business was flat in the quarter. Operating margin for the quarter was 15.1%, which was up 30 basis points versus the prior year excluding purchase accounting. This was lower than our expectations as continued margin expansion in Water Infrastructure and Applied Water were muted by margin contraction in the MCS segment.

I'll review the details of each segment's margin performance in a minute.

Against the backdrop of supply chain challenges from tariffs and constrained electronic component supply, I'm very pleased with our team's performance in delivering earnings per share of $0.88, an increase of 16% year-over-year.

Please turn to slide 7 and I'll review our segment performance for the quarter. Water Infrastructure orders grew 7% organically year-over-year. This growth was driven by sustained strong demand in North America and emerging markets, particularly in treatment. We exited the quarter with total backlog of $620 million, up approximately 7% organically year-over-year. Of this amount, $480 million is due to ship in 2019, which is up 6% on an organic basis.

Our treatment bidding pipeline grew 10% this year, driven heavily by US activity in large projects in India. The treatment pipeline remains a strong barometer for us as to the health of the water utility market.

Water Infrastructure revenues grew 9% year-over-year on an organic basis and foreign exchange was a $24 million headwind.

Revenue in the emerging markets was up 18%, with much of the growth coming from our treatment business. Particularly noteworthy was the 37% growth in China. We saw more than 40% growth in treatment and more than 30% growth in transport as we've continued to see demand for our products benefit from both the new regulations around water quality as well as our investments in product localization.

India was down slightly in the quarter due to the lapping of large custom pump project deliveries in the prior year. With our current backlog and growing project pipeline from new wastewater treatment regulations, we expect India to be our fastest growing market in 2019 with over 30% organic growth.

Western Europe was up 7%, led by a high single-digit growth in transport where we saw strong OpEx activity across several countries. The segment grew 4% in the US, with solid growth in both the wastewater transport market and industrial dewatering business.

Treatment growth was impacted by project delays that moved into the first quarter. We were also encouraged by the high-single digit organic orders growth during the quarter.

Operating margin for the segment increased 80 basis points to 20.7%, the highest level in our history. This reflects our continued progress in driving productivity as well as volume leverage and accelerating price realization.

Please turn to slide 8. Applied Water orders grew 8% organically over the prior year. Overall, we exited the quarter with backlog of $200 million, up 5% organically compared to last year. Our shippable backlog for 2019 is about $185 million, which is up approximately 15% on an organic basis.

Revenue in the quarter grew 10% organically versus the prior year. The growth was driven by the commercial and industrial end markets, which were up 17% and 7% respectively over the prior year.

In the US, revenue was up 14% year-over-year with growth across all three end markets, most of that growth was driven by strong project activity and price realization in both our industrial and commercial applications, both of which grew double-digits. Emerging markets revenue grew 13%, reflecting strong commercial growth in China and India, as well as for industrial applications in Latin America.

Segment operating margin in the quarter increased 30 basis points to 17.2% year-over-year. Strong productivity of 390 basis points and price realization of 220 basis points more than offset increased inflation, which was impacted by tariffs and currency impacts.

Now, let's turn to slide 9. Measurement & Control Solutions orders grew 18% organically over the prior year and revenue grew 11% on an organic basis.

For Sensus, revenue in our Water business increased 16%, driven by growth in the North American market.

Our gas business grew 23%, mostly from large North American project deployments.

Electric was down 5% in the quarter due to the lapping of project deployments in North America.

And our advanced infrastructure analytics business grew high single-digits on a pro forma basis, driven by the delivery of projects in the US and Europe. We continue to see success in bringing the AIA platform solutions to new markets through existing Xylem channels and relationships, including first-time wins in several countries.

We're also encouraged by the strong consumer interest in these new solutions and the order growth we saw this past year.

Now, moving to margins, adjusted EBITDA margins in the quarter were down 160 basis points year-over-year to 17.3%. Adjusted operating margin for the segment decreased 280 basis points to 7.5%.

We've been accelerating our investments in these businesses to drive market share gains with our Sensus solutions and capitalize on our first-mover advantage in our advanced infrastructure analytics business. Our investments impacted margins by 270 basis points year-over-year in the quarter and were largely in line with our expectations.

During the quarter, and despite the tremendous efforts of our supply chain team, we saw increased supply constraints for electronic components. This impacted both our material cost by an additional 100 basis points and revenue mix by over 100 basis points in the quarter, and put more downward pressure on operating margin than expected.

We will continue to aggressively manage the electronic component pressures to minimize impact to our customers and expect supply constraints to ease after the first half of 2019. We expect component shortages and project mix to continue to impact margins, primarily through the first quarter of 2019, with improving mix, moderating investment levels and volume leverage driving strong margin expansion for the second half of 2019, and 100 basis points of improvement for the full year.

Now, let's turn to slide 10 for an overview of cash flows and the company's financial position. We closed the quarter with a cash balance of about $300 million. We invested $66 million in capital in the quarter and returned $38 million to our shareholders through dividends.

We repaid $200 million of debt in the quarter, bringing our leverage down to 2.7 times. This represents the midpoint of our target leverage range, which we achieved as planned and for the first time since the Sensus acquisition in 2016, and we remain committed to maintaining our investment grade credit rating.

I've already discussed our working capital performance and my confidence that working capital will be a source of cash flow in 2019, enabling us to deliver cash conversion of at least 105%.

Please turn to slide 11, and Patrick will cover our 2019 outlook.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mark. As we discussed, we entered the year with solid top line momentum and we're confident in our trajectory and focus on achieving our 2019 targets and long-term strategic goals.

For 2019, we expect to deliver organic revenue growth of 4% to 6%. Our adjusted operating margin is forecast to expand 100 basis points to 150 basis points to the range of 14.7% to 15.2%.

Let me pause and acknowledge that we realized one of the keys to achieving our margin expansion in 2019 and staying on track to our 2012 target, is to now begin delivering accretive margin improvement in the MCS segment. We expect to drive 100 basis points of margin expansion, despite continued investment and component supply cost pressure in the first half of 2019.

Now, back to the outlook. We expect adjusted EBITDA to improve by 100 basis points to 150 basis points, which will bring it to a range of 20.5% to 21%. At the bottom line, we expect to generate adjusted full-year earnings per share in the range of $3.20 to $3.40. This excludes restructuring and realignment cost of about $30 million.

Adjusted EPS growth is projected to be in the range of 11% to 18% for the year.

Finally, as Mark discussed, we expect to continue to generate solid cash from operations, and this will enable us to deliver free cash flow conversion of at least 105% in 2019.

Please turn to slide 12. Now, let's review the expected end market growth for 2019. First, utilities, which make up about 50% of our revenue, are expected to grow in the mid-single-digits. As we saw in 2018, we expect water and wastewater spending to remain healthy, particularly in the US and emerging markets. This includes mid-to-high single-digit growth in our Water Infrastructure business, as well as mid-single-digit growth in the MCS business, reflecting timing of project deployments.

In Europe, the outlook is mixed and we expect low single-digit growth there in total. We are encouraged by the continued infrastructure investments in locations like India, where wastewater regulations are leading our healthy treatment backlog. In both India and China, we expect to grow double-digits

Our industrial end market, which represents roughly 35% of our revenue, is expected to be up low to mid-single-digits.

Growth in the US is expected to moderate slightly in the second half of the year compared to the last two years; however, still up mid single-digits. We expect the emerging markets to continue to gain strength in India and Latin America.

Industrial applications in the Middle East are expected to soften a bit, and we expect China growth to moderate slightly to low to mid-single-digits.

Our commercial end market, which constitutes about 10% of our revenue, saw considerable growth in 2017 and 2018. We expect this to remain healthy in 2019. The US and Western Europe will provide low to mid single-digit growth. And, overall, we expect the commercial end market to grow low to mid-single-digits in 2019.

And, finally, in our smallest end market, residential, which is about 5% of our revenue, we anticipate low single-digit growth. With a flattening US housing market and a highly competitive replacement market, US and European growth is expected at flat to low single-digit levels. Emerging markets growth remains healthy, as secondary clean water demand continues in China and Greater Asia.

Now, Mark will give you a few additional details on the 2019 outlook.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

As we've done in prior years, we're providing the seasonal profile of our business, as well as highlights of our 2019 planning assumptions on slide 13. As Patrick discussed, we're guiding to 4% to 6% organic growth for 2019. This breaks down by segment as follows.

We expect 5% to 7% growth in Water Infrastructure; 3% to 5% growth in Applied Water Solutions; and 4% to 6% growth in Measurement & Control Solutions. We're assuming a euro rate of $1.14, which was the average for the month of January. We've included our FX sensitivity table in the appendix. And our estimated tax rate for 2019 is 19.5%.

Moving to the first quarter, we expect total company growth in the range of 5% to 6%, led by continuing strength in the US municipal market and emerging markets growth. We expect first-quarter adjusted operating margin to be in the range of 11.3% to 11.6%, representing 20 basis points to 50 basis points expansion over the prior-year.

While we do expect modest margin expansion for the MCS segment on a quarter sequential basis, we also expect the impacts of the component constraints in mix to continue through the first quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, we expect strong margin expansion in both our Water Infrastructure and Applied Water segments, driven by continued cost reductions, volume leverage and improved price realization.

With that, please turn to slide 14, and I'll turn the call back over to Patrick for closing comments.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Martk. 2018 was a year of solid momentum. We're very encouraged by the health of our end markets, as well as the growth in the organic and inorganic investments that we've made. We're also very pleased about the integration of our recent acquisitions, which are allowing us to provide new disruptive solutions. We are managing through near-term challenges and supply chain disruptions in the marketplace, and we are confident in our near and longer-term targets based on growth and accretive margins in large deals, as well as the additional opportunity we have to remove cost and inefficiency. We are guiding in 2019 to what we believe is healthy top line growth and margin expansion to execute on our 2020 financial targets.

Now, with that, operator, let's open it up to Q&A.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

(Operator Instructions). The first question will come from Nathan Jones with Stifel.

Nathan Hardie Jones -- Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Nathan.

Nathan Hardie Jones -- Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division -- Analyst

Let's just start on those 2020 financial targets. I guess, the big one is the 17% to 18% operating margin goal, which clearly requires a big ramp-up in margins in 2020. So, maybe, if you could just give us a little more color on how you get there, what the buckets are that get you from '19 guidance here to at least at the bottom end of that range in 2020?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. So, it's Patrick. So, I'd say, Nate, first thing first, we believe we have a highly credible 2019 plan that we've gotten to here to get at least 100 basis points expansion this year. Beyond that, let me give you some of the large buckets that we see for 2020 . First, which is the biggest bucket, is our savings from continuous improvement and cost takeout. And that's all net of inflation. So, that's our biggest bucket. That's again continued productivity on our procurement and Lean journey. We also have savings that begin to ramp late '19 into '20 from our global business services initiatives, as well as the broader simplification that I outlined in my prepared remarks.

The second area is, again, the core volume and price leverage that we expect to get. Even at the low end of our long-term revenue growth guide of 4% to 6%, we expect to see very good margin accretion and leverage flow through there.

And then third is the large deals that we're getting right now from the Sensus synergies and AIA, and those deployments start later this year and really layer on in fourfold(ph) in 2020.

Additionally, as we commented earlier, our investments in the MCS segment do begin to moderate later in '19 and then moderate once again in 2020 from our 2019 level. So, those are the four really big buckets that give us the confidence to be able to hit our margin guidance.

Nathan Hardie Jones -- Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division -- Analyst

That's helpful. Thanks. Maybe on the MCS investments here, you guys have obviously been investing heavily to drive growth there and demonstrating very good growth all across the portfolio. So, I don't think anybody will have a lot of problems with that. Maybe you can talk a little bit more about the things that have been achieved with those investments. What's in the pipe to come to market, maybe later in '19 and into '20, to continue to drive growth?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yes. So, I'd say with respect to -- first of all, I'd say, we continue to invest in all aspects of our portfolio. So, we are investing certainly in our Water Infrastructure and our Applied Water businesses as well, especially about bringing new products to market, but specifically within MCS. I think we're in the early stages of building out our offerings in embedded software and networking services and really looking to take full advantage of that first-mover advantage. And I'd say, given the strength and productivity we've had across the entire company, it's also afforded us the opportunity to accelerate growth investments in four really areas.

First is, again, building out this new advanced infrastructure analytics platform. Second is building out new offerings in electric and gas to support some of the large deals that we've secured and won there. We are investing in designing specific products and specs for some of the international deals that you've heard me talk before about that we're pursuing. And then, again, lastly, building out a much broader networking and software solution capability.

Beyond that, and in terms of getting any more specifics, I'd probably hold back from there at this point in time. There will be more to come in that regard. But, again, we feel very good about the pipeline of deals that are out there that we're pursuing right now that really are a result of these new offerings.

Andrew Edouard Buscaglia -- Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. KG -- Analyst

Okay. And just one more on CapEx. And, Mark, thanks for the explanation on working capital. That helps a lot on free cash flow. CapEx has increased pretty significantly over the last couple of years. I know a lot of that is growth CapEx, localizing production. CapEx for 2019 looks like staying at about the same level as 2018.

Where do you see that shaking out in the long run once you get through kind of this investment cycle to localize and drive growth?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. That's a good question. Certainly one that we talk about with the team and the board. I think we are at the upper end. When you think about capital as a percent of revenue, we have ramped that up. That has been a function of the investments we've been banking. So, some of those investments that Patrick talked about just a moment ago is for new products. So, there's tooling that we're building. We've got a lot invested in engineering and software, some of which gets capitalized. So, clearly, when you look at those components -- and then even dewatering this year, we had a huge ramp-up in demand and we had to build capital and some capacity to meet demand. We're building out our smart hubs in AIA, and that requires not only P&L-related investment around on-the-ground support in sales and engineering, but also you need tools, you need PipeDivers, you need SmartBalls, you need trucks. And so, we've really hit a point, I think, this year and into next year where you're going to see a higher level of investment as a percentage of sales, and that starts to moderate back toward where we've been.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I would just add, Nate, I would say -- again, this is Patrick. I would say, much like Mark talked about in his prepared comments around working capital and cash conversion, I'd say the same thing around CapEx, and that is there is no structural change here and the capital intensity of this business. It really is the timing around the things that Mark alluded to here and we would expect that to moderate back to kind of normal levels. So, nothing that we are particularly concerned about here.

Andrew Edouard Buscaglia -- Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. KG -- Analyst

Okay, thanks very much for the help. I'll pass it on.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Okay, thank you.

Operator

The next question will come from Mike Halloran with Baird.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Hey, good morning, everyone.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

So, let's just start on the orders side in the pipeline, obviously, underlying trends remain healthy. It doesn't sound like there is any sign of slowdown. Can you maybe give a little color on how customers are looking at the world right now? Any hesitancy in pipeline conversion from their perspective? And any color around that would be great.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Mike. This Patrick. So, we're keeping our ears close to the ground, obviously, on each one of our end markets. So, let's start with utilities. We really aren't seeing or hearing any indications of a slowdown. Again, if you think about the 10% increase in our bidding pipeline on treatment, which is a really good indicator, and that's not a very big bidding pipeline. So, at some point in time, you would expect that to kind of be tough in terms of year-over-year compares, but it continues to expand there. And that is consistent, whether it be in North America and certainly in the emerging markets, as we indicated. We think Europe is next. It will moderate to kind of low single-digit growth in 2019, but we're not seeing any change in trajectory here, which is quite encouraging. Now, we also feel that a fair amount of that is share gains. But, again, the overall market seem to be healthy.

On the industrial side, again, 35% of our total revenue. There, our channel partners, we go heavily through distribution. They, again, continue to see strength in the market. Again, we are calling for some moderation here in the second half of this year. We're not seeing that yet, but we're calling it. We're expecting that there will be some tough comps year-over-year that are out there. So, not sure if that's helpful, but we're just not -- we're not seeing it right now in terms of any any slowdown.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Just one comment. Yes, it's all good, but we're also mindful that there is a chunk of our business that's short cycle, right? So, these -- and when these things hit, they hit quickly and we're sober to that fact. But as Patrick said, we have our antennae up. We're talking to our teams and customers constantly. We're all over the pipeline. So, right now, we're not seeing those signs.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Sounds good. And then, another customer question, what's the receptivity been as you're trying to bring some of these MCS solutions, the technology, connectivity, analytics to the broader platform, particularly in the infrastructure side? Seems like it's good receptivity. I know you've referenced in the prepared remarks some incremental product offerings coming this year. Would love to hear some early thoughts there.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So, we've been very encouraged. I think the -- where I start Mike is the -- we're able to have very different kinds of conversations today at different level of the organization, more senior levels of the organization than we've had before. Because if you think about any company going in and speaking to, let's take utility, irrespective of what the utilities' biggest challenges are, if you've only got one or two products to offer or couple of pain points you can address, you spend your time trying to convince them those are the pain points they need to be addressing, we're able now to go win with confidence. And, first, have a conversation around what are the biggest challenges that you believe you have or that the data shows that you have, with a pretty high likelihood that we also then have the product, the technology, the offering to solve that problem. And so, we're able to be seen as even more objective and consultative in the conversation. Now, that's early days. We don't have that selling capability across the board. I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. But that's certainly where we're going. And so, I see a high degree of receptivity from the utility operators and CEOs because they want to be able to have that open, candid, objective conversation. Where we see a lot of the opportunities here, where we see a lot of synergies is new wins and interests across the emerging markets where, if they're building new infrastructure, they don't want to build dumb infrastructure, they want to build smart infrastructure, and so they need the help to be able to know how to best optimize that. And that's why we're seeing a lot of the receptivity there. And then, when you think about the fact that, previously, Pure and the other advanced infrastructure analytics businesses that we've acquired were pretty much largely North America and, to some extent, European businesses, not a lot of presence in the emerging markets, and that's where we're seeing a lot of excitement from customers.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

That's helpful. And then last one, just the Water Infrastructure margins, obviously, really robust in the quarter. Anything in there that you don't think is sustainable relative to revenue levels and normal seasonality?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

No, it's pretty clean. And what we saw is a real push on productivity and savings and really kind of a catch up on pricing to offset what had been a little bit of a headwind from inflation, and really good progress on that. So, nothing unusual, and we expect to continue to see that -- those trends in 2019 with more pickup on price.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

And I would just add there that I think it's important that we note that -- we are managing a portfolio here. And so, we're allocating capital every day, every quarter, each year. And so, we continue to invest in Water Infrastructure. We continue to invest in Applied Water. Obviously, as we begin to see the ramp up in MCS margins here, that affords us the opportunity to further invest in those two pieces of our portfolio because there is a lot in the pipeline from a new product development standpoint and sales and marketing efforts that we'd like to be able to do here. But we'll continue to manage that as a portfolio over time.

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate it.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

The next question will come from Deane Dray with RBC Capital Markets.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning, everyone.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Deane.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

Hey, I'd like to start with the free cash flow guidance for 2019, the 105% (ph) or better. And maybe, could you just clarify whether you're baking in any of these working capital inefficiencies at the start of the year or any other tax noise, the component shortages that are requiring you to add a bit more to inventory? So, any of those dynamics affecting the cash flow outlook?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes, absolutely, Deane. We definitely took it on the chin in the quarter relative to some of these strategic pre-buys, as well as in -- and whether that was for the tariffs or around the component shortages. And we also, as I mentioned in my prepared remarks, saw a big ramp-up in volume. And, quite frankly, it was higher than, certainly, we had forecasted above the top end of the range. And the timing of that in the quarter was such that there -- that was $90 million of cash just in terms of volume. And that is going to normalize in both of those items, along with continued progress on improving our processes and efficiency, whether it's in receivables. We've got a lot of opportunity on the inventory side of things, with supply chain in our S&OP and payables. But those will reverse out in 2019.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

That's good. And just sticking on the cash flow side, a couple points. One is, you all talking about a higher volume at year-end. You're on the good side of being an outlier because we've heard a number of the industrial companies that -- just the opposite that there was a lot of fall-off in December. So, you've got that high-quality problem of handling that $90 million. So, that's a positive. What about CapEx? How much for this year? Any particular projects that you would highlight in terms of investment?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. I think we really pushed hard and we did spend capital to grow out our AIA platform, as I mentioned. We've been running hard in terms of our engineering and development around a number of software components and products that ended up as capitalized software.

And back to your point about nice problem to have, the demand in our dewatering business has really been running hot. So, we've had to add capacity to the fleet as well. So, those are nice problems to have, but, certainly, things that we needed to respond to. As we look out into 2019, though, Deane, the investment level, we expect to remain flat. Part of that is a function of getting out ahead of the curve, which we did in the back part of 2018.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think to your question, Deane, around, are there any specific projects to be called out in 2019, one of the reasons why we're not able to say that it's moderating or declining is because we also need to absorb. And it's not a big-ticket item, but we're going to be likely kicking-off another greenfield expansion in India in terms of manufacturing capacity. Now, that won't all hit in 2019, but we're certainly going to be starting that in 2019. It's not a big-ticket item in and of itself, but it's enough to kind of hold these numbers flat year-over-year. And that's just really again to get ahead of the incredible demand we're seeing in India.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

That's great to hear about those investment opportunities. And if we're looking at that free cash flow target for the year, it feels to us that there is further upside to that 105%(ph), but we'll see how this develops. And then, as a follow-up...

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

We are certainly -- I can assure you, Deane, we're working at it. So, we were disappointed in Q4. So, it got our attention on the working capital side.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

Good. And then, in terms of the organic revenue guidance, everything looked pretty much as expected, if not a little bit better. The one that kind of jumps out at me is MCS, the 4% to 6%, seems like they could be doing better. And maybe it's because we're all excited about the opportunities in AIA. Maybe they don't move the needle enough yet. But what is that upside at MCS that could potentially do better than what you're forecasting today?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. So, the AIA platform is still a relatively small chunk of revenue for us, at north of $100 million of revenue, and that is going to be growing a very healthy double-digit and is accelerating in 2019 versus 2018, both orders and revenue. It really is the Sensus piece of the platform. And it really -- Deane, it's very straightforward. It's assumptions around timing and project deployments. So, we've got some very large deals that we've won. We've have had some that we are likely going to be announcing here in very short order. It just comes down to when those things hit. Most of them, we believe will hit in 2020, which is what gives us great confidence around our margin expansion and growth in 2020. So, obviously, the timing of those things could move this around, but we're giving you our view kind of right down the middle of fairway right now.

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

Great, thank you.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

The next question will come from John Walsh with Credit Suisse.

John Walsh -- Credit Suisse AG, Research Division -- Analyst

Hi. Good morning.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

John Walsh -- Credit Suisse AG, Research Division -- Analyst

So, maybe just following back to that 2020 margin question, if I can ask it a little bit differently. So, since you provided those targets, you've had FX, tariffs, you've been getting some deals done. I believe that was an organic number and didn't contemplate deal dilution at that time. Just wondering if you're filling this bridge with things that would have been sitting in a contingency bucket or if you're filling it by kind of over-executing on other parts of the plan to think about this as not really an endpoint, but as a step to drive margins higher beyond that kind of range over time?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sorry, this is Patrick. Sorry for that. It's a great angle on the question, John. The way I would articulate it would be, yes, there are things that have created levels of dilution on their own, that being deals and things of that nature from an op margin standpoint. And this is a journey over time. It doesn't end in 2020. And, obviously, it won't be long and we'll be giving you targets beyond 2020. What I would say has changed here are a couple of things that give us the confidence. One is that we do see further opportunities to drive simplification and efficiency across the organization. Part of that, obviously, is by way of some of the integration synergies from the deals that we've done. Part of that is just simplification of our heritage businesses by further integration there and simplification. So, certainly, we're leaning on that lever harder than we had necessarily laid out at our original Investor Day, but it's based on opportunity.

Two, as we've added other assets to the portfolio and we're getting more mature on our own continuous improvement, the whole Lean deployment journey, we're now able to deploy those capabilities across those new assets. And so, we've got a bigger pie to play with here in terms of driving efficiency both on the Lean Six Sigma side, but also on the procurement side. So, those are the areas that I would say that we are feeling even more confident about.

And then, what we indicated at Investor Day was that, as we integrated Sensus, we would get a better feel over time as to what the investment profile would look like on a year-by-year basis. And so, that moderates, now that we're getting traction and seeing the benefits of what we've already spent on.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And I'd just add to that. Yes, in terms of the investments, if you look at the model, we've run heavier sooner because of some of these opportunities. That does moderate. Also, in the model, we didn't have as much inflation built in. And we really got hit hard this year and we've ramped up price, and we're going to be continuing to drive that into 2019. So, there's more there than we would have -- than we anticipated in the model as well.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes.

John Walsh -- Credit Suisse AG, Research Division -- Analyst

Got you. And then, maybe just to follow on, when you think about price, there is, obviously, what you can get because of inflation where you're kind of passing through these costs, but there's been a big kind of concerted effort to increase your pricing entitlement, right, from what you're doing from a technology perspective, value-based pricing. Can you talk about how -- if you had to deconstruct price, what's more kind of value-added Xylem price versus kind of material or inflation related?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I would say -- it's, obviously, hard to put a specific number on that, but I would say that, directionally, if I use the 80/20 rule here, I'd say it's still -- 80% is just brute force, get out there, leverage -- leverage the fact that we've got to drive price to cover inflation, cover the tariffs, those kinds of issues. While at the same time, certainly, in each one of our businesses, at least the three segments, what I've been really encouraged by is the highly accretive margin profile of the new products that we've been bringing to market, whether they be products or different business models. And that's one of our big criteria in our new product pipeline, is it's got to be accretive in terms of growth rate, but also margin for the company. So, I'd say that's the kind of 20%, if I pick the number to say, that has been more value-based pricing capability.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And also the opportunity, I think

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

.Yes.

John Walsh -- Credit Suisse AG, Research Division -- Analyst

Great, thank you.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions)The next question will come from Ryan Connors with Boenning Scattergood.

Ryan Connors -- Boenning & Scattergood, Inc. -- Analyst

Great, thank you. I want to actually stick with that very theme you were just talking about there and talking about the flip side of price cost and get your thoughts on -- if we do go into an environment of where raw material costs are more moderating than ramping up, how does that impact your guidance assumption around margin? You talked about 100 basis points, 150 basis points of margin upside, is pricing -- to what extent can pricing be sticky? And if raw materials come down, is there upside to that?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. So, Ryan, I'd say, historically, in these businesses, as we've gone back and looked at it, pricing has been pretty sticky. When you've gone through an inflationary period and you've gotten price, it's unusual to then be seen as giving it away. There's obviously -- there's probably some on the fringe on the margin, but it's not a step function change. So, if we were to see a either moderating inflation or slowing down of cost pressures there, we would expect that to be some net level of benefit. Hard to put a number on it at this point in time. It, obviously, depends on how much that price cost dynamic moves. But it would -- should be a net positive for us.

Ryan Connors -- Boenning & Scattergood, Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. And then my other question, just wanted to probe on China a little bit. And we buy the story there of the new regulations and whatnot, but just wanted to kind of play devil's advocate and get your response to the fact that the strength is coming from treatment, which is generally a longer cycle business, what would you say to the argument that maybe it's going to stay stronger for a little longer, it'll roll slower than some of the shorter-cycle industrial businesses out there? And so, just want to get your thoughts on that dynamic.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yes, so to kind of breakdown China a bit here, so, again, we're expecting double-digit growth in 2019, which does moderate slightly from the 23% growth that we had in '18, but it's still going to be, we expect, strong double-digit growth. Now, as you probably recall, we actually -- two-thirds of our revenue in China is in the utility space. And that's historically been pretty well protected. So, when you think back, what two, three years ago when companies were going through the shock in China and the downturn, we, in the aggregate, were down slightly. But even within that, our utility business never declined. It grew throughout that cycle. It slowed, but it grew. It was the industrial and commercial piece of the business, the other third, that took the big hit, like our other industrial peers.

So, your thesis is absolutely correct, in that, one, the long lead time nature of the treatment orders in pipeline is what gives us great confidence that we don't see an overall slowdown impacting us in China in '19, certainly, on the utility side of the business. Secondly, we're seeing very good growth in transport, on the pumping -- on the wastewater pumping side, which is very good margin business. That is more near-term, short-cycle business. That remains strong.

We are not putting we're not getting here, but we are building into our guide, some slowdown in the industrial and commercial building piece of the market in the second half of the year, which is what really kind of helps moderate our growth from 2018, I should say, help but leaves to that along the way. But the other, the other lever we've got there is this new AIA platform. I mean we've got tremendous adoption across the Chinese customer base in terms of excitement in that area. Again, a small piece of business, but very promising for '19 and beyond.

Ryan Connors -- Boenning & Scattergood, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, great stuff. Thanks for your time.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

The next question will come from Joe Giordano with Cowen.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen & Company -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Good morning.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Joe.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen & Company -- Analyst

Hey. So, I don't want to keep talking about margins, but I'm going to. So, apologies here. If I look at '19, right, so the operating guide, I think at the midpoint, it's something like 60% incrementals. And then, to get from there to '20 is another roughly 200 bps to get to the bottom end of that where you'd have infrastructure already at a pretty high level. I fully appreciate the comments about MCS and the spending and things like that that will moderate and lapping some of the big comps. But, I guess I'm getting to -- it seems a lot easier to get there on EBITDA. And if you were in a situation where you'd hit EBITDA guidance, but -- EBITDA 2020 guidance, but a little light on the operating side, internally, in the way that you're running your business, is that a win? Is that something that you're driving toward in that way where you're meeting it, but, optically, on the operating side, it's a little different?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

No, we're going after the operating piece. We lay out the EBITDA just because there is noise in there and deal accounting and things of that nature. But, no, we are measured on operating income. That's the third of our annual incentive plan. The other third is organic revenue growth and the other third is working capital. And so, that's the way we're playing it, Joe.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

And I would say that, for 2019, we're going to continue to see good volume leverage. We're going to continue to drive price acceleration, and that ramped up nicely throughout the course of the year. We started Q1 at 20 basis points. We ended Q4 at 140 basis points. So, that's a big element. We continue to drive productivity. And we've got the actions that -- and opportunities that Patrick talked about. We haven't seen the ramp yet from global business services. So, there's a number of levers that we have that are going to be driving our operating margin expansion, which will play through to EBITDA as well.

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen & Company -- Analyst

Fair enough. When you talk about the China, you guys just kind of got into it, can you size the China and India business for you guys right now?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yes. So, China has now become our second largest market outside of the US, albeit still relatively small. So, our revenue in China is roughly about $300 million, and that was about $170 million just a few years ago, just to give you a feel. So, again, still not large numbers in the absolute, but growing very nicely. India is just under $100 million of revenue, with an order book that is well above that here in 2019. But India is still a relatively small piece of our overall revenue, but, again, going to be our fastest growing market in 2019 and 2020.

Operator

The next question is from Pavel Molchanov with Raymond James.

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Thanks for taking the question. On the M&A front, you've, obviously, been quite active this past year. As you're looking at valuations across the -- of prospective deals across the three segments, two kind of interlinked questions. Number one, are those deal multiples higher than what perhaps they have been over the past year? And secondly, among the three segments, which, in your judgment, present the most attractive M&A prospectivity today?

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yes. So, we've not seen -- I guess, first of all, the kind of deals that we do -- I'm very proud of our M&A team and our folks in the businesses as to how they cultivate these deal opportunities and relationships, which has proven, over time, to help keep the multiples either in a really attractive spot or in a manageable spot. And so, we've not seen any big move or expansion in multiples.

Having said that, not for those reasons, you also though haven't seen us do a deal in the last 12 months. And so, it's kind of hard to say, at this point in time, as to what there maybe is a gap between seller and buyer expectations. But we're not seeing any big move there at this point in time.

In terms of the question around the three segments, we like all three, They each have interesting opportunities, but they play different roles. And so, I would say that, if you look at our Water Infrastructure space and you look at our MCS space, that's largely around the utility. And I think there you will continue to see us do smaller bolt-on tuck-ins to build out this new analytics platform, as well as strengthen the digital offerings of our product lines along the way, but they're not going to move the needle in terms of capital outlay based on what we have line of sight to today. But then, when I turn to the Applied Water segment, and you think about our industrial water business there, we see potentially attractive opportunities in that space to further move that business up the technology curve and round out our solutions offering in that set.

So, there are opportunities across the board. Obviously, we're prioritizing the digital and software component, but that's not at the exclusion of also defending our core product offerings when the opportunity presents itself.

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

All right. Appreciate it, guys.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

The final question is from Brian Lee with Goldman Sachs.

Brian Lee -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Good morning. Thanks for taking the question and squeezing me in here.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Brian.

Brian Lee -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good morning. Maybe a couple of modeling questions here. First on MCS, it does look like the growth derating (ph) here near-term in Q1. And then, you did mention some of the bigger deployments later this year, but maybe more fully materializing in 2020. So, is it fair to say 2019 is a bit of a normalization year in terms of MCS growth and you'd see acceleration in 2020? Or do you actually think you can do better growth second half versus first half, even this year with the comps being tougher as you move into the back half?

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes, Brian. This is Mark. And Patrick had mentioned it, I think, briefly in the opening remarks, but also in response to a question. I wouldn't call 5% to 6% normalization. It really reflects timing of some of the large deployments we've had. And you've seen some of the big wins, the orders growth. And what's happening here is really just the timing of when those projects get deployed. And so, we do expect a little better growth rate in the back half of 2019 and, certainly, into 2020. We expect to see significant acceleration of revenue growth.

Brian Lee -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay, fair enough. And then, second question, just on the free cash flow topic. I know there's been a number of questions here. But if you just look through the first nine months of the year for '18, you were at 60% conversion, and that was already tracking well below the levels that you were at the past two years at the same points in each of those respective years. So, wondering, why was 4Q shaping up to be such a swing factor for free cash flow conversion this year? And was it all timing related? Or was there something else at play in 2018? And then, maybe just to round it out, why doesn't that repeat in '19? Thank you.

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes. Sure, Brian. Good question. Typically, we generate a lot of cash in Q4. It's our best quarter. And so, what happened this year, a couple of things. And one is timing around the very strong growth we saw later in the fourth quarter, and that was a $90 million impact on its own in terms of cash related to sales and receivables. And then, as things got a little bit more pressured in terms of the component shortages, the teams got aggressive and we made some strategic buys there, as well as some more on the -- related to tariffs to lock in better pricing. And those -- both of those factors will work through, and they'll be a source of cash in 2019. And we do expect -- we don't expect those to be recurring, and we expect a more normalized picture around our cash flow profile in 2019.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. Brian, I would just maybe wrap up that question with an additional view. Your question around maybe tracking below the previous year, through the first nine months, that was really being driven by a couple of things. So, we were tracking very well from a working capital improvement year-over-year standpoint through the first nine months of the year. And so, as a result of that, we were also confident in our ability to fund some of the CapEx that Mark alluded to around the dewatering fleet, the cap (ph) software in Sensus, smart hubs and AIA. And then, that's what drove some of the year-over-year declines in the first nine months. But we were expecting -- before we had the issues that Mark laid out around the supply chain constraints and just a big pop in receivables in December because of a heavy revenue month, we were expecting to be able to claw that back and be at or above 100% free cash flow conversion. And that really was the surprise for us. So, that's on us. We own it. We're rectifying it. And we're highly confident we're going to be at or above the 100% in '19 and well beyond. There is no structural change here.

Operator

At this time, I would like to turn the conference back over to Patrick Decker for any closing comments.

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

Again, thank you, everybody. Safe travels. Appreciate your continued interest and support. See you out on the road, and we'll talk to you again after our Q1 earnings call. Thank you all.

Operator

This does conclude today's Xylem fourth quarter and full-year 2018 earnings conference call. Please disconnect your lines and have a nice day. Thank you.

Duration: 71 minutes

Call participants:

Matthew Latino -- Senior Director, Investor Relations

Patrick Decker -- President and Chief Executive Officer

E. Mark Rajkowski -- Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Nathan Hardie Jones -- Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Incorporated, Research Division -- Analyst

Andrew Edouard Buscaglia -- Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. KG -- Analyst

Mike Halloran -- Baird -- Analyst

Deane Dray -- RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division -- Analyst

John Walsh -- Credit Suisse AG, Research Division -- Analyst

Ryan Connors -- Boenning & Scattergood, Inc. -- Analyst

Joseph Giordano -- Cowen & Company -- Analyst

Pavel Molchanov -- Raymond James & Associates, Inc. -- Analyst

Brian Lee -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

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