Comments from Hans Vestberg, President and CEO
Reported sales in the quarter increased by 1% YoY and sales, adjusted for comparable units and currency, declined by -2% with improved operating income in the core business.
In the quarter, strong sales growth in the Middle East, Europe and Asia was offset by a continued decline in North America.
Mobile broadband sales increased both YoY and QoQ as we continued to deliver on previously communicated key contracts. These contracts contributed to sales growth in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, India and parts of Europe. In mainland China the majority of the business in the quarter was related to the continued LTE deployments.
Sales in North America were mainly driven by operator investments in capacity and quality enhancements also this quarter, although at a slower pace. Business activity slowed further in the quarter as operators remained focused on cash flow optimization in order to finance major acquisitions and spectrum auctions.
Consumer demand and mobile data traffic growth continues to be strong in North America. However, with current visibility, and for the reasons above, we anticipate the North American mobile broadband business to remain slow in the short-term.
Global Services showed stable growth with momentum for professional services driven by managed services and systems integration sales. During the quarter, 17 new managed services contracts were signed, including a pan-India contract.
Operating income in the fourth quarter improved YoY, primarily driven by higher software sales and efficiency enhancements. This was partly offset by higher operating expenses, related to the planned ramp up of investments in targeted areas. The net currency effect, when considering both transaction and translation exposure as well as volatility reductions, contributed somewhat positively to the operating income.
For the full year 2014, Ericsson showed stable sales development with solid operating margin. A sales decline in North America of -8% was compensated by growth in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Operating margin improved in the core business driven by higher share of capacity sales and efficiency enhancements. This was partly offset by currency hedge losses, investments in targeted areas as well as losses related to the modems operations.
The more than 100 IPR licensing agreements signed to date show the value of our R&D investments and enable industry players to continue to innovate and bring exciting products to the market. In 2014, IPR revenues showed a steady positive development. We remain committed to licensing our standard-essential patents on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
At the Capital Markets Day (CMD) in November we outlined the progress on our Networked Society strategy, with focus on market development, growth agenda, transformation and profitability. In line with our strategy, we have invested into our targeted areas; IP networks, Cloud, TV & Media, Industry & Society and OSS & BSS. Sales in targeted areas showed a growth of more than 10% in 2014.
We continue to proactively identify efficiency opportunities in the Company. The cost and efficiency program presented at the CMD, with the ambition to achieve savings of approximately SEK 9 b. with full effect during 2017, is progressing. Activities for the discontinuation of the modems business are included in the program and are ahead of plan.
We improved cash flow from operating activities in 2014 and generated a full-year cash flow of SEK 18.7 (17.4) b. For the third consecutive year we have exceeded our cash conversion target of more than 70%. This resulted in a solid balance sheet, enabling us to continue to implement our strategy and to deliver consistent returns to our shareholders. The Board of Directors proposes a dividend for 2014 of SEK 3.40 (3.00) per share, an increase of 13%.