Arrow Electronics' (ARW) CEO Mike Long on Q1 12016 Financial Results - Earnings Call Transcript

| About: Arrow Electronics (ARW)

Arrow Electronics, Inc. (NYSE:ARW)

Q1 2016 Financial Results Conference Call

February 4, 2016, 01:00 PM ET

Executives

Steve O'Brien - IR

Mike Long - President and CEO

Paul Reilly - EVP, Finance and CFO

Sean Kerins - President, Arrow’s Global Enterprise Computing Solutions Business

Analysts

Matt Sheerin - Stifel

Jim Suva - Citigroup

Shawn Harrison - Longbow Research

Brian Alexander - Raymond James

Mark Delaney - Goldman Sachs

Williams Stein - SunTrust

Steven Fox - Cross Research

Louis Miscioscia - CLSA

Ananda Baruah - Brean Capital

Sherri Scribner - Deutsche Bank

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Arrow Electronics Fourth Quarter and Year End 2015 earnings conference call. My name is Derek and I will be your operator for today. [Operator Instructions]. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded for replay purposes.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Steve O'Brien, you may proceed.

Steve O'Brien

Thanks, Derek. Good day and welcome to the Arrow Electronics fourth quarter and year end 2015 conference call. I'm Steve O'Brien, Director of Arrow's Investor Relations program. With us on the call today are Mike Long, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer; Paul Reilly, Executive Vice President Finance and Operations, and Chief Financial Officer; Andy Bryant, Chief Operating Officer Global Components and Global Enterprise Computing Solutions; Andy King, President Global Components; and Sean Kerins, President Global Enterprise Computing Solutions.

As a reminder, you can access our earnings release at investor.arrow.com along with the CFO commentary, the non-GAAP earnings reconciliation and a webcast of this call. We will begin with a few minutes of prepared remarks, which will then be followed by a question-and-answer period.

I will now have the over to our Chairman, President and CEO, Mike Long.

Mike Long

Thanks, Steve, and thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. We delivered record fourth quarter results, completing a year of strong performance in 2015. We executed well on our organic, strategic initiatives. We continued to deliver best in class financial performance and we returned substantial capital to our shareholders. For the full year of 2015, we delivered an 8% increase in sales and operating income. And an 11% increase in earnings per share, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies. For the second consecutive year, we achieved record sales, gross profit, and earnings per share on an absolute dollar basis, despite currency headwinds. In Global Components, we advanced our value added services through our investments in our design and engineering capabilities. These capabilities are allowing us to deliver increasing value to both our customers and our suppliers. In Enterprise Computing Solutions, our unique focus on selling comprehensive solutions has allowed us to further differentiate our value added distribution business from the competition. Our suppliers and customers value our solutions driven approach and continue to reward us with more business as a result.

We're continuing our challenge and continuing to challenge our business leaders to uphold our current rapid pace of evolution. Our strategic roadmap for success in 2016 will include advancing our leadership in IoT and providing the engineering services and support that are integral for our customers to bring new, compelling products rapidly to the market. We'll continue to capitalize on cross selling and lead generation opportunities where our Global Components and Enterprise Computing Solutions businesses, afforded by IoT and cloud. The opportunities for our two businesses to work together have never been greater. We're expanding adjacent market opportunities, including the public sector and ecommerce. And we have the opportunity to engage the next generation of inventors before their ideas are market ready. Positioning our solutions portfolio to capture a greater piece of the rapidly growing opportunities in security, data analytics and converged solutions, and broadening our cloud based offerings to help our reseller's transition to managed service provider business models. Returning to our results this year, looking at Global Components, the overall market continues to track in line with our expectation.

We expect our business to be less volatile than the broader semiconductor industries due to our concentration on small to medium sized manufacturing customers and our below average exposure to smart phones, laptops and PCs. Our lead times and cancellation rates continue to track within normal ranges. Our full year 2015 Global Components sales were 14.4 billion. Sales advanced 6% year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies. Europe delivered robust sales growth of 21% year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies. Asia faced challenges from the slowdown in the Chinese economy, but still grew sales by 4%, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies and achieved another record year for sales. Our Americas region also faced challenges from the economic backdrop that caused sales to decline 2% year-over-year. Operating income grew 5%, adjusted for currencies and margin, were flat year-over-year at 4.7%.

Enterprise Computing Solutions delivered an exceptional year as our software led solutions are well aligned to changes with IT spending. Our leading security offerings are matched to CIO's top priorities and analytics solutions are helping customers harness their own data to provide powerful insights and compelling new opportunities. ECS sales of 8.9 billion, advanced 12% for the year, adjusted for changes in foreign currency, with 12% growth in the Americas and 14% growth in Europe. ECS operating income, also advanced 15%, and margins expanded by 10 basis points year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currency. For the second consecutive year, ECS achieved record sales gross profit and operating income. As we look forward to 2016, we expect to further extend our leadership in the markets we serve. We do not anticipate a meaningful change in the economic backdrop. But as we proved once again in 2015, we're able to produce strong results independent of the market environment and we expect to continue this in 2016. I would also like to take a moment to thank Andy Bryant for his contribution to Arrow over the last eight years. As you've seen from the announcement a couple of weeks back, at the end of April, Andy will be retiring from his position as Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

Arrow's Global Components and Global Enterprise Computing Solutions, Andy's leadership was instrumental in furthering Arrow's Sales and Marketing strategy. His mentorship and guidance have helped foster a deep bench of next generation leaders for Arrow, including Andy King and Sean Kerins. I personally wish Andy the best for his well-deserved retirement. Before I turn the call over to Paul, I'd like to address the disclosure we made this morning in our press release and with the SEC regarding a criminal fraud attack against Arrow that occurred during the week of January 18, which resulted in unauthorized transfers of cash from a Company account to outside bank accounts in Asia. Arrow immediately reported this crime and is working with law enforcement agencies. We also immediately implemented enhanced, internal control procedures, and have retained outside counsel and experts to conduct an investigation and evaluate future processes or controlled that may need to be implemented in the future. To date, the findings of the ongoing investigation indicate that this is an isolated event not associated with a security breach or a loss of data. A onetime $13 million charge will be recorded within our first quarter of 2016 financial results. We do not expect this incident to otherwise have a material impact on our business. Both our investigation and law enforcement's investigation are ongoing, so we will not be able to answer questions at this time.

Paul will now provide more details on the fourth quarter results and our expectations for the first quarter.

Paul Reilly

Thanks, Mike. Fourth quarter sales of $6.75 billion grew 6% year-over-year. Sales adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies grew 4% year-over-year. Overall, sales were above the high end of our prior guidance range. In Global Components, sales of $3.67 billion grew 6% year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currency. Adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies, Global Components sales were approximately flat year-over-year. In the Americas, sales declined 4% year-over-year. Americas' core sales were flat with the third quarter. In Europe, sales adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies increased significantly again this quarter, advancing 12% year-over-year. The fourth quarter in a row of double digit, constant currency growth. We experienced strength across the entire continents. Sequentially, core sales in Europe were down 3% year-over-year, I'm sorry down 3% quarter-over-quarter. Sales in Asia grew 6% year-over-year and declined 4% year-over-year, adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies. Core sales in Asia grew 2% quarter-over-quarter, which was better than our expectation. Global Components fourth quarter book-to-bill was 1.05, which is above the three prior year's fourth quarter. Through the first four weeks of the first quarter our book-to-bill remains above parity.

Global Components' backlog also grew slightly in the fourth quarter, whereas we normally experience a sequential decline. We believe this suggests a solid foundation for our business as a whole in the short term. Fourth-quarter enterprise Computing Solutions sales were $3.08 billion, up 10% year-over-year. For the full year 2015, ECS billings grew 9% year-over-year, adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies. And ECS billings growth in the fourth quarter accelerated up to 11% year-over-year. In the Americas, sales grew 11% year-over-year and grew 5% adjusted for acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies. Sales for our core ECS Americas distribution business grew 15% quarter-over-quarter and were above our expectations. In Europe, sales and constant currency advanced 22% year-over-year. And Europe ECS sales grew 76% quarter-over-quarter and here too were above our expectations. The better than expected performance in fourth quarter ECS sales in both regions was principally attributable to even higher growth in security and infrastructure software, off of already robust growth levels and to a lesser extent some server refresh activity. Returning to consolidated results for the quarter, our gross profit margin was 12.4%. Year-over-year gross margins were down 30 basis points. The decline was principally attributable to greater relative contributions from ECS and Asia Components within our mix.

Total Company operating expenses increased 4% year-over-year as reported and 3% year-over-year, adjusted for the impact of acquisitions and changes in foreign currencies. Operating expenses decreased 20 basis points as a percentage of sales on a year-over-year basis. Operating income was $284 million, a 7% increase year-over-year adjusting for changes in foreign currencies. Operating margins declined 20 basis points year-over-year due to acquisitions and a lower contribution for America's Components within our mix.

Global Components' operating margin of 4.3% decreased 10 basis points year over year. Global Enterprise Computing Solutions operating margin was 5.8%, decreasing 10 basis points year-over-year, in both instances principally driven by acquisitions. Our effective tax rate for the quarter was 27.2%. Net income was $182 million, up 6% year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies. Earnings per share were $1.94 on a diluted basis and grew 3% year-over-year. Earnings per share grew 10% year-over-year, adjusted for changes in foreign currencies. Cash flow from operations was $544 million for the fourth quarter of 2015.

Full year 2015 cash flow from operations was $655 million, or approximately 132% of our GAAP net income, well in excess of our goal to deliver cash flow at a rate of 70% of our GAAP net income. We expected normal, seasonally lower cash flow in the first quarter. Consolidated return on working capital for the fourth quarter was 33%, and return on invested capital was 12.4%, handily outpacing our long-term weighted average cost of capital. We repurchased approximately $150 million of our stock in the fourth quarter, approximately $341 million over 2015 and approximately $1.4 billion over the last five years. Entering the quarter, authorization remaining under our existing share repurchase program is $320 million.

This is a high level summary of our financial results. For more detail regarding the business unit results, please refer to the CFO commentary published this morning.

Now, turning to guidance, we believe that total first quarter sales will be between $5.25 billion and $5.65 billion with Global Components sales between $3.55 billion and $3.75 billion, and Global Enterprise Computing Solutions sales between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. We expect earnings per share on a diluted basis, excluding any charges to be in a range of $1.34 to $1.46. Our guidance assumes an average tax rate in the range of 27% to 29%, average diluted shares outstanding are expected to be 93 million, and the average USD to euro exchange rate we are using for forecasting purposes is $1.10 to €1.

Steve O'Brien

Thank you, Paul. Derek, could you please give the instructions and open up the call to questions at this time?

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Certainly. [Operator Instructions] And your first question will be from the line of Matt Sheerin, Stifel.

Matt Sheerin

Just a question on the overall gross margin and Paul I know that mix plays a role here. But you're down I think 40 basis points year-over-year. You're going into a quarter where typically mix works in your favor and you see margins expand because of Components. And you're guiding more seasonal on the Computing side. But just trying to figure out the trajectory of margins and [Audio Gap]

Mike Long

Thanks Matt for the question. As we look at this, there is a lot more to our results than just components and computing. There's a lot more to mix than what we really talk about. I expect we'll see margin to rebound in the first quarter, similarly to what we've seen in the seasonal first quarter trend in the past. So when I look at it, it's really mix, whether its acquisitions, a little bit geographies, but we're not seeing any dramatic change to indicate that we're coming under GP pressure.

Matt Sheerin

Okay. So it's more mix related. Okay. And just a bigger picture. Given the [indiscernible] consolidation going on, a lot of your vendors are -- they've announced deals but we're starting to see some of these deals close. So it would seem like you're going to have a more concentrated revenue exposure to a handful of vendors when this consolidation is all said and done. How does this set up for Arrow is that a positive, is there a negative in terms of leverage with your suppliers?

Mike Long

Well, Matt, this is Mike. So far it has been good for us because the acquisitions have brought us new products and new product lines [Audio Gap] more things to sell than we had to sell before, which will allow us to expand our market. The second thing about it, which is usually unknown is as they do their integration most of the way we deal with our suppliers can be electronic and those types of things. So we will actually gain some efficiencies of dealing with some less people also, which is not a relatively known sort of benefit. But you get that because of the scale and volume of that supplier. So far, we have seen this work in our favor and we expect, even the other ones we're hearing about, to continue to work in our favor for some time here. I just wanted to also, when you were talking about mix for the first quarter, it was mix and acquisitions. So I want to make sure that you took away the acquisition piece because I only heard you say the mix. But it's hard these days, given the way we've been performing in the business to buy an acquisition that is immediately better than the numbers that we have on there. And so we have a couple of them. We still have some work to do and I think that where's Paul alluding we'll have some of that done into the first quarter.

Matt Sheerin

Okay, well then sort of in line with that then, and I know some of the deals have been on Components and some Computing. And given really what we're looking at sort of low if not no growth this year on the Component side, are you confident that you can get about 5% plus margin target for the full year?

Mike Long

Yes, we're working towards that. In fact, if you look at the guidance in the first quarter and take that on a year-over-year basis, you'll see that we are looking for some increase right away in the first quarter.

Operator

Your next question will be from the line of Jim Suva, Citigroup.

Jim Suva

Thank you. And congratulations. You mentioned strength in this quarter coming from security and software. Can you help us understand the economics behind those type of transactions like the recurring nature of them versus one time in nature for them? And can we extrapolate sustainability coming from that or some lumpiness? And then my follow up question is, on seasonality I believed there was a comment made on the prepared remarks about thus far in January with book-to-bill was above one. I was just curious, I kind of assumed that might be normal. Is the book-to-bill of above normal, in line with normal, slightly below normal? How does that compare to normal? Thank you.

Mike Long

So far, what we've seen, Jim, is our book-to-bill above one as we said and that's is a little bit higher than last year. And I would say just a tick better than in line if we were to take it year-over-year and look at it. And that's one of the reasons for the strong guide so far. We're seeing those bookings hit the backlog and we're seeing the backlog grow. So right now we're feeling fairly confident going into the new year. Now have Sean talk to you about the software economics and how that works out.

Sean Kerins

Sure thing, thanks, Mike and hello, Jim. You have correctly surmised that we are aggressively pursuing our software based solution strategy. Just as you point out things like security also analytics and big data. Certainly what I call the software defined or hyper cloud data center of the future we think are all pretty good demand trends that we're well positioned to participate in. Specifically, to your question, and this is part of our approach to cloud is we view our strategy in cloud is really all about propelling our software based solution strategy versus just cloud for cloud sake. What I mean by that is software is all about choice. Customers may want to buy software in a traditional fashion or they might want to buy it in a subscription basis. Our job is to bring that choice to the market. As we do that we make our sales really sticky by building a basically a recurring revenue business model. So software is key to our solution strategy and it's certainly going to be good for annuity perspective going forward.

Jim Suva

Great, thank you and congratulations to you and your team there.

Mike Long

Thanks, Jim.

Operator

Next question is from the line of Shawn Harrison, Longbow Research.

Shawn Harrison

Hi, everyone. A number of months ago you did us a big favorite and gave us kind of your mix of ECS sales in terms of software, storage, et cetera. Was wondering if we can get an update on that just to see how it's changed coming into 2016? And then also, I guess a comment on the first quarter being maybe down little bit more than seasonally for ECS. If there's anything in that other than the shift in mix?

Mike Long

I'll take that piece first and then I'll give you the numbers. I'm sort of surprised that you would indicate that it's down because we're showing our guide if we counted it right to be up about 9% year-over-year and I don't think the market's growing that fast. So my guess is there might be something wrong with the seasonal numbers that we have in there or you have in there, but we're looking at that as a pretty strong start. On a billings basis, softer is about 40%. Storage is now about 25%, services are about 15% and servers are about 15%, networking is approximately 5%. So hopefully that gives you a better view into what you're looking at when we talk about solutions, why we might be seeing a little bit different growth rates.

Shawn Harrison

And two brief follow-ups last quarter it was mention $40 million of cost take-out. Wondering how much of that's been realized to-date and also have you bought back any stock here during January, early February?

Mike Long

Okay I'm going to let Paul answer those for you.

Paul Reilly

Sure. I'll go reverse order. We had hit our limit on the spend on the buyback, so we have not bought back any shares yet in the first quarter. As a starting point and then the other question to be honest.

Mike Long

The $40 million.

Paul Reilly

So we probably got about a $10 million annual run rate savings in the fourth quarter so that's like $2.5 million. We think we'll be able to accelerate that so that will probably be at 75% full bore by the end of the second quarter and full bore by the end of the third quarter.

Operator

Your next question will come from the line of Brian Alexander, Raymond James.

Brian Alexander

Just want to go back to Matt's question on profitability in the Components business. So it sounds like you're comfortable with hitting 5% or better margins in the first quarter. And that's generally the high water mark for the year. So I wasn't sure, Mike if you were also comfortable in getting to 5% margins in the Components business for the full year? And if you are how much are the cost savings contributing to that versus gross margin improvement?

Mike Long

First off, Brian we had a pretty good quarter in Asia we're seeing some growth in Asia we had a big acquisition in Asia and most of that is what really pushed this down. We do expect as things start to normalize over the first quarter, we'll be closer to the 5% and in the 5% mark. Really it's been, it was geographic mix and acquisition totally that change the trajectory of our number. We fully expect that to correct itself. We didn't see anything in the numbers to suggest that the profits would be sort of worse then what we had and it was purely sales driven. Frankly a way to make it easy for us is if the economy in the U.S. turned around we would very easily be there. But we're not seeing the same kind of growth rates out in North America so we have to do it the old-fashioned way, gut it out the other regions and get them more productive than they were and that's what we're doing.

Brian Alexander

And then just may be a follow-up on Europe, very strong growth again in both businesses up 12% in Components and 22% in Computing, obviously outpacing the market. Your thoughts on sustaining growth in 2016 as you go up against double-digit growth comparisons in 2015? And just overall have you explain the very strong performance in light of the sluggish macro that we see over in Europe?

Mike Long

Well the first thing is the comp will get tougher, but we're pretty confident going into the year we're pretty confident going into Q1 as you can see by the guidance there. Really, on the Computing side, we've moved away from selling individual products to really trying to guide towards the entire solution. It's a more efficient sale, it's what our customers want, it requires a little bit higher engineering cost on our part. But so far it really gives better customer service and satisfaction. And we think as a result of that we're getting more around software, security, virtualization, and infrastructure. The security piece is growing something like 28%. I mean it's a pretty good launch for us. So really we're playing right into what the CIO's problems are out there and Sean and his team have done a good job to move the business that direction.

On the Components side, as you know it's been a little bit more of a grind a little bit more of I guess I'll use one of Andy's terms now that he's retrying sort of a tractor pull between everybody really looking for the growth. And we're confident this year as we have seen some of these mergers bringing us some new products that we didn't have before. And the nice thing about the new products that are coming in is that they're largely engineering based products so there will be a higher GP associated with that. The second piece of that, Brian, is we've seen our design wins this year grow in the quarter something like 24%. And if you remember how we track that over time we usually see -- those start to pay off some six to eight months later from that initial design. But we've now seen a couple of quarters of the design wins creeping up, which is also good for our margin because those products sell at a higher margin than does commodity.

So all in all there's some good things right now working in the favor of our business and those are things that we think can help us continue to grow despite what's going on in the sluggish market.

Brian Alexander

Okay thanks, Mike. Goodbye to Andy and go Broncos.

Mike Long

You bet. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question will be from the line of Mark Delaney, Goldman Sachs.

Mark Delaney

Yes, good afternoon thanks very much for taking the questions and also congratulations on the nice quarter. On the last call, Arrow talked about in the month of September that there was a drop in the bookings within Components and obviously with the 1.05 book-to-bill, you turned that around. Is that delta is that all just Company specific execution? Or are there any areas where macro trends have gotten a little bit better incrementally versus what you were seeing during the prior quarter?

Mike Long

We were not sure where it was going when we were in the third quarter. We knew what our numbers were sort of telling us. There was a fair amount of bad news coming out of the suppliers. And what we've noted is sort of the bad news that came out of the suppliers hasn't been as bad as was originally indicated. And I think what we've seen are some of the biggest, largest supply chain customers have a pause, but underneath that we've seen pretty steady growth. The second area that we've seen just like everybody else has been some of the traditional industrial accounts haven't been growing like they used to but we've seen some increase in lighting, aerospace and defense, transportation. And basically some of our alternative energy verticals have sort of picked up the tab. This sort of IoT piece right now is starting to play out a little bit and we think the growth is going to be coming from a few nontraditional places over the next year.

Mark Delaney

That's very helpful. And then for a follow up question I wanted to just dig in a little bit more on the comment about the proprietary server refreshes. Maybe you can just help us how much as a percentage of revenue those refreshes were or adding? I mean is it a couple percent ECS revenue? And then is there some sort of point in time where just given that it's a product refresh we should have in mind that goes away?

Mike Long

Sean you want to take the refresh question?

Sean Kerins

Yes, good question. It certainly contributed to our performance in Q4. I don't think that recurring cycle goes away because remember in the high end server market, we still see a lot of mission critical workloads and applications that remain on premise. So that means we get to participate in and support that refresh cycle as it reoccurs overtime. So I don't see it going away, but obviously there's ebb and flow to its contribution to our revenue.

Mike Long

It's interesting if you think about it, what I would say as I gave you the numbers at about 15% of the business and you think of the growth rates overtime servers have still sort of held their own. And whether its proprietary or standard servers, this really hasn't changed that much and we've seen proprietary make a big comeback. But think about it, it's not really unusual we've usually seen proprietary server's pickup in the December timeframe almost every year for the last several years. So I would expect it to continue. And if it's not at the same rate that will be okay because frankly they're not the most profitable items any more but it's still a good sale for us.

Mark Delaney

Thank you very much.

Operator

The next question will be from the line of Williams Stein, SunTrust.

Williams Stein

Great thanks for taking my question and congrats on the good quarter and outlook. Defying a little bit what we're seeing in the rest of semi's, it seems like you've posted two quarters of what appear to be negative year-over-year organic growth and you're guiding for year-over-year positive growth next quarter. It's a little bit better than what we've seen through the rest of semi's. And I'm hoping you can talk a little bit about why you think you're seeing better performance than your suppliers overall? And then I do have a follow up.

Mike Long

I think it can be as simple as sort of customer base expansion. When you look at where our suppliers focus their direct businesses, they're on a very limited number of very large type accounts. And so when those accounts sort of sneeze some of the suppliers really get the flu. And what we've been seeing is if you take some of the opportunities that are coming in from the acquisitions, some of the opportunities that will come in from the design work that was done over the last couple of quarters that hadn't panned out or had been pushed up for whatever reason, we actually see that coming in. We've got Asia that's forecasting pretty good, we've got Europe that's still forecasting well. And for the first time we see the Americas sort of coming in with some growth in the first quarter. So when you add it up it looks pretty good for us overall. But it's really sort of what I would say more products to sell, more design wins and more customers and that's really how we're getting it.

William Stein

And the next one is out of the ordinary so bear with me for a moment, but I believe Arrow has a Super Bowl commercial this year? And can you confirm that can help us understand the strategy behind that marketing spend given your traditional customer base I think it's very -- well it's sort of a B2B model I don't think of this as a consumer business. Maybe help us understand that.

Mike Long

It's an interesting thing, but if you look at the ads and where they've been whether it's been the work with the SAM Car. The SAM Car itself brought us a fair number of new customers around automotive. We've seen some IoT opportunities come outside of that specific advertising. And what's interesting is customers it's probably a bigger education for customers that already know us that now know that we've got engineering capabilities and we can help with solutions. You couple that with -- if you look at the markets that those ads will run they are also in markets where we're strong and there's big customer bases, so those are not nationwide ads that are going to run. So everything is really thought through. We've been active as you know some of you know now for three years where we've been placing ads at certain sporting events and things like that. And I'm quite comfortable that we're happy with the returns we're getting on them.

Operator

The next question will be from the line of Steven Fox, Cross Research.

Steven Fox

First question just looking at the year-on-year growth for sales and profits I mean this is a little nitpicky since you had such a good quarter, but sales were up 4%, excluding acquisitions. Currencies and profits were flat year-over-year. So can you just explain the difference there? I assume some of it's with the acquisitions and how quickly before you sort of see profits and sales grow at similar rates again?

Mike Long

I'm going to let Paul take it because he's gracefully digging through his…

Sean Kerins

You're right he probably didn't expect that questions.

Paul Reilly

I think, Steve, there's a couple of ways of looking at this rate, we keep talking about the fact that we're taking actions to expand our customer reach, our geography reach and we're making investments in the business at the same time. So I think that's one thing to keep in mind as you look at this. That we are getting really best-in-class financial performance by any measure as we move forward, so we feel that we can selectively maybe tamper down a little bit, the traditional leverage we've gotten in sales, so that we can make the investments and I don't always match up region by region. So I would say that's the high level explanation of what we're seeing around the pace of growth top line versus the pace of growth at operating income.

Steven Fox

And then just a big quick picture question. Mike I think in your prepared remarks you talked about the two businesses working more together because of some of the cloud and IoT. Can you just give a couple examples of how that's going to work and what you foresee in terms of whether that's sales leverage, profit leverage, both?

Mike Long

Yes, I'll give you one that's coming up on Sunday. Every one of the scoreboards that you see in an NFL stadium, they have LED lighting, they components in them. And at the same time every one of those scoreboards has a big data center that sits up there that grabs data. So while the game is going on they can put that, all the new stats and everything that you see plus replays and everything else. That's a perfect example where there are two sales for one project. So if you can pick your teams together you're in much better shape than if you try to leave things separate. That's about the easiest I think example that I can give you off the top of my head, right now where that works. So any activity that would have a data center and would have a component device that would go with it we either have customers or know customers that we bring into these deals and try to work with them to make sure that they're profitable. And we can bring the entire strength of our business to our customers at one time.

Steven Fox

And should we assume that Paul is going to be prominently featured in the Super Bowl commercial on Sunday?

Mike Long

As you know we'll have to have him wear a hat, and other than that, we'll be good.

Operator

Your next question will be from the line of Louis Miscioscia, CLSA.

Louis Miscioscia

Can you just help us I guess bridge the linearity or the thinking or the comments that you got back from last quarter when you brought numbers down to obviously this quarter, materially over-achieving? But sort of getting back to where we were for fourth quarter numbers, so it's almost as if maybe the third quarter was a big anomaly or how would you describe it for us?

Mike Long

I would describe that we saw a big drop off in the third quarter in the last couple of weeks of that quarter. And that is something that was different than what we normally see. What we normally see is that at end of the third quarter you start to see a build going into the fourth quarter. And I think I said at that time that drop off was enough that got our attention and then you couple it with what the manufacturers were saying and it looked like we were in for a bit of a malaise if you will. What was interesting to us is that our backlog was building and then things sort of pushed out. So what we took was everything we had in our current forecast and we didn't account for a lot of new products coming in to the quarter and going to our customers. I think what we ended up seeing was not as big a drop and it looked like those last two quarters were just an anomaly in the data that was coming in. And I guess we were just being overly conservative. And that's really what it was. Although even if we would have to forecasted under normal circumstances we wouldn't have forecasted as strong a quarter as we actually just saw.

Louis Miscioscia

Okay, that's all helpful. And on the ECS side, obviously the Americas was a very nice quarter up 5% after taking out acquisitions and FX. And that seems to be well above the market. It depends on what slice of the market obviously we're referring to but some vendors have actually seen material down revenue. Could you just describe what you think the market did in the Americas or the US? And how you outperformed that?

Mike Long

Yes, what I would tell you is there were some really interesting drivers when you think about it and it was primarily around the software front. We saw security software up pretty significant. We saw infrastructure software up pretty significant. And while it wasn't better growth than Europe, the proprietary server business was up in North America. So there was what I would say one of those quarters that everything sort of hit at once for us. And it was really sort of a welcome deal but these guys are really working hard at the complete solution for the customers and that's pulling some of the other sales that we might have otherwise missed that we really just focusing on individual products like storage or a server or something like that. So we're in pretty good shape with the way we attack the market. The other interesting thing as North America's been in place longer than Europe and Europe is still really in its infancy for us when you consider it's been I think less than six years that we took to build that up to a viable power house. And we are now four years in a row to increase earnings out of Europe for the computer business. So I know sometimes when you look back at things as it gets bigger but the truth is Europe has not had a hiccup now almost since inception. We've seen pretty much back-to-back great years for that long. And we do expect that to run and there's also a good chance that Europe will learn and grow to where we get it to the same profitability levels and the same sort of levels that we see in North America as we move to the sort of next stage of that solution. So all-in-all we're still pretty bullish on that business.

Louis Miscioscia

Okay thank you. Good luck in the new year.

Mike Long

Thank you.

Operator

The next question will be from the line of Ananda Baruah, Brean Capital.

Ananda Baruah

Thanks guys for taking the questions and congrats on the solid quarter in a softer environment. And then just real quickly, Andy it's been great working with you over the years. Will definitely miss it, no doubt about it. I guess just two questions from me if I could, the first is a follow up to Steve's question with regards to the two businesses working together. I would love to hear to what extent you guys have sales force integrated or how you're getting the market across the two businesses, identify the opportunities? And I guess what else may exist with regards to opportunities going forward or in the future that you may not be in a position to identify yet, but you may be in a position to identify kind of going forward? And then I have a quick follow up?

Mike Long

The big areas are when you think of IoT and then you think of the data. And the data that needs to be, something needs to be made out of it so a company can use that to decide how they're going to grow, what products they need. Another example is you have an air conditioner on top of a building and instead of a service guy going out there all the time wouldn't it be great if you got all of the particulars of what's going on with that air conditioner over the Internet so you could send somebody out there for pre-maintenance. That requires a system behind it to do that too. It requires more cloud work, it requires more datacenter work and higher levels of transactions. But then on the other side you've got an appliance that's built with semiconductors and lighting devices and everything else. So it really doesn't matter. You can take into account your automobile and in the future that's -- they might be able to download information off of your automobile about the next maintenance stop. All of this stuff is going to require data center work, it's going to require servers, it's going to require software, and by the way it's going to require security software. And then on the other side it's going to require a lot of chips and it's going to require passive components. So the more and the higher level we can get into the sale, the more sticky it is for us and the more we can help customers with the total solution. But it also changes a little bit about who we call on and how we call on them. And hopefully that gives you a little bit of a guidepost of what's going on.

I might add there's not very many companies in the world that will be able to bring that type of a solution to a customer or even benefit our suppliers in the future.

Ananda Baruah

Do you feel -- what have you put into place to be able to identify and then capture those types of dynamics? Have you had to retrain some folks in a particular way to kind of re-look across the businesses? And if you like to the degree you have do you feel like the training is complete yet or where in that process might you be?

Mike Long

Since the opportunities are in their infancies, the training is in its infancy too. The first step that we had to do was just get the two groups to talk to each other. I don't mean to be flippant about it but that's really where you have to start. And then you've got to start by market and you've got to get sales people to see the full opportunity and then sort of bringing their brother or sister with them into that account. And right now, we're doing account training and those types of things between the groups. But we are nowhere near where we'll need to be in the future, but we're certainly not behind the curve of where we need to be today. So hopefully that defines that for you.

Ananda Baruah

And then just a quick follow-up for me. You mentioned in the prepared remarks that I believe this was the context that you meant to convey that exposure to smaller industrial companies and customers actually is helping you in the current market dynamic and backdrop. I was just wondering first of all can you clarify that did I hear that correctly? And secondarily, if that is the case can you just sort of walk through why that actually is the case? Why does it help you in this current market dynamic?

Mike Long

I think that a lot of people when they hear the Internet of things that was almost like you heard the cloud in the beginning. And so what you're seeing now is on the computer side we have seen a lot of different types of resellers that have started up. Whether they're in the cloud-borne resellers or whether they're security resellers. But what I would say is resellers that have not sold a server and really don't particularly care about selling a server but they want to work in the cloud, then conversely and these guys are smaller because the guys that were making money on hardware and with putting some software on top of it are now trying to migrate to where they can do the entire solution. And the other guys that are in there now operating on certain pieces of that solution are what we call new, but they're smaller and you still have to pay attention to them.

Same thing goes in the marketplace now we're seeing more appliance type builds for a single type of application that I just talked about whether it's a digital signage or whether it's something to do with automotive or whether or not it's the air conditioner on the roof of your building. But all of that requires hardware so there's a lot of individual engineers that are out there working on things today that are starting to come to life, that's where I think the new customer base is going to grow up into the future. And they're also going to service these industrial accounts that maybe don't quite get the software piece of it. And that's what really missing on the semiconductor side is that software integration and that's right where we're going to be.

Operator

Your next question will be from the line of Sherri Scribner, Deutsche Bank.

Sherri Scribner

I wanted to ask about the margins in the Enterprise Computing Solutions segment. Over the past three years, you've seen operating margin expansion in that segment and I assume it's related to your mix of business the software and services that you've talked about, but may be also there some cost cutting in that number? I was hoping you could give us a little more detail on whether it's mix versus cost cutting?

Mike Long

No our costs have gone up every year because we're growing the business overall. But it is principally around services and software.

Sherri Scribner

Okay. And do you expect that to continue to see operating margin leverage going forward? So should we expect those margins to continue to trend upward based on the mix?

Mike Long

Yes, it's going to trend based on growth rates and right now software growth rates aren't really slowing down all that much. In fact, we've just gone out of our mix that I shared with you and if those mix rates continue, yes, we'll see it continue to improve. The biggest opportunity we have is to get Europe up to North America type operating margins. And we don't see that piece slowing down for us any time soon so you will see that improvement. And I would say that over time you'll see a little leveling in North America because for us that's starting to be mature as we've been doing that for a few years. But again, we just exited the year at almost a $200 million run rate through the cloud sales now that Sean has put together and that's going to work out to be a good business for us too. So the more things that we can touch, the more things that we can service, and the more things that we can integrate the better off we're going to be.

Sherri Scribner

Okay, great. And then I wanted to ask a big picture question, Mike. I think at the beginning of your prepared comments you mentioned that your view is that things don't meaningfully change for the economy. And it sounds like at least for the next quarter you guys are pretty confident based on your bookings on what you're hearing from customers. But I think there's a view out there that potentially at least the US market could slow considerably. Are you getting any sense of that from any of your customers or are you still generally pretty positive? Thanks.

Mike Long

Right now we're pretty positive on the first quarter. On the Component side we're pretty positive. As there's a natural decline on the Computer products side, but is still almost 9% year-over-year so we're seeing the solutions hold in North America. My current view is that things are not getting worse at this point. If there's stabilization which we sort of believe there is right now, if there's stabilization that will work in our favor. Because then you're not taking two steps forward and one step back. It's just you continue to better the situation or the hand that you're being dealt.

Sherri Scribner

Great, thank you.

Mike Long

Yes.

Operator

And at this time ladies and gentlemen we have no further questions in queue. I would like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Steve O'Brien for any closing remarks.

Steve O'Brien

Thank you, Derek. In closing, I will review Arrow's Safe Harbor statement. Some of the comments made on today's call may include forward-looking statements, including statements addressing future financial results. These statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results or facts to differ materially from such statements for a variety of reasons. Detailed information about these risks is included in Arrow's SEC filings. If you have any questions about the information presented today, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your interest in Arrow Electronics and have a nice day.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's conference. We thank you your participation, you may now disconnect. Have a great day.

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