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Ericsson Q1 “in line with expectations”

April 18, 2023

Ericsson has reported its Q1 2023 results, which is says are in line with expectations. Group organic sales were flat, as the expected decline in Networks was offset by growth in other business segments, including a 19 per cent organic growth in Enterprise. EBITA excluding restructuring charges was SEK 4.8 billion (€0.42bn).

Börje Ekholm, President and CEO of Ericsson, commented: “We are on a journey to shape the future industry landscape and extend our addressable market by leveraging our 5G capabilities. We continue to execute on our strategy to strengthen our leadership in Mobile Networks, grow our enterprise business, and drive continued cultural transformation.”

Group organic sales were flat, as the expected decline in Networks was offset by growth in other business segments, including a 19 per cent organic growth in Enterprise. EBITA excluding restructuring charges was SEK 4.8 billion.

Organic sales in Networks decreased by -2 per cent YoY. As expected, customers in early 5G markets have slowed the deployment pace somewhat. Our effect on sales is bigger as some customers have also lowered the elevated inventory levels built up in a tight supply environment. We expect this inventory adjustment to be mostly completed during Q2 but may spill into Q3. Significant growth from large roll-out projects did not fully offset the sales impact from early 5G markets. As expected, the increased share of large roll-out projects pressured the gross margin in Networks, however it positions us well for future growth. In Cloud Software and Services, we continued to execute on our turnaround strategy and reduced our loss slightly more than plan. With this progress, we are on track to reaching the important milestone of break-even in 2023.

Following the strong cash flow in Q4, the first quarter cash flow was negative. Compared to last year working capital grew related to the changed business mix with the two components: increased customer financing for large roll-out projects in new 5G markets and reduced trade payables. As usual, Q1 cash flow was seasonally impacted by pay-out of accrued employee-related expenses.

Cost saving initiatives accelerated and increased

Cost efficiency is crucial for our long-term competitiveness. We have accelerated our cost-out execution and have identified additional savings opportunities of SEK 2 billion and now plan to reduce cost run rate by SEK 11 billion by year-end. Our early estimate, given the increased scope and more costly programs in Europe, indicates that restructuring charges may amount to around SEK 7 billion for the full year, of which more than half is likely to be booked in Q2. For 2024, we expect restructuring charges to normalise to about 0.5 per cent of sales.

Progress in responsible business and integrity

As announced in the quarter, we reached a resolution with the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the breaches of the 2019 Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). We reiterate, that these breaches were contractual and non-criminal in nature, and that the DOJ has not identified any new criminal conduct after 2016. The DOJ noted Ericsson’s significant progress in building a compliance program that is fit for purpose and works in practice, validating the positive changes. The resolution is an important step and enables us to focus on strategic execution and cultural change. We continue our efforts to simplify the company, increase accountability and strengthen risk management. We are fully dedicated to embedding integrity into everything we do, and we believe this is a competitive advantage.

Driving execution of our strategy

Leadership in Mobile Networks based on technology leadership is a top priority. In Networks we introduced many new market leading products at Mobile World Congress (MWC). Cloud Software and Services is focused on executing the turnaround plan.

We are capitalising on our leadership position in Mobile Networks and are building momentum towards our vision of a network API platform. Last year we tested Ericsson Dynamic End-user Boost with SmarTone in Hong Kong. At MWC, we showcased the world’s first multi-operator quality-of-service network API on commercial networks, in cooperation with Telefonica, Orange and Vodafone. This demonstrated how advanced mobile network functionality can be exposed to, and easily consumed by, the global developer community. We are working with front-runner customers to establish the market for network APIs, and we see great interest from early adopters. We anticipate the first revenues late this year, positioning us for revenue ramp-up in 2024 and 2025 as our transformation into a platform company accelerates. It will take some time to build this new network API market, but we believe it can develop faster and grow bigger than the market for traditional communication APIs.

With the acquisition of Ericom with its advanced cloud-based security and zero-trust technology, we will accelerate our security offering in Enterprise Wireless Solutions. We now have the capabilities to build a full-stack security service optimised for 5G. A cornerstone in our Enterprise Wireless Solutions is to build a dedicated go-to-market organisation which in the short term requires investments. These investments, in combination with the subscription model with deferred revenue, impact reported profitability in the short term. Longer term the business area has an attractive profitability profile.

We continue to finetune our portfolio to optimise profitability across our business. By end of Q1, we closed the divestiture of our IoT platform business, which reduces quarterly losses by about SEK 250 million going forward. This was an important step in improving financial performance in our Enterprise business.

Managing choppy 2023

We continue to see a choppy environment during 2023 with poor visibility. In Q2, we expect operators to remain cautious with capex investments and continue to adjust inventories. We expect this dynamic to largely be offset by growth from large roll-out projects which, as noted earlier, will be dilutive to gross margin in the short term. In the Enterprise segment, we remain confident of the long-term growth trajectory, and we expect the slower growth we saw in Q1, caused by the slower global economy, to continue in Q2. For Q2, we expect Group EBITA margin to reach mid-single-digit level. We expect a gradual recovery in the second half of 2023, primarily as we expect the inventory adjustments to be completed and our cost reduction activities to start flowing through the P&L. Long-term, previous experience tells us that when operators are seeing underlying traffic growth, this leads to investments in networks in order to avoid deteriorating quality.

Our strategy is paying off and we are excited about our position to capitalise on the full value of 5G. We are driving our transformation to a platform company with a focus on creating a stronger and more profitable Ericsson with a larger addressable market. With the expected recovery by 2024 of the Mobile Networks market, the turnaround of Cloud Software and Services, portfolio adjustments, enhanced R&D productivity, increased IPR revenues and cost reductions, we are on track to reaching the lower end of the long-term EBITA target range of 15-18 per cent by 2024.”

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